Discussion Topics For 3 Books That Third Graders Will Enjoy

Books third graders will love

I taught third grade for nine years and it seemed that every one of my students loved reading books that involved animals!  All of the stories pictured include main characters who change because of a dog in the story.  These main characters also have to make difficult decisions based on their love for their dog.  There are also tons of great discussions you can have with your students as they read these books, so I’ve provided five ideas for each book.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo (AR level 3.9)

Plot:  The main character, Opal, has just moved to a new town and is lonely.  Her mother left when she was young, her dad is always busy as a preacher, and she is having a hard time making new friends.  But her life improves as soon as she brings home a stray dog, which she names Winn-Dixie.  Opal makes several new friends of all different ages and backgrounds as a direct result of things she is doing to take care of her new dog.

Third graders will enjoy this book because Opal loves talking about everything that’s on her mind when she’s around Winn-Dixie because she feels like the dog listens to her.  Many other characters fall in love with Winn-Dixie as the book progresses, which helps Opal make new friends.  Winn-Dixie seems to have a knack for gravitating toward nice people.  This helps Opal become friends with an older woman whom other kids call a “witch” and a man who people stay away from because he has been arrested.  Thanks to Winn-Dixie, kids learn why we shouldn’t judge people.

Discussion or writing topics:

–Which of Opal’s friends do you feel are the most unlikeliest friends she made?  Why do you feel this way about these two characters?  How did Winn-Dixie help Opal become friends with these two people?

–Why does Opal feel closer with her dad at the end of the book?  What three events do you think had the biggest impact on this?

–Would you like to have a dog like Winn-Dixie?  Explain why or why not.

–Why do you think Stevie, Dunlap, and Amanda started acting nicer to Opal at the end of the book?

–If Littmus Lozenges were real, do you think lots of people should eat them or not?  Explain why you feel this way.

I’ve created quizzes, writing prompts, vocabulary activities, cloze passages, and character-analysis pages to help you teach this awesome book.  Click the image to see this product in my TpT store.

Books about animals

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (AR level 4.4)

Plot:  The main character is a boy named Marty who tries to keep a dog (Shiloh) away from an owner who abuses the dog.  Marty has always wanted a dog, but his parents say they can’t afford to take care of one.  But when Marty realizes that Shiloh’s owner abuses him, he does everything he can to keep the dog away from this owner.  Marty’s family lives in a rural area, so he finds places to hide Shiloh from his family while keeping him away from the owner (Judd).  He sneaks food from dinner and gives it to Shiloh.  Marty feels terrible that he lies to his parents, but he justifies it because he is keeping Shiloh away from a terrible owner.

Third graders will enjoy this book because it shows a young boy going to extreme lengths to keep a dog safe.  Marty bravely stands up to Judd by telling him that the way he’s treating Shiloh is wrong.  The author also describes how Shiloh acts happier around Marty.  At the end, Marty agrees to do odd jobs for Judd in exchange for letting him keep Shiloh.  Marty’s parents are still nervous about affording this dog, but warm up to him because he brings so much joy to their family.

Discussion topics:

–Would you lie to your parents to keep a dog safe?  Why or why not?

–How would the story have been different if Marty had immediately told his parents that he was keeping Shiloh at their house to keep him away from Judd?

–At the end of the story, why do Marty’s parents feel better about keeping Shiloh, even though they’re not earning any extra money?  Is there something in your life you think is this valuable, even if it’s really expensive to keep?

–Reflect on all the things Marty did to keep Shiloh safe throughout the story.  What would you have done differently to keep Shiloh safe?  What do you think is one thing Marty did that was a really good idea?

–After reading this story, what have you learned about why it’s challenging to stand up for what’s right?

I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each chapter of Shiloh.  Click the image below to see more!

Books for animal lovers

White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan (AR level 3.1)

Plot:  The main character is a girl named Zoe whose family often keeps animals who need help.  A family moves in across the street with a mother who hates dogs and a young boy who does not speak.  As Zoe gets to know this young boy, she learns he doesn’t speak because he blames himself for some family problems.  But Zoe learns this boy also loves dogs.  The story ends with people doing brave things, the young boy talking, and the woman changing her feelings about dogs.  Zoe’s pets contribute to all of these events.

Third graders will enjoy this book because the young boy, Phillip, has a lot of troubling thoughts on his mind.  It seems like he will never speak.  But once he starts interacting with Zoe’s dogs, he opens up a bit — not by his words, but with his actions.  Zoe’s family are experts with animals and show a lot of love and care to all animals.  Her dad is a vet and her mom rescues dogs who need a home.  There are lots of examples of Zoe and her family treating animals extremely kindly and respectfully.  But it’s the care that one of their dogs shows to Phillip in a dangerous situation that causes this young boy to open up for good.

Discussion topics:

–How did Zoe’s dogs have such a tremendous impact on the way Phillip’s behavior changed?  Do you think it’s possible for an animal to have a huge impact on people in real life like that?

–What do you think is the biggest reason why Phillip started talking?  Explain why you think this.

–Near the end of the story, Phillip calls Jack (Zoe’s dog) a hero.  Do you agree with Phillip?  Why or why not?  How would you define the word “hero?”

–Have you ever known someone like Phillip who doesn’t say much?  What would you do to help someone who is really shy?

–Describe what Zoe’s house is normally like.  Would you like to live in a home like that?  Why or why not?

These are some quizzes and writing prompts I’ve created for this book.  Click to see this product in my TpT store, where you can download a preview.

Books for animal lovers

Meaningful Assignments for Students Serving In-School Suspension

I always hate the assignments I send with students when they serve ISS.  I hate everything about ISS.  Obviously, when students are fighting or behaving extremely disrespectfully, they need to be removed from class.  But once he/she is taken to ISS, I despise gathering work for the student to do all day because I know I’m going to do a terrible job of doing so.

I always end up feeling guilty for the work I send.  I know I should have already prepared packets of work, but planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit.  So I end up grabbing workbooks and textbooks.  I spend about two minutes looking for things that will take this student a long time to complete.  Then I slap a few post-it notes with pages numbers to complete.  The entire time, I’m thinking, “This is such pointless work.”

These are the students who need the most support and I’m sending pointless work for them to do right after they’ve had a serious altercation with another student or teacher.  I always feel guilty, but I feel like I have no options because I only have a few minutes to find work because I’m in the middle of class.  The work also has to keep the student busy for a day without requiring too much effort from the ISS teacher who already has a million other things to do.

These are the students I’ve kept in mind as I’ve written over 200 passages about famous athletes.  As I research athletes like Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Usain Bolt, I look for stories about times they’ve made mistakes and how they overcame them.  When Kevin Durant was in high school, one of his basketball coaches was murdered.  Kevin was really upset because this coach was like a father to him.  Kevin’s performance on the court suffered because he started disrespecting opponents and hogging the ball.  Then Kevin realized his old coach would not want him to play like that.  Kevin stopped doing those things and his play improved.  The students who are sitting in ISS need to realize that huge celebrities like Kevin Durant make mistakes just like them.  Our students need to read stories of successful people who learn from mistakes and are determined never to make the same mistake twice.  Now, Kevin Durant is one of the most respected players in the NBA.

When I write these passages, I also include stories of how hard these athletes have worked to achieve success.  I describe how these athletes have put in years and years of insanely hard work to be successful.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady was growing up, he hated that his sisters were better athletes than him.  He was determined to do whatever it took to be the best athlete in his family.  Now he is one of the greatest quarterbacks in American football history!  Here are some passages where the headline shows you the focus of the passage.

Meaningful work for ISS

I’ve written three sets of passages about most athletes.  For example, my set about LeBron James and Michael Jordan includes paired texts about their childhood, pro sports career, and charity work.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Each set of paired texts includes a quiz.  There’s also a writing prompt that ties all the passages together.  The first page, which you can give to the ISS teacher, explains which two passages go together.  Answer keys are also provided.  You can print a few copies of each set to have in a file folder for those times when you have to immediately send work for ISS.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Some teachers have told me the work for ISS should be boring busy-work, which I totally disagree with.  The punishment for the student should come in the form of isolation from his/her peers, not pointless assignments.

In addition to classroom teachers, I encourage ISS teachers to try a few of my paired texts. A few ISS teachers have left feedback on my paired texts saying they were helpful when kids in ISS finished the assignments sent by the classroom teacher.  They are also helpful when the student’s classroom teacher is unable to send work on time.

Click any of the images below to see all the paired texts I have available in my TpT store.  I’ve written passages on more than 70 athletes who compete in a variety of sports, so I’m sure you’ll find topics that will interest your students.  I also have passages written on a variety of reading levels to help you meet the needs of your students.

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 5-6Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 3-4

Paired Texts About Famous Athletes for Grades 1-2

Feel free to email me at keithgeswein@keithgeswein.com or leave feedback in my TpT store to let me know how these work for you.  Thank you for the 5,236,823 things you do for your students every day!

Inspirational African Americans Your Students Need to Learn More About

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman

I taught third grade at an international school in China for four years.  Most of my students were Korean children whose parents worked in China.  Our big project every year was a wax museum presentation, where students would dress up as famous people and stand like wax statues, speaking only when people walked up to them.  EVERY YEAR, I had several boys ask to be Martin Luther King and several girls ask to be Harriet Tubman.  It was so cool to see my Korean students in China be so inspired by these two!

During my ten years of teaching the US, I tried to keep as many books about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman in my classroom library because my students loved reading about them.  It was a no-brainer for me to write informational texts about them.  I think it’s great for students to see how hard these two worked to help African Americans.  It’s also cool for students to compare the way they worked — Tubman often worked in secret to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, while Dr. King wanted most of his actions to be made publicly.  This leads to some excellent class discussions about how two completely different techniques can be used to achieve the same goal.

Here’s what my paired texts about MLK and Harriet Tubman look like.  Click the image to see the product in my TpT store.  From there you can download a preview to see more of this or purchase the set for $4.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

 

Edmonia Lewis (sculptor) and Garrett Morgan (inventor)

These two should receive more attention.  Edmonia Lewis is the first African-American woman whose sculptures received international recognition.  She attended college in 1859 to study art, but she had to leave before earning her degree because she was accused of crimes she didn’t commit.  Then she had to break into a profession that was dominated by white men.  She refused to take no for an answer and eventually found someone to mentor her.  She made a sculpture that helped her earn enough money to move to Rome.  But my favorite fact about Edmonia is how she carved her own marble sculptures in Rome.  Most other sculptors who worked in Italy made a model, then hired locals to do the physically-demanding job of carving the sculpture into the marble.  BUT NOT EDMONIA!!!  Even though she was about four feet tall, she refused to hire help because she didn’t want anyone to question the validity of her work.  Edmonia’s sculptures featured characteristics of her African-American and Native-American (Chippewa) heritage.  Kids who love art will be inspired by her story!

Garrett Morgan invented things that saved lives.  He saw problems, then invented things to solve them.  He noticed the firefighters sometimes died from suffocation when they entered buildings full of smoke.  So he invented the first gas mask in 1912 that allowed firefighters to breathe in smoky buildings.  This invention helped him rescue miners who were trapped in a tunnel in Cleveland in 1916.  Garrett’s gas mask helped him breathe long enough to rescue two men who were trapped.  A few years later, he witnessed a terrible car accident at an intersection in Cleveland.  So he invented a traffic signal that included a “warning” signal to give people time to slow down before the signal turned red.  It’s why traffic lights today have the yellow light.  Garrett’s story will inspire students who have a passion for creating things that help people.

Click the image below to see my paired texts about Lewis and Morgan.

 

Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles:  Olympic gold-medal gymnasts

Simone Biles dominated gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics like no one else has ever done before.  But in 2011, she missed making the US team by one spot.  She made the US team the next year, but she was a year too young to compete in the 2012 Olympics.  So that meant she was going to have to train for four years to compete in the Olympics.  Instead of getting discouraged, Simone got to work — and she did so with an amazing attitude.  Her story is a perfect example of how to handle disappointment and how years of hard work can pay off in incredible ways.

Gabby Douglas is one of the few US gymnasts to compete in two Olympics.  She became a superstar when she won the all-around at the 2012 Olympics.  She was disappointed that she didn’t win any individual gold medals in 2016, but she was more disappointed at all the criticism she received.  For some reason, Gabby has been the focus of lots of unfair, hurtful criticism on social media during both Olympics.  Some reporters in Rio seemed more interested in getting her reaction to mean tweets than asking about her gymnastics routines.  But I hope you show your students this quote from Gabby because it sets such a powerful example of how to respond to people who criticize you:

“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character.  Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble?  I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympic team.  It’s been an amazing experience.  It’s been teaching me a lot.”

My paired texts about Gabby and Simone are FREE!  Click the image below to download this free item.

Inspirational paired texts about African Americans

 

LeBron James and Michael Jordan (NBA)

When LeBron James was young, he moved a lot and was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money.  I think it’s powerful for young people who are living in a similar situation to realize they can grow up to be successful.  Sports played a huge role in stabilizing LeBron’s life when he was young.  When he started playing football and basketball, he met lots of awesome people who were great role models for him.  Maybe you have students who are in a similar situation…maybe sports can be the positive thing they need in their life, just like LeBron when he was young.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but he didn’t make his high-school varsity team his sophomore year.  Lots of kids know that story, but it’s important for your students to read about his failed attempt at playing Major League Baseball.  Michael abruptly retired from the NBA in 1993 at the peak of his career.  He then tried out for the Chicago White Sox because he has always loved baseball.  But he wasn’t very good.  He spent his brief baseball career in the minor leagues, where he didn’t hit very well.  It was so strange to see one of the greatest athletes ever struggle so mightily on the baseball field.  Michael retired from baseball in 1995 and returned to the NBA.   It’s great for your students to read about one of the world’s greatest athletes TRYING something new, FAILING, then returning to DOMINATE the NBA!

Click the image below to see more of my paired texts about LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

I hope your students will learn a lot by reading about these inspirational people!

Paired Texts That Will Have Your Students Begging for More

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

When I think about my experiences in school, I remember being bored during reading class.  The stories in our reading book were always so boring.  I remember rushing through my work so I could read the things that I wanted, which were books about sports!

My best memories of school came during the Scholastic Book Fair because they had books about football and basketball!!  Every year, I eagerly bought all the books about my favorite athletes and teams.  Then I returned to class and rushed through my work so I could read them.   I credit these sports books for developing my reading skills because I was such a picky reader.  I bet some of my teachers considered me a “reluctant reader.”

Fast forward (more years than I’d like to admit) and I realize that several 5th graders in my class are just like me.  There are lots of kids who are desperate for something to read that they can relate to.  I feel like there are lots of great fiction books, but it seems a lot of students zone out when they read nonfiction.  There are lots of kids who are huge sports fans, but I’ve noticed there’s a shortage of high-quality, nonfiction reading material about sports.

That’s why I have written over 200 passages about famous athletes for grades 1-6.

Here’s what a set about Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant looks like.  (Steph and Kobe are famous basketball players.)  If you click the image it will take you to that product and you can download a preview.

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

Students will perform better in reading class if they are reading about a topic they care about.  We have tons of kids who love sports, but it seems like there aren’t enough stories about athletes.  The passages I’ve written about LeBron James, Cam Newton, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, or Simone Biles will light a spark under some of your reluctant readers because they will finally be reading about a topic they care about.

I’ve been pleased to hear from many teachers that these passages engage even their most reluctant readers, students who sound just like me when I was in school!  Here are some of the things teachers have said after using my paired texts with their students:

“It really peaked the interest of my 4th graders, especially the boys…kids were asking to do extra!

“Students loved these and begged for more!”

“My students cheer when they see these selections.  The question that comes after is, ‘Can we have more?  We love reading about sports figures.'”

“All of the texts are full of great information.  Finally, I’ve found something that my kids will read!!”

“We used it for center time and they were talking about the players long after!”

“My students really enjoyed reading them which makes teaching a whole lot easier.”

“Boys in my middle school intervention class loved this!  Something they would finally read about willingly!”

“It really makes reluctant readers want to read.” 

“The kids loved how they could relate to the topic.  They’re much more engaged when they love the topic!”

“All of my students enjoyed the passages and they sparked lively discussions.”

I started by writing these passages on a 5th-6th grade reading level.  Then I had several teachers say they needed these passages written on lower reading levels.  So I have also created several sets for kids who are reading on a 3rd-4th grade reading level and 1st-2nd grade reading level.

The following three images show an example one set of paired texts written on a range of reading levels.  Click any of these three images to download a free sample that best suits your needs, or grab them all so you can differentiate!

      

If you’d like to see more, click any of the three images below to browse my selection of paired texts for the reading level you want.  Most sets are either $3 or $4.

If you need passages for Google Classroom, be sure to grab this free resource about LeBron James and Steph Curry (grades 5-6).  The passages are in a Google Slides file and the quiz is in a Google Forms file so you can assign these activities digitally if you have the resources to do so.

Paired passages about famous basketball players for Google Classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I make sure to include stories about these athletes working hard, overcoming challenges, and dealing with criticism.  I also include passages about each athletes’ charity work.  I’m confident your students will learn a ton about hard work, perseverance, and helping others by reading about these athletes.

I spent 30-40 hours researching, writing, and proofreading each set of paired texts.  I ensure all of the quiz questions are aligned to new standards.  I triple check facts in the passages for accuracy.

I’ve been a huge sports fan my whole life.  These passages will help some of your students become a huge fan of your reading lessons.

 

 

Four Books That Fifth Graders Won’t Stop Reading

Books Your Fifth Graders Won't Stop Reading

(Yes, that’s my daughter reading Hoot.  My legs are still sore!)

The best part of teaching fifth grade is watching kids get really excited about a good book.  It’s such a shame that reading “experts” in so many districts require teachers to use test-prep passages to teach reading.  Fifth graders are at an age where they crave relationships.  They love reading good books because they feel a connection with the story’s characters — something that’s impossible to do with a 2-3 page test-prep passage.

I’ve got about 8-10 awesome go-to books that I know fifth graders love.  But I always struggled to find time to read new books.  Then if I found a good book, I had to find resources to help me teach the standards using that book.

My goal with this blog post is to give you a brief description of four books and link you to resources I’ve created that can help you cover the standards while using quality literature.  I want you to be able to enjoy these books with your class, not worry about finding activities.

I know you can Google the synopsis of these books, but I will explain a few reasons why fifth graders will enjoy them.  Click the images if you’d like to see the novel study resources I’ve created for each book.

Ungifted, by Gordon Korman

This is about a boy (Donovan) who gets sent to a new school so he can avoid a huge punishment.  But then he surprisingly ends up enjoying this new school way more than his old one.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Donovan does not fit in at his new school because he’s not as smart as everyone else.  But he finds ways to fit in, earn the respect of his new classmates, and show that intelligence is not something that is only measured by grades on a report card.

–Donovan is very loyal to his family.

–Donovan is not afraid to take risks.  Here’s a response from one of my 5th graders who loves that Donovan is not a “normal” character.

Five Books Fifth Graders Will Love

 

Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen

This is about a boy named Roy who helps two other kids stand up to a major corporation so lots of animals will be able to keep their home.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Roy’s new friends delay this corporation’s project through some creative and funny methods, one of which involves putting gators in port-a-potties.

–They are protecting adorable baby owls.

–Roy stands up to a boy who is bullying him, but not by fighting him.

–At first, Roy has problems adjusting to his family’s move from Montana to Florida.  I’m sure you have students who have moved and miss their old home.

As you can see from the picture above, my daughter couldn’t put this book down!  Here are the novel study resources I’ve created that gave my students things to write about and discuss as they read Hoot.

Books fifth graders will love

 

Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

This story does a brilliant job of illustrating the life of an African-American family living in Mississippi in the 1930s.  Students will learn how racism affected the lives of African-American families during this time.  Students should realize how racist comments and actions have a devastating impact on people’s lives.  Hopefully, after reading about Cassie’s family, your students will think twice about making racist comments and/or posting hateful messages and images on social media.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Cassie is a very strong-willed young girl who stands up for what is right.  She has to make many difficult decisions.  Sometimes she regrets her choices.  But she always tries to do the right thing.

–Cassie’s parents and grandmother refuse to respond to racism with violence.  Instead, they come together in support of the entire black community.

–Your students have probably heard, or been the victim of, racist comments.  Cassie and her family will help your students learn the importance of standing up against racism, and ways of doing so without fighting.

–Your students will develop a STRONG connection with Cassie’s family.  They will feel angry and sad about the racist things that are done in the story.  Prepare for some deep questions and strong emotions as your students read this…which is exactly what we want when kids read, right?

There are LOTS of ways for your students to respond to this book!

Books Fifth Graders Will Love

 

Pie, by Sarah Weeks

This is a fun book about a girl’s mission to carry on her aunt’s legacy of baking wonderful pies as a way to unite her community.  The girl, Alice, also mends her rocky relationship with her mom, solves a mystery, and gains a lifelong friend.  If you’re looking for a new book to try with your class, I highly recommend Pie!

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Every chapter starts with a pie recipe!  Don’t read this book on an empty stomach!

–After Alice’s Aunt Polly (the famous pie chef) dies, many people try to get their hands on her secret recipes.  There are several mysteries that Alice attempts to figure out regarding this recipe.  Alice also has to figure out who is trying to steal these recipes.

–In the end, Alice learns to be content with whatever life gives you.  She gets along much better with her mom.  And she carries on her aunt’s legacy of baking pies to unite the community.

–This book was selected by Florida students in grades 3-5 as the best book on the state’s 2015-16 SSYRA list!  Every year, the SSYRA (Sunshine State Young Readers Award) committee selects 15 awesome books for students to read that year. Then  kids across Florida who read them vote on a winner.  It’s a really cool process!  I taught fifth grade in Florida for five years and always loved the books on the SSYRA list!

–Again, discussion and response topics are numerous with this book!

Four Books Fifth Graders Will Love

I know the pressure to teach test-prep passages is enormous.  It’s a shame that lots of teachers feel like they have to “sneak” good books in during their reading block instead using those boring passages.  But I hope you are able to read these books with your class this year.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each book.  For Hoot, I also have made vocabulary pages, cloze activities, and task cards with discussion topics.  Click the picture below to check them out!  They are available together at a discounted price, or individually if you’d prefer.

Novel studies for books that fifth graders love

 

 

 

Five Books About Determined Girls

Books about determined girls

I just finished reading five books that are awesome for the girls in your class!  Each book’s main character is a young girl between 10-13 years old who shows incredible determination in accomplishing an important goal.  These girls all overcome incredible challenges and don’t allow setbacks to keep them from accomplishing something they’ve set their mind to.  Even though they are hurt when people say rude things to them, they don’t respond with anger.  They are a great example of how to persevere when life gets difficult.   This drawing (not my original idea!) summarizes what each girl faces:

Five books about determined girls

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (AR level 3.7)

Main character:  Ally, who is dyslexic and a brilliant artist.

Problem:  Ally gets teased often at school because she has problems reading.  She does not like herself and gets in trouble often.

Ally’s class gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, in the middle of her sixth-grade year.  This teacher helps Ally realize that even though she has trouble reading, she is talented at many other things.  Ally starts to believe in herself a little more each day.  She starts working harder in school.  Mr. Daniels tutors Ally after school and uses many different techniques to help her learn to read.

Ally always assumed that her classmates hated her.  But by the end of the book, it is clear her classmates have noticed how hard Ally has been working.  They respect her artistic talents.  They appreciate the way that she treats people kindly.  By the end of the book, it’s clear that Ally is one of the most respected students in the class.  She still struggles with reading, but she is getting better.  Her determination has helped her gain new friends and a newfound respect for herself.  She realizes she is a person who has many talents.  She stops defining herself as someone who can’t read.

Serafina’s Promise, by Ann E. Burg (AR level 3.6)

Main character:  Serafina, a girl who lives in Haiti.

Problem:  Serafina desperately wants to attend school so she can become a doctor when she grows up.  But her family needs her at home to help with the daily chores.

Problem #2:  Once Serafina starts school, she starts to dislike it because they are required to learn French, a subject that Serafina feels is pointless.

Hopefully, your students will gain an appreciation for their ability to attend school every day after reading Serafina’s Promise!  Serafina wants to attend school more than anything in the world.  Serafina has to persuade her parents, but she also has to help her family rebuild after a life-threatening flood and earthquake.  After she helps her family build a new home after the flood, Serafina learns how to plant an herb garden.  Instead of complaining that her mother won’t let her attend school, Serafina becomes determined to use this herb garden as a way to earn more money for her family.  Her parents eventually allow Serafina to attend school.  Her mother says how impressed she has been that Serafina has earned extra money while keeping up with all of her other daily chores.

But once Serafina attends school, she gets discouraged because they have to learn French.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but by the end, Serafina becomes determined to do her best during these French lessons because that will allow her to accomplish her bigger goal of becoming a doctor.

All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman (AR level 6.0)

Main character:  Gladys, who is an incredible chef and a talented writer.

Problem:  Gladys has parents who don’t want her to cook because they feel like that’s not something kids should do.  Gladys also feels like her interest in food makes her an outcast at school.

Gladys is determined to write a restaurant review for a major New York City newspaper!  She mistakenly receives an assignment from an editor.  Even though she’s in sixth grade, Gladys feels like she’s talented enough to write this review. But Gladys feels like if her parents find out about this, they won’t let her write it.  Gladys goes to great lengths to secretly get to this restaurant, but her plan hits lots of road bumps.  Ultimately, her kindness toward a mean girl enables Gladys to get to the restaurant and write this review.  By the end of the story, Gladys’s parents respect her culinary and writing talents and encourage her to cook more.  There were several times during the story when Gladys could have given up her desire to cook and write, but her determination helped her achieve her goal.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners (AR level 5.4)

Main character:  Gabby, who is incredible with children and a talented musician.

Problem:  Gabby must take care of a child whose life is in danger.  Additionally, if Gabby can keep this job a secret, she will earn a lot of money that she can save to help her attend her dream college in London.

Gabby is a famous babysitter.  Celebrities around the world send limos and private jets so Gabby can babysit their kids.  But Gabby gets a unique job offer to take care of alien children.  Gabby is excited because this job pays extremely well.  She is being raised by her mother and knows the extra money would really help her family.  It will also allow her to save some money so she can attend an awesome music college in London.  But there’s one big catch — Gabby can’t tell anyone about this top-secret job of watching aliens.

This becomes even more challenging when Gabby is told to babysit an alien child during school.  Thankfully, the child can change forms.  But as the school day progresses, an evil person finds out and tries to hurt the kid.  Gabby’s love for this child puts herself in several dangerous and embarrassing situations.  But her determination to protect this child ends up saving the child’s life and helping Gabby accomplish her musical goals as well.

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord (AR level 4.5)

Main character:  Lucy, who is an amazing photographer.

Problem:  Lucy wants to use her photography skills to make a friend’s grandmother have a memorable final summer at their lakeside cottage.

Lucy’s family has just moved to a small cottage near a lake in New Hampshire.  Lucy becomes friends with her neighbor, Nate, whose grandmother suffers from a mental disability.  Lucy decides to enter a photo contest and donate the money to Nate’s grandma if she wins.  But there are many challenges for Lucy to even enter this contest, much less win it.  Lucy experiences many setbacks in her plan.  But through it all, she remains determined to help Nate’s grandmother have happy memories during her final summer at the lake.

Florida teachers — These books were on the 2016-17 grade 3-5 SSYRA list!

My goal is to help teachers read quality literature with their students.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for all of these books.  Click the image below to check them out!

Novel studies for books about determined girls

 

These Four Athletes Are Awesome Role Models for Your Students

Athletes who are great role models

I started writing informational texts about famous athletes in August 2015.  My goal is to create high-interest nonfiction passages for students who normally don’t like to read.  But after researching over 70 athletes, I have realized that young people can learn a lot of important life lessons by reading about these athletes’ lives!  Yes, there are athletes who make bad choices.  But there are so many who set awesome examples for our students!  Here are my main takeaways after a year of reading about famous athletes:

** Lots of them are INCREDIBLE ROLE MODELS FOR YOUR STUDENTS for reasons that have nothing to do with their athletic ability!!

** They are really smart!  The “dumb jock” stereotype needs to be done away with forever!

** Your students need to read how hard they have worked their entire lives.  When they face challenges and criticism, they don’t quit.  They use it as fuel to work harder.

These are four athletes who have really impressed me while I researched them.

Aaron Rodgers  

Life lesson:  Small kids from small schools can achieve big things!

During my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught several boys who think they can’t play sports because they are short.  But Aaron was small when he started high school.  He attended a small high school that produced few college football players, much less future NFL stars.  Aaron put up incredible numbers playing quarterback in high school, but no big colleges offered him a scholarship.  So Aaron went to tiny Butte Community College, where he continued putting up incredible stats.  Finally, after years of hard work and persistence, he was offered a scholarship to play football at the University of California Berkeley.

Even then, people doubted him.  Aaron says a college professor laughed at him when he said he was going to play in the NFL.  Then when Aaron was drafted into the NFL, he had to wait three years as a backup to Brett Favre before he got to play.  But Aaron never complained.  He took notes on what Brett did every day in practice.  He observed the questions Brett asked in meetings.  Aaron refused to get discouraged.  Now he is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.  Aaron also does a ton of charity work to help raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research.  Once, he surprised a 12-year-old girl whose younger brother had recently died from cancer.  When Aaron heard how much this girl was doing to raise awareness for cancer research, he wanted to help her.  He spent the day  helping her with her project.  Aaron’s heart is as big as his talent.  Click below for passages your students can read about Aaron.

Aaron Rodgers Brett Favre Paired Texts

Simone Biles

Life lesson for your students:  Years of hard work can pay off in “golden” ways!

Simone Biles has dominated gymnastics in a way that has never been done before!  She won four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics.  She dominated the World Championships for two years before that.  But Simone missed out on the 2012 Olympics because she was just barely too young.  That meant training for long hours every day for nearly four years to achieve her dream of competing in the Olympics.  It’s really tough for gymnasts to stay at an elite level for that long, but Simone was up to the challenge!  More importantly, Simone’s coach said she kept an amazing attitude during all these years of training.  This incredible attitude was on display during the 2016 Olympics when Simone made a mistake that cost her a gold medal on the balance beam.  But she cheered like crazy for fellow American Laurie Hernandez as she won silver in that event.  Her attitude and work ethic are just as incredible as her talent.  Click below to see my paired texts about Simone and Shannon Miller.

Simone Biles Shannon Miller Paired Texts

LeBron James

Life lesson for your students:  Sports can provide stability when life gets tough.

LeBron James was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money, so they moved a lot.  LeBron thinks he moved six times when he was 4th grade!  Do you have students who are being raised by just one parent?  Or students who move a lot?  They need to read LeBron’s story!  Once he got involved with football, his coaches became father-figures.  They encouraged him to stay in school and get his homework done every night.  One of these coaches taught LeBron how to dribble a basketball.  Before he became a basketball star, LeBron needed stability in his life.  You probably have students who could use sports as a stabilizer in their life, just like LeBron.

Kids also need to realize that the man who is currently king of the NBA was one of the most hated and mocked athletes in the country from 2011-2012 when he went to the Miami Heat.  But he used it as motivation to work hard.  He also does a TON of work promoting education.  He has an awesome program that helps at-risk kids from elementary school all the way through high school graduation.  He gives awesome rewards for kids who have perfect attendance and good grades.   There are many reasons Cleveland should be proud of LeBron.  Click the image to see the passages I wrote about LeBron and Michael Jordan.

LeBron James Michael Jordan Paired Texts

Carlos Correa

Life lesson for your students:  Set goals and work like crazy to achieve them!

Of all the athletes I’ve written about, I’ve been most impressed with Carlos.  One of MLB’s brightest young stars grew up in Puerto Rico.  His dad worked construction jobs and made Carlos help him starting when he was eight years old.  Carlos learned what it meant to work hard.  So when he decided he wanted to become a pro baseball player, he worked as hard as he could to improve every day.  He also worked hard to learn English.  He saw many MLB players who needed a translator when they were interviewed.  So when Carlos was in third grade, he asked his parents to send him to a school where he could learn English.  He wanted to be able to speak for himself when he became an MLB player one day!  Carlos was an awesome student who graduated with the best grades in his high school class.  He scored a 1560 on the SAT!

He also has a huge desire to help others.  He started helping homeless people in Houston just a few weeks after joining the Astros in 2015.  He says God has blessed him with an incredible talent, so he has a responsibility to give back to his community.  Carlos is an incredible person for your students to learn about!  Your students will learn a ton about hard work if they read these paired texts about Carlos and Cal Ripken Jr.!

Carlos Correa Paired Texts

 

 

Your Students Will Love This “Loser”

Your Students Will Love Reading About This Loser

Most of my fifth graders say Donald Zinkoff is their favorite character of any book they read all year!  We have incredible discussions while reading Loser because my students like Donald so much.  I wanted to share some discussion topics that will impact the way your students act when they see kids being picked on.

Author Jerry Spinelli describes Donald’s life from a young boy through middle school.  Donald is very different from his classmates.  He has zero social skills.  He has terrible handwriting.  He doesn’t get good grades.  He is incredibly clumsy.  It’s easy for anyone to pick on him.  When he gets to 4th grade, classmates begin calling him “loser.”

But Donald is one of the kindest, most tender-hearted characters your students will ever read about.  He cares about everyone.  He assumes everyone has good intentions.  He doesn’t hide his emotions.  His family doesn’t have much money, but Donald never cares about that.

I hope you read this book to your class because once your students fall in love with Donald, they will be forced to think about how they treat kids who act like him.  By fifth grade, everyone has been around someone like Donald.  Everyone has seen a kid get picked on because they’re different.  We have incredible discussions about this while we read Loser.

Discussion topic:

“We all agree that Donald is an incredible person.  We are all sad when he gets teased.  So what will you do next time you see someone like Donald getting picked on?”

Students NEED to realize that kids like Donald deserve respect.  Students NEED to understand it’s wrong to tease a person, even if everyone else is doing.  It is so powerful for students to feel sad for Donald as he is being teased by all of his classmates.  Reading about Donald is far more effective than me saying, “Don’t pick on others.”  This is big in helping kids understand why treating people respectfully is so important.

Discussion topic:

One time, a student asked me, “Why doesn’t everyone else (in the book) realize what a nice person Donald is?”

This is exactly what I want my kids to ask while they’re reading Loser because I want them to think about this next time they see a kid being teased because he/she acts differently than everyone else.

Discussion topic:

“What would happen if these kids got to know Donald instead of teasing him?  Do you think they would enjoy being around him?”

There is not ONE classmate who tries to get to know Donald during the book.  He even has a few teachers who are annoyed with the way he acts.  His fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Yalowitz, treats Donald more respectfully than any teacher he’s ever had.  My students like the way Mr. Yalowitz accepts Donald for who he is.  Then we talk about how good we would feel if a classmate made an effort to get to know Donald.

One year I read this book with a guided reading group instead of the whole class.  The five kids in my guided reading group loved Donald so much that they told their classmates about him.  The other kids asked to read Loser when I wasn’t using the books in guided reading.  I eventually ended up reading the book to the whole class because EVERY STUDENT was dying to read about Donald.

I hope you will find time to read Loser with your class this year.  I’ve developed a 50-page novel study unit to help your students respond to the text.  Or this can simply to give you more ideas of things to discuss while you read this during a read-aloud time.

Loser Novel Study Unit

 

 

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Students can learn so much more from novels than test-prep passages.  I know you’re under a ton of pressure to get students to pass multiple-choice reading tests.  But I hope you will find time this year to read awesome novels, like Esperanza Rising.  In addition to teaching reading skills, your students can learn to face challenging situations instead of giving up.

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a wonderful story of a young girl whose life changes dramatically after a terrible tragedy.  The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, does a beautiful job of developing characters that students feel an immediate connection with.  This can really help your students develop a growth mindset.  I’ve taught so many students whose first instinct is to quit when faced with a challenging situation.  I hope you teach your students that challenging school assignments can help them grow academically.  Facing difficult situations in life can help them grow as a person.  We all know students are far more likely to remember these ideas from characters they connect with during a story as opposed to us lecturing them.  So here are three ways you can use the characters and events of Esperanza Rising to foster a growth mindset with your students.

 1.  You can learn a lot about yourself during difficult situations

Chapter one paints Esperanza as a nice, but spoiled, rich girl.  Her father is a wealthy land-owner.  Esperanza spends time with her father in the fields but never has to actually do any of the work.  She has servants attending to her every need.  She lives in a beautiful home and has very nice things.  Esperanza has a wonderful, loving family.  But that all changes when her father is murdered. Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave everything behind and flee to the United States.

Esperanza’s new home in California is tiny and dirty.  She is thrust into a new life where she has to do many chores that servants had always done for her.  Esperanza is miserable.  Her father has just died.  She is living in a strange place.  She is going to have to work in a way that she’s never worked before.  It would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

Things get worse for Esperanza before they get better.  One of her first chores is to sweep, and she fails because she’s never had to sweep before.  Other girls laugh at Esperanza’s inability to perform such a simple task.  She refuses to leave the house for a day because she is so humiliated.  Later, she has to take care of babies.  She feeds them plums, not knowing this would give the babies an upset stomach.  She also burns food that she cooks.  She has given these tasks an honest effort, but has failed.  Again, it would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

But Esperanza decides to ignore the taunts of others and continue cleaning.  She continues looking after the babies.  She continues cooking.  Day, after day, after day.  SLOWLY, Esperanza learns how to accomplish these tasks.  I emphasize the word SLOWLY with my students to help them realize success does not happen overnight, as Esperanza finds out.

Later, Esperanza’s mother gets really sick.  She has to stay in the hospital for several months.  Now, Esperanza is forced to work in the fields.  Esperanza promises her mom to take care of the family.  I tell my students that Esperanza is probably not the best field worker, but she does well enough to keep her job and provide a little bit of money that her family needs to survive while her mother is sick.

The book ends one year after her father died.  During that year, Esperanza has done things she never thought she could do.  I have the students reread chapter one and think, “Would Esperanza have ever dreamed she could accomplish these things (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, farming, etc.) just a year earlier?”

Also, kids need to realize that there are times when life will be challenging.  But it is possible to come out of these challenging situations a stronger person.  Emphasize to your students that Esperanza went from a spoiled, helpless girl to a strong, determined woman who provided for her family – all in one year.

This is awesome for students who are adapting to a new school, city, or country.  You can say:

“I know it’s hard adjusting to life in this new school/city/country.  Remember Esperanza.  She fought through lots of challenging situations and after a year, she started to feel better about her new home.”

2.  Accept help

When Esperanza arrived in California, a young girl named Isabel greeted her.  Isabel was in awe of Esperanza.  Isabel had heard all about Esperanza’s extravagant life in Mexico before her father died.  Esperanza, on the other hand, looked down on Isabel for being poor.  Esperanza saw Isabel’s meager home and possessions.  She wondered how Isabel could be so happy with so little.

SLOWLY, Esperanza realizes that Isabel is a kind girl.  Esperanza also realizes that Isabel knows how to do things like clean and babysit.  So Esperanza drops her ego and asks Isabel to teach her how to sweep and take care of babies, even though she thought Isabel was beneath her.  Isabel is a huge help as Esperanza starts to learn how to tackle the day-to-day chores of her new life.  Esperanza eventually becomes friends with Isabella.

This is an outstanding reminder to students that everyone needs to accept help.  It’s also a good reminder that the people we look down upon may be the ones who can help us the most.

Tell a student:

“I know you’re struggling to learn this science vocabulary.  And I know you’re not getting along with (insert name or names of students), but I think the two of you could help each other learn this vocabulary and do well on your quiz.  Remember how Esperanza accepted help from Isabel.  I think (name of student) could help you just like Isabel helped Esperanza.”

3.  Remember the things you have to be thankful for

Esperanza hears her mother singing a few hours after they arrive at their new home in California.  Esperanza is furious.  How can her mother possibly be singing during such a terrible time?   They have gone from living in luxury to living in poverty in a very short time.  But Mama tells Esperanza to focus on what they do have.  They have each other.  They have a place to live.  They have people there who can help them.  And Mama has a job.  Mama reminds Esperanza that Abuelita would want her to make the best of her new life instead of dwelling on all the negatives.  Mama is not saying their new life is going to be easy.  But she reminds her daughter they still have a lot to be thankful for.

In my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught many kids who have a difficult time focusing on the positives.  This story of Mama singing is great for students to think about during challenges they face.  Students need to know that it’s ok to get discouraged during challenging times.  Don’t tell students that they have to be positive, happy, cheerful people 24/7.  But Mama’s attitude helps kids remember that it’s possible to find a little bit of joy even during the gloomiest of situations.

Tell a student: 

“Sure you’re struggling with this math problem.  It’s really hard and that’s no fun.  But think about Esperanza’s mom when they first arrived in California.  Remember you have people around you who are here to help.  Look at this as a chance to grow and learn perseverance.”

I really hope you can read Esperanza Rising with your students.  You can use the story’s characters and events to teach reading skills, but the life lessons your students can learn are even more powerful.  These three ideas can start some discussions with your students, but there are many more ways this book can help your students develop a growth mindset.  I have also developed several activities for each chapter so you don’t have to worry about planning activities.  Click the image below for more info.

Enjoy this book with your students and remind them of these characters throughout the year.

Esperanza Rising Novel Study

 

Your Students Need to Read About Steph Curry’s Childhood

Steph Curry is doing things that no other basketball player has ever done.  More importantly, Steph is an excellent role model for young people to look up to.  Lots of kids wear his #30 jersey, which is great that they look up to an outstanding person.  But whenever I see a kid wearing a Steph Curry jersey, I want to ask, “Did you know Steph worked so hard on his shooting in middle school that he sometimes cried?!”  Or, “Do you realize Steph’s mother made him miss games if he forgot to do his chores?!”  Also, “Isn’t cool that a player as talented as Steph always asked his coaches how he could improve?!”  I have a feeling that these kids’ parents would not approve of a creepy stranger running up to their kid and asking these random questions.  So instead, I’ll write about three of the many life lessons your students can learn by reading about Steph’s life.

Lessons from Steph Curry's life

Success requires an insane amount of work.

Steph’s father, Dell, was an excellent NBA player.  When Steph was in middle school, Dell noticed his son’s shot was too easy to block.  So he spent an entire summer teaching Steph new shooting techniques.  And Dell didn’t teach him in a cozy NBA gym — Dell took Steph to the goal he shot at growing up.  When Dell was a kid, his dad nailed a goal to a telephone pole in their yard.  Dell’s father used a thick, steel rim.  So you had to shoot the ball perfectly through the hoop to score — there were no forgiving bounces with that rim!  And if you missed, you had to run far to retrieve the ball.  Steph said, “It was make it or chase it out there.”

So Steph spent hours that summer relearning how to shoot.  His grandmother remembers seeing Steph take lots of shots with tears in his eyes.  It had to be an incredibly frustrating experience for Steph, who was already a good shooter. Imagine running after the ball every time your shot isn’t perfect.  Imagine how tired he must have been!  There must have been times when Steph doubted himself.  There were probably a few times when Steph wanted to quit, especially since that was such an unfair goal to shoot on.  But Steph always dragged himself to the goal every day to learn from his father.

What a powerful story to tell your students!  Next time a kid feels like giving up, remind them that even Steph Curry felt so discouraged about his shooting skills in middle school that he cried.  But no matter what, he didn’t give up.

I also think this story shows the importance of challenging yourself.  I love that he spent an entire summer shooting on a goal that required a perfect shot to score.  Steph said making shots during games was much easier after spending so much time shooting at his dad’s old goal.

Steph realized no one owed him anything

Steph’s father was a really good NBA player for 16 years.  Steph was alive for most of his father’s NBA career.  Steph got to attend lots of NBA games.  He got to play basketball on fancy NBA practice courts.  He met lots of famous players.  It would have been easy for Steph to think that he was better than everyone else. But Steph realized that if he wanted to become an NBA player like his dad, he was going to have to put in a tremendous amount of work.  He did not want to be automatically handed a spot on a basketball team just because of who his dad was.  Steph always listened to his dad’s advice, but he wanted to earn success, not just be handed it.

Steph also worked hard in school.  He tried his best to do what his parents and teachers told him to do.  When he didn’t do his chores at home, Steph’s mom made him miss basketball games as punishment.  Steph always loved basketball while he was growing up, but he realized that getting a good education was just as important.  I love that even though Steph’s dad was famous, he remained humble, respectful, and hard-working.

Use your talents to make the world a better place

Steph is one of the best shooters in basketball history.  He made 402 three-pointers during the 2015-2016 season.  The next closest player had 276.  Steph has always been a good shooter.  When he was in college at Davidson, he started donating money to Nothing But Nets, which is a program that delivers bed nets to areas of Africa that have problems with malaria.  Steph was sad when he read that a child in Africa dies from malaria every 60 seconds.  He stepped up his giving when he got to the NBA, agreeing to donate enough money for three bed nets for every three-pointer he makes.

So, who will students most likely listen to:  Me telling them why it’s important to work hard, or these stories about Steph Curry persevering?  I’ve written a set of paired texts about Steph and Kobe Bryant that have more stories like these.  I was very impressed with Steph and Kobe as I researched them.  In addition to teaching reading skills with these paired texts, you can teach important life lessons as well!

Steph Curry Kobe Bryant Paired Texts