Friday, May 27, 2016

A School Visit Milestone

Recently I hit a major milestone—the one-hundredth time I presented the program Bringing Science to Life as part of a school visit. Wow!

This popular presentation serves a multi-grade audience and during the first 8 minutes, second graders perform a fun readers theater that I adapted from one of my books to an audience of K and 1 students.

Over the years, I have changed and updated many of my school visit programs, but this one seems to be evergreen. One reason is that every school brings its own creativity to the way they prepare for and perform the readers theater. In fact, just last week, I saw three very different versions.

At Hanlon School in Westwood, MA, students printed out photos of the animal they were portraying and taped their lines to the back.
At Hawley School in Newtown, CT, students held their scripts in one hand and stuffed animals of the creature they were portraying in the other hand.
And at Middle Gate School in Newtown, CT, the students made masks. Instead of standing in a line at the front of the room, each child walked across the room as they read their lines. I’d never seen staging like that before.
Through the years, I’ve seen everything from animal hats at Hathaway School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. . .
. . . to animal posters at Pownal School in Pownal, Maine.
I’ve also seen all kinds of creative backdrops, including these fun Under the Snow posters made by students at McGovern School in Medway, MA . . .
. . . and these incredible painted scenes painted by the art teacher at Ellsworth School in Windsor, CT.
I’ve even seen what I like to think of the unplugged version, where students remained seated throughout the performance, at King Open School in Cambridge, MA.
With so much diversity, this program always seems fresh to me. So as long as students continue to love it, I’ll keep offering it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Behind the Books: When I Became a Writer

One of the questions people frequently ask me is when I became a writer. My answer usually surprises them.

Taking a rest with my dad.
I wrote my first piece of nonfiction when I was around 4 years old. It consisted of one word, five letters. Missy—my childhood nickname.

The truth is that we are all writers from the moment we first put pencil to paper. And that’s something I really want kids to understand when I do school visits.

There are probably some people with an innate talent for writing, just as some people are more athletic than others. But getting to the Olympics is about much more than being born with talent. It’s about years and years of dedicated practice and hard work. So is becoming a published writer.
I published my first book, Life Without Light, when I was 30. Before that, I'd contributed maybe a hundred articles to magazines and newspapers.
I became a professional writer at age 21. (I received a whopping $4.00 for an article that appeared in a Greenwich Village community newspaper.) Before that, I'd written many articles and a column for my college newspaper.

I wrote my first published piece when I was 15. It ran on page 2 of my high school newspaper, “Here’s Hampshire.” And it made me very proud. Just as proud as holding Life Without Light for the first time.

But maybe not as proud as the very first time I wrote my name. Missy. That was a great day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book of the Week: How Is My Brain Like a Supercomputer?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

How Is My Brain Like a Supercomputer? And Other Questions about the Human Body aligns perfectly with NGSS PE 4-LS1-1. It’s also a great mentor text for language arts discussions about the question and answer text structure.

The book’s carefully labeled illustrations and diagrams will help students gain a thorough understanding of key science concepts. PLUS they can serve models for students adding visuals to lab reports or developing explanations of scientific processes.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Exploring Text Structures

Last Friday, I shared some great text feature work that the fourth graders at Kennedy School in Billerica, MA were doing. But the truth is those students have been busy, busy, busy immersing themselves in nonfiction projects.

After reading my book No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the students made book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text, which has what I call a cumulative sequence structure (my mentor texts were traditional cumulative tales, such as The House that Jack Built and I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.)

Then each child chose one example from the text and rewrote it with a cause and effect text structure.

Here are some close ups:

Wow, what a terrific idea!

Doesn’t this student work blow you away? I’m so impressed with the fourth grade writers at Kennedy School.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Behind the Books: Revision, Rehearsal, Renovation

Let’s face it. Kids aren’t crazy about the idea of revising their writing.

I created a Revision Timeline documenting the 10-year process of creating No Monkeys, No Chocolate so that teachers would have an engaging tool for showing young writers that professional writers revise. A lot.

For a few years now, I’ve been telling students that revising our writing is really no different than practicing a sport or rehearsing for a musical concert.

Football, soccer, and baseball players practice so they can develop the skills they need to beat rival teams.

Musicians rehearse so that they play a song perfectly when they perform in front of an audience.

Similarly, a rough draft is a way of preparing for what’s really important—writing the final piece, the writing that the world sees.

Sometimes this comparison makes an impact on elementary audiences, and sometimes, well—not so much. And so I’ve been searching for an analogy that really hits homes for kids, and I’ve finally found one—renovation.
Some students have lived through a home remodel. Others have seen them on HGTV or DIY. So when I show them real BEFORE and AFTER photos of a house, and ask which one they’d rather live in, the kids don’t let me down.
And when I compare the BEFORE house to a rough draft, and the AFTER house to a final draft, their eyes really do light up with understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book of the Week: Terrific Tongues Up Close

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Terrific Tongues Up Close is perfect for visual literacy lessons. In addition to clear, simple text, it features fascinating close-up images that highlight the fascinating features of many different animals’ tongues. It can also be used in science lessons that look at animal adaptations and language arts lessons that focus on texts with a compare and contrast structure.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Text Features: Making Progress

If you read the post I wrote last Friday, you saw the great text feature work K students are doing at Memorial School in Medfield, MA. Feel free to scroll back now and take a quick look. I’ve included one sample here just for fun.

A few days after visiting Memorial School, I headed out to Kennedy School in Billerica, MA. Once again, I was blown away by how much fun the students were having with nonfiction writing.

For one fourth grade project, students read my book Dolphins and used the book’s text features as inspiration for creating their own text features with information about an animal of their choice.
What a great idea!

What I especially like is comparing these meaty, sophisticated fourth-grade student samples to the text features created by the K students.
Look how much children can develop as readers and writers and thinkers in just a few years!

Seeing students working hard and having fun under the guidance of skilled and caring teachers is one of the things I love most about visiting schools.