Friday, October 30, 2015

Nonfiction Smackdown!

A few weeks ago I attended a fantastic EdCamp at Dedham Middle School in Dedham, MA. The event was organized by the MA School Library Association’s Professional Learning Committee, chaired by the uber-talented Laura D’Elia.

It was a great day of learning and sharing. One of my favorite ideas of the day was the Nonfiction Smackdown!, brainchild of teacher-librarian Judi Paradis who works at Plympton School in Waltham, MA. Don’t you just love that name?

Here’s how it works. Students in grades 3-5 read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one:

When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets can be posted, so that other students can use the information to help them make book choices.

The fun activity gets kids reading and thinking and sharing. It’s great!

Note: You can find a more printable version of the Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet on my pinterest Reading Nonfiction Board: https://www.pinterest.com/mstewartscience/

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Behind the Books: A Look at Concept Books

For the last few of weeks, discussing what I consider to be the four main categories of children’s nonfiction literature (life stories, survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books). You can scroll down to see the earlier posts.

Today, I’ll focus on the final category, concept books.

These books explore an abstract idea or process, and in many cases, offer unique perspectives or new ways of seeing things. This approach works well for picture books about life cycles, seasons, animal behavior patterns, math concepts.

Here are some popular concept books to read and study:

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Just a Second by Steve Jenkins

Lifetime by Lola Schaefer

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

A Star in My Orange by Dana Meachen Rau

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

Next week, I’ll share a simple exercise that can help both student and professional nonfiction writers choose the best category for their next writing project.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book of the Week: Why Are Animals Blue?

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.

The clear, simple text and stunning photos in Why Are Animals Blue?  are perfect for teaching students about animal adaptations. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book. I’ve also created a Teachers Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards.

For an innovative Reading Buddy experience, try a same-grade-level pairing in which an emergent reader shares Blue Animals (two simple words per page) and a more advanced reader shares Why Are Animals Blue? I guarantee great results.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What a Week!

Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in a week-long writing residency at Wealthy School in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. The students and staff welcomed me into their brand new Learning Commons and made me feel right at home.  

I offered presentations for each grade level and writing workshops for grades 3-5.
I also visited second graders in their classrooms and got a sneak peek at their science experiments as well as their works-in-progress. I even visited a local wetland with a group of 25 students for some observational writing inspired by our natural surroundings.
I was blown away by the quality of all the students’ writing as well as their probing questions about my own writing process.

Thanks so much to Mr. Morey, Mrs. Doele, and all the teachers and students at the school. I learned so much from all the Wealthy Wizards, including this . . . Go Blue!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Behind the Books: A Look at Specialized Nonfiction

For the last few weeks, I’ve been discussing what I consider to be the four main categories of children’s nonfiction literature (life stories, survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books). You can scroll down to see the earlier posts.

Today, I’ll focus on specialized nonfiction.

These books provide specific information about a relatively limited topic. In contrast to survey books, specialized nonfiction emphasizes depth rather than breadth. It often has an innovative format and/or structure that presents information in a way that models the author’s passion for the topic. My feeling is that we will see more and more specialized nonfiction being published in the future.

Here are some popular specialized nonfiction books to read and study:

Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery

Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Tom Yezerski 

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

Next week, I’ll take look at the final major nonfiction category—concept books.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book of the Week: How Does a Seed Sprout? And Other Questions about Plants

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.

NGSS puts a big emphasis on plant structures and growth patterns in the elementary grades. How Does a Seed Sprout? And Other Questions about Plants aligns nicely with the standards and has a fun question and answer format.

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.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Inspired by Nature

Scattered pinecone scales?
Look up to spot the culprit:
A feisty gray squirrel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Behind the Books: A Look at Survey Books

Last week, I began discussing what I consider to be the four main categories of children’s nonfiction literature (life stories, survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books) and took an up-close look at life stories.

Today, I’ll focus on survey books.

Survey books, sometimes called All-About books, are what we think of as traditional nonfiction. They provide a broad overview of a topic. They emphasize balance and breadth of coverage rather than depth.
 
While students may decide to read a survey book from cover to cover, they can also skip around, using the table of contents, headings, and index to locate the subtopics that interest them most.

Here are some popular survey books to read and study:

Eyewitness Books
 
The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages by Kathy Allen

Lightning by Seymour Simon

The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons

National Geographic Readers

Spiders by Nic Bishop

Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee

Over the next couple of weeks, I will take look at the other major nonfiction categories—specialized nonfiction books and concept books.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Clever Creations

Recently, I worked with second graders at McCarthy-Towne School in Acton, MA, on a visual literacy lesson that involved them re-creating artwork for three of my books. Their goal was to make the words and the pictures match even better than the illustrations that appeared in the printed book.

They did an amazing job. Here are two examples of what they came up with for a page in A Place for Turtles:

Text: Because plastic shopping bags look like jellyfish, sea turtles sometimes eat them by mistake. The plastic can clog the turtle's stomach, causing it to starve to death.
 
This student thought the art should show the sea turtle in the process of eating the plastic bag (from BJs).
 
This student decided to show the turtle's stomach clogged with a shopping bag (from TJ Maxx).
 
Aren't these terrific? Those students were really thinking.
 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Behind the Books: A Look at Life Stories

Last year at this time, I wrote a post about Nonfiction Types, which included references to posts written by Mary Ann Cappiello and Cathy Potter. Since then, Mary Ann and I have continued to discuss these major groupings (which she called subgenres). Now we are both calling them categories.

As we see it, m
ost nonfiction literature for children can be classified in one of four categories: life stories, survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books.

Life stories include:

— “cradle to grave” biographies

—partial or episodic biographies that focus on a pivotal event or period in a person’s life

—autobiographies/memoirs

—collective biographies that feature many different people

In children’s literature, life stories are most commonly presented as either picture books or long-form biographies, but there are some very popular collective biographies have been published in recent years and memoirs are especially popular right now.

Here are some of my favorite life stories to read and study:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Brave Girl by Michelle Markle

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Lives of the Presidents (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatium

The Right Word by Jen Bryant

Over the next few weeks, I will take look at the other three major nonfiction categories— survey books, specialized nonfiction books, and concept books.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book of the Week: A Place for Birds

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.

A Place for Birds was originally published in 2009, but was revised and updated in 2015, so it has the latest information about the challenges birds face and how we can do simple things to help them survive.

You could share one or two spreads to support NGSS PE K-ESS3-3 or read the whole book as part of a lesson that addresses NGSS PE 5-ESS3-1.

I have also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards. You can find additional activities here.

This book is great for Reading Buddies programs. For more information, read this article and look at the materials on my CCSS ELA RIT #1 & 2: Reading Buddies pinterest board.

The main text of A Place for Birds has both a cause & effect text structure and a problem-solution text structure, while many of the sibdebars compare past human activities that hurt birds to current more-bird-friendly activities. That makes it a great mentor text for students learning about nonfiction text structures.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2015