Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes

Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes
written by Robin Pulver; illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
(2011) Holiday House
Source: Mebane Public Library

The end of the school year is drawing near, but Mr. Wright isn't ready to stop teaching. He announces to the class that they will "tackle" word endings after lunch, which causes his agitated students to groan. This pronouncement strikes fear in the hearts of the word endings on the board. The suffixes decide to head to the gym and get in shape so they can tackle the students right back. When the unruly crew comes back from the cafeteria, they see that there isn't a suffix in sight. Mr. Wright declares that summer vacation will be postponed until the suffixes are sighted. The suddenly motivated students create suffix-less posters to lure back the exasperated endings. 

Happy Endings is a fun story that would be a great starting point for a study of suffixes. Clever books like this are excellent for building awareness of parts of speech. A fun writing exercise would be for students to create similar posters (moving endings to the front of each word) to those created by the endings in the book. Then the class could swap posters and interpret the clues of their peers.

Here is a link to a fun flash game featuring suffixes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Medieval Life

Medieval Life: DK Eyewitness Books
written by Andrew Langley; photographed by Geoff Brightling and Geoff Dann
(1996; reissued 2011) Dorling Kindersley
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wendie's Wanderings

If you teach European history (North Carolina sixth grade), you will want to find a copy of Medieval Life. This book does a terrific job of explaining how Middle Ages (5th century to end of 15th century) society was so class conscious (peasants, knights, barons, etc.) and how each of these groups operated and influenced each other. Like other DK Eyewitness books, Medieval Life covers all aspects of its topic. One subset that is especially informative is the information about the influence of religion during this time. The importance of both Christian and Islamic faiths in shaping this time period are investigated. Along with religion, agriculture is also extensively examined. It was a miserable life being a peasant (also known as serfs or villeins) in the Middle Ages and having to eke out an existence on land that didn't belong to you and using tools that didn't belong to you. In the section on peasants, author Andrew Langley writes "According to the law, most medieval peasants owned nothing except their own stomachs." The author adds that the average life span for a peasant was 25 years. The Middle Ages is not my strong suit in history knowledge, so reading Medieval Life was a helpful and interesting primer.

Medieval Life would be the perfect companion to Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Students who enjoy Laura Amy Schlitz's Newbery winning classic will be able to have a deeper understanding of the characters in the plays by also reading Medieval Life. This Eyewitness book would also be useful in teaching nonfiction text features. Some of the best back matter I have ever seen is contained in this book and with the accompanying CD of clip art, students could create a fantastic multimedia project on the Middle Ages.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
written by Haruki Murakami
Vintage International (2008)
Source: Purchased book

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Last August, my doctor challenged me to exercise more. I went back to running which I have had a love/hate relationship with for about 30 years. Except for a brief injury related time, I've kept running 5-6 days a week since last August. It has been rewarding (lost about 20 lbs and feel better physically and mentally), but not without its challenges. It has taken some gumption on my part (running in snowstorms, running at 5:00 AM to avoid the heat) to keep going. Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running perfectly captures the highs and lows of a recreational runner. My favorite parts of this book are when the author tells about two different races he undertook: running 26 miles from Athens to Marathon and running a 62 mile ultra-marathon in his native Japan. I have no desire to run either of these distances, but it was fascinating to read Murakami's account of his exploits. He is honest and self-deprecating and hits the nail on the head as he talks about finishing races. When he argues that most runners don't run to live longer, but to live life to its fullest, I have to agree. This book is not so much inspirational as it is insightful and affirming. If you are a runner, you will enjoy reading this book.

So how does this book relate to working with children? Fountas and Pinnell, in their first twenty days of school piece, talk about how to teach children to pick a book for independent reading. How I decided to choose What I Talk About When I Talk About Running will be a good way for me to model how to choose books. I found a book on a topic that I found interesting and had some background knowledge about. I can also talk about how the author's writing style kept me interested and reading. Students need to know that their teachers are curious readers and go through the same steps as they do when choosing books.

Click on this link for more quotes from this book.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Flight (DK Eyewitness Books)

written by Andrew Nahum
(2011) DK Publishing
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Geo Librarian

I've been a fact freak since childhood so I was excited to receive a review copy of Flight. Like other DK Eyewitness books, it is chock full of nonfiction text features such as labels and diagrams, exquisite photographs, and excellent back matter. Flight guides you through the history of flying machines starting with Da Vinci's notebook sketches of flying machines and hot air balloons. It ends with more modern small aircraft like the ultralight. This is one of those books that you can pull out several times during the year in science and social studies to provide a visual. You could be teaching a lesson on gravity or World War I and use Flight to illuminate a particular teaching point. For example, in North Carolina we research the Wright Brothers in fourth grade so this book would be a handy resource.  In addition to the book, you receive a CD of clip art that could be used by students in creating a multimedia presentation and a cool poster of the history of flight as well.

I shared the early history of flight with my kindergarten class and we made hot air balloons a la Steve Jenkins. We cut out geometric shapes from construction paper and created hot air balloons with rectangles, circles, and trapezoids on a blue background. Other shapes were used to show details in the sky.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflecting on the year past - June Hymn (The Decemberists)

Friday was the last day of school. I was co-teaching a class of 32 kindergarten students this year so at the end of the day, my dominating feeling was one of relief. But as I reflected on the year this weekend, I realized that I am really going to miss these kids. It's been several years since I have been a classroom teacher and I had forgotten the bonds that you can only create in the classroom. I was blessed to work with a terrific co-teacher and assistant and wonderful parents who took a leap of faith and trusted us with a class of 32. This year was a great example of why I teach. I'm not sure I can recreate the connections that I make in the classroom in any other profession. It's these connections that I will remember throughout my life.  As I was thinking about the year past, I had downloaded a song titled June Hymn by the Decemberists. The mood I took from the song was one of reflection. It is a lovely tune that connected with my memories of the past school year. Down below is a clip of the band performing the song on NPR.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: 3-D Dinosaur

3-D Dinosaur
written by John Woodward
(DK Publishing) 2011
Source: Book provided by the publisher

Catch Nonfiction Monday at Books Together

DK Augmented Reality books are books that, through the use of a webcam, provide an enriched reading experience. In the case of 3-D Dinosaur, you can see and manipulate moving images of dinosaurs on your computer. Here is how it works: 1. Download the software. The website is included with the book. It took my computer about 4 minutes to download. You should have a computer that is only a couple of years old at the max. 2. Turn your webcam on. Then you hold specially marked pages in front of your webcam and the graphics spring to life. You need to hold the book several inches away from your computer and wait a couple of seconds. An image will appear to let you know that the animation is about to begin. It was fun to move the dinosaurs around and get a 360 glimpse of their bodies. This is pretty cool with great potential in the future. It's another way to hook kids into reading.

As for the text, it is what you expect with a DK Publishing book. Great pictures and tons of informational text with coverage of about every angle of dinosaurs. This book would make a great gift for a dinosaur loving kid.

In the classroom, I would show a couple of pages to model an example of how you can write informational text. There are a lot of inserts and labels to help present the information.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm back

I'm back in the blogging game. I'll have a nonfiction post up tomorrow for Nonfiction Monday. I've been kicked upstairs to fifth grade so that probably means more nonfiction reviews. I'm going to try mixing it up with more posts about what I'm doing in the classroom and what I'm working on this summer. See you around!