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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Light a Fire With a Good Book and a HUGE Giveaway!!

Well, it's officially August which means it is time to really think about back to school (not that we haven't been thinking about it all of July!). August is buckle down time though and many schools will be starting back in just a week or two! In NY, we officially start back with students after Labor Day but this is the time of year I like to start getting organized and keep my back to school nightmares at a minimum as much as possible. You know, those dreams teachers have where their classroom is a mess and they have no idea what they're doing on the first day of school...anyone else get those?!

Several of us bloggers have come together to give you some awesome ideas for Back to School Books! These books can be used to set up your classroom community, begin a good lesson, or just as a fun read-aloud.
The book I'd like to share with you is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. I love using this book when working on building writing stamina at the beginning of the year.  The students really get into it because what nine year old doesn't like to talk about their name?

Amazon.com review:  Until Chrysanthemum started kindergarten, she believed her parents when they said her name was perfect. But on the first day of school, Chrysanthemum begins to suspect that her name is far less than perfect, especially when her class dissolves into giggles upon hearing her name read aloud. That evening, Chrysanthemum's parents try to piece her self-esteem back together again with comfort food and a night filled "with hugs, kisses, and Parcheesi." But the next day Victoria, a particularly observant and mean-spirited classmate, announces that Chrysanthemum's name takes up 13 letters. "That's half the letters in the alphabet!" she adds. Chrysanthemum wilts. Pretty soon the girls are making playground threats to "pluck" Chrysanthemum and "smell her."
Kevin Henkes has great compassion for the victims of childhood teasing and cruelties--using fresh language, endearing pen-and-ink mouse characters, and realistic dialogue to portray real-life vulnerability. He also has great compassion for parents, offering several adult-humor jokes for anxious mommies and daddies. On the surface, the finale is overly tidy and the coincidences unbelievable. But in the end, what sustains Chrysanthemum, as well as this story, is the steadfast love and support of her family. And because of this, the closure is ultimately convincing and utterly comforting. ALA Notable Book, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Horn Book Fanfare Honor List. (Ages 4 to 8) --Gail Hudson

I read about using this mentor in the Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner (pgs. 15-16).  

I downloaded these handouts to use with the writing about your name strategy from Super Pig and Tyrant King.  Click here to get her handouts.

My experience using this activity when I taught ELA (teaching math on my team now):  First, I had students complete the first worksheet in class.  Then, I assigned the "Investigating My Name Interview" for homework to interview a parent/guardian.  The next day, without discussing the "Work on Writing" rules, I had students free write for a few minutes about their name in their first journal entry.  I told them that they could write anything.  Ready, set, go!  I was curious how the students would handle work on writing.  I had the top third of the 4th graders in my class.  So, the first student raised their hand immediately.  I walked over to this bright student and he asked me, "What am I supposed to write about my name?".  I replied, "Anything you want.  You have a lot of information."
Next, a student raised his hand and said, "I'm done."  This was after writing two sentences.  

This was a great learning experience for me to see where the students are in their writing stamina.  We had already begun Read to Self and made an anchor chart, modeled the correct/incorrect behaviors and have been working on stamina (they only lasted 2 min. 30 sec. the first time we tried it...and these are the top readers in the grade!).  

We discussed the percentage of time spent working on reading vs. working on writing since they were young.  Most students agreed that it was about 80% reading and 20% writing.  They really have had very little practice writing about a topic freely.  Their name (how they got it, how they feel about it, etc.) is something they should be able to write about for 5 minutes, especially after interviewing their parents the night before!  I mean, they had the worksheets right on their desk and students were "done" without including any of the information they learned about their name!

After discussing the Work on Writing expectations and why we need to practice writing freely, the students did a much better job the next time with their stamina and there were no more hands in the air.  They wrote for an additional 10 minutes about their name.   

The most difficult part for me has been to just let them write without butting in over their shoulder.  I really want them to get comfortable writing without worrying that they are doing it "wrong".

In addition to the writing stamina activity that I used last year, this book would be great for the beginning of the year when discussing classroom expectations and  how we treat our classmates!

I have also used this book when teaching about THEME.

When I taught ELA, I always used this great lesson by the talented Jess at I {Heart} Recess.
I passed out the "Big Ideas-Themes" guide from this packet and we discussed some chapter books we have read with their themes. Students shared with their partners some themes from books they are reading independently and easily discovered that books often have many themes that can be supported with text evidence.
We read "Chicken Sunday" by Patricia Polacco together and discussed the themes with text evidence.
Then, students worked in small groups to read another mentor text and work on the graphic organizer that came with this pack. Many other texts could also be used, but since I already had the titles "The Bad Case of the Stripes," "A Chair for My Mother," and "Chrysanthemum," I just needed "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" and "Thank You, Mr. Falker." I wanted those books for my growing collection anyway. :) 
Here are the students working in small groups and pictures of some graphic organizers.

To read the book and complete the graphic organizers took the groups close to 30 minutes. When they were finished, I heard so many students say, "This was fun!". 
Do you use mentor text in small group work? I have also thought about having some of my struggling students read these mentor texts at a listening station. Many of them are on youtube and students could follow along in the book or just watch the video if you didn't have the book. 
And have you heard? Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide Back to School Sale August 3rd and 4th, so you will be able to get this "Big Ideas-Themes" guide 28% off using the promo code BTS15!
We know what else really "lights a fire" in you, and that is fabulous technology! We are giving away a brand new Kindle Fire HD6 to one lucky winner!
Enter the rafflecopter below by hopping through each of our blogs and entering the secret word that can be found on the tablet in each of our posts. Also make sure to follow our TPT stores because the winner will be announced through a message in your TPT inbox! 
Here is my secret word:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

We are also giving away a $25 gift certificate to Creative Teaching Press!

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Good luck! We hope you have a successful start to your school year! 


  1. This is one of my all time favorite books by Kevin Henkes. I bought this for my little baby niece that is coming this month....and about ten others. I just couldn't decide! Lol
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  2. Love Notebook Know How... I loaned my copy out and never got it back. :( Have to jump on Amazon and buy another before school starts.

    Thanks for all the great ideas. :)