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8 Quick Reads for Elementary Students About Gratitude

By: Beth Werrell
Children's Books That Teach Gratitude

Is your child an avid reader? We put together a short book list to help you introduce your child to or reinforce some gratitude lessons during this holiday season. These easy reads for elementary schoolers are perfect tools to engage your child in reading while teaching them life lessons in thankfulness.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

This simple, impactful story teaches children to appreciate what they have. It begins when Sylvester the donkey discovers a magic pebble that grants his every wish, but soon after he is confronted by a lion. In a panic, Sylvester wishes to be a rock to escape the danger, but being that he can no longer hold the pebble while he is a rock, he must remain a rock until he is switched back into a donkey by outside forces.

The Giving Tree

This emotional tale about an ever-changing relationship between a boy and a tree takes the reader through a journey of giving and self-sacrifice. The story begins with a young boy who loves a tree. He plays in its branches, eats its apples, and slides down its trunk. As the boy gets older, he comes back time and time again to ask the tree for more, until the tree is left a stump for the now old man to rest on.

Rainbow Fish

This story follows the most beautiful fish in the sea, who, in the beginning, is reluctant to give up his beautiful scales. But as he realizes he can spare ...

Using Reading Comprehension Questions to Read Between the Lines

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Ask Questions to Boost Reading Comprehension

Absorbing and interacting with reading material often brings questions—and questioning is a skill that comes naturally to most children. While some questions can be challenging to answer, it's important to encourage your child to continue this practice, because thoughtful and insightful questions help readers understand and draw them more deeply into whatever they're reading.

The 5 W's (and How) of Reading Comprehension

To get started and help your student learn to summarize a passage, think of the basic W's of reading comprehension: what, when, where, who, and why—and the one stray H, how. If the readers can answer all of these questions about a selection, they understand. They comprehend. They "get it."

Asking the five W questions (and one H) is just the beginning, however. In 7 Keys to Comprehension, one of my favorite sources for reading strategies, the authors suggest generating questions while reading. The most valuable questions, the authors suggest, are often the self-questions, the questions that arise in readers' minds while they're reading.

Poems are great for this approach because they pack a lot of thought into a few lines and often generate self-questions. Let's try Jack Prelutsky's "Louder Than a Clap of Thunder."* After each stanza (like a paragraph), stop, think, and question. I've included in italics a few samples generated by my own students.

Louder than a clap of thunder,
louder than an eagle screams,
louder than a dragon blunders,
or a dozen football teams.

How loud does an ...

How Prior Knowledge Helps Kids Understand What They Read

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Activating Background Knowledge for Better Comprehension

In my sixth grade class, we were reading a scene from a novel in which the character was waiting impatiently for her sister. Immediately one of my students waved her hand energetically to get my attention. "I can identify with that," she announced. "I'm supposed to walk home with Elizabeth after school, and I'm always waiting while she talks and talks and talks."

The girl in my class knew exactly what it felt like to be the character in the novel we were reading. She had experience that helped her understand what she'd just read; background knowledge contributed to her comprehension.

Background knowledge enlivens reading material. Knowing something about a topic gives readers a point of contact, a connection to the material or the story. Without the understanding that prior knowledge brings, reading material can be more difficult to comprehend. Activating and connecting background knowledge is one of seven key strategies to reading comprehension, which are valuable principles for teachers and parents or Learning Coaches.

Consider Bruce Lansky's poem "The Virus Cure." *

Your laptop has a virus?
Don't tuck it into bed.
Don't give it tea, no matter what
the family doctor said.
Don't take it to the school nurse.
Don't rest it for a week.
The only way to cure it is to
show it to a geek.

Today's students are likely to know what a laptop is. Sadly, they probably also know what a computer virus is and does. As they read how the humorous ...

Picture This: How Visualizing Stories Supports Reading Comprehension

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Visualization Supports Reading Comprehension

"The fog comes in on little cat feet." Carl Sandburg wrote this vivid image more than a century ago. Every time I see fog, I picture the fog to be like an old and wise feline softly padding along its way and then sitting silently, as cats do, to watch people go about their day, the sounds muffled somewhat because the fog blankets the world.

Why authors use sensory imagery

When the weather is foggy, it brings up a sensory image—for example, a mental picture inspired by the words of a brilliant poet. Creating sensory images is one key to reading comprehension: a strategy that helps readers better understand reading material. Readers who lack reading comprehension, i.e., people who do not visualize the scenes depicted on the pages they read, rarely enjoy reading. To them, books are just words, dry words without meaning or pleasure. But fortunately, imagining sensory details is a skill that parents can help their children develop! Laura Ingalls Wilder was a talented artist who worked with words and inspired my imagination. When I was a young person reading her books, I'd take breaks, closing my eyes to envision the scenes that were without modern distractions. In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura sees a town for the first time: the town of Pepin, Wisconsin. Before this point, she had never seen two houses together, so the sight of a town with buildings from one end of the horizon to the other leaves her speechless. ...

An Introduction to Using Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
How Reading Strategies Improve Comprehension

How do you know if your student really understands what he or she reads? Parents often resort to a strategy, such as sounding it out or decoding the letters that make the words, but decoding isn't enough. Skilled readers think while they read in order to understand the meaning of a text.

Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I attended a meeting with a goal of revising elementary progress reports in my school district. We were talking about assessment and subsets for evaluating a student's reading progress when a committee member declared, "Let's have a line that reads, 'Uses reading strategies effectively.'" Comprehension, or understanding, was the only strategy that ended up on the final draft of the new progress report.

To help you better understand how reading comprehension works for young students, below is a brief rundown of a helpful book by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins that highlights the essential components of comprehension: 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It!

What does it mean to comprehend something?

Let's put it in perspective by using Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning. Knowledge, or remembering, is the first level of learning. For example, I know the words in the book The Cat in the Hat, but can I put those words in context and understand what they mean? Comprehension is a step above knowledge. If I understand the book The Cat in the Hat, I can explain that ...

How Alice in Wonderland Changed Children’s Literature

By: Muffie Sandberg
Summer Reading Adventures with Classic Stories

One summer day long ago, an English mathematician went on a quiet river outing with an Oxford dean and his three young daughters. To entertain the girls, the mathematician spun a fantastical tale of another little girl who dreamt that she’d fallen down a rabbit hole, entering a topsy-turvy world inhabited by an execution-happy queen, a mad hatter, a tardy rabbit, a vanishing cat, and a host of improbable but unforgettable characters.

That tale was Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—and 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of its publication. In honor of Alice's "birthday," we thought our own summer readers would want to know how Alice is still shaping what and how we read today.

Reading for Enjoyment

Before the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, children's books (such as they were) focused on moral instruction and academic basics. The language could be dull and moralistic, with children's characters resembling miniature adults more than real-life kids like the inquisitive and oft-annoyed Alice.

"'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.'"

But Lewis Carroll and Alice changed all that, moving entertainment to the forefront and moralizing to the background. (As Carroll and his duchess character suggest, the moral is still there, but you may have to search to find it.) Placing the child at the center of the story's action, Carroll launched a golden age of children’s literature and even helped change how society viewed childhood.

Thanks in part ...

11 Book Resources to Help Parents Find Great Children’s Reading Books

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
website list of children’s book reading resources

By now, you’ve gotten the hang of how to choose age-appropriate books for your child’s summer reading list. The next step is finding great books that fit his or her interests.

Browsing the library shelves, asking librarians or friends for recommendations are good ways to find children’s books, but there are also plenty of online resources you can try. You might even find a few tools to support your own summer reading!

Try the book resources listed below.
  1. Bookish
    Bookish is one of several websites that provide you with personalized recommendations based on the books you’ve read. Once you create an account, start adding favorites to your shelf to find new titles. Although older students will be able to manage their own accounts, you’ll have to use the site on behalf of a younger child.

  2. Goodreads
    Students in middle school and high school may enjoy using Goodreads, a book-focused site that encourages interaction. Users can write reviews, track books they have read and want to read, join book groups, take quizzes, and more.

  3. Children’s, Teachers’, and Young Adults’ Choices Reading Lists
    The International Reading Association provides recommended reading lists for kids, young adults, and teachers each year. A short description is included next to each book to give you a better idea of what it’s about.

  4. The Best Children’s Books
    Formed by a family of teachers, this site lists children’s book recommendations by subject. For example, you can find books about punctuation, fossils, and ...

3 Simple Tips for Choosing Age-Appropriate Children’s Books

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
mother and daughters reading a book together

When you go to the library with your child, there are hundreds of books to choose from. How do you find books that are just right for your child’s reading level and interests?

You can take a chance and pick a few, of course, or you can ask a teacher or librarian for a recommended reading list. But you can also find the right books for your child just by using a few simple techniques.

  1. Determine your child’s reading level.

    Sometimes, finding an age-appropriate book is as easy as matching your child’s age to the reading level printed on the back of a book. If your child is 10, for example, then you can look for books in the 9–12 age bracket.

    Here is one tool that uses a measure called a Lexile to match readers of all ages with books and other reading resources.

    But before you rely on this method, remember that every child is different. Struggling readers fall below the normal reading level for their age or grade, while advanced readers may be several levels ahead. Difficulty varies within reading levels and within Lexile ranges, as well. If a book uses a lot of figurative language, metaphors, idioms, or hyperbole, it will be more challenging to understand than other books in the same Lexile.

  2. Do a background check.

    If you want to know more about the content of a book before your child chooses it, do some research. Read reviews online and ask for advice from ...

How to Turn Your Summer Reading List into Book Spine Poetry

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Book spine poetry examples grouped in a collage

Poetry abounds in the most ordinary surroundings. One popular and fun form of poetry is book spine poetry. Rather than being written from scratch, this type of poem gathers phrases, words, and lines already written. Just stack up books from your personal collection and summer reading list, read the titles, and rearrange them until a poem emerges.

Take several books—any books—and focus on the titles alone. Leave the meaning of the book itself behind, because the final poem may express something entirely different from the contents.

These poems are free verse, a poetry form where rhyme is unnecessary. Punctuation is optional. However, this poem needs a little punctuation to fully make sense.

Book Spine Poetry: In a pickle, little by little, make the impossible possible.

To me, this poem reads:

In a pickle?
Little by little,
Make the impossible possible.

Book spine poems reflect the personality of the poet because each poem comes from the poet’s own book collection. One of our middle and high school English language arts teachers offered this. It works with or without the repeated word painless.

Barron's painless book spine poetry

Papers, Papers, Papers,
Research Projects,
Everything but the kitchen sink.

This selection came together on a table of literature for middle and high school students. A collection of simple titles, in this case verbs, can take on a meaning of its own.

Middle and High School literature books stacked for book spine poetry

Okay for now,

Props are allowed. Poetry, by its very nature, gives a thoughtful outlook on the world.

Keep calm and garden on book spine poetry

The Happy Plan:
Herb Gardening
Grow Your Own Pizza
Gardening for Geeks ...

Books That Teach Kids about Kindness

By: Beth Werrell

books for kids that teach and inspire kindnessSelecting books that show positive character traits is a great way to teach your child about your family’s values. Reading a good story together will not only reinforce reading skills, but also open the door to talk about the characters and their actions. In recognition of National Bullying Awareness Month, we suggest that you begin by discussing bullying and the importance of being kind and compassionate toward others.

One easy way to start is by participating in Jumpstart and Pearson Foundation’s Read for the Record campaign on October 3 at 12:00 noon ET. This year’s featured book, Otis, by Loren Long, is a timeless story of friendship and kindness. The book and activity guides will be available to you online—for free!—when you complete the pledge to read.

Afterward, you can keep your kids reading and thinking about kindness by selecting age-appropriate books from the list we’ve compiled below.

Ages 4 to 6
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
by Philip Stead
Hey, Little Ant
by Philip and Hannah Hoose
How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? by Jane Yolen
How Kind by Mary Murphy
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
The Mine-O-Saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie

Ages 7 to 8
All Families Are Special
by Norma Simon
The Ant Bully
by John Nickle
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud
Horace and Morris But Mostly ...

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