Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Backyard Books

It’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday! 

NFPB 2014I had a post all planned for today featuring some recently published books but then I had the best session with one of my nonfiction groups and decided that highlighting some older but wonderful titles was in order instead!

I always like getting a peek into other classrooms and so I hope you enjoy these photos of my students interacting so enthusiastically with these nonfiction books!

I have most of the Backyard Books (published between 2000 and 2002) by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries in my classroom. Titles such as these highlighted below are perfect in a primary classroom library.

Each book begins with the question Are you a . . . .? The story continues providing information about a specific insect or backyard creature by explaining details of its life cycle, habits and characteristics. The text is lovely to read aloud “If you are a ____________ then you _____________” While these can be read aloud even to preschool children, they are perfect for young readers who are reading independently. Great books to practice extracting information from narrative nonfiction text.

 Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That

 Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That

Once a week, I am lucky enough to work with a small group working with nonfiction text. While one of our Resource Teachers and my Teacher Librarian run Reading Workshop with the rest of my class, I take a group down to the library. Today my very keen group of six was working on being “fact detectives” with these Backyard Books titles.

After a few minutes of finding facts together from the Are you a Snail? book, I let each group choose a text and sent them off. The partners took turns reading aloud and noting down information. I circulated to assist and give feedback. Students were trying to find different facts on each page and then record them on chart paper. I overheard:

“Was that a fact do you think?”

“We should write that!”

“How can we write that?”

“Did we find something on this page?”

“Did we already say that?”

Students helped each other with the best way to explain something. Lots of rereading and rephrasing.

 Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That  Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That I Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That

By the end, each group had made it through at least half of the text and had noted many facts down on their charts.

 Backyard Books #NFPB2014 There's a Book for That

I called them back together and asked the children what skills they thought they had been working on. All of them admitted that the task was a little bit more challenging than they thought it would be but they wanted to do it again next time! Here is what they shared:

“We had to reread and think lots.”

“We had to put shorter sentences instead of longer sentences.”

“You have to make sure you have all of the important details.”

“Putting it in different words to make sense is kind of hard.”

For these Grade 3 students, a successful, engaging activity with great nonfiction books!

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014! Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction titles.

My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 62/65 complete!

Big Words, Little Readers

There is something about those big long words that for little readers seem somewhat out of reach. Until it is revealed to them that actually they have all the skills they need . . .

When I listen to many of the children in my Grade 2 reading group read aloud, I often notice that long multi-syllabic words stop them outright or at least slow down their fluency. Yet, when we approach the word together, it doesn’t take much for them to realize that they can read it aloud by employing a few strategies.

Strategies such as:

  • looking for little words inside a larger word
  • removing endings and then adding them back
  • asking ourselves if letter combinations look similar to another word we know (i.e. knowing the word gorgeous helped us figure out advantageous)
  • applying “rules” we know like “y” at the end sounds like “ee”, rules for soft “c” and “g”, tion says “shun”, etc.
  • if one vowel sound doesn’t work, try the other
  • break the words into syllables

So, my job? To make sure they approach these words with the skills and independent ability I know they have!

How did we strengthen our confidence in our ability to do this independently? With some guided practice – together and then on our own!

First, we looked at a big list of long words on the board and approached them together – finding words and syllables we knew, using the strategies described above (and named by the students as we worked) and tapping out syllables.

 Big Words, Little Readers There is a Book for That

Students then grabbed sticky notes and a picture book and began to read independently. They read and enjoyed the stories just like any day where we had picture book free choice reading ( I usually set out a large selection of new and familiar books I’ve grabbed from the library). My volunteer and I listen to different students read and discuss illustrations and plot. But, today the added job was to be on the lookout for multisyllabic words (we decided any word with four or more syllables should make the list) in the books we were reading and list them on a sticky note.

 Big Words, Little Readers There is a Book for That

The wonderful thing for me was to watch how intent students were on finding and decoding words all on their own. Not one child came and asked me how to read a word. They just came and shared statements like:

“I found another one! Listen: un ex pect ed ly , unexpectedly! That has 5!”

I’m finding 4 syllable words everywhere I look!”

These words can’t hide from us right Ms. Gelson! We are finding them in lots of books!”

Hey! We are really doing it! We can read these words!”

I think we all got smarter today. Or . . . maybe we already could do it? Did you trick us?”

My students are exceptionally keen and hilarious, I must admit 🙂 But, they are also very competent and with this little bit of encouragement to do what they already were capable of, they are approaching words that used to intimidate them with confidence!

Now, we can spend time slowing down to talk about meaning. I would rather them stop to be sure they understand what is happening in the story or to ask a question about what a word means, rather than be held back by a word that just happens to be longer than most. We have done lessons about how to handle new vocabulary and will continue to practice this important skill.

My little readers can handle many big challenges and I love being a witness to it!

Developing visual literacy skills

The CLoud SPinner

What is visual literacy?

As defined by WikipediaVisual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text . Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading.

So how do we go about teaching students to use observation to notice the details and nuances in illustrated stories? As we learn how to ask questions and to infer to deepen our understanding of stories, I also want my students take time, slow down and really focus on their observation skills with the illustrations in picture books.

What do we see when we look closely at an illustration vs. quickly flipping the page? I remind students that these books are picture books for a reason – the story is told through a partnership between author and illustrator. Both pictures and words are important – together they make the story whole.

Wordless books are great to practice these visual literacy skills with but I wanted to have students use these strategies with picture books with text. The trick? Cover the text! So armed with sticky notes, and some fantastic picture books, we began to practice paying close attention to the illustrations and asking questions, inferring and predicting based on what we noticed.

Note: What is described below is what took place over a series of lessons with my Grade 2 reading group

We started with two picture books that I shared with my reading group and I charted our observations and questions as we discussed what we saw. Then the students went through the same process working with a partner and writing their own questions/predictions/inferences. It is always so interesting to go back and read the text to see how close our predictions were and which questions got answered.

The first picture book we practiced with was The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay. This book has so much going on in the pictures – we could have spent half the class just on the cover. Students wondered about the birds flying in all different directions. They wondered whether the boy was making clouds from his loom or making fabric/material from the clouds themselves. We noticed a castle in the background, birds flying in multiple directions, things looking one way but actually not what they initially seemed (for example the faces on the hillsides that are just objects temporarily grouped a specific way). Students had many questions and each wrote a prediction about the story before we sat down to read the book with both text and illustrations. Many of the children commented that we might have missed some details in the illustrations that were clues had we just read the text.

Next we used Gorilla by Anthony Browne. This title is the perfect book to use when Gorilla Anthoney Brownhaving students practice their ability to infer – even more powerful when we explored just the pictures.

With this story, each student had their own notepads to list their questions as we explored the pictures and we stopped frequently to discuss what we thought might be happening with this story.

For those who don’t know this classic Anthony Browne tale, a quick summary: In this story, Hannah wants to see a real live gorilla at the zoo but her busy father never has time to take her there. He gives her a toy gorilla on the night before her birthday. Hannah is upset and disappointed. But in the middle of the night, Hannah and her “toy” gorilla have an amazing adventure.

Some of the students questions included:

  • Does Hannah have a Mom?
  • Did her Mom die?
  • Does Hannah’s Dad have a job? Is he worried because he doesn’t have one?
  • If he does have a job, does he work too much?
  • Does her Dad never have time for her?
  • Is the gorilla lonely too?
  • Does the gorilla love Hannah?
  • Does the gorilla have magic?
  • Will the Dad freak out if he finds out Hannah is gone all night?
  • Will the gorilla save all of the apes and monkeys at the zoo?
  • Why does the gorilla seem sad?
  • Is this just all a dream?
  • Is it just in Hannah’s imagination?
  • Why are they out dancing in the middle of the night?
  • Did the Dad and Gorilla change places?

At the end, even when we read the story, we realized that the author does not tell us what is actually real. “Well,” one clever child observed, “if the author doesn’t tell us, we can choose. That’s the magic of books.” Again, students felt that we got so much more from the story by focussing first on the details in the pictures, asking questions and talking about what might be happening. Students loved listening to the story after this to see how close their idea of the story was to what actually happened.

Now we were ready to begin to go through this process with more independence! Working in partners, the students chose a picture book, markers, chart paper and scrap paper to cover the text and got to work exploring just the pictures and noting down their questions. These students used the book Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Lee Harper.

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Questions started out quite simple, but as the children began to have a sense of the story, they started asking more complex questions. the questions below are about the book Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester.

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The story A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham inspired a lot of questions! There was so much in the details of what was happening inside and outside of this bus. The students who used this book read it two times through after exploring the illustrations.

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I was impressed by how focussed the students were. All of them were engaged with their books, their partner and the discussions that they were having.

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Snippets of conversations I heard as I circulated:

  • “Quick! Cover the text!”
  • “We have so many questions I can’t believe it.”
  • “We know so much!”
  • “We’re sure predicting so much stuff.”
  • “Look really closely. You will notice more.”
  • “I think I see better when I don’t get distracted by the words.”
  • “I think this makes us smarter.”

Really . . . what more do you want to hear during a lesson?

As I share picture books in whole class lessons, I have noticed that students who are in my reading group are raising their hands to share details they notice in illustrations. This keen attention to detail has become contagious and the whole class has been paying more attention to pictures. We have to stop frequently to share with those around us what we notice and what we predict! I love all of the talking this has inspired!

Let’s talk!

There is nothing more exciting for me than watching students really talk about their learning. I love the debate, the encouragement, the giggles, and the interrupting. I love watching one student really listen to another and then jump in to share ideas. These type of exchanges happen more and more during our morning reading group. Especially when we have informative non-fiction texts in hand!

This week I pulled out a selection of non-fiction titles from the Ready to Read series including Dangerous Dinos, Slithering Snakes, Sharks and Bugs. All written by Sarah Creese. (I purchased these titles through Scholastic)

Students were asked to read the book aloud with their partner and to note down cool facts they learned and list any questions they had as they read. We had done this in two small groups (led by me and my teaching partner) the week before so the students were familiar with this process. Today though, they were in charge of the way this process would roll out.

Students took turns reading the text aloud. Some pairs wrote questions and facts as they read. Others read and then came back to the text for a second read through.

The rich discussions came out of deciding what questions were important and which facts should be noted down. Two boys reading about dinosaurs couldn’t stop laughing about one sentence that stated that a T-Rex had such short little arms that it couldn’t touch its nose. They included this as a cool fact and then went on to write a question about what use T-Rex’s short little arms had.

There was a lot of “Listen to this!” “Should we write that?” “Did you know . . . ?” I also heard “Look for the page that says . . .” “Can you read that again?” Lots of rereading and checking for understanding.

Many went on to add pictures to their chart paper. As they drew, the talking continued, using the vocabulary that they had just been reading about. “Look I’m drawing a shark swimming in the shallows.” Do you think these scales look real?” “I made the sharks jaws open so we could see the rows of teeth.”

Question lists were interesting and gave me a basis to start conversations with each group.

The best thing about this activity? Lots of discussion, reading and writing all managed by the students themselves. My role was to circulate and enjoy the conversations I joined and to do a little learning too! (Did you know some snakes can eat an entire deer? Eew!)

Did you know that . . . ?

This week when we looked at non-fiction text, I wanted my reading group to think about pieces of information that they deemed important as either new information or information that should be shared. We used a series of insect books from Capstone Press as these little books have gorgeous photographs and simple, meaningful information. I wanted the focus to be on the conversation, not on reading long sections of text.

Students worked in partners and took turns reading a page of information. I encouraged students to also talk about what they noticed or wondered about in the photographs. I was pleased to see students referring to the text as they had these conversations, often rereading for clarity.

The task was then to each choose two pieces of information to share and draw about on a recording sheet. Some partners focussed on the same facts, others chose very different things. All the while, they were chattering about what they were thinking about what they saw and read.

Students referred to a chart of sentence starts that we had brainstormed together to help organize their thinking:

  • I found out that . . .
  • I discovered . . .
  • I just learned . . .
  • Did you know that . . . ?

Having a “Did you know . . ?” phrase honoured those students who did not find out anything new when they read the text. Students also used this phrase because they liked the excitement it generated.

The children studied the photographs carefully and added details to their own pictures to convey things that they were noticing. We have been talking a lot about “reading the pictures” as much as “reading the words” on a page.

What I love about the picture below is the tiny label “close up padern

What learning and experiences happened today? Students had the opportunity to:

  • explore a piece of non-fiction text
  • determine importance
  • distinguish between new information and facts already known
  • read aloud and listen to a peer read aloud
  • talk about information and photographs
  • share their learning in a picture and writing

What do we wonder?

On Thursdays, our Grade 2 reading group is beginning to work with non-fiction texts. There is much to teach about how to interact with non-fiction text so that students best understand all of the text features. But generating excitement and the thrill of wondering and discovering new facts is an essential piece of our learning as well. Over the last few weeks we have been picture walking books and sharing all of the things we wonder.

These Pebble Plus books published by Capstone are fantastic for this picture walking exercise as they feature full colour photographs of animals in their habitats along with simple text to share together. I have the African Animals series and the Animals and Their Homes series and found both through Scholastic.

The great thing about Thursdays is that my partner teacher, Ms. Hibbert is in the room for the morning in a Resource Teacher role so we are able to work with small groups and can encourage lots of sharing and discussion.

Day 1: On the first day, we split our group into two groups and had them picture walk a book with us and generate questions about the photographs. We used a book about bears and a book about rabbits as key texts. As the students asked questions, we charted them and pointed out when one question led to another or was an extension of another question so that students could think about how to extend their thinking and how their questions connected to someone else’s questions. After 15 minutes, we switched groups and the second group’s task was to look at the questions that had already been charted and as they looked through the text, to try and extend questions or wonder about things that had yet to be asked.

We then looked at both charts as a whole group and highlighted key question words (Who? Why? Could? Do? Is? etc.). We also talked about what questions were on both lists. A popular one? “How can you tell if it is a boy or a girl?” (although one group used the terms male and female so we helped each other extend the vocabulary being used :-))

Day 2: After reviewing and charting question words, we put the students into partners and had each group choose a book about an African animal. Students then studied the photographs in the books and charted their own questions. We circulated and challenged students to extend their thinking wherever possible.

Working with a partner allowed for a lot of great discussion. Often the partners stopped and shared what they thought an answer might be. There were disagreements, connections to background knowledge and lots of encouragement. (And charting on big chart paper with felts was pretty cool!)

We then had students display their books and charts and partners “travelled along” the display looking at the questions that other groups asked.

Day 3: On this day, students chose their own books and worked independently creating a wonder web. We reminded students to tap into their curiousity and study the pictures carefully. If they finished early, they went back and read the text and/or shared their questions with a peer. One little voice carried book and paper to a table muttering, “Just me  . . . I wonder how many questions I will wonder?”

Here is Heman‘s wonder web about bees:

Sam asked some great questions about giraffes.

We have a long road down the non-fiction path ahead of us this year. But students are pretty excited that non-fiction titles can help us with all of those unanswered questions and even inspire more!

How do you generate excitement over non-fiction titles in your primary classroom? Please share!

A Whole lot of Literacy

Recently I had a picture perfect day in my little reading group. Everything went so smoothly that I just mostly wandered amongst my students and snapped photos! They were engaged in the important work and I was lucky enough to just watch it all happen. 🙂

We had started to work on being able to retell and summarize stories and I found an easy to use anchor chart on pinterest that helped us with this process. (Somebody Wanted But So) During one class, I read two stories to the group and we filled in the chart trying to choose the best words to capture the essence of what happened. We read Boy by James Mayhew and Jojo the Giant written by Jane Barclay and illustrated by Esperanca Melo. Our thoughts are captured in the chart below.

These books were fantastic to use. Boy is the simple story of a little boy who wakes up cold and is determined to find a warm place to sleep. He encounters all sorts of intimidating creatures (mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, etc.) during his morning journey and ends up returning to the security of his parents after his brave and independent search.  I have featured this book before in this post. Jojo the Giant (mentioned in this post) really impacted the students. As much as they were caught up in the story of a little boy who was determined to win a race despite the taunts of the bullies who doubted him, they really responded to the act of kindness Jojo performed for his mother. I love how when we talked about whether or not Jojo really did grow taller, one student commented that he grew bigger in his heart. Beautiful.

Students caught on quickly to using the chart so the next day I put out some picture books and had them work with a partner to read a book together and fill in their own summary chart (one chart for the partners).

I was so pleased by how independent and engaged the students were. They took turns reading aloud, negotiating how they should split up reading the text. Everyone listened keenly to his/her partner. It was wonderful fluency practice!

Also fantastic practice at attentive listening! I observed partners gently coaxing each other with decoding a challenging word. Lots of laughing together and stopping to talk about the text.

Students then got down to the business of filling in their charts together. Many took turns writing sections. I saw children going back and rereading to confirm ideas or search for a specific part in the text.

While the pages were filled out well (especially for the first time with just minimal guided prompts from me), it was the conversations I was most excited about. Students were really listening to each other. There was negotiation about what to say. Students had creative ideas about how to share the writing. They considered together how best to explain something.

So while I had set out to practice summarizing and knew that fluency practice was built into the activity, a lot of other things happened. This is the magic when students meet lesson plan and the sum is absolutely more! What else did I see?

  • active listening
  • stating opinions
  • asking and answering questions
  • rereading text for specific information
  • building on an idea
  • discussion/negotiation about how to approach an assignment
  • partner work practice
  • relationship building

What did students do who finished early? Found more books and engaged in buddy reading, happily extending the joy of reading with each other. Yep, a whole lot of literacy!