The Worrywarts

We have begun to delve into our Reading Power collection to find titles to illustrate the concept of connecting to a story. Today we shared The Worrywarts written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole. 

Many of had learned about connecting before. We talked about how when you have a connection . . .

*you might be reminded of something

*you think, “Hey I’ve felt that!”

*you understand the story better because you’ve had similar experiences/feelings

There is a lot happening in The Worrywarts. First of all – a wonderfully woeful celebration of weary wallowing in all things worrisome. Alliteration and then some! Edwards celebrates “W” power! Wombat, Weasel and Woodchuck decide to go on an adventure to wander the world. After much contemplation on the perfect snacks to bring along , they realize that they have many worries about the “What if . . . ” aspect of their walk out into the world. In our class, we could connect to sharing worries about what might happen in any given situation. After the story, we drew about our worries. Many students shared that these fears creep into their heads when in bed at night.

Andrew wrote about worrying about a giant sea monster eating him. This idea might be in his head when he was lying still at night, he explained. That sea monster looks pretty big!

Many students drew fires in their thinking bubbles. There seems to be many worries about fires breaking out and not being contained. We noticed that last week when we had the fire drill, we had to do lots of “What if . . .” talking.

Shereese shared that she has worries about being lost. Her picture in her thinking bubble is very detailed and sure conveys that scary feeling of feeling all alone in a big, intimidating place.

There was a certain comfort in sharing our worries through discussion, pictures and our writing. We definitely realized that having worries happens to all of us, not just story book characters like Wombat, Weasel and Woodchuck.

What do you worry about? How do you calm your fears?

Getting ready for a year of reading

Reading in our classroom is hugely important! There is so much research that supports the benefits of reading in all of its forms: independent reading, buddy reading, shared reading, listening to read alouds, etc. How do we prepare our classroom community for a year of reading together? It’s not just filling the room with books and children that ensures we will create passionate readers. A few other things need to happen . . . .

#1 Book Organization. Everywhere you look, there must be books! But, we need to be able to find what we are looking for. Accessible bins, clear labels and an organization that makes sense entice children to explore.

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

We have books labelled by genre (i.e. Adventure, Mystery, Rhyme and Repetition etc.), by favourite authors (Steve Jenkins, Mo Willems, Melanie Watt, etc.), by theme (Sea Creatures, Friendship, Folktales, etc.) and by popularity (i.e. Popular Graphics, Favourite Read Alouds, Recently Read). There are a lot of bins in our room! Books, books, books everywhere you look!

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

Important for me as the teacher – to have a system that helps get books out into bins and into the hands of students. So I have a bin for books that need to be labelled, bins of books to book talk, bins of read alouds for specific times of year/themes, etc.

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

I also like to be able to access mentor texts, books we use for Reading Power, specific non-fiction titles easily so my teacher area has books organized for easy access. Below are all of the Reading Power titles (Connect split into early/mid/late, Visualize, Question, Infer, Transform).

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

#2 Keeping Students Organized During independent reading, it is great to have “go to books” so that students can settle right into the reading rather than spend the whole time searching for books. Students  stash titles they want to read/are currently reading in their book boxes. Next week we will begin a schedule of adding new books to our boxes so that there isn’t a mad rush to exchange books during independent reading time. This is also time for the adults in the room to assist students with book selection, to introduce new genres, to set reading goals, etc. As you can see from the boxes below, Mo Willems is trending right now in our class!

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

While most books have stickers on the back that correspond to specific bins or author bins that we are familiar with, I ask students to put books into “Book Return” bins if they are not sure where to return  them. I have a “Book Return: Picture Book” and a “Book Return: Chapter Book” bin for students to use. This ensures that books get back to their proper “homes” when the next person is looking for them!

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

#3 Book Promotion Books are book talked daily in our room! Students  are often unfamiliar with both the book organization sytems and the wide variety of titles and authors we have in our classroom when they arrive in September. I  book talk books in our current collection, often highlighting specific book bins and we also book talk books new to our classroom, books from the library, books that have gone unnoticed, etc.  There is a bin in the teacher area specifically for books that need to be book talked but I also spontaneously highlight specific titles when interest in an author is there or when connections are made in our learning to specific books.

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

#4 Time for reading is paramount. Readers need to read. Readers of every level grow their skills best when they have time to read self selected titles that they are interested in! In our classroom, there is daily time dedicated to independent reading. Soon we will also begin buddy reading with our kindergarten buddies!

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

At this age and stage of reading, independent reading often is interrupted by sharing of interesting parts, questions about what someone else is reading, or reading a part aloud to a neighbour. I encourage this as it helps build a “buzz” about different titles and encourages student recommendations. This is how we learn about new books and begin making talking about books an important conversation!

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

#5 Building stamina as readers: Currently, during part of every block of independent reading we are spending some time book talking, sharing titles, and exploring different book bins. It takes time to build up our ability to sit and read for an extended time period no matter how excited we are! Eventually, we will be able to read for longer sessions and for some of us, experience that lovely feeling of “falling into a book” and not even realizing that the bell has gone or that everyone has cleaned up to go for recess. A favourite activity to introduce new books at the beginning of a reading period is to do a book sharing circle. Every two minutes pass the two books you are looking at onto the next person and at the end of the sharing, read quietly on your own (maybe a new title you discovered or a book you had on the go). This activity is pictured below with my  reading group from last year who are exploring some non-fiction titles.

Getting Ready for a year of Reading: There's a Book for That!

#6 Exposure to great titles! Along with our reading stamina, we are building up our listening stamina. Reading aloud happens in our room every day. We read poetry, excerpts from non-fiction texts, picture books, chapter books, etc. For many students in the class this year, listening to a chapter book is a new experience. Sara Pennypacker to the rescue! We have started our first classroom read aloud: Clementine and the Family Meeting (written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee). We have only read Chapter One but we are very intrigued. Students are already wondering about Clementine’s friend Margaret and her germ phobias. They are worried about where the rat Eighteen has gone. And of course we are very curious about why a family meeting has been called in Clementine’s family. Reading aloud gives me wonderful opportunities to model my thinking aloud.

Of course, many other things go on in our room as part of reading instruction: direct instruction with phonemic awareness for those who are building decoding skills, fluency practice, reading comprehension strategies, opportunities to respond to what we read, etc. This post highlights book interaction and independent reading. 🙂

It is going to be a wonderful year of celebrating reading!  

How do you set up for reading success in your classroom?

A Butterfly is Patient

The amazing team of  Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long deliver another picture book masterpiece with their third book A Butterfly is Patient.

This year we have shared An Egg is Quiet (as part of our learning about birds) and A Seed is Sleepy (to supplement our plants/seeds/gardens learning) With both titles we used a modified version of Adrienne Gear‘s Knew-New Connections from her Non-Fiction Reading Power book to represent our learning.

Students were excited to share this book as many had learned about butterflies or even hatched butterflies in their Kindergarten or Grade 1 years and so they had a lot of prior knowledge to connect to their new learning and they were able to represent all of this background knowledge under “I KNEW this already!

A butterfly is helpful (fantastic pollinators)

What is lovely about representing our knowledge on a sheet like this is that it is very open ended. It allows students to document their own learning from exactly where they start. There are no “right” answers. Some facts ended up on “This is NEW to me!” and for others, these same facts were included on, “I KNEW this already!” Being familiar with the sheet allowed students to start organizing their thinking as we read. There were comments like, “Wow. I didn’t know that!” or “Hey that is what we learned last year. Remember how we talked about . . . ” When it came time to write, everyone had lots to say!

Describing prior knowledge and new learning.


Another student example of all the new things he learned today.


Some other student examples from “I KNEW this already!”

*Butterflies help plants make new plants (pollinate)

*I knew that some butterflies have spots that look like eyes on their wings

*They molt (shed their skin)

*I knew they started out as an egg

*Butterflies make chrysalises. They don’t make cocoons

Information shared for “This is NEW to me!”

* I found out that they taste with their feet

*I did not know that butterflies can be poisonous

*I didn’t know that a peacock butterfly can make a hissing sound by rubbing its wings

* I discovered that they drink water from mud puddles

* I didn’t know that butterflies could get water from wet soil


Our reading group has continued to practice strategies to handle unknown vocabulary in text. See the strategy list that we came up with earlier this month here. We spent part of a few reading classes with this great text: Wooly Mammoth by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. (A Natural History Museum Selection)

This book reads as an information story book: rhyming text accompanies the large pictures on each two page spread while black and white drawings and information reads in a column down one side of each page. You can read this book as just a storybook, concentrate primarily on the information or focus on both. Students enjoyed the mammoth time line at the end of the book and reviewing what they had learned by quizzing each other on the glossary words.

We then read Kali’s Song by Jeanette Winter.

We started by comparing the covers of Kali’s Song with a Wooly Mammoth. All year we have been talking about the different text features of fiction and non-fiction books. It would be interesting to see what we noticed when looking at Wooly Mammoth because it has both fiction and non-fiction elements (what we like to call an information story book). Students observed that even though both covers had illustrations rather than photographs, the mammoth on the cover of Wooly Mammoth looked more realistic. We talked about fur colour and the shape of the tusks. We also discussed how one mammoth was standing in the snow and another on grass/ground next to a little boy and a dog. “How could they stand so close?” someone wondered.

Before we began reading Kali’s Song, I asked the students, “Even though this is clearly a fiction text, do you think we will be able to link some of our learning from Wooly Mammoth to what we read?” We were ready to look for any text to text connections. Would our sense of the story be enhanced by our newly acquired background knowledge? (schema)

Immediately students were excited to see Kali’s mother painting animals on the cave’s wall. “We learned about how they did that in the other book! In the future some people might discover those paintings to see what animals looked like!” 

We also appreciated that a work of fiction had beautiful elements of story telling and images that a non-fiction book wouldn’t have. When Kali plays the bow string, Winter writes: The stars came close to listen. Such a wonderful image that makes the story more powerful. We liked how Kali’s Song challenged our imaginations and had us think about things differently.

Kali’s music lures the mammoths to him and fascinated, all of the other hunters lay down their weapons. Kali must be a shaman they decide. Winter leaves us wondering – do the hunters not kill any of the mammoths? Or do they eventually resume their hunt? In Wooly Mammoth we had learned that the people’s survival depended on the hunt and that they used all parts of the mammoth (meat, fur, tusks, bone) for things that they needed. Our discussion was intense. Kali had the skill to lure the animals and he seemed to love them. But he loved his people. Wouldn’t his skill help the hunt? What would he do? The students decided that Winter left us thinking on purpose. We would have to come to our own decisions.

Because the mammoths seemed so majestic and wonderful we wanted to think they wouldn’t be hunted but now that our knowledge included information about how people who lived thousands of years ago depended on the hunt, we had some different ideas about the outcome. Students were able to make text to text connections and this furthered their thinking.

Kali’s Song is a beautiful book. Highly recommended.

How do you help students make text to text connections? Recognize that their background knowledge influences their thinking? 

The Magic Beads

In our reading group we have been exploring different genres. Today was day three of looking at realistic fiction. Last week what kept coming up on our list of what makes a book realistic fiction was that many people would find things to connect to easily in the story. Today we read a story together and our writing focused on possible connections.

The story that we read today had a lot to it and our discussion and subsequent writing was rich. In fact, I don’t think I can think of a time all year where the group was so quietly engrossed in their writing. When I read notebooks at recess, I was blown away by the maturity and thought that was shared. The Magic Beads written by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund and illustrated by Genevieve Cote is an important story addressing the emotions of a young girl starting school while her life is full of change.

Lillian begins Grade 2 at a new school after she and her Mom have had to move to a shelter to escape her abusive father. They have left everything behind and Lillian is feeling a range of emotions from anxiety to anger. A part of her misses her father even though her memories of his bad moods are difficult to think about. She loves her Mom and knows why they had to leave but she also feels angry that her Mom was the one that took them away. When she is asked to share at Show and Tell on Friday, Lillian’s upset grows. She no longer has her pesonal possessions with her. What could she share? The butterflies in her tummy turn into grasshoppers, donkeys and eventually buffalos as Friday approaches and she has nothing to share.

Finally as she stands before the class on Friday, Lillian talks about her plastic beads, terming them magic beads and explaining that with just a little imagination, the beads can be all kinds of things. Lillian’s inventive imagination intrigues her classmates and provides a way for friendships to begin.

Student writing ranged from personal connections to ideas of what events or emotions readers might feel connected to in the story. Here are excerpts:

Carmen writes: Some people might connect to being sad because of leaving your Dad all alone since you might have played with your Dad and you might miss your favourite happiness. 

Truman shared: I connected to when I first went to this school and I felt scared and shy. Some people might connect to their feelings on the first day of school. I connected to when I didn’t bring my Chinese homework and felt nervous.

Catriona wrote: People could connect to being mad at a person when the person you’re really mad at isn’t there. 

Heman shared: When I first went to this school, I felt like I had a tummy ache just like Lillian. 

Khai made a list of possible connections: using your imagination to feel better, feeling anxious at school on the first day, having a Dad with some anger problems, having to move somewhere when you don’t really want to, . . .




Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear

Today we read the Ice Bear (In the Steps of the Polar Bear) written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Gary Blythe. Our goal: to move away from quick questions and begin asking more deep thinking questions.

Polar Bar, Nanuk, is perfectly suited to the Arctic climate and landscape. For many generations, the Inuit people have learned how to live and survive in the Arctic habitat by watching the great Ice Bear. Nicola Davies tells us how polar bears survive in the Northern landscape weaving facts on each page into the beautiful story she tells in such lovely poetic text.

As I read this story aloud, we stopped on each page to share our questions and Ms. Hibbert recorded them. Our curiousity filled three pages of chart paper!

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

We then looked at all of our questions and coded them. FO: Found Out (we discovered the answer in the story as we read on) R: Research (to find the answer, we will have to do some research)  I: Infer (we need to infer to figure out the answer – using our background knowledge and our reasoning)

Coding our questions  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

As we looked at the three charts, we noticed that we had very few questions coded FO (Found Out). This is exciting as it means we are asking fewer quick questions and more complex or deep thinking questions. Using Adrienne Gear‘s Non-Fiction Reading Power we have been learning to distinguish between quick and deep thinking questions. For our purposes here – quick questions are questions that we find the answer to (often down the page or a page or two later), where there is only one answer and where once we know the answer, our thinking stops. Deep thinking questions, on the other hand, inspire more questions, often have more than one answer or require us to do research, more thinking and/or talking to come to an answer at all.

Ms. Hibbert and I were also excited to see students asking multipart questions i.e. Do babies have fur? If not, how do they keep warm? or How often does a polar bear eat and does this affect how much it eats at a time? It was also fantastic to see questions inspire other questions between the students. At one point, Shae-Lynn was sitting right beside my chair with her hand up waiting to share her question and listening to others. “Oh!” she suddenly exclaimed, “Now I have three questions!”

Students then went back to their tables to write and draw about their learning and to share what they were still wondering.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some students began reading the books they were looking at for ideas on how to draw a polar bear and talked with each other about what they noticed.

All of a sudden, the research began happening as students realized that they were finding the answers to the unanswered questions we had included on our charts.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

“Hey Ms. Gelson look what Carmen and I discovered!” Catriona summoned me over. She went on to show me the section in the book they had found that talked about polar bear fur in the water. They discovered that the guard hairs are oily and waterproof and hollow. This answered our question about how polar bears can be such good swimmers and whether or not they had fur that wouldn’t get too wet and heavy.

Look! Read here!  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some learning shared in student writing:

* Male polar bears weigh more than females. I wonder if they eat more than females as well.

* I think the baby polar bears are more white than the Moms and really cute.

* I know that polar bears are as fast as a snowmobile. Bears eat seals. They use their sharp claws and kill the seals quickly.

* A female polar bear can have 1 to 3 baby cubs at a time

*I found out that when there is zero seals, polar bears will eat grass, dead birds and fish.

Sophie’s Masterpiece

Sophie’s Masterpiece is one of the most beautiful picture books I know to illustrate the concepts of kindness and generosity. Written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Jane Dyer.

Poor Sophie the spider has a horrible time when she tries to find a place of her own in a boarding house. The tenants screech, swat at her and hide out on the windowsill to escape her. She moves from room to room, unwanted despite the thoughtful spinning she does for the various people she encounters: a web of curtains, a bright blue suit or a a pair of new slippers. Finally, when she must make the long and tiring ascent to the third floor in search of a place to be safe, Sophie is much older and very weary. She finds herself sharing a room with a young woman who does not despise her but smiles at her. When the woman has a baby, Sophie gifts the child with a blanket with strands of moonlight, starlight, wisps of night and old lullabies woven into it. So beautiful, a gift of love. Sophie weaves her heart into the farthest corner and is no more. Her last weaving, her masterpiece is such a beautiful act of kindness.

Look how she was to people,” remarked Shae-Lynn. “After all of that hitting and screeching, she gave her own heart to be kind.”

Some new aspect of kindness for us to consider. Kindness can continue to be given even when so little seems to be received in return. The act of giving brings its own rewards.

After our discussion we spent some time appreciating, Jane Dyer’s art. Wasn’t it clever to make Sophie the spider look part human? It helped us feel extra connected as we witnessed Sophie’s kind acts and selfless giving.  We started talking about other half and half creatures. Not part spider/part human but part spider/part bird or part elephant, part robot, etc. Our afternoon art illustrates how we explored that concept.

Shae-Lynn draws her spider/cat balanced in its web.


Markus created “Super Horse” (notice the S.H. initials) part spider/part horse with a fiery tail!


Jacky made a part eagle/part spider creature. Gorgeous!


Catriona made a part lion/part spider and explained that “really being part spider would be helpful to the lion for when it is catching its prey!”


Charlie and Kiwi

Right at the time I decided to do a unit on birds in the classroom, this amazing book caught my eye – Charlie and Kiwi. . . an evolutionary adventure – created by Peter H. Reynolds and the NewYork Hall of Science.

I purchased a copy for my son who is intrigued by concepts of evolution and on a shopping trip to Kids Books with Ms. Sheperd-Dynes, Seymour’s Teacher Librarian, I convinced her (wasn’t a hard sell!) to buy a copy for our library. Two copies of this fantastic book meant that when Ms. Hibbert came in on a Thursday afternoon, we could each take half the class and share the book. Smaller groups and an interactive read aloud session means more opportunities for students to share questions, opinions and connections to other learning. We strive to provide many opportunities that allow students to develop oral language skills: listening, speaking in turn, adding to what someone else has said, responding to a question, etc. This book inspired lots of talk!

Story Summary: Charlie needs to write a report about a bird for school. He wanted to choose a bird that nobody else would choose and decided on a kiwi bird. But when he announced his selection to his classmates, they were a little confused. How could this strange flightless creature with whiskers be a bird? Charlie needed to know why the kiwi was so different from other birds and why? The next thing Charlie knows, he is zooming through space with his stuffed kiwi bird heading back in time to meet his Great x 5 Grandpa Charles who happens to be an expert on birds! This time Grandpa, Charlie and kiwi travel back in time to 30 million years ago. Charlie learns how the kiwi bird was just right for life in New Zealand and how and why it had likely evolved to be this way.

Grandpa Charles explains. “Little changes in each generation add up to big changes.”

Then the time travellers are whizzing back through time to meet the very first birds 150 million years ago! Charlie learns that the first birds were actually dinosaurs (with feathers!) So the many diverse birds that we have on the planet today all descended from the first birds – dinosaurs and changed and adapted to survive in different environments. Charlie returns to class armed with this new knowledge and a fossil of an early bird and explains to his class how all birds came from the same ancestor: the dinosaur!

Student reactions: Students then had the opportunity to think about what they had learned and share their learning on a Knew-New Connections sheet (adapted from Adrienne Gear‘s Non-fiction Reading Power text)

Here is some of what they shared:

I KNEW this already!

* Birds lay eggs.  Shae-Lynn

*I knew that most birds fly. Reiko

*I already knew some birds don’t fly. Purity

*I knew that kiwis were birds, not just fruit! Catriona

* Birds eat with their beak. Markus

This is NEW to me!

* Kiwis have a good sense of smell. Khai

* These birds have big feet. Jacky

* Kiwis eat bugs at night. Shae-Lynn

*Dinosaurs lived 150 million years ago! Carmen

* I didn’t know that kiwis say keee weee keee weee. Truman

* I learned that Kiwi Bird whiskers help them hunt in the dark. Raelyn

*Kiwis evolved from birds that flew and changed because of danger in the air and better eating of bugs. Catriona

* I thought a kiwi was a fruit, but I found out it was a bird. Mai

This Knew-New Connections response sheet is an ideal way for students to express their new learning and connect their prior knowledge to new information.

We are hoping that Peter H. Reynolds is going to create more books like this! We learned so much!

Poop. Everything you ever wanted to know. And then some

Our current read aloud is a non-fiction title. On a kind of gross but okay, let’s admit it, kind of a lot of fun to talk about topic: Poop – A Natural History of the Unmentionable written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton.

How can you not love this book? The cover shows a huge elephant behind with a pile of dung and a little scientist carefully examining the specimen. Open up the cover and notice that it is all brown and smeary coloured. “Eww! Is that real poo on there?” someone asked. (No, it’s artistic suggestion 🙂 )And then on the first page you get to learn that feces is the proper name of poop and that if we were speaking scientifically, we would know that all animals defecate (meaning to poo). So it seems that reading this book will make us into scientific experts on poop. Excellent!

Today we decided to use Adrienne Gear‘s Questions and Inferences sheet from Nonfiction Reading Power to record some of our questions and what we were inferring as we listened to the text.

The level of engagement was pretty high. Poop is an interesting topic! Near the end of the lesson, Jena commented, “Who knew poo could be so interesting?” Indeed.

We practiced asking some questions/inferring together when we looked at the first few pages titled – A Tour of Poop

We noticed that tapir poop seemed to have hair in it. Nobody knew what a tapir was so it seemed to be the perfect question to do some inferring.

Question:  Why does some poop have hair in it?

Our inferences:

Jenny: It must mean they are predators. The hair is from their prey.

Eddy: Maybe they have furry bums. When the poo comes out, it gets covered in their own fur.

Miami: I’m thinking that – perhaps, they licked their babies’ fur to clean them and stuff. So that’s how hair got into the poop.

Manny: Maybe it’s not hair. Maybe it is grass and they eat grass. Maybe it just looks like poop. If it is hair, why doesn’t the stomach acid eat the hair?

As we read on, we found out that meat eating animals (carnivores) have poop that contains hair, fur, feathers and bones. But I love all of the thinking we were doing to come up with different possibilities!

Most conversation and discussion was related to the text but as I read and we shared our thinking some students just couldn’t help sharing. A few hilarious statements I overheard: “I feel better when I poop.” “Do you think everyone pees a bit when they poop?” “Do you think we would explode if we never pooped?” “My Dad got diarrhea when he ate spicy pork.” Poop is a great topic of conversation! Maybe not to use at your next dinner party but when hanging out with primary students, it rates pretty high!

During our sharing someone asked this question: “Why do we fart?”

Kevin happily shared his thinking. “Maybe when your body has no more poop in it, there are still poo smells that need to get out so you need to fart.”

This was a very popular suggestion. One student responded. “Oh! Oh! Kevin may I write that down on my sheet?” “Yeah me too,” someone else said. We love to share our thinking! 🙂

Some other questions/inferences from our sheets:

Hajhare: Does poo have food in it? I think it does because the food all combines together to make it brown.

Edwin: Why is animal poo smaller? Maybe the animals don’t have big tummies like people.

Kevin: What happens if you poop a lot? I think you live longer.

The students can’t wait to learn more about poop! Stay tuned!

The Raft

This week we read The Raft by Jim LaMarche and practiced asking deep thinking questions vs. quick questions (inspired by Adrienne Gear‘s Reading Power). We know that a quick question is quick to ask and usually we find the answer in the text. With deep thinking questions, we are often inspired to ask new questions and our thinking goes on long after we have closed the book.

the raft

The Raft tells the story of Nicky who has come to spend the summer with his grandmother. He isn’t very eager to do this (bemoaning being away from television and any kids all summer) but it doesn’t take long before Nicky finds himself fascinated by his summer locale. A raft covered in leaves and branches floats up and bumps against the dock Nicky is fishing on. It is covered in drawings of animals and it completely captures Nicky’s imagination. Where did it come from? Who painted the animals? What does it mean? Soon he and his grandmother are spending lazy days poling down the river. An array of animals keep Nicky company – foxes following him along the shore, birds hitching a ride, a great blue heron snacking on crayfish. Nicky often takes the raft out alone and sketches all of the animals he sees. Somehow the raft seems to draw the creatures to him.

The students noticed the changes in Nicky.

Miami: “He’s been transformed. He was so grumpy when he came to his Grandma’s and now he’s not.”

Hajhare: “I think he was set up. Do you know what I mean Ms. Gelson? His Dad tricked him into liking his summer. His Dad knew he was going to like it all along.”

Finally,  Nicky adds his own animal to the raft for a very special reason. Students were lulled by the beauty and magic of this book and eagerly wrote down questions as I read.

I then gave the students a task: Choose 2-5 of your deep thinking questions and list them in your notebook. Choose one and try to answer it (You will need to infer)

Kevin put his hand up. “But I can’t just put 5. Each question leads to another question so I’ll need to write 10. I “inferenced” as I thought them so I included them when I did my writing.” (Yippee! Learning!)

Some samples of student thinking.

Jena: Are all of the drawings adventures of how people saved animals? Maybe yes and the raft was made and passed on from generation to generation.

Lisa: One of my questions before was that are the animals from the raft going to come alive. Maybe if Nicky visualizes, they will come alive to him.

Ricky: Who drew all of these animals on the raft? Why is Nicky’s Grandma called a river rat? Did she also save an animal on the river? Maybe a rat? Is Grandma part of nature?

At the end of the book, Scott sat back and said, “That book was awesome.” When I asked him why, Eddy piped up. “It’s really making me think thinking stuff.”

I think this should be our new measure of success when we judge a reading experience – did we think thinking stuff? Does book really inspire our thinking voice? The Raft did and then some. It left us talking with each other, following a question into an inference and going back into the story to try and find clues, having “but what if. . . ” discussions all around the room. A wonderful book.