by Dav Pilkey
AR Reading Level 3.1; 0.5 points
Available at Amazon.com
Summary: The Dumb Bunnies are Papa, Mama, and Baby. They prepare for Easter—but it’s really a mashup of holidays. My favorite is when the Easter Bunny comes in a minivan—pulled by eight flying Pilgrims. Then he drops Easter eggs down the chimney with a “Ho, ho, ho! Look out below!” This book is very short, but jam-packed with jokes. The illustrations complement the text’s jokes—and add plenty of their own.
Activities: Don’t look too hard for intellectual things you can read into the book—it’s pure fun. You can’t predict the story. You can laugh so hard you collapse into giggles. You can let kids read it repeatedly, practicing their fluency and looking for more jokes. You can let analytical kids count the jokes, then calculate a joke-to-page ratio, or a joke-to-word ratio. I suspect Dav probably listed joke ideas, then wrote the book. I can’t think of any other way to pack the jokes so densely!
by Janet Stevens
AR Reading Level 3.2; 0.5 points
Available at Amazon.com
When Spring is in the air, this is a great read!
Summary: This book is about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. Brer Rabbit lost a risky bet with a tortoise, so he is short of cash. He needs to feed his huge rabbit family. He hatches a plan to win vegetables off Brer Bear, who has farmland. First, Brer Rabbit says he do all the planting and split it with Bear. He gets tops, Bear gets bottoms. Rabbit grows lettuce, and things where the tops are good. Bear is mad, and says next time he wants tops. So Rabbit grows carrots and root veggies, because the bottoms are the good part. Bear says he wants tops and bottoms next time. So Rabbit grows corn, where the middles are best. The trickery is awesome, and I love how the book is rotated, so the pages are long—it’s like reading a picture book sideways, except the pictures are oriented for it.
Activities: This book is GREAT for predictions! Kids love to predict, and there is a real quandary when Bear wants tops and bottoms. How will rabbit solve that? My favorite prediction ever was when an English Language Learner said of Brer Rabbit, “He’s going to jack the carrots!”
I like to tie this book in with the tradition of Brer Rabbit stories: Brer Rabbit is a trickster. I would say Brer Rabbit cuts across cultures, because I always thought of him as a Southern character, but a British author I love, Enid Blyton, also writes Brer Rabbit stories (Amazon Link).
Parents, there is a simple way to turn TV time into reading time!
While nothing is better than reading a book, watching TV does not have to be a reading dead zone. If you enable closed captioning, you can help your child read more fluently.
Closed captioning was designed to aid the deaf or hard of hearing. Closed captioning converts dialogue, narration and sound effects into text at the bottom of the screen. The effect is similar to subtitles in movies. Closed captioning is available on most TV shows. It will be marked in the TV Guide with a CC. You can enable closed captioning with a button on your remote control. Most DVDs offer closed captioning—select it from the menu.
Proponents of closed captioning often point to Finland, where children watch as much TV as American children, but score much higher on reading tests. Finnish children’s favorite shows are often in English, so children must read the Finnish translations at the bottom of the screen while watching the show. This helps make children better readers.
When your children watch TV, turned the closed captioning on. You can leave the sound on or off. Children do not tune out closed captioning and have no choice but to notice it. Like it or not, children will absorb the connection between the written and spoken word.
Sing-along song DVDs are a fun spin-off of the closed captioning concept. The best-known Sing-along Songs are produced by Disney. These programs show popular Disney songs from movies, with the words at the bottom of the screen. Sing-along Songs are even better than closed captioning because a bouncing Mickey (or other icon) shows which word is being sung.
Options abound: Disney has the most—too many to list! Disney appeals to the widest audience because younger children enjoy the music, and older children enjoy revisiting favorite Disney movies. Sesame Street and Kidsongs are good for preschoolers through first grade.
To read more about closed captioning and reading, visit the National Captioning Institute.
Andrea Davis Pinkney
AR Reading Level 3.9; 0.5 points
Available from Amazon.com
Summary: Peggony-Po is a wooden boy made by Galleon Keene, a whaler who lost his leg while trying to capture the best whale of all, Cetus. The story follows Peggony-Po as he rides Cetus around the world, ultimately convincing the whale to stuff himself and end up beached, dying fat and happy. Published by Hyperion Jump at the Sun, the book is definitely African-American.
Activities: This book is a great Read-Aloud, because the language is vivid and difficult and the subject unfamiliar. Sixth graders could read and understand it themselves, but anyone younger would need help, because they have so little experience with the topic. The kids could make many connections: to Moby-Dick, Pinocchio, etc. The afterward explains the history of whaling, and shows that the sea was “the great equalizer”—a good whaler was a good whaler, no matter the color of his skin. History and character lessons abound.
I try to pack as much learning as possible into every day. Sometimes I schedule too much, and we are left scrambling to get ready for lunch and dismissal.
The easy fix? Alarm clocks!
I keep two inexpensive digital alarm clocks* in the classroom. One is set for five minutes before lunch. The other is set for ten minutes prior to dismissal.
Two students are in charge of alarm clocks for the whole year. Those students set the alarm clocks each day and turn them off after the buzz.
Our school day runs much more smoothly as a result. We keep the classroom neater, because we’re not always running late. We work more efficiently, because kids don’t feel the need to watch the clock.
I know, this is just one more thing for teachers to buy for their classrooms. Consider asking a parent to donate an alarm clock. Othwerwise, check the Dollar Store.
*Digital, because reading an old-fashioned clock often is not in a kid’s skill set these days! I have an old-fashioned clock in my classroom and I teach this skill, but the digital alarms make life easier for the kids in charge of classroom alarms.
When a child misses school—for an afternoon, a day, or a weeklong trip—parents often request makeup work. Often, I only send home part of what we do in class. Sometimes I think this makes parents wonder how much their child is really missing. After all, the makeup work seems so easy!
A lot of teaching goes into the worksheets parents see. A worksheet that takes a few minutes to do at home was part of a full lesson at school: teaching the skill, giving context to the lesson, extending or remediating based on the needs of the class.
This kind of teaching is most evident in math—we use whiteboards to do practice problems that I create. I “scaffold” the practice problems—building each skill up as the class gains mastery. A makeup worksheet is not a good substitute for having a teacher watch as children learn a skill.
Parents, please know that teachers try to keep makeup work manageable, and that the lesson in class was much more extensive than the worksheet you see at home.
Good teaching is like a good joke—you really needed to be there.
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
AR Reading Level 2.0; 0.5 points
Available from Amazon.com
Summary: After the farmer goes to bed, the animals rock out with a punk version of Old MacDonald. The illustrations are awesome and the animals look appropriately punk—they’ve earned their street cred.
Activities: With reviews by Rolling Stone and Spin on the back, this book is mostly for rockin’ parents to buy for their kids. However, I could use it for grades 1-3 as a Read-Aloud, or a book for independent reading. The kids could download the song from punkfarm.com and write their own versions of the song as a story frame activity.
No matter what grade I teach, I spend a great deal of time explaining how to write a complete sentence. Teachers can tell you why the concept of a sentence so hard for kids to understand:
- People don’t speak in complete sentences. We talk in fragments. Shorthand. So conversation will not teach you to write in complete sentences.
- Children seldom notice punctuation marks as they read. They’re so focused on reading the words that they don’t internalize how punctuation works.
When I started dictating the books I write using Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software, I had to SAY the commas, the open quotes, the parentheses, and the periods. Of course, I had a learning curve before I internalized this process.
Now I teach sentence writing by dictating. Example: “Goldilocks comma a very nice girl comma did a very bad thing period” (Goldilocks, a very nice girl, did a very bad thing.) The kids’ learning curve was dramatic: when I said the punctuation, my students understood how to use punctuation marks in their writing.
Whenever my class needs a brush-up on complete sentences, I read aloud as if I were dictating. Students follow along in the reading book as I say every punctuation mark. I ask the students to join with me, reading chorally as soon as they feel comfortable with the format.
Kids really internalize punctuation if you let them say it. Sometimes, just for fun, we’ll have a “say the punctuation” day. I might say, “Tommy comma you won’t go to lunch recess until you finish your work period.” Tommy might reply, “Miss Green comma I am working as hard as I can period.”
Try these techniques. You might find it hard to stop saying punctuation comma though period.