How Lunch Money Works

The school lunch line: only a few people really understand it—cafeteria workers, students and teachers.  To everyone else, the lunch line is shrouded in mystery.  Here is a peek at lunch lines today.

Let’s start with the most persistent rumor (as evidenced by occurrences in kids’ books.)  No one gets held up for their lunch money anymore.  If you are a parent, don’t worry about it.  If you are a children’s book writer, don’t make this a plot point.

Nowadays, many students qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program.  For them, lunch money isn’t an issue.  Students who do pay for lunch commonly have parents who electronically deposit money into their lunch accounts via an online system.  Another possibility is that the student brings in a check or cash occasionally, and the money is added to the child’s account.

Kids have lunch cards with barcodes that are scanned by cafeteria workers.  There is some system by which teachers or aides distribute these cards to students.  The procedure varies—different schools have different ways.

Schools with a large percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch often have very, very long lunch lines.  I have worked at schools that have a lunch line stretching out of the cafeteria and down the hallway.  These schools have to be really organized.  One system is for each class to queue up only after the class scheduled ahead calls to say that they have joined the line.

I feel bad for these kids, because they spend a lot of time waiting in the lunch line.  However, based on the way school cafeterias are built, I really don’t see many ways to increase efficiency without building additional lunch lines.  The kids still have to pass through the actual kitchen area to select their lunch and scan their card.

The good news is that kids usually have fun in these lunch lines.  They are allowed to talk, joke and have fun with friends.  (Within reason– no wrestling allowed!)

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Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Nov 30, 2010


Teaching Cursive with Muggie Maggie

bookMuggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
AR Reading level 4.5  1 point
Available at

Cursive may seem outdated compared to typing, texting and tweeting, but it is still an important skill for kids to learn.  If nothing else, they need to be able to read cursive—notes written by parents and teachers, or cursive written by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence.

Kids are very excited to learn cursive, but sometimes their interest lags after the first few lessons.  You can keep them going by reading to them Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary.

In Muggie Maggie, third-grader Maggie absolutely refuses to learn cursive.  She’s a smart girl, but she gets herself into quite a predicament—with a lot of embarrassment, time spent out of class, and even trips to the principal’s office!

See, Maggie’s teacher has hatched a plan with other teachers and school staff.  She makes Maggie the messenger.  All the messages Maggie deliverers are written in cursive.  Maggie is pretty sure she recognizes her name in the messages.  Maggie has no choice but to learn cursive so she can read the secret messages.

Muggie Maggie is clearly intended for a third-grade audience, but AR (accelerated reader) classifies the reading level is 4.5.  (Many Beverly Cleary books have a reading level above the intended audience’s grade level, as I have described in a different post about this topic.)  Some third-graders will be able to read Muggie Maggie, but I recommend that third-grade teachers read it aloud because it is perfectly suited to their audience.

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Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR),Book Reviews,Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 25, 2010


Kids Don’t Read Beverly Cleary

bookI’m sorry to tell you a harsh truth: kids don’t read Beverly Cleary books.  Not like they used to, that’s for sure.

The Ramona & Beezus movie was wonderful, but the box office take was disappointing.  (I think it will have a long life as a DVD and Blu-Ray.)  All my students who saw the movie absolutely loved it, but none of them had read the books beforehand.

Kids don’t read Beverly Cleary!  Why?

You and I loved her books as children, but they’re a little old now.  Some elements are dated, particularly the books about Henry Huggins and the early Ramona books.

The main reason kids don’t read Beverly Cleary has to do with AR (Accelerated Reader).  Beverly Cleary’s books are written at a high reading level, according to AR.  (The formula is based on length of sentences, length of words, etc.  I’m not sure about the details because I think it’s top secret.)

For example, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is clearly written for a third-grade audience.  The book’s reading level is 5.6.   Most kids are not allowed to read above their AR reading level, so they can’t read the Beverly Cleary books when they are at the age the books are aimed for.  By the time kids reach the fifth and sixth grade reading levels, they want to move on to harder and more macho books, like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.

I think it’s too bad.  Beverly Cleary books are wonderful.  I can’t imagine life without them, actually.

On the other hand, I have to say that in my experience, when kids read above their reading level, comprehension suffers and students rarely actually finish the book.  They just lug it around to look impressive.

Obviously, as a future writer and teacher, I was an advanced reader as a kid.  However, many of my classmates also read Beverly Cleary books.  I have to wonder if more of today’s students would read the books should AR downgrade the reading level.

As a teacher or parent, I hope you will read Beverly Cleary books aloud and recommend them to students who are ready for them.  If you teach fifth and sixth graders, try to push them into Beverly Cleary books.  You know they’ll like them!  You can also recommend the books Beverly Cleary wrote for teens.  My favorite is The Luckiest Girl, but I also loved Fifteen and Sister of the Bride.

A sampling of Beverly Cleary AR reading levels:  (This isn’t all her books.  There are soooo many!)

Ramona Quimby, Age 8: 5.6
Ramona Forever: 4.8
Beezus and Ramona: 4.8
Ramona and Her Father: 5.2
Ramona and Her Mother: 4.8
Ramona’s World: 4.8
Ellen Tebbits: 4.9
Henry Huggins: 4.7
Henry and the Clubhouse: 5.1
Mitch and Amy: 6.2
Emily’s Runaway Imagination: 6.1
A Girl from Yamhill (Beverly Cleary’s Autobiography): 6.5
Fifteen: 5.4
The Luckiest Girl: 5.9

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Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR),Book Lists,Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 21, 2010


The Stories Julian Tells

bookby Ann Cameron
AR book level 3.4  1 point
Available from

I first learned about The Stories Julian Tells because we have an excerpt in our Harcourt reading textbook.  Now, I am a big believer in Julian!  You will be so glad to know that there are many books about Julian.

In The Stories Julian Tells, author Ann Cameron creates a memorable family.  You will love Julian, a nine-year-old with a big imagination and a gift for telling stories.  His little brother Huey is cute as can be.  Julian’s dad is larger-than-life: a strict father who is even funnier and more imaginative than Julian.  Julian’s mom is a wonderful, warm character.

The Stories Julian Tells is an incredibly funny, warm and comforting book.  It makes a wonderful read aloud for the classroom.  However, I think a huge added educational value comes from the author’s rich description and imaginative use of figurative language.

For example, in the first chapter, Julian, Huey and their father make a lemon pudding for Mom: a lemon pudding that tastes like “a night on the sea” and “a whole raft of lemons.”  When dad wakes up from his nap to find that Julian and Huey ate the whole pudding, the boys are in for a whipping and a beating—Julian whips the pudding, and Huey beats the egg whites.  Mom tastes the new pudding—it’s just like a night on the sea and a whole raft of lemons!

My favorite story in the book is called “Because of Figs.”  When Julian was three, his dad gave him a fig tree that would grow up with him.  When the tree grew taller but Julian didn’t, Julian felt left behind.  Naturally, the solution was to eat the fig leaves to help him grow.  (They taste like spinach, so they must be good for you.)  Years later, Julian is bigger but the tree hasn’t grown at all.  Finally, Julian realizes that the leaves belong to the tree.  Now both tree and boy can grow up together.

My students absolutely love The Stories Julian Tells.  They are nuts about the companion books, like Julian, Secret Agent , More Stories Julian Tells, and Julian, Dream Doctor.  There are also great books about other characters in the series, like Gloria (who might be Julian’s best friend) and Huey, Julian’s little brother.

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Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR),Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Nov 17, 2010


Molly’s Pilgrim

bookby Barbara Cohen
AR book level 3.0   0.5 points
Available at

Molly’s Pilgrim is a classic that deserves a place in your classroom library.  It can be read any time, but it is particularly poignant in November.

In November, we think of pilgrims as the Puritans landing on Plymouth Rock.  However, Molly’s Pilgrim reminds us that other pilgrims came to this country for religious freedom.

Molly is a young Russian-Jewish immigrant who feels out of place in America.  Molly’s school assignment is to make a Pilgrim doll.  Molly’s clothespin Pilgrim doll resembles her mother rather than a Puritan Pilgrim, teaching her classmates an important lesson about religious freedom in America.

Molly’s Pilgrim was made into an Academy award-winning short movieIt is available on

Molly’s Pilgrim is great as a read aloud, but if you wanted make it into a unit of study, you might consider buying A Guide for Using Molly’s Pilgrim in the Classroom, from Teacher Created Materials.

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Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR),Book Lists,Book Reviews,Holidays,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Nov 13, 2010


Ticket to Read

Ticket to Read is an awesome online program that functions as a super fun reading tutor for all levels.  You can use it for remediation or as a challenge.  It’s appropriate for grades K-6.

In essence, your child earns tickets for reading passages and answering the questions.  These tickets can be redeemed to play games and to decorate your own personal virtual tree house.

Ticket to Read provides comprehensive reading tutoring.  It really covers everything.  Your child reads the story out loud (fluency) and answers questions that address comprehension and vocabulary.  If your child makes mistakes, the program offers personalized tutoring.  If your child has trouble sounding out words, the program will read to her, and then let her click on words she doesn’t know so she can hear them pronounced.  After all the tutoring, your child tries the passage again.  Many of the passages are nonfiction, which is the most difficult genre for children on standardized tests.  For younger students, Ticket to Read has a phonics component.

The tickets are good reinforcement because your child earns them quickly and constantly.  Every correct question earns tickets.  Reading a story out loud and recording it earns tickets.

It is super fun to decorate the tree house.  Your child can spend tickets on virtual toys such as a drum set or keyboard, buy a virtual teddy bear, and even purchase access to secret passages or a virtual pool.

Individuals can subscribe to Ticket to Read for $29.95.  Classes can subscribe for $249.95.  Schools can subscribe, too—see Ticket to Read for details.  You can get a FREE 14 day trial.

This is a great deal!  You will be so glad you subscribed!  Your child’s reading level will soar!

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Posted in Fun With Literacy,Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 9, 2010


Veterans Day

Veterans Day is November 11.  It is a day set aside to honor those who have served in the military.

November 11 was previously honored as Armistice Day, to commemorate the armistice signed between the allies of World War I and Germany, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western front: on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.  The date was declared a national holiday in many allied nations, to commemorate those members of the armed forces who were killed during war.

You can teach your class about Veterans Day by visiting VA Kids, the official government Veterans Affairs website for kids.  Your students can learn about veterans and Veterans Day, read cool facts about the US flag, and play Flash games and activities.

In honor of Veterans Day, I like to teach my kids the songs for each branch of the US military.  The kids love to learn these songs.

Don’t play the songs from YouTube.  Many videos are followed by comments that will get you and your students in trouble.  Play the songs from official military websites: Army, Air Force  (Click on Recordings), Marines, and Navy.

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Posted in Holidays,Social Studies,Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 6, 2010


Tips for Sending Treats to Class

Here are some tips to remember whenever you’re sending treats to the classroom—for your child’s birthday or for a party.

1.  Tell the teacher ahead of time.  I don’t mind being surprised, but it is nice to know in advance when the treat is coming.  It helps the teacher leave some leeway in the day’s lesson plans—or plan for a treat that has special serving requirements.  (See tip # 2)

2.  Plan how the treat will be served.  The treat should be easy to serve.  Imagine yourself in the teacher’s place, with 30 excited kids waiting eagerly for the treat.  In the classroom, something so simple as distributing individually wrapped treats can lead to chaos, especially when the packaging is challenging to open.  Cutting cakes, plating food, adding whipped cream or toppings, providing utensils and napkins are all examples of how serving treats can  get difficult very quickly.

3.  Send in everything needed to serve the treat.  Plates, napkins, eating and serving utensils… think about it!

4.  The kids don’t expect drinks.  They love them, but are not expecting it.  The teacher will appreciate individual drinks, such as juice boxes or Capri Sun.  Serving drinks in cups can be difficult and messy.

5.  You can bring the treat in yourself and help serve, but check with the teacher ahead of time.  If you just come in, you might find that the class is busy with something that can’t be interrupted, such as a test.  You might find the classroom is empty because the children have gone to lunch, or a special class such as PE or Art that is held elsewhere on campus.

6.  Your treat should probably be store-bought.  Many school districts have a policy requiring this.  It limits liability for everyone and makes it easy to check ingredients.

7.  Check the ingredients.  It’s smart to avoid nuts and especially peanuts, because many classes these days have someone with a nut allergy.  Be sure to check if the product was made in a facility that processes nuts.

8.  Check the number of servings per container.  Be careful with this!  I once bought a first day of school treat for my class—Little Debbie cakes, 10 per box.  Turns out it was packed in five twin-wrapped packages, and we had to split them.  The kids were nice about it, but it wasn’t what I intended and I felt bad.

9.  Find out if your child’s school has a no-sweets policy that is strictly enforced.  If so, there are many alternatives.  Kids enjoy fresh vegetables and dips.  You can buy apple slices in individual bags.  Fruit snacks are good.  Kids love those packaged cheese and crackers that let them spread the cheese on a cracker with little plastic sticks.  Kids are also really into Go-gurt and crushable yogurt.

10.  Send in extra treats.  You never know if your child’s class will have a new student, or students visiting from another class.  (It happens for a variety of reasons—the class might have a small group from another classroom because the school couldn’t find a sub, or a student helper might happen to be there when the treat is served.)  If there are extra treats, your child can bring them home or visit other classrooms and give the extras to teachers.  Kids love to do this!

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Posted in Classroom Management,First Year Teachers,Food,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Nov 3, 2010