Teacher Thursday: Dot Day

Hi everyone,the dot

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Teacher Thursday post, so I wanted to make sure we had something a little special for our teachers who’ve just headed back to school this month. September 15th is Dot Day, and it’s a great way to celebrate reading, creativity, and getting to know each of your students’ strengths. Last year we asked how you were planning to celebrate Dot Day, but this year we’ve decided to give a couple suggestions for anyone who’s looking to join the celebration for the first time or thinking of trying something new.

If you haven’t read The Dot before, here’s a little background. It’s a picture book written and illustrated by popular children’s author Peter H. Reynolds. Protagonist Vashti can’t draw and thinks that means she can’t be an artist. But when her art teacher shows her the value of one little dot, Vashti allows her creativity to flourish and shares what she learns with others. Dot Day is an opportunity to bring Vashti’s experiences into everyday life and experience some collaboration, creativity, and positivity for yourself!

There’s plenty of information available at the official website: http://www.thedotclub.org/dotday/. You can also check out our Pinterest board. “Teacher Thursday: Dot Day,” for even more suggestions. Here are a few additional reading suggestions and activities to get you started.


Reading Suggestions:

Of course, The Dot is essential reading to prepare for Dot Day, and several of Peter H. Reynolds’ other titles are equally relevant. Here are a couple other reading suggestions that work well for a Dot Day celebration:

I will never get a star


I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann

Rose is determined to earn her own star on her teacher’s blackboard, but things never seem to work out quite right. Luckily, the classroom tries out a more creative project, and Rose finally finds her time to shine.

This is another great book about valuing creativity and a teacher who encourages her students to be different and recognize their greatest skills.

What Do You Do With an Idea


What Do You Do With an Idea? written by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

What do you do with a particularly troublesome, potentially brilliant idea that just won’t go away? Find out in this powerful picture book!

Here’s a great picture book for discussing how to accept differences and allow creative ideas to grow.


Matthew’s Dream by Leo Lionni

This picture book is about a mouse who follows his creativity to make his dreams become a reality.

We’ve mentioned Matthew’s Dream a few times before to celebrate Lionni’s birthday and as part of another Teacher Thursday about art in the classroom, but this is the perfect time to bring it up again! Matthew and Vashti have similar strengths and end up with such positive views of themselves and their skills that they’re able to accomplish an incredible amount.



If you’re looking for a quick activity on short notice, ask your students to look for dots or circles in the classroom after you’ve read the book aloud! Or provide a range of supplies and ask your students to create different kinds of dots, just like Vashti. These would be great activities for young students, especially as part of a math activity that requires shape identification. I think the most important thing to remember with any activity associated with this book is that it shouldn’t be a contest! It’s not “who can make the most dots” but “how many dots can we make together.” Because The Dot is about supporting one another and being open and collaborative, it’s important to foster a similar feeling in your activities.

Dot Day could also be a perfect time to try making your own BookWorm for your classroom. Give each student a circle cut out of heavy colored paper and ask them to write the title of their favorite book on it. You can tape all the circles on the wall of your classroom or library so they look like the body segments of an inch worm or caterpillar. All you need to do is use another circle and draw a face to make the head! We had one of these BookWorms in our home when I was a kid, but instead of writing our favorite books, we added a new circle to the body every time we finished a new book. The goal was to see how long we could make our BookWorm, and that could be a great challenge for you and your students if you have plenty of space around your classroom walls!


As usual, we want to hear from you! What activities will you be trying out this year? Are there any books you think should be included in our list? Let us know!


Happy Dot Day!


Teacher Thursday: Little Red Riding Hood Round-Up

Hi everyone,


Yesterday, I was lucky enough to help out with a special literacy/story time activity in one of my lovely teacher-friend’s classrooms. She’s working with her students on comparing stories using fairy tales. I brought in several versions of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to share. We started off with a whole-group read aloud of one of the more traditional tales before splitting into smaller groups to read and discuss the different versions. Students each got a worksheet to help them record the similarities and differences we discussed.


Because there is some diversity in this classroom, I particularly looked for multicultural versions of Little Red Riding Hood. Today, I’m going to be sharing a round-up of those Little Red Riding Hood picture books I pulled together for this classroom workshop.


Little Red Riding Hood (Jerry Pinkney)LRRH Pinkney

This is a pretty straight-forward familiar retelling, but I think the best part is the illustrations. Be sure to check out the endpapers!

Multicultural: The big difference for this book from any of the others is the race of the main character. However, I would say that this story stays pretty true to the familiar Grimm retelling and the only real difference appears in the illustrations.

Scariness: There are a few potentially scary wolf images, but a lot of the violence is toned down.

Length: This is a fairly long retelling. I think it works well as a read-aloud, but there is quite a bit of text on some of the pages.


Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (Ed Young)LRRH Young

This book won the Caldecott Medal in 1990. Be sure to check out Young’s interesting dedication at the beginning of the book!

Multicultural: This one definitely has a strong cultural influence. It’s a great comparison to a lot of the other versions because it is so different. Students might even be surprised that this is a Little Red Riding Hood story, so it’s a very interesting book to include in a comparison activity.

Scariness: I have had some young students tell me this book is scary, although older students don’t seem to be bothered. I think a lot of the creepiness comes from the way the art just suggests the wolf’s figure in a lot of the darker pages, rather than showing him in a more concrete style.

Length: Again, some pages have quite a bit of text. With the names and the length of the text, I would again suggest using this one as a read-aloud.


Little Red Riding Hood (Trina Schart Hyman)LRRH Hyman

This version is my secret favorite because I absolutely love Hyman’s art. This book does occasionally get some complaints for the fact that Little Red Riding Hood’s mother sends the grandmother a bottle of wine. In the final illustrations, the grandmother is drinking a glass of wine at the table with Little Red Riding Hood. It’s pretty easy to gloss over in the text as you read, but I generally don’t and don’t find it to be a big deal. This book won a Caldecott Honor in 1984.

Multicultural: This one is very close to the Grimm Brothers’ version.

Scariness: I would say this one is those most violent – it certainly stays true to the Grimms!

Length: This one seems comparable in length to Pinkney’s retelling. Again, a great options for a read-aloud, especially if you want to gloss over some of the scarier bits.


Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood (Mike Artell, Illustrated by Jim Harris)LRRH Artell

This story is told in verse with a colloquial dialect. Unfortunately, I found that the language made it a little difficult to read. I would definitely recommend practicing a few times before trying to read this one aloud, and as fun as it is, I don’t know that it would be the best choice for a lot of classroom activities. The characters in this book are all also animals; Petite Rouge is a duck, for example.

Multicultural: While the plot of this book stays fairly true to the Grimm retelling, there is enough Cajun influence that it’s not quite so obvious. There’s a glossary of terminology and several cultural references throughout.

Scariness: The use of animals makes this book much less scary. The “wolf” is also often made to look ridiculous rather than frightening.

Length: Because it’s told in verse, this version of the story is rather short.


Red Riding Hood (James Marshall)LRRH Marshall

I like this version a lot as an introduction to Little Red Riding Hood. Marshall’s work is familiar, but not overly frightening and does end with a very slight twist to amuse those who already know the story. I also think the page layout works well for students who might want to try reading the story on their own. The words are large and well-spaced so there’s plenty of white space for the eye to rest.

Multicultural: This is pretty similar to the Grimm version.

Scariness: The comical, cartoonish style prevents these illustrations from becoming too frightening.

Length: I think this is one of the shorter retellings. A little longer than Petite Rouge but still shorter than either the Pinkney or Hyman versions.


Little Red Writing (Joan Holub, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet)LRRH Holub

I have mixed feelings about this version. I actually think it’s really clever and could see it being useful for some classroom activities, but I decided not to bring it for this particular workshop. This could be interesting for maybe a writing workshop because it has a lot to do with parts of speech, language, and storytelling. However, I’m not sure how well this would work for a read-aloud because Sweet’s characteristic illustrations contain a lot of information that might be overwhelming or confusing to some readers. Perhaps I’ll have to try it out with another group of students, but if anyone has any classroom experience with this book, I’d love to hear about it!

Multicultural: I wouldn’t say there are really any cultural changes to this book, but it is certainly an interesting twist to the story!

Scariness: I don’t find this one scary. The characters are all inanimate objects, and the “wolf’s” big reveal is more funny than frightening.

Length: The main text is fairly short, but there are so many details on each spread that it could easily be a very long read!


For more ideas for incorporating Little Red Riding Hood into your classroom, be sure to check out our Pinterest. Look for the link in the sidebar!

A special thanks to my teacher friend and her students for welcoming me into your classroom! I had a great time working with you all!



Teacher Thursday: Color Activities

Each week the preschool where I work presents a new theme. We read books and plan our activities around this topic. It helps us keep a focus, but the change also keeps things fresh. This past week our theme was color, and we changed it up from past years. This has turned out to be one of our most popular units with the students, so I thought I’d share some of the books we read and the things we did.


There are several good books to read. Here are the ones we used, though there are many, many more that are excellent choices.


Mouse Paint

Mouse Paint

By: Ellen Stoll Walsh


Little Blue & Little Yellow

By: Leo Lionni


Press Here

By: Herve TulletOf Colors and Things


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

By: Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

By: Eric Litwin and James DeanCat's Colors


Of Colors and Things

By: Tana Hoban


Cat’s Colors

By: Jane Cabrera



We included plenty of activities to go with the book selections. Some of the most popular choices were simple to set up.


For instance, one day at the art center we put out containers of colored water. The children were allowed to take eye droppers of different sizes and drop the different colors onto paper towels. We used good quality, extra absorbent towels so it wasn’t overly messy (though we are not afraid of a nice mess every once in a while!) The goals were to allow them to explore with color and to work on their pinscher grip. The bonus was how much they enjoyed doing it. Each child made several towels worth of art.


Another day we decided to work on cutting practice. Using some of our scrap paper in as many colors Die Cutsas possible, we used winter-themed die cuts to make all sorts of shapes. These were put in a basket for students to use for cutting practice. Now I have to admit, cutting practice is generally an unpopular activity. It is hard work for a three year old to learn to use scissors. But colored die cuts made all the difference. In fact, we ran out after the morning session and had to hurriedly make some more for the afternoon group.


Another activity the children enjoyed was the sensory table. We filled it Pom Poms
with multi-color and multi-sized pompoms. We put small buckets in the table, too, along with tweezers and scoops. BTW, do you notice which pompoms always come to the top? Even though they are heavier, the large pompoms will make up the top layer and the tinier ones will sift to the bottom. The future engineers in your class may find this interesting.


Our dramatic play area had been set up as a post office, so we added ink pads (washable only, of course) and stamps to the choices there. It was fun, but the ink colors got really blurred. We threw them out at the end of the week, which is OK if you plan accordingly.


We even ran the color theme into our gym activity. We played a game that we call “garbage can” at our school. Mats are stood on end and linked in a circle. Inside are colored yarn balls, which “Oscar”(aka, the gym teacher) throws out at the children. The kids get to throw them back at Oscar. All of us take turns inside and outside the circle and the teachers – being just big kids themselves – usually participate, making it extra funny to the preschoolers.


If others have used ideas that work well with children, we would be happy to hear from you! Don’t forget to check our Pinterest for more ideas – you can find a link in the sidebar!




Teacher Thursday: Social Studies

Hi everyone,

For last week’s Teacher Thursday, we talked about connecting books to the social studies curriculum, and I think Maniac Magee provides us with the perfect opportunity to do so again.  Back when I was student teaching, I had the chance to observe a read-aloud in a fourth grade classroom.  The teacher was just introducing the students to Maniac Magee and prefaced her reading with a little bit of a warning.  She explained to the students that there were some serious issues in the book, including racism.  She also gave the students a little bit of a reminder as to how she expected them to behave when presented with these issues.  This teacher was a fabulous story-teller and her class absolutely loved read-aloud, so I doubt she had any issues, but I do think this is a good warning to give students before you start reading.

Although this teacher only mentioned racism as one of the major social issues presented in the novel, there are certainly others that I think are worth noting, including homelessness, education, and definitions of family. Maniac Magee presented a perfect opportunity to discuss these serious social issues in a less-threatening context.  While students might be frightened or disturbed by current events related to these issues, I think it’s extremely important that they be openly and fairly discussed in age-appropriate classroom settings.  A novel like Maniac Magee provides a little distance and can make these discussions easier without needing to reference personal experiences.  I like the opportunity to tie this novel back to the social studies curriculum, which I think is often pushed to the backburner in favor of other subject matter.

For more suggestions for using Maniac Magee in the classroom, check out this resource, which includes discussion questions, activities, and similar books: http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/maniacmagee.html

Have you used Maniac Magee in your classroom?  How would you suggest starting a discussion on social issues with your students?

And remember to check out our Pinterest for more suggestions for incorporating books into your classroom!


Teacher Thursday: Map Skills

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to Teacher Thursday!  Now that the new school year is well on its way, I thought I would start trying to include more ideas for incorporating literature into the classroom.  Today, I want to talk about a subject that seems to get pushed to the side quite a bit: social studies!

Earlier this week, I posted a review of Big Anthony, and I think this is a perfect book to inspire a study of map skills.  It seems like kids don’t have too many chances to look at or use maps today, but a lot of times will find them really interesting.  I always think it’s a fun experience to just give students a chance to look through an atlas to see what stands out to them.  Using a map to create Big Anthony’s journey could give students more of a perspective of the distance he would have traveled and could show them some of the landmarks he observes.

When students start reading a new book, ask them to try to locate the setting on a map.  Obviously this activity would work best with realistic or historical fiction, but fantasy novels might include their own maps that students can check out.  It’s a great way to give students more background information on the books they’re reading and to incorporate just a little bit of the social studies curriculum into a quick and easy activity.  I remember doing a similar activity when I was in middle school, and it really was one of the few experiences I had looking at a map in detail.  It’s one activity that has still stuck with me over the years, which makes me think it was actually much more effective than my middle-school-self thought!

How have you used literature to bring map skills in to the classroom?  Let us know!

And, in other exciting news, we’ve also recently started adding new teaching ideas to our Pinterest – we’ll be updating our boards weekly with new ideas related to the topic we’ve discussed in that week’s Teacher Thursday post.  There’s a link in the sidebar, so be sure to follow us there for more ideas about bringing children’s literature into the elementary school classroom!


Teacher Thursday: Fairy Tales

Hi everyone,

For today’s Teacher Thursday, I’m going to play with the theme of our short story collection this week and talk more about fairy tales in the classroom.  Earlier this week, I’d read Francesca Lia Block’s The Rose and the Beast and wanted to think a little more about how this book could be used as an educational tool.  Although my background is in elementary education, I wanted to stretch myself this week to include some activities for middle and high school students, especially because I think The Rose and the Beast would be better suited to an older audience. Here are a few ideas that might work well for teaching fairy tales in a high school classroom:

1. Read a variety of versions of one story and compare variants across cultures, origins, authors, formats (see our list of Cinderella picture books for a starting point!). These comparisons could range anywhere from a simple Venn Diagram to a more extensive chart with more points to consider.

2. I’ve mentioned Molly Bang’s work in a recent post.  A good friend of mine teaches a high school elective on fairy tales and children’s literature; she uses the activity from Bang’s book, Picture This! How Pictures Work, every year to get her students thinking about fairy tales and how best to illustrate/explain them. Using paper shapes and a limited color palette, students need to create a scene from a selected fairy tale using principles of design and a little creativity.  I’ve done this project myself – my fairy tale was “Hansel and Gretel” – and think it’s a really good way to discuss fairy tales, art, and storytelling in one assignment.

3. A lot of younger grades will ask their students to write their own folktales, which, depending on your students’ reading/writing levels, can really be a challenge.  Ask your middle or high school students to do the same task!  This is a great chance to apply what they’ve learned about a specific genre in a more authentic activity.

I think Block’s fairy tales could fit well into each of these three activities, but I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Do you think The Rose and the Beast would work well in the classroom?  What other fairy tale activities would you suggest?


Teacher Thursday: Picture Books in Art Class

Hi everyone,

Today’s Teacher Thursday will return us to Leo Lionni and Matthew’s Dream.  Although I usually bring up activities and lesson plans that might work well in the general classroom, today I’m going to be a little more specific.  I think I’ve made it clear that I love to see books included in all elements of a child’s education, and Lionni’s books are perfect for the art classroom!

Matthew’s Dream

Not only does Matthew choose to follow his dream to become an artist, the book also showcases many different styles of art.  While Matthew is in the museum, he looks at paintings of all different eras, including Impressionism and some more abstract works.  Children could compare the paintings in Matthew’s Dream with real-life versions.  They might also get some ideas about how they could use those different art styles for their own work!

Let’s Make Rabbits

This book shows a great contrast between different artistic mediums.  The scissors make a collaged rabbit, while the pencil draws a black-and-white outline for its rabbit.  This book also introduces the distinction between 2-D and 3-D objects in an illustration, mentioning shadows as an indication that something is “real.”  Whether students need a little more inspiration for how to complete a project or are looking for more advanced drawing skills, Let’s Make Rabbits is a good starting point.

little blue and little yellow

At first, this seems like a pretty simple book about two little circles that play together.  But the blue circle and yellow circle mix together to make one green circle, and suddenly, they don’t belong with either the blue or yellow family any longer.  This book is perfect for introducing color mixing to a young audience.  Although it does only include yellow and blue, it could easily spark a discussion about what would happen when different combinations of colors are mixed.  The simple, torn-edged shapes would also be a very easy activity for young children to complete to create a picture.  Older children could even use this activity to learn some of the principles of design – for more information, I would suggest you read Molly Bang’s How Pictures Work.


These are just a few of Lionni’s picture books – there are many more that could have great uses in different classrooms.  I’m always surprised at how well children respond to these books, even though some of them have been available for quite a while.  Have you used Leo Lionni’s books in the classroom?  What books would you recommend?


Teacher Thursday: Graphic Novels

Hi everyone!

So, earlier this week I reviewed a couple graphic novels, and today I wanted to talk about why I think they could be a valuable tool for the classroom.  To start off, I want to mention that I really like graphic novels, and I loved Zita.  I know there are a lot of preconceptions about graphic novels – if you’re one of those people who thinks they’re too simple, meant only for reluctant readers, or only about superheroes, I’d like to kindly ask you to get off your high horse.  Graphic novels are just a different way of sharing a story, and they require that readers make use of other skills that other books don’t necessarily require.  I’m thinking of panels, speech bubbles, connections between text and art, and different techniques that make sequential art an effective story-telling method.  For more information, I strongly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.

Graphic novels are certainly useful for reluctant readers, but by no means does that mean that they aren’t just as useful with other students, regardless of reading ability.  For instance, why not use them to discuss serious historical and social issues, like space exploration, immigration, racism, or fear?

Consider texts like:

Laika by Nick Abadzis

(First Second Books, 2007)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

(Scholastic, 2006)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

(First Second, 2006)

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

(Minx, 2007)

Like any book you choose to share with your students, each of these books should be carefully reviewed to make sure they’re appropriate for your grade-level and school environment.  Also, these suggestions are just a starting point – think about Art Speiglman’s Maus for older readers or graphic novel adaptations of classic works, like Beowulf or Hamlet.


Additional Resources:


This Horn Book article addresses some of the misconceptions about graphic novels that I’ve mentioned above


An article from School Library Journal about using graphic novels in the classroom.  Includes sample texts and how they might prove useful.


This booklet from Scholastic’s graphic novel imprint, graphix, provides extensive information about the graphic novel and its use in the classroom.  It also includes a range of different sample texts for a variety of grade levels, including the popular Bone series and graphic novel adaptations of favorite book series, like Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club.  This is definitely a good resource if you’re looking for a starting point to learn more about graphic novels!

How have you incorporated graphic novels into your classroom?  What graphic novels would you recommend?


Teacher Thursday: Letter Writing

Hi everyone!

Today for Teacher Thursday, I’ve decided to talk a little bit more about The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  I can tell you from storytime experience that kids love this book.  Of course, the peach crayon is everyone’s favorite.

I think you’ll probably be able to guess what I’m going to suggest for my Teacher Thursday lesson today: letter writing!  Rather than belabor the obvious, today’s Teacher Thursday is going to be a little different.  I’m going to offer a list of a few books that I think would be well-suited to teach about writing letters alongside The Day the Crayons Quit.


Book Suggestions:

A Letter to Amy (Ezra Jack Keats)

So, this one doesn’t have a particularly visible letter format, but the pictures have a lot of information that might be worthwhile.  There is a quick look at filling out the envelope itself, and there is mention of the mailbox/postal service that could be an important part of the discussion.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type (Doreen Cronin)

I like that this one has the letters separated from the story itself, which makes them very visible and noticeable.  Great for formatting a simple letter.

Dear Mrs. La Rue: Letters from Obedience School (Mark Teague)

This one goes along with Click, Clack, Moo in that the letter formatting is very visible.  There are even a few cases where the letters include a P.S. and a P.P.S., which younger students are sure to love.  I think this book could also be a good discussion opportunity about how someone’s letter only shows their opinion or perspective of an event, as the text and illustrations in this book tell two very different stories!

Another source: http://www.lettersofnote.com/

Not a children’s book, but still a useful source for teaching letter writing!  This would likely be better for older students, although there are so many options to look through that you might easily find something for your grade-level.  There is a sweet illustrated letter from Pixar that I would highly recommend you check out!

What other books do you use to teacher about letters?


Teacher Thursday: Visual Plot Clues

Hi everyone!

Earlier this week, I wrote about Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.  I think I made it pretty clear that I am completely on-board with Klassen’s work, but to be honest, I wasn’t always.  When This is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott, I was a little bit underwhelmed.  The book seemed dark and overly simple, and it wasn’t until I really started looking at picture books more critically that I was able to look back at both This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back with appreciation for Klassen’s genius illustrations.

Today’s post could easily turn into a long-winded rant about all the things I love about all of Klassen’s books, but I’m going to try to reign myself in for Teacher Thursday.  Instead of providing a couple specific lesson ideas like I did last week, I’m going to make a single suggestion: use Klassen’s books to teach about a story’s climax.  Klassen’s illustrations are perfect to create a visual representation of the climax as the all-important turning-point of a story.  And best of all, this visual representation appears in a real-life context, rather than an abstract mountain drawn on the whiteboard.

Let’s look at Sam and Dave Dig a Hole from Monday’s post.  For the beginning of the book, Sam and Dave are continually trying different strategies to find “something spectacular.”  When you look at the illustrations, you’ll notice that the background gets darker and darker (rising action!) as they try more and more strategies unsuccessfully.  Then, they finally decide to rest, to stop actively seeking, and to let things happen as they will.  At this point, the pages become white, a stark contrast to the increasing darkness of the previous pages.  This illustration and book design lets you know that something is different and something important is happening – the climax!  I think there’s a strong case that you might even be able to point out some falling action and resolution, although the book does wrap up pretty quickly.  Look closely at some of Klassen’s other books, and I’m willing to bet you’ll find a similarly useful pattern in the illustrations.

This could be a great opportunity for older students who are visual learners or younger students who might still need visual clues to support their developing understanding.  One of the best things about this idea is that it keeps the visual in the real-world.  Students can see the parts of a story visually displayed in a real book, which I think is so important in showing them that the information they learn in school is worthwhile and relevant to their lives outside the classroom.

Do you have other books that work well for teaching students about the different parts of a story?  Let me know!