Sunday, July 20, 2014

Let’s Have a Close Talk FREEBIES (Chapter 7!)



Hi Everyone! I’m here to discuss Chapter 7 of Close Reading in Elementary School with you all. I missed out on Chapter 6’s discussion. If you did too, you can go read it over at Tara’s blog here. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this chapter because it focuses on my FAVORITE part of teaching: SMALL GROUP DISCUSSIONS!

Let’s dive in, shall we? If you’re just joining this book study, grab the book below:


Like I mentioned before, my absolute FAVORITE part of teaching is small group time. I treasure the uninterrupted time with my students and LOVE hearing them discuss a text with one another. I especially love small group time because it allows me to step back and gives all my students (the shy AND the outgoing ones) a time to SHINE. Last year, my friend Tracy and I would share the highlights of our day and often times it was about a thought-provoking discussion that took place in small group time. We didn’t know it at the time, but what were leading was called a close talk.

Chapter 7 provides us with all kinds of insight on what a close talk is AND what it should look like your classroom. I highlighted many of the important components of this chapter below.


A close talk is a DEEP DISCUSSION about a text. In order to have a deep discussion, the teacher needs to do a little work ahead of time. First and foremost, you MUST read the text before presenting it to your students. This allows you to generate thought-provoking questions.

I admit it. I’m guilty of putting a text in front of my students that I didn’t dissect enough prior to our small group meeting. I’m sure you can imagine how that lesson went.

If you can’t, here you go:

Me: …………………………..…………………………………

Students: ………………………………………………………

Me: ………………………………………………………………

Students: ……………………………………………………….

Me: Wow! What a wonderful small group discussion today. You all can go back to your Daily 5 rotations now.

Okay, it was never THAT bad but you get the point. If we don’t come prepared for small group time, how can we expect our students to come prepared?

Here are some tips and procedures that the authors give on how to have a successful close talk in your classroom:



Prior to having a close talk in your classroom, be sure to go over the following rules with your kiddos. The following posters hung near our small group table last year. My students referred to them all throughout our close talks. We would often review the Learn to Listen poster. I think it’s necessary to emphasize that while it’s very important to share our thinking, it’s equally as important to listen to the ideas of others. You can grab the posters HERE.


Chapter 7 addresses five close talk guidelines. These guidelines are more general than the ones above, but they are great reminders! I suggest adding these to your small group area.


My FAVORITE part of this chapter was the section on the importance of encouraging our students to be active participants. The authors provided us with a rubric to use in our classrooms. I thought that some of the language they used was a little too advanced for first graders, so I made it more kid-friendly. The authors suggest going over this rubric before having a close talk. I would suggest hanging this in your small group area, as well. The goal is to be a “Four Star Participant.”


I made this little participation data chart for you, as well. I suggest tracking each student’s participation on this chart. This will come in handy when report card time comes around!


You can grab all of these freebies in my shop. Click HERE to go download.

Happy Sunday, my dear friends!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Close Reading Book Study: Chapter 5


imageHi friends! I’m so sad I missed out on last week’s book study. I was in the midst of moving. Eeeek! If you haven’t done so already, be sure to go read all about Chapter 4 over at Tara’s blog!

Just joining us? Grab a copy of the book here:


Okay, I AM back for Chapter 5: Reading for Specific Objectives! I found Chapter 5 to be EXTREMELY informative. The chapter discusses the importance of having a CLEAR instructional purpose when developing a close reading lesson.  The authors state, “While comprehending at the literal level certainly provides a foundational step to accessing complex text, a specific literacy objective tied to the text will instill greater strength to the lesson – guiding your thinking about the cognitive pathways students will take to arrive at a given point as well as making those pathways known to students.”

Basically what this means is we want always start with the end in mind. Prior to conducting a close reading lesson, we should always ask ourselves, “What new learning do I want my students to walk away with?” or “What’s the purpose of this lesson?”

Before attacking a comprehension strategy, first we must find a quality text. Then, we can determine what comprehension skill we want to focus on. (Note: This is VERY different from how we’ve often taught comprehension skills, which was to first teach the skill, and then select a text to highlight that skill.)

Okay, so say you find a text that is worthy of a close read and you think it nicely lends itself to helping your students learn the skills they need to summarize. Great, right? Now what?

The authors suggest we should chunk the text into manageable tasks, rather than rushing to the lesson’s objective with students uncertain of what to do.

Suggestions for Each Cycle of a Close Read:

First Cycle/Read: Circle important words from the text and then discuss why the words were important and how they influenced the text.

Second Cycle/Read: Underline key ideas and then discuss.

Third Cycle/Read: Present the big question/task. Have students cite evidence! Discuss.

The authors provide us with close reading lesson examples for each of the Common Core Anchor Standards. (BE SURE TO REFER BACK TO THESE LATER ON WHEN YOU’RE CONDUCTING CLOSE READING LESSONS!)

I decided to focus on Common Core Anchor Standard 2: Theme/Main Idea and Summarization. This past year, I found that my students struggled with identifying the moral/lesson (later known as theme) of a story. It’s too bad I didn’t have access to the lesson examples that are provided in this chapter last year because I think they would have helped me tremendously!

Here is the framework that the authors suggest we use for identifying the lesson/moral/theme in a story. I suggest printing this out and then checking off each box after you’ve completed it in your small group:



These are the organizers I created that correlate with close reading a text with the specific objective of identifying the lesson in the story. The organizers are meant to be completed after each cycle of reading.

To Complete After First Cycle/Read:


To Complete After Second Cycle/Read:


To Complete After Third Cycle/Read:




My goal is to create specific comprehension organizers for ALL of the Common Core Anchor Standards. I’m adding that to my never-ending to-do list. Ha! Grab the organizers you see above (including the framework checklist) HERE for FREE.

If you’re needing some close reading materials, check out the close reading materials I have in my shop:


Also, Tara has lots of great close reading materials too:



Now, let’s have our own little BOOK TALK! I LOVED the first reflection question from this chapter, so I thought we could discuss them here. Feel free to answer the question the comment section below:


Saturday, June 28, 2014


It’s a bittersweet, nervous, excited, and hopeful feeling to announce that after ten years of living in Baltimore, I’m moving to Asheville, NC.

I’ve spent the past four years teaching at Summit Park Elementary School; a place I like to call: The Best Place on Earth. I started at the school five years ago as an intern. I remember walking into the school and knowing it felt “right.” The school wasn’t fancy, by any means. It didn’t have shiny classroom furniture or the newest technology. Actually, most classrooms still had chalkboards and only one computer that worked. But, what it did have was passionate, dedicated, and loving teachers. The kind of teachers you will remember when you’re eighty years old. The kind of teachers you hope your children one day have. The kind of teachers who love what they do. At this school, I’ve made some of my dearest friends, met the most supportive and caring families, and taught the funniest, most eager to learn, and curious children! To say I’m going to miss the school is an understatement.

But, I’ve always been the type of person who loves to be adventurous and explore. Actually, thinking back on it, I never thought I’d end up staying in Baltimore for this long. About six months ago, my boyfriend and I started playing around with the idea of moving to a new place. We began researching and visiting different places, and quickly fell in love with Asheville. We don’t really have a plan, but that’s what makes it exciting. I know we’ll be spending a lot of time working at a children’s home, volunteering, and living life (something that we’re trying to get better at). And, of course, I’ll still continue to create teaching resources and blog.

I don’t really have the answers on when I’ll go back in the classroom or what that will look like exactly! All I know is that I love children, and that whatever I do, I will be surrounded by them.

When I came up with the title of this blog, I had my first graders in mind. But, the title also applies to my life as well. This upcoming year will certainly be a year of many firsts.

I came across this quote about a month ago, and I couldn’t have found it at a more perfect time. So, here’s to a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Close Reading Book Study: Chapter 3

Are you ready to take part in discussing Chapter 3 of Close Reading in Elementary School? Like we mentioned last week, Tara and I decided to skip Chapter 2 since so much of it focused on the HISTORY of close reading. While we won’t be discussing it in our book study, we strongly suggest you read it because it does offer some interesting insight on how close reading made its way back into the classroom!

Okay, let’s dig into Chapter 3! Who else found Chapter 3 to be VERY informative? I love how the author broke down what a close reading text should include. The author references the importance of text complexity again, but also states other important components of what a close reading text should include.

I broke down the key points below. Click on the image below to download it. I suggest making a little binder/folder and placing all of the resources you find on close reading inside!


I think one of the biggest adjustments for students and teachers is the second checkmark: re-reading in order to make meaning from the text. Training our students to stop, discuss, look back, reflect, and ask questions is HARD WORK, but I PROMISE you will be amazed by the magic that takes place when your students closely reading a text! There were many times this past year when I cried happy tears because of the thought-provoking discussions and observations that took place at my small group table. Students were often SHOCKED when they would read a text the second or third time and would say things like, “Oh, I didn’t even notice that the first time I read it.” Or, a student would stop and shout “I GET IT NOW!”

Here’s a great analogy of why close reading is so important:
Think about the first day of school when you first meet all of your students. Chances are, in the beginning, you know very little about each and every one of them. I know that usually after the first day, I’m often thinking, “Wow! How am I ever going to teach these children when I’m so unfamiliar with what they can/cannot do, etc.” Usually I’m feeling a bit clueless, frustrated, and nervous because I don’t know them. However, you learn more and more about them as each day passes just by asking questions and spending time with them! Eventually, YOU become the expert on how to help them be successful! Now, imagine if we stopped after day one. We’d still have so much to learn about our students. Close reading is the same thing. Students are only going to have a partial understanding of a text if they read it one time. Peeling away the layers requires multiple reads to fully understand what the text is saying. As they peel away each layer, they are getting closer and closer to fully comprehending the text.

The text says to think about each layer, or each time the text is read, as a different level.

Here’s a breakdown of how each level leads to new discoveries:

Literal Level: What the text says: the things that actually happened in the story. You can point to the text to show the literal meaning. If the text says, "Sally walked around the new Corvette, got behind the steering wheel, and smiled at herself in the review mirror of her most recent purchase," the literal meaning is that Sally just bought a new car. 

Inferential Level: What the text means: the meanings drawn from the literal level. If the text says that Sally got into her new sports car, we can infer that Sally likes to be sporty and has money to spend on a car. 

Evaluative Level: What the text tells us about our world: the ideas that you can draw about the world outside of the story. For example in the story about Sally's car, we can make the connection that people like new things, or we can conclude that the author is making the point that women like sports cars as much as men do.

Want some more insight on how I conduct each stage of close reading in my classroom? I break down what I do at each stage of re-reading in my Close Reading for Beginners pack. You can grab it by clicking on the image below:


You may find presenting complex texts to your students to be a challenging task. Chapter 2 also focuses a lot on how to scaffold the implementation of close reading.
I LOVE the suggestion of starting slow by showing students a video (appropriate for their age group) in lieu of a written text, but still conducting a “close read” of the video.

The text also suggests to conduct close reads through read-alouds (this is something that Tara is an EXPERT at doing! You can read a detailed blog post about how she conducts read-aloud close reads by clicking HERE). Another suggestion the book states is to use picture books as close reads, which allows students to use visual support to help them better understand the written components of a text.

The text also suggests to start with something hands-on or concrete. In a previous blog post, I mentioned how I like to ALWAYS start concrete when teaching my students any skill. If you missed my blog post on how introduce close reading using creepy crawlers, click on the image below to go read it!’


I hope Chapter 3 was informative for you! Awhile ago I made this FREE “Close Reading Beginner’s Guide” and put it in my TPT shop. This free resource is like a “starter kit” to get you geared up for close reading in your classroom.

Click on the preview below to download it for FREE:


As always, be sure to check out the Close Reading resources I have in my shop:


Also, be sure to check out Tara’s resources too!


Do you have any questions you’d like us to answer about Chapter 3? Anything you’d like to share? See you next week when you dive into Chapter 4!!!

Be sure to go read about what Tara thought of Chapter 3. Click on her button below:

If you have a blog and you’d like to link up, please do so by adding your close reading blog post below!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Close Reading Book Study: Chapter One

Tara West from Little Minds at Work and I are so, so excited to begin our book club on Close Reading in Elementary School! If you’ve heard of close reading before, but you’re not really sure of what it is OR if you’re just beginning to become familiar with close reading, this book study is PERFECT for you.

Already have the book and ready to begin? Excellent! Just joining us? It’s not too late. You can pick up the book by clicking in the link below!

Before beginning the book study discussion, I wanted to first share this quick 2.5 minute video that helps to explain exactly what close reading is. Just click on the video below to watch.

Wow! This book truly jumps RIGHT in. I hope you made it through without feeling overwhelmed and confused. If you did, we’re here to help you out!
Chapter One is all about the importance of exposing students (at ALL ages…NOT just intermediate and middle school children!) to complex texts. The text states, “Education Week reported in 2010 that 1.3 MILLION children drop out of school annually mostly due to students own perceived lack of literacy skills.” That is FRIGHTENING and sad!

There’s been an enormous shift in the complexity of texts that we are putting in front of our students. The length of sentences, number of multisyllabic words, and new and rich vocabulary have decreased in texts found in grade k-12; however, the complexity of college textbooks have INCREASED. This gap leaves students unprepared and frustrated! If we can expose students to more rich, meaningful, and meaty texts at an early age, we can help bridge this gap.

Even after reading the chapter, you might still be asking yourself some of the following questions. We’re here to hold your hand and answer them as best as we can.

How do I choose complex texts for my students? Doesn’t my reading curriculum already provide me with complex texts? 

How do I choose complex texts for my students?
Complex texts are books that require students to ask and answer questions and MAKE MEANING FROM THE TEXT! When selecting a text for a close read, you want to make sure you consider the following:

The Common Core uses this triangle model, which highlights the three major parts of choosing a complex text. However, the triangle leaves me wondering what in the world these terms mean!

This s’more makes so much more sense to me! Ha!

Doesn’t my reading curriculum already provide me with complex texts?

The honest answer is probably not. I’ve found that most reading programs primarily provide students with texts that are simple and easy to decode (which IS important!), but don’t provide enough “meat” to really make meaning from. I think you’ll find that SOME of the texts in your curriculum CAN be used for close reads, but that you’ll have to look elsewhere too!

I made this little checklist sheet to help you determine if the text is complex enough or not. I suggest placing this in an easy to access spot so that you can use it when you are trying to select appropriate texts for close reading. Tara provides you with some great websites that give you information about the quantitative indicators. Check them out here at her blog!

Click on the sheet below to download it:

Need some close reading materials? Check out the close reading resources I have in my shop.

Are you a kindergarten teacher? Check out Tara’s close reading resources!

Be sure to go read what Tara had to say about Chapter One!

Here is our book study schedule:

You will notice that we will be "skipping" over chapter two on the book study, but please go ahead and read through that chapter on your own. It has great information on how close reading got started, but we know you are teachers and your time is limited!  Our goal is to get you comfortable with close reads BEFORE the back to school craze!

If you are joining us for the book study over at your blog feel free to grab the button and link up below!

Monday, May 5, 2014

End of Year Memory Book!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! I hope you are feeling the love from your school today. You deserve it!

I’m quickly stopping by to share some updates I’ve made to my End of the Year Memory Books! I’m SO excited to do these with my kiddos. Our whole grade level does these each year and the kids absolutely LOVE THEM. These books are a fun way to celebrate and reflect on the year. Plus, they are SUPER simple to prep and make a fun keepsake that families will treasure forever. In previous years, we’ve just stapled the books together, but this year I picked up 70 cheap folders from Staples (you know the kind I’m talking about…cheap, but do the job!) for all of the first graders.

On the front of the folder, we’ll glue this cute cover sheet and color it!




Then, on the inside, we’ll fill it will all kinds of sweet memory book pages!


Here are samples of some of the pages:






My favorite are these class yearbook pages. Students can write the names of their classmates on the lines (or you could write them and photo copy), and then they can draw each student’s “yearbook picture” in the oval.



Here are some of the other pages in the packet:




This is a breakdown of everything included:

First Grade Celebration Book Cover
Draw a Picture of Yourself
First Grade Stats
My School Rocks
My First Grade Teacher
My First Grade Favorites
Interview a Friend
My Class Yearbook
Fantastic Field Trip
Hooray for Play
A Look Inside My Favorite Book
Munch on Lunch
I’m a Kind Kid
A “First” in First Grade
A Goal I Still Have for Myself
A Note to the Future Me
A Note from the Teacher
That was Funny!
Autographs (Last Page of Book)
End of the Year Craftivity

You can find first, second, and kindergarten versions below! I’ve adapted each of them a bit to fit each grade level. You can see more of each packet in the Previews over at TPT!




Hope you have a FABULOUS Teacher Appreciaton Week! To honor all of the totally awesome, amazing, fantastic, marvelous, wonderful teachers out there, TPT is having a BIG BASH to celebrate all of you!

You can grab the packets above, along with everything else in my shop, 28% off May 6th and 7th!

Click below to go to my shop!

Want to win one of these packets? Just leave a comment below with your e-mail address. The first three friends will get this packet FREE!

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