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5 “Falltacular” Read-Alouds for Children!

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 8, 2014 9:35:00 AM

Fall is here! In our neck of the woods, the trees are ablaze with vibrant leaves, our furnaces are humming again, and we’re making plans to tip back some cider at the local cider mill. We look forward to this time of the year for a variety of reasons—one being that we finally have an excuse to break out our favorite seasonal read-alouds!

Narrowing down our favorite books to a list of five was difficult, but here they are in no particular order.

5 “Falltacular” Read-Alouds for Children!

read aloudsLeaf Man
For those of you unfamiliar with Lois Ehlert, she is an author and artist who works in collage-style, using found objects to tell her stories. Ehlert continues this tradition in this “falltacular” children’s book, using real leaves to tell the story of—you guessed it—the Leaf Man.

As the refrain suggests, "A Leaf Man's got to go where the wind blows,” so readers should expect to follow this leafy protagonist on his wind-blown romp through the beautiful, changing countryside.

If you fall in love with Ehlert like we did, check out another of her seasonal read-alouds called Nuts to You!

read alouds
Fletcher and the Falling Leaves
When the leaves turn color and begin to fall from his favorite tree, Fletcher worries that something terrible has happened.

In spite of his mother’s reassurance that the tree is simply changing with the seasons, Fletcher does his best to “save” his tree from losing its leaves. Cute, cute, cute…and students always love the surprise Fletcher finds once winter arrives.

read aloudsHow Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?
Most of us have seen really big pumpkins, but you probably haven’t seen any as big as those that award-winning artist Wendell Minor shows us in How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?

If you’ve ever wondered what American landmarks like the Capitol dome, Mount Rushmore, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Grand Canyon would look like if they were bedecked in pumpkins, Wendell Minor will show you!

read aloudsFall Mixed Up
In Fall Mixed Up, we meet one very confused young man. For some reason, he thinks September is “Septober” and October is “Octember.” Not only is he confused, so are the seasons! Apples turn orange. Pumpkins turn red. Squirrels even fly south! Students will love getting wild and wacky with this read-aloud.

read aloudsPick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes
This book not only scratches your seasonal itch, but teaches students about shapes at the same time!

Take a family trip to the pumpkin patch. Jump on a hayride, pick a pumpkin, and name all of the shapes you find in the fall scenery.

Spooky Story Starters Guide

Tags: reading motivation, reading instruction, reading teachers, read alouds

Beyond Books: Building a Diverse and Engaging Classroom Library

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 31, 2014 9:41:14 AM


It’s funny how many of our students claim that they dislike reading despite the fact that they read all the time! Before you shout, “That’s not true!” try something: Ask your students if they read “non-book” texts on the Internet, if they read their friends’ Facebook posts, or like comic books and magazines. Chances are that your students, even the ones that claim to “hate” reading, engage in reading habits on a daily basis.

Like it or not, if we want to nurture a love of reading in our students, we must acknowledge that “non-books” are in fact legitimate forms of reading and belong in our classroom libraries!

Indeed traditional books will make up the majority of reading materials in our classroom libraries, but if we want our students to become confident readers who are well-equipped to tackle a variety of texts in a variety of life situations, we may want to start by adding a few of these “non-book” texts to our independent reading collections.

  • Magazines are some of the most popular non-book texts in our collection; they’re also some of the cheapest and easiest reading materials out there. Stop by your local Salvation Army or Goodwill, where you can usually pick up recent publications for a dime a piece.

    I like magazines because they deal with a variety of topics. Not only that, children’s magazines  often include crosswords, stories, poems and other learning activities that I tear out, photocopy and place in the Puzzles & Games section of the classroom library.
  • Newspapers are another excellent non-book text not only because they are easy to come by, they are also written from a persuasive point of view, and cover a multitude of topics about local, state and global issues.

    Rather than hanging onto the entire paper, be selective about the articles you include in your library. If you come across an article that piques your interest, cut it out, laminate it, tag it, and file it under the appropriate topic in your library. To spark further engagement, you might try adding a “What Do You Think?” basket to your collection. Simply glue or tape an interesting article to a piece of cardboard and provide students with enough space to respond to the article for extra credit.

  • I don’t know about you, but catalogs appear in my mailbox almost every day from places I’ve never shopped and probably never will. I used to pitch catalogs into the recycling bin, but on a whim, I brought in a stack and filed them in the library. So that my students had a specific reading purpose, I decided to staple an activity list to each magazine. In a Toys “R” Us magazine, for example, I include the following questions:

o   Which toys do you think are the best? Why?
o   Write a letter to your parents in which you try to convince your parents to purchase a specific item from the catalog
o   If you could give your best friend any item from the catalog what would it be? Why?

  • I love looking at maps and picturing all of the landmarks, the people and animals I’d see along the way, and the dusty roads I’d take to get to my destination. It turns out that my students have a love of maps, too, and for exactly the same reasons. After noticing how captivated my students were with the classroom globe, I decided to bring in my collection of old road maps and atlases I’d picked up from estate sales and antique shops. Would you believe it, these are some of the most popular reading resources in the library? As with the catalogs, I like to pair each map with a different writing prompt.

  • Travel and sight-seeing brochures are also popular non-book texts. Whenever I travel, I load up on as many brochures as I can from roadside rest stops, motels and souvenir shops.

Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

These ideas have all been adapted from Tony Stead's book, Good Choice: Supporting Independent Reading and Response.

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Tags: classroom library, reading motivation, reading specialist, reading teachers

Careers for Characters: A Book Report Alternative for Literature Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 9, 2014 9:50:30 AM

book report alternative
Love ‘em or leave ‘em, it’s safe to say that there are only so manybook reports one teacher can take in a lifetime, and our gut tells us that students would eagerly echo this sentiment! In the past, we’ve shared a couple of book report alternatives for literature teachers—having your students use Animoto to create a book trailer, or having them create a text-inspired Podcast—but we’ve also had a lot of luck with Shelly Mattson Gahn’s assignment, “Careers for Characters.” You can find this and a variety of other lessons in Teaching Literature in Middle School: Fiction

Gahn uses this assignment with her eight-grade students, but simple adaptations could make it appropriate for both older and younger students. Here’s how it works.

Careers for Characters: A Book Report Alternative for Literature Teachers

In this assignment, students will select a character from any novel or short story. Based on what they know about their character’s personality, talents, flaws, hobbies and interests, they must find a job for their character and draft a cover letter to apply for the position.

  • To get things rolling, lead a class brainstorming session. Select a character from a work the entire class is familiar with and compile a list of details to include in a model cover letter. Discuss the character’s talents, flaws, hobbies, interests and personality and jot down your students’ ideas on the board.

    Using the ideas your students generate in the brainstorming session, type up a cover letter and distribute copies to the class to use as an example.

  • Once students choose their own character, have them repeat the brainstorming exercise on their own. This will help them better understand and “get into the role” of their character.

  • Next, send your students to Your Free Career Test, a short online questionnaire that asks students questions that relate to career categories. Remind students that they are to assume the role of their character when they are filling out the questionnaire. Keeping this in mind, they should answer the questions based not on their own personalities, but on those of their character.

    Upon completion, your students will receive an assessment that assigns them to a career category and offers a bulleted list of example careers for their character.

    In addition to visiting Your Free Career Test, ask students to investigate the classified sections of local newspapers and websites like CareerBuilder and Monster to select possible job prospects for their characters.
  • In the next step, each student writes a cover letter from the character to the company offering the job. The letter should follow a business letter format and should be typed.

We like this assignment for a variety of reasons: Not only do students find it entertaining, it gives them the opportunity to explore a variety of resources while honing their creative writing skills. Although the career research in this project applies to a fictional character, students can use the same information to investigate their own career aspirations.

Photo credit: martinak15 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Tags: book report alternatives, reading motivation, Literature Teachers,

Booktrack Classroom Creates an Immersive Reading Experience

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 22, 2014 9:56:00 AM

BooktrackOver the weekend, we came across Booktrack, a free web application that syncs digital books to audio, resulting in an immersive reading experience.

Students can choose from books or essays in the Booktrack library or write their own story and add an accompanying soundtrack by choosing from over 20,000 professional-quality audio files.

booktrack classroom

Here’s how it works: Say, for example that you choose to read Romeo and Juliet. As you read, you’ll notice a descending marker in the right-hand margin of the page. This marker moves down the page as you read so that your reading speed accompanies the soundtrack. If the marker moves too fast, use the plus and minus icons at the bottom of the page to increase or decrease the speed.

Using Booktrack Classroom
Booktrack can be used in a variety of ways to engage with students. Here are just a few examples:

  • Narrative Writing – Students add music and audio to their original stories.
  • Informative and Explanatory Writing – Students compose essays and articles selecting suitable audio to accompany their text.
  • Literature Study – Students gain insight and increased understanding of the text by creating their own soundtracks for novels, stories, and plays they are reading in class.
  • Read-Alouds – Teacher and student led read-alouds are enhanced through the addition of sound and music to the chapter or act being presented.

In addition to this, Booktrack has assembled a variety of free lesson plans for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels, covering a variety of subjects and learning outcomes. All lesson plans have been created by professional teachers and conform to CORE standards and best practice.

Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, collaborative learning

5 Ways to Help Struggling Readers

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 17, 2014 9:22:00 AM

struggling readers

Use the Web to find texts they want to read

In the past, finding books that piqued our struggling readers’ interest was challenging, but with the help of websites like Bookwink, Whichbook, Shelfari, Your Next Read and, finding good books has never been easier. Use these sites, and show your students how to use them, too.  

Pair struggling readers with younger readers

Even when we give our students their choice of reading materials, many struggling readers continue to choose books that are too difficult for them. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Most sixth grade students don’t want to be caught with the Magic Tree House books when their friends are reading the Divergent series.

Pairing these students with younger readers is a simple solution to this. The “indignities” associated with “babyish” books are no longer an issue when we pair our struggling readers with younger readers and have them read aloud to them.

Find creative ways to create independent reading time

If you timed it out, we bet you’d be surprised by how much of the day is squandered on interruptions—you know, special deliveries, messages, forgotten lunches, notes, or quick questions from other teachers. Train your students to always have a book out on their desk. When an interruption occurs—and they will occur—students should immediately begin reading.

Here’s another idea: When students finish their work early, skip the extra dittos and busy work; instead, allow them to read silently until their peers are all finished.

Take Phonics instruction beyond “sounding it out”
Encountering big words can be daunting for the struggling reader. Relying solely on teaching readers to “sound out” letters can prevent growth and lead to frustration, especially when encountering words with many syllables or words that don’t follow the standard rules. Teach readers to break words down into chunks – called “chunking” or “reading by analogy.”

Handle struggling readers with care

We have best intentions when we say, “Stop and reread this sentence,” or “Can you read a little bit faster?” but we should really avoid this type of coaching. To learn how to handle your struggling readers with care, check out a video by Amy Mascott called, “What Not to Say to Emerging Readers.”




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Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, beginning readers

Click and Clunk: A 5-Step Reading Strategy for Students

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Mar 19, 2014 11:53:00 AM

If you’re looking to equip your struggling upper-elementary and middle school readers with a simple reading strategy that will teach them to monitor and take charge of their own understanding, check out our newest infographic, Click and Clunk: A 5-Step Reading Strategy for Students.

To download our infographic, click here or on the image below.

reading comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, beginning readers, click and clunk

BookLamp Connects Students to Books They’ll Love

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Mar 15, 2014 6:00:00 AM

reading comprehensionThere are lots of useful book recommendation websites, but out of all of them, takes the cake.  

Using a computer-based analysis of written DNA, BookLamp helps connect readers to books they’ll love.

I could try to explain the specifics of how the site works, but I think BookLamp does it better than I can:

To start, BookLamp does not categorize or label books, as you would expect in genre or BISAC codes, nor do so through human or community tagging.  Instead we do the exact opposite: We ignore genre and super-classifications and instead only pay attention to the page-by-page components that the author combined to make up the book.  We don’t look at what category the book is in, but instead the DNA elements that are in the book, and how that makes one book similar to another regardless of what shelf it sits on in the library or bookstore.

Unlike, say, or YourNextRead, BookLamp's engine isn't influenced by advertising or popularity bias. New and niche authors are not ignored, and revered authors are not promoted simply based upon their popularity. To put it simply, BookLamp has no agenda other than connecting readers to texts that they’ll love!

Just to see how BookLamp works, I searched for an old favorite, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Here’s what BookLamp came up with:

reading comprehension 2




Guide to Reading Comprehension


Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, beginning readers

How to Encourage Reluctant and Struggling Readers

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Mar 11, 2014 2:14:00 PM

struggling readersDecades later, I can still remember things my teachers said, how they said them, even the intonation of their phrases, and how their words made me feel.

In the scheme of life, it’s hard to say how these fleeting moments of encouragement—or derision—shaped my life, but I do know that words are a powerful tool, one we can use to either build up our students or tear them down.

Since we’re well into National Reading Month, I’d like to share a few tips for talking to your reluctant and struggling readers.

“If you keep this up, you’ll be reading at X level by next month!”
This seems like something we should say to struggling readers, doesn’t it? Not so fast. While you should be realistic about your students’ abilities, avoid hampering their progress by setting an unrealistic—or too-easily attainable—benchmark.

Instead, simply let your students know that you believe in them and that you are certain their hard work will pay off. 

“Read faster!”
Why are we always in such a hurry? Slow down and allow your reluctant readers to set their own pace, even if it means they “fall behind.” They may be slower than their peers, but one thing is sure: pushing them to read faster isn’t going to help build their confidence, their comprehension, or their enthusiasm for reading.  

"I understand that you don’t like the book—but that's the assignment."
Sometimes a little tough love is a good thing, but before you take off the kid gloves, ask the student why he or she isn’t enjoying the book.

Asking your students this question may provide insight into their interests and reading abilities. You may, for example, discover that the vocabulary is too challenging in one book, or that some students prefer non-fiction over fiction books. Armed with this information, you can make accommodations and help students select more suitable texts.

If this doesn’t work, show the student this video:

"Everyone else is reading silently—please stop talking.”

It can be frustrating and distracting when students talk during silent or quiet reading time, but instead of immediately scolding students, make sure that you know why they are talking. I’ve often found that the talkers are actually chatting to each other about the books they are reading. That’s a good thing!

If this becomes a distraction, you might allow students to use a stress ball or fidget—or give them the option of listening to an audiobook.

“Stop! Reread that line, please.”
As a general rule, we avoid stopping students if the mistake doesn’t interfere with the meaning of the text. For example, if a student mistakenly swaps out "a" for "an" or "fine" for "fun, we let it go, especially if this is the first time a student is reading the text.


Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, beginning readers

5 Reasons Reluctant Readers are Reluctant

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 26, 2014 9:58:00 AM

reluctant readersThey respond to texts differently than you do
One of the most exhilarating things about teaching reading and discussing texts is that they can be viewed through a variety of lenses. Texts, like language, are malleable: they mean different things to different people.

There are too many students who share this experience: At the teacher’s request, students prepare a response or opinion piece on a book, but receive low marks because they did not give the “right opinion.” If you’re asking for an opinion piece, hold up your end of the bargain and accept it for what it is. Reward students for their efforts, allow them to revise their work, and help them develop their ideas.

They can’t read as fast as their peers
Why are we always in such a hurry? Slow down and allow your reluctant readers to set their own pace, even if it means they “fall behind.” They may be slower than their peers, but one thing is for sure: pushing them to read faster isn’t going to help build their confidence, their comprehension or their enthusiasm for reading.  

They are anxious about reading aloud
Students are often asked to read aloud; less often are they given the opportunity to silently read the text first. This might be worth reconsidering.

If you’ve ever agreed to read publicly, chances are that you requested the opportunity to review the text before you stood in front of an audience. Why? Because you didn’t want to stumble over words or make silly mistakes. Naturally, our students feel the same. Most real-world reading happens silently, so doesn’t it make sense to allow our students the opportunity to read silently before shining the spotlight on them?  

They are preoccupied by “The Test”
You may not be able to completely abandon the multiple-choice test, but when given the chance, allow students to respond to what they’re reading. With your guidance you can help readers make connections and actually discover themselves in a text. Instead of posing questions that have predetermined answers, try some of the following:

  • What about this really excites (or bothers, or puzzles, or challenges) me about this book?
  • Should the character(s) have done something different? Why or why not?
  • What would I have done in this situation and why?
  • What caused this situation?
  • What are the consequences?
  • What does this have to do with my life?
  • Do you see any similarities between this book and any of the others you’ve been reading?

They read texts that adults don’t value
We’ve been using the phrase “reluctant readers,” but the fact of the matter is that we don’t really believe any of our students are reluctant about reading.

All of our students read—they read all the time, in fact. If you need proof, give something a try: Ask your students if they text. Ask them if they update their Facebook pages or write on their friends’ walls. Do they like gossip magazines, comic books, blogs, and foreign films? We bet they do.

If we want our “reluctant readers” to shed their reluctance, we must acknowledge that their “texts”—no matter how low-brow we consider them—are legitimate forms of reading.

Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, beginning readers, reluctant readers

Build Connections with These Reading Comprehension Questions

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jan 21, 2014 3:50:00 PM

reading comprehension questionsBefore we begin a new novel, watch a movie or read an article on our favorite blog, most adults have already started tapping into a vast collection of knowledge about what they already know or think about the “text” they are about to engage with.

The ability to tap into our schema and seek out patterns to make sense of new information is an essential reading comprehension skill. It’s also a skill we can teach our students simply by posing strategic questions.  

We’ve been reading Judi Moreillon’s book Collaborative Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension and would like to share a series of questions you can ask students to help them build connections between:

  • Themselves and the text
  • Multiple texts
  • Texts and the world

Build Connections with These Reading Comprehension Questions

Building text-to-self connections
One of the best ways to model text-to-self connections is by using think-aloud questions. The following questions focus on three areas of text-to-self connection: feelings experiences, and ideas:

  • Have you ever felt like the character(s) in this story? Describe what happened and how you felt
  • Have you had a similar experience? Compare your experience to that of the character(s)
  • Have you heard or read this information before? What does this information mean to you?
  • How does connecting a story or information to your own life experiences help you better understand it?

Building text-to-text connections
Students often do not understand or enjoy readings because they do not see immediate connections between the text and other materials they have already read and enjoyed.  To help them make connections between texts, try asking the following questions:

  • Have you ever read another book or seen a movie in which a story element (setting, plot, conflict, theme, or style) is similar to the one in this story? Describe how they are the same
  • Have you read another book or seen a movie in which the writer used language or text structure similar to that in this story? Describe how these texts are similar.
  • How does making connections to familiar texts help you comprehend the new text?

Building text-to-world connections
When students are able to stretch their thinking and see how a text connects to issues beyond what they are reading, it is much easier for them to invest in this new experience. To help your students make connections from the text to social, historical and contemporary issues, pose some of the following questions: 

  • What do you think the author’s message or purpose was in writing this story or presenting this information?
  • Did the author suggest a message that connects with bigger ideas about the way things are in the world? What do you already know about these issues?
  • What do you think was the author’s opinion or perspective on the big ideas in this text? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • How does making connections to larger issues help you comprehend the text?
Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading strategies, reading comprehension strategy, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling readers, reading teachers, collaborative learning

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