MAT Blog

Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 10, 2014 9:26:51 AM

Why don’t our students love to read? Well, use your imagination and pretend you’re a student. You’ve only been reading for seven to twelve years—and most of what you’ve read has been assigned and tested. In addition to this, you’ve been asked to “discuss” and “close read” texts, create book reports, and answer comprehension questions based upon what you read. Sounds like a blast, huh?

These are only a few reasons why our students dislike reading, but rather than fixate on all the reasons our reluctant readers are reluctant, we’d like to suggest 10 simple ways reading teachers can drum up excitement for books!

Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

  • Niche book clubs are popular amongst adults, but why not start one (or two, or three) for students? How about a club that only reads scary and disgusting books? Or one that reads only sci-fi books with leading female characters? If each group only meets monthly (or bi-monthly), reading teachers should have plenty of time to keep up.

  • Instead of talking about good books, reading teachers might have more luck if they showed students good books. Stop by Scholastic’s site where you’ll find a nice collection of book trailers for K-8 students.

  • If you are reading a work of historical fiction, contact local re-enactor groups at historical sites in your area and invite them to visit your classroom.

  • The Internet may list every book that was ever written, but how do reading teachers help students sort through the clutter and find books they love? Answer: They teach them how to use book recommendation websites.

  • At our school, students can sign up for a half hour research consultation with a librarian. This is a one-on-one session in which students collaborate with librarians to flesh out their topics and find useful books and articles that relate to their topics.

  • Students and teachers both found this service to be beneficial—which got us thinking: What if we took the “research consultation” model and used it to create a “good book” consultation service where students pair up with a librarian to find books they’ll enjoy? Many students take advantage of this service and continue to be enthusiastic about it.

  • Show foreign films or watch movies with closed-captioning turned on. As many of us know, finding creative ways to focus reluctant readers on books, the very thing that evokes feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure, is challenging. But films can capture students’ interest and stimulate their imagination in ways that books can’t.

  • One of our favorite things about visiting book stores is stopping by the “recommended reading” station. Every month, the bookstore employees select their favorite books and write up a short paragraph explaining why they made their selections. Try doing this with your students.

  • Invite the librarian to visit the classroom every month to talk about new arrivals and seasonal favorites.

  • Use Skype in the Classroom to connect with a real published author for free! Currently, you can Skype with Nancy Krulik, author of George Brown; Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went; Jane Kohuth, author of Duck Sock Hop!; C. Alexander London, author of An Accidental Adventure!; and many, many more published authors.

  • Subscribe to Children’s Books, a podcast series featured on The Guardian’s website.Every month features a new leading children's book author.

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

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Tags: reading teachers, Reading, reluctant 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

Make Writing Less Intimidating with these 2 Digital Storytelling Apps

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 12, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Storytelling is an indispensable human activity. Not only do we use stories to share our experiences and convey who we are, we also use them to create analogies, convince others and illustrate our arguments. Because storytelling is so valuable, we try to incorporate this activity into our lessons as often as we can—and do so in a way that both inspires our students and makes them more comfortable with the writing process.

In our experience, one of the best ways to teach storytelling to beginning writers is by using digital comic book generators. As with traditional storytelling, students must write, but unlike traditional writing, students are never faced with a blank white least not for long. Instead, students drag and drop characters, images, backgrounds and objects into layout boxes; then they write around the images.

This morning we came across a couple of new comic book generator apps and wanted to share them with you.  

Make Writing Less Intimidating with these 2 Digital Storytelling Apps

digital storytellingBitstrips for Schools is intuitive and a heck of a lot of fun. As with most comic book generators, users are able to customize their own cartoon characters, backgrounds and images, but Bitstrips also allows users to import pictures into their comics. We also like the fact that we can share, remix and collaborate with others on our comics, set up virtual classrooms, and access an administrator dashboard.

Bitstrips is free, but only for the first 30 days. After that, it costs $9.95/month for your first classroom. Additional classroom are $4.95/month.

digital storytellingIf you don’t need administrator controls and you’re on a budget, but still want a powerful comic-creation tool, ToonDoo is an ideal choice. ToonDoo gives you sophisticated results, but without the learning curve.

Everything is as simple as click, drag and drop. When you finish your masterpiece, grab your comic’s embed code, or click on the Facebook and twitter icons to share it with the world.




15 Classroom Management Apps for Educators

Tags: digital storytelling, reluctant writers, apps for educators, apps for teachers, reluctant readers, technology in the classroom

Three essential websites for reading teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 17, 2013 6:00:00 AM

reading teachersA couple weeks ago, I came across a website called GoodReads and I can’t get enough of it. Essentially, GoodReads is a Facebook for book nerds. There are forums and communities to join, books to add to your digital book shelf and places where you can post your reviews and interact with likeminded readers.

I have a horrible habit of not remembering the books I want to read. The minute I enter a book shop, my memory breaks down and that mental scrap sheet of book recommendations disappears into the ether. GoodReads remedies this problem because I never have to write down any titles or authors; I simply click and add them to my list of “to-reads” and pull it up on my phone.

Oh, but there’s more: GoodReads also gives me the opportunity to interact with published authors and enter into contests to win books before they’re available in book stores.

If you haven’t guessed where this is all going, I’m suggesting that reading teachers share GoodReads with their students. It’s an easy way for students to keep track of their reading progress and gives them a forum for them to make their writing public.

reading teachersBiblionasium is a lot like GoodReads, but this site has been created specifically for teachers, parents and K-8 students. As with GoodReads, users can set up virtual bookshelves, browse friends’ bookshelves and easily find books with a customizable search bar that allows students to search by title, author or reading level. What makes Biblionasium an ideal choice for parents and teachers, though, is that it keeps them all connected. Here’s how it works:

Teachers create a free account, add students and parents to their roster, and assign passwords. Once students login, build their virtual bookshelves and start cataloging their reading practices, parents can check in to view a reading summary. This report lets parents know what students are reading, how long they’re reading, and whether or not they are challenging themselves.

reading teachersIn addition to GoodReads, an Edmodo buddy alerted me to a similar site called Reading Rewards. Much like GoodReads, users can add books to their digital library, write reviews and join groups, but this site specifically targets kids between the ages of five and fifteen.

Students can track their reading “miles,” earn badges when they hit milestones, and visit the RR Store to collect reading rewards: a movie night at home, for example, or a family game night, a sleepover with a friend, iTunes credit, or game console time. Adults determine how many RR miles are required to purchase rewards.

Teachers can also create accounts and set up their class as a group. Once students join, teachers receive access to a dashboard where they can track class book lists, reading tallies, book reviews, and more. Teachers can also set individual or class reading targets—and because Reading Rewards is fully web based, your students can access it from home themselves.

If neither of these two sites satisfy your needs, there’s also a site called Book Wink. You can learn more about this site by clicking here.


Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, apps for educators, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling reader, apps for teachers, reading ability, reading fluency, reluctant readers, independent reading

5 Simple Ways to Increase Independent Reading Time

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 13, 2013 4:46:00 PM

independent readingAccording to a 2011 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 72% of American adults had read a printed book in the last year. A year later they found that 21 percent of American adults had read an e-book in the past year. Using a “broader definition” of e-content, the study found that 43 percent of Americans age 16 and older said they had “either read an e-book in the past year…or other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone.”

The statistics aren’t as bleak as we expected, but we’re still concerned about the number of Americans, including students, who aren’t reading. Writer and educator Donalyn Miller shares this concern, but in her book, The Book Whisperer, she suggests that by simply rethinking our daily practices, we can not only get our students reading, but actually increase their independent reading time. 

5 Simple Ways to Increase Independent Reading Time

Classroom Interruptions
How often are your classes interrupted by special deliveries of messages, forgotten lunches, notes that need to go home, or phone calls from the office? Some of these interruptions take ten seconds, others may take ten minutes. In one week, Miller recorded 14 interruptions and documented how much instructional time was lost at the end of the week: a grand total of 40 minutes. That’s 40 minutes students could have been reading!

One way to take advantage of these interruptions is by teaching your students to get out their books as soon as an interruption occurs. Teach your students that a knock on the door or a ring from the classroom telephone isn’t a signal for them to chat; it’s a signal for them to reach into their desks, grab their book and start reading. If you start this procedure right away, your students will quickly internalize it.

Bell Ringers and Warm-Ups
Many of us supplement our literacy instruction with warm-up activities that ask students to “look for grammatical and punctuation errors in a scripted sentence.” Yet research consistently suggests (see Alsum & Bush, 2003; Thomas & Tchudi, 1999 and Weaver, 1996) that little of this grammar instruction actually sticks or transfers to our students’ writing. Considering that, why are we still using it? In lieu of these kinds of activities, Miller suggests that our students spend warm-up time reading.

When Students Are Done
The rule above also applies to students who finish their work early. Instead of allowing them to sit quietly, draw, or grab a worksheet from a folder of extension activities, why not have students read instead? We don’t know about you, but when we were students, the last thing we wanted was to be “rewarded” with more work—so inevitably we began working slower, or pretending like we were still working to avoid extension activities. Reward with books, not worksheets.

Picture Day
For students, picture day is a national holiday. Not only do they get out of class, they get to stand in a long line and visit with their friends. Like Miller, you probably spend picture day “walking up and down the line, monitoring behavior and shushing students.” After years of this, Miller started requiring her students to bring a book to picture day. Not only does this help curb behavior issues, it’s a simple way to reclaim valuable reading time.

Library Time
Recently a colleague of ours marveled at the fact that we still took our students to the library. While he conceded that library fieldtrips were “good in theory,” they always turned into chaos. While it’s true that many students see library visits as a social event where they get time off, this misconception can be corrected if we model appropriate behavior and make our expectations clear on the first visit.

Here’s what Miller has to say about modeling:

My modeling starts with my giddiness as the first library day arrives. I begin mentioning to students that we are going to the library several days ahead of time and imagine with them the wonderful books we will find there. I post library days on our class Web site. I want students to pick up on the fact that I think library days are events to anticipate. On the big day, I always ask a student to remind me when it is a few minutes before our assigned library time, so that we can line up and get there promptly.

Before they head to the library, Miller goes over the rules:

  • Every student must have a book to return, renew, or read, or a plan to get one at the library
  • If students do not want to check out a book, they must bring their own book
  • Every student must walk out of the library with a book
  • Students who are not checking out books can head to quiet corners and read
  • When everyone has a book to read, we all sit and read until the library time ends or head back early and read in the classroom

    Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling reader, reading ability, reading fluency, reluctant readers, independent reading

Pixton just may be the best digital storytelling application yet

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 6, 2013 9:28:00 AM

digital storytellingIf you’ve followed our blog, it’s no secret that we’re fans of using digital storytelling apps and comic book generators in the classroom. While there are dozens of useful applications out there, this morning we stumbled upon what just may be the holy grail of comic book generators: a nifty little application called Pixton.

Unlike most comic book generators—which have limited flexibility—Pixton allows users to completely customize their work: Choose from a wide variety of characters, change their facial expressions, shrink them, enlarge them, and rotate and shift their body movements. This only scratches the surface of what you can do with this app. Whether you’re zooming in and out of panels, swapping out background images, adding props, speech bubbles or text, everything is as simple as drag and drop.

Free accounts are available, but you’ll have to put up with advertisements and you won’t be able to print and download the final product. Upgrades begin at $8/month.

To learn more about how you can use digital storytelling in the classroom, watch the video below.



Surfing for Substance II Download

Tags: digital storytelling, reluctant writers, apps for educators, apps for teachers, reluctant readers, technology in the classroom

Using wordless picture books to engage reluctant writers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 27, 2013 6:00:00 AM

We’ve noticed something about our students: When we give them a topic to write about, they say “it’s boring.” When we don’t, we hear things like, “Tell me what to write about, I can’t think of anything!” Sound familiar? We thought so.   

In our experience, wordless picture books have been a useful, anxiety-reducing foundation for creative writing. Instead of starting with a blank “canvas,” students already have a sketch that they can write around. All they need to do is supply the narrative voice, the dialogue, and develop the story.

Using wordless picture books to engage reluctant writers

There are hundreds of picture books, but one of our favorites is Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher. It is as bizarre as it is amusing and for these reasons, students seem to love it.

reluctant writersIn this story, we follow the misadventures of a nameless, strawberry-loving grey lady who simply wants to buy her basket of fruit and be on her way. But no sooner does she exit the grocer’s when she finds herself pursued by a blue, impish-looking creature: a Strawberry Snatcher who loves his fruit as much as, or perhaps more than, she does.

The chase winds through sidewalks and into the streets—we didn’t know that Strawberry Snatchers could ride skateboards—and finally into the woods. We won’t give away the ending, but even if we did, your students would still have the freedom to make up their own.

As you can see from the image above, we’ve taken a scanned image of the book and added speech bubbles and dialogue with the help of Pixlr, but there are several ways your students can approach this assignment. They could simply type up the story in a Word document, or if every student had his/her own copy of the book (you can find cheap used copies on Amazon), they could print speech bubbles and use masking tape—or any kind of tape that is not very sticky—to attach them to the pages.

If you’re looking for more ways to engage your reluctant writers, check out a couple of our recent blogs, Storybird uses digital storytelling to engage reluctant writers and 5 of the Best Digital Storytelling Applications.


Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: digital storytelling, reluctant writers, apps for educators, apps for teachers, reluctant readers, technology in the classroom

10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on May 18, 2013 6:00:00 AM

struggling readersLately our blog topics have been targeting parents and there’s a reason for it: Summer is only a few weeks away. Like most teachers, we’re looking forward to the warm weather and a new schedule, but our students—particularly our struggling readers—are never far from our minds. Will the progress these students made over the last year stagnate in the next three months when we’re not there to coach and encourage them? Did we successfully develop their intrinsic motivation to read? Will parents pick up where we left off? Since you can’t be there over the summer, we’re passing along 10 summer reading activities for struggling readers.


10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers

  1. If you’re going on a trip this summer, read about your destination. While you’re on the trip, keep a record of the things you saw.
  1. Compile a checklist of things you want to do over the summer. Do you want to build something? See something? Go somewhere? Find books or documentary films related to your list.
  2. Sign up for a summer activity—this could be an art class, a sports team, a dance class, guitar lessons, whatever. Now find books and magazines related to it.
  3. Get a library card. Parents: Treat this as an honorable occasion and a rite of passage.
  4. Write a letter to your favorite author. Don’t be surprised when they write you back.
  5. Start a summer blog and keep your friends and teachers updated on what you are doing. There are dozens of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Here are a few free blogging platforms you might check out: Blogger,,, or even TypePad Micro.
  6. Write a digital story using a free website called Storybird. Struggling readers and writers are often intimidated by blank screens. Digital storytelling allows users to choose their images first; then they write, tailoring their story to fit the images.
  7. Watch foreign films and read our blog to find out why you should.
  8. Subscribe to an online blog that writes about topics that interest you. Get involved in the conversation by commenting on the posts.
  9. Make a deal with your parents: If they buy something on, you get to write a product review for it.

    If you’re looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, check out two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents and Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading.

    Photo credit: KOMU news.
Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling reader, reading ability, reading fluency, reluctant readers

10 things parents can say to struggling readers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on May 14, 2013 2:10:00 PM

struggling readersWhen we truly love something, it becomes a visceral experience: we laugh and smile, we feel energetic, optimistic, and time seems to go by quickly. And more often than not, we are compelled to return to the source, hoping to repeat these feelings again. While many of us have had visceral experiences reading books, a good number of our struggling readers haven’t even come close. One way to help students experience this is by creating what Esmé Raji Codell, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, calls positive and collaborative reading experiences.

Below we’ve given you 10 prompts that you can use to initiate conversations and share your enthusiasm for books with struggling readers. While teachers will find these reading prompts useful, many of them have been created specifically with parents in mind.

10 things parents can say to struggling readers

  • “You can stay up as late as you want tonight, as long as you are reading.”
  • “I remember you telling me that you just finished reading Charlotte’s Web in class, so I rented the movie. I thought it would be fun to see how the movie and book were different from one another.” 
  • “Here’s a flashlight and some snacks. I’ve set up a reading fort for you in the closet so you’ll have a private spot to read.”
  • “I’ve been saving this present for a rainy day. Here’s a new book; it was my favorite when I was your age.”
  • “I know waiting in the doctor’s office is boring. I brought this for you; it’ll make the time fly by.”
  • “I get bored when I’m folding laundry. Would you keep me company by reading me something interesting?”
  • “Tell me about that book I saw you reading. The cover looked interesting.”
  •  “This is an interesting book cover. Why do you think that the illustrator chose these colors? Would you have illustrated the main character differently? Can you think of another scene that would have made a great book cover? What made you choose that scene?”
  • “I’m really glad you’re reading Big Frank’s Fire Truck. I noticed that the firefighters at the station down the street wash their truck every Thursday morning. Would you be interested in walking there sometime so that we could meet them?
  • “I saw you reading Meet George Washington last night. Did you know that one of his wife’s favorite desserts was Shrewsbury cake? I found a recipe in a book at the library and thought we could make it tonight after dinner.”

If you are looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, you might be interested in two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents, and Reading Teachers: Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help.


Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: reading comprehension, reading instruction, reading specialist, struggling reader, reading ability, reading fluency, reluctant readers

Marygrove MAT's best of April

Posted by Marygrove MAT on May 7, 2013 9:22:00 AM

best of aprilWe’re always looking forward, but before we get too far into May, we want to look back on our most popular blogs in April. We like doing this for a couple of reasons. First, as avid blog readers ourselves, we know that we often miss out on great content, especially when our favorite sites are updated every day. Second, we’ve found that looking back on the content that was most popular with our readers is the best way to figure out what we should (or shouldn’t) be blogging about in the future. Happy May, everyone!

An awesome classroom management strategy you've never heard of
If you have a cell phone or landline in your classroom, you’ve got everything you need for your students to make “Brag Phone Calls.” Did a number of your students recently turn in exceptional work or demonstrate leadership? Brag Phone Calls give these students the opportunity to call home and brag to their parents about it.

Spark It: A free reading assessment tool for parents and teachers

It’s unfortunate, but every year we encounter struggling readers who have been lost in the shuffle or flown under the “reading radar” for years. So you can imagine how pleased we were to come across Spark it, a free reading assessment tool that not only evaluates readers’ skill level, but also offers recommendations for improvement and activities to develop their skills.

Text-Based Games: A cure for the common book?
When Bantam discontinued its popular Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book series in the late 90s, our students shed a few tears. Thankfully, Choice of Games—an online publisher who has been releasing “text-based games”—has picked up where Bantam left off. Did we mention that all of their books are completely free?

No More Poetry-Induced Groans: 2 unconventional Poetry Lessons
Robert Frost once said that free verse poetry is “like playing tennis with the nets down.” Mr. Frost may not approve, but we want to help you take down the proverbial nets and give your students two poetry lessons they’ll actually enjoy.

How to Make Earth Day Relevant to Students
Technically Earth Day falls on April 22 every year, but we know how important it is to commemorate the holiday every day. To help you do this, we put together a free downloadable guide that offers two student-friendly activities that will:

  • Help students visualize and understand how oil spills impact our planet
  • Give students the opportunity to use two methods currently used to clean up oil spills

    Summer 2013 Deadlines

Tags: reading assessment, Best of, reading comprehension, classroom management, reluctant readers, earth day

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