LitLife’s Favorite Winter Read Alouds

It has been a cold and snowy winter. Here in New York City, we have spent the last few weeks trudging through snow, slipping on ice, and trying to stay warm! Nothing is cozier or more warming than a good read aloud and we have been relying on some of our favorites to get us through the chilly days. And for our friends who live in warm climates, a wintry read aloud can be a great way to get a taste of the cool weather- no travel required! Here are some winter read alouds we love:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

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This classic, Caldecott Medal winning book is a must-read on any snowy day. Ezra Jack Keats’ story describes a little boy enjoying and exploring the outdoors after snow has fallen. Children will love the memorable illustrations and will be inspired to have their own fun in the snow!

 The Mitten by Jan Brett

1556401 This winter tale is an especially perfect choice for animal lovers. The story centers around a boy named Nicki who loses his white mitten in the snow. A variety of animals discover the mitten while Nicki looks for it. The beautiful illustrations bring the animals and the cold, snowy setting to life.

Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear by Nicola Davies

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Ice Bear is another great winter pick for children who are interested in animals. This book is filled with facts about polar bears, presented through Davies’ poetic writing and Gary Blythe’s wonderful illustrations. This beautiful read is perfect for learning about an Arctic animal on an arctic-cold day.

 Snow by Cynthia Rylant

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 Cynthia Rylant is one of our favorite authors and we are always on the lookout for any opportunity to read one of her books. A chilly winter day is an ideal time to savor this one about a girl enjoying the snow.

 Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

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 Another classic wintry picture book, Katy and the Big Snow tells the story of Katy, a red tractor who plows snow in the winter. After a big snow storm, Katy needs to put her plowing skills to use. Everyone will have a newfound appreciation for snow plows after reading about Katy!

Common Core Spotlight: Project Noah

During cold NYC winters, we dream of warm spring days and the possibility of bringing students outside to burn off some of that extra energy. And our recent discovery of Project Noah has us longing for late spring field trips that bring us back to nature.

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CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

How does Project Noah work?

Project Noah is web and mobile based app that gets kids excited about science. We think Project Noah could be an amazing tool for reaching Common Core’s  requirements for teaching informational reading and writing and for teaching literacy across subject areas. It provides students with engaging tools for exploring the natural world, as well as authentic audiences for their writing.

Project Noah asks students to explore and document the natural world by sharing photos and descriptions of living organisms. When students find an interesting organism, they can upload a “spotting” to the Project Noah platform. Students are asked to include information about their spotting that includes its species, details of its habitat and a description. If students don’t know what they’re looking at, they can ask the Noah platform for help identifying the species and other users will chime in with what they know.

The app also includes “missions” that students can take part in. These missions ask students to participate in investigations of the natural world. There are many built-in missions, but teachers can also create their own that align to a specific life-science learning standard or the local environment. The missions are also often aligned to real-world conservation projects, so students know their research is impacting the world.

Teachers can register a classroom to create student accounts and to set up their own missions. In the classroom space, teachers can manage what their students are uploading and track students’ observations. The Teachers page of Project Noah is currently still in Beta. And according to the Graphite.org review of Project Noah, may of the classroom features only available in the web and Amplify versions of the app. Other mobile versions of the app are not fully supported.

How can I use Project Noah in my classroom?

  • Download some of the lessons and resources from the Project Noah website. The “Writing in the Wild” lesson gets kids interacting with their environment, engaging in research and writing informational text for an authentic audience.
  • Create your own mission that lets students investigate easily accessible spaces like local parks, the school grounds, or a walk around the neighborhood. Have students practice writing descriptive explanations of trees, flowers, and animals they encounter.
  • Use Project Noah as a starting point for additional research. Take students on a walking field trip in which they document their environment. Have students focus on organisms that they can’t immediately identify. With the help of the Project Noah community, students can identify species that are part of their environment. From there, students can do additional research and compile reports about the species they encountered.

The Top 10 Ways Writing Has Changed in the Core Ready Era (And What to Do About It)

The shift to the Common Core standards has put a bigger emphasis on writing instruction than ever before. Below are some of the major changes we’ve noticed in the goals for writing instruction and some tips on what this could look like in your classroom.

  1.  Change: Writing is for real audiencesWhat to do about it:
      • Create products that are designed as gifts for others
      • Engage with organizations that provide ways for children to write to and for each other
      • Build performance into the ways children complete a project
      • Use genres found in the real world as a mode for sharing
  2. Change: Writing is deeply connected to reading
    What to do about it:

      • When children are passionate about what they read, be sure they are writing about that
      • Create productive exercises that are not only products (i.e. essays), but also part of the process of reading (stop and jot)
      • Teach children to see authors as real people making deliberate decisions
  3. Change: Writing is an important part of 21st century learningWhat to do about it:
      • Give children the opportunity to use apps that teach storytelling and story sharing
      • Give children the opportunity to use apps that share information in exciting ways
      • Give children the opportunity to use apps that help them express their opinions

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  4. Change: Writing can be practiced in many forms, both written and visual
    What to do about it:

      • Use text types to experiment with new ways of sharing
      • Practice writing across content areas
      • Encourage sharing of ideas through visual and print forms
  5. Change: Writing must be practiced across a variety of text types
    What to do about it:

      • Build and use units of study
      • Use same topic across text types to show children how text types are in service to ideas
  6. Change:  Writing should be meaningful and purposeful to the writer
    What to do about it:

      • Invite children to share ideas on where writing would be most meaningful for them
      • Make sure children are writing about topics that matter to them
      • Share authors writing on topics of interest to them, share author notes and acknowledgement pages
  7. Change: Writing builds text complexity skills
    What to do about it:

      • Use the text complexity triangle to analyze writing skills text complexity triangle
      • Show models of complex writing, even at the picture book stage
  8. Change: Writing is connected to speaking and listening development
    What to do about it:

      • Talk off a child’s own story, drawing, or picture
      • Have students write a play to be performed with themselves as actors
      • Write songs together and perform
      • Display dialogue starters to craft longer, stronger conversations
  9. Change: Writing is developmental and has stages of growth
    What to do about it:

      • Have students collect their writing in a portfolio
      • Invite students to reflect on their own growth throughout the school year
      • Ask students to identify the ways they have grown and set goals for the future
  10. Change: Writing is a tool for communication
    What to do about it:

      • Provide opportunities for students to write emails to a local congresswoman or congressman
      • Introduce students to different writing styles and demonstrate the difference between writing a text message, writing an email, and writing a comment on a blog post


    For more practical tips on implementing the Common Core standards, check out Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series.

The Core Ready 6-8 Lesson Sets are Here!

We are very excited to announce that the Core Ready lesson sets for grades 6-8 are now available!

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The Core Ready Program is a dynamic series of books that provides educators with the complete tool set for navigating and thriving with the core standards. Showing how to take large complex concepts of the standards and turn them into practical, specific instruction for everyday instruction, the series is organized around Pam Allyn’s Four Doors to the Core:

  •      The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension and Critique

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  •      The Shape of Story: Contemporary and Classical

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  •      The Road to Knowledge: Information and Research

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  •      The Power to Persuade: Opinion and Argument

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These four books are stocked with powerful lesson sets, assessment rubrics, support for ELLs and diverse learners and tips for how to do high tech variations for literacy instruction for grades 6, 7, and 8. This is a “one stop shop” for the standards-hungry student and teacher. The challenging work of unpacking the standards and turning them into meaningful instruction and learning is done. What is here is a rich day to day, step by step guide for how to implement the standards and how students can all become Core ready. Student teachers can learn to teach by practicing with these lessons; professors can assign them for practice in the classroom and for discussion in study groups. Master teachers can use the lessons to teach seamlessly, maintaining what they love and do already but incorporating these lessons to complete and fulfill the guidelines and goals of the standards.

The 6-8 lesson sets follow the staircase of complexity that began in the K-2 books, allowing students to build critical literacy skills throughout the years. As with all of the Core Ready lesson sets, the 6-8 books are accompanied by a digital PD Toolkit, full of additional resources and materials for teachers and students.

The books are available now from Pearson and Amazon.

Check back soon for news about our upcoming Core Ready book, Core Ready ELL.

LitLife’s Favorite Blogs for Teachers

One of the best sources of information and professional development we’ve found is other teachers. We spend a great deal of time talking to other teachers, working through and learning about the challenges they face in their classrooms. We’ve also found an amazing community of teachers online who are sharing their knowledge, their triumphs and their struggles on Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs. Below are some of our most trusted resources in the blogosphere.

Class Tech Tips (Monica Burns)

Monica is a LitLife consultant whose personal blog is a great source for all things ed tech. Her blog is full of great app reviews and recommendations. She’s even been a guest-blogger here, on the LitLife blog. We love Class Tech Tips for its innovative tips that make meaningful tech integration fun and easy.

Mr. Schu Reads

Nobody knows children’s literature like Mr. Schu. His blog is full of reading adventures, book trailers, author interviews and giveaways. If you’re trying to stay on top of the latest and greatest in children’s lit, this is the blog for you!

To Make a Prairie (Vicki Vinton)

“A blog about reading, writing, teaching, and the joys of a literate life,” Vicki Vinton’s To Make a Prairie is full of interesting entries on a broad range of topics related to literacy. Vinton’s passion for language shines through in everything she blogs about.

Kate and Maggie

Kate and Maggie are both staff developers for The Reading and Writing Project and their blog is full of great advice on teaching reading and writing. We love their practical tips for instruction and life.

Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo

On his popular Education Week blog, Larry Ferlazzo addresses readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. LitLife West Hudson Director, Patty Vitale-Reilly was recently quoted in one of his posts on student motivation.

App Breakdown: Graphite

When implementing new technology in a school or classroom, it’s important to go in with a purpose and a plan. Handing students and teachers laptops or tablets with no support will lead to storage closets full of unused equipment as it did in Hoboken, NJ. So, how do we use technology with meaning and impact? It takes a lot of research and a lot of support. Luckily, there are platforms like Graphite to help us out.

Graphite is a free platform from Common Sense Media that helps educators discover and research the latest in education technology. It’s been around for about a year now, and I’m a little ashamed it took me this long to discover it–it is an amazing discovery tool with built in support for teachers trying to implement technology in their classrooms. And now that I’m done gushing, here’s a little bit about what it is and how you can use it:

What it is:

As I mentioned, Graphite is an edtech discovery platform. It’s a place to learn about the latest apps and tools for teaching and how to use them. The site offers comprehensive reviews of all of the products listed, which can take some of the scary guesswork out of implementation. As CNN Money put it, it’s a “’Consumer Reports’ for ed tech.” It also has a Teacher Center that offers professional development support for effective integration of technology in your curriculum.

Why we like it:

Discovery: There are reviews for many of the latest apps and ed tech tools on Graphite that are written by expert educators, and you can count on them being impartial. There are also field notes from teachers about their personal experiences using each tool. It’s super easy to browse the reviews to learn about new apps and how they can be used.

Support: The Teacher Center gives you all of the tools you need to start using Graphite, and the apps you discover there. We especially like the App Flows, which provide a framework for seamlessly integrating technology into your lesson plans.

Common Core Alignment: The apps on Graphite are searchable by standard. Meaning, if you’re looking for an app to help your students reach a specific standard, you can click on that standard and find an entire list of applicable tools. This helps you make sure the tech is being used meaningfully and with purpose.

How you can use it:

First, go to www.graphite.org and set up an account. The website is completely accessible even when you’re not signed in but, the account is nice for fully participating in the community. With an account, you can get the Graphite newsletter, which delivers featured blog posts to your inbox, and you can submit your own field note reviews of apps and create boards. You can also recommend apps for Graphite to review.

Graphite can be used in a few different ways. If you’re just starting off with new hardware in your classroom, it can be used as a jump-off point for developing an effective implementation plan. Before you put the hardware in students’ hands, know which apps you’ll be using with them and why.

If you’ve already been using a lot of tech in your classroom, the Teacher Center can help you use it more effectively. The App Flow and Common Core Standards alignment will help you make sure you’re getting the most out of the tech.

Things to keep in mind:

Not all tools work for every school and classroom. Just because something gets a positive review on Graphite, doesn’t mean it’s going to be the perfect fit for your students. Leave room in your lessons for experimentation and have back-up plans for when the tech doesn’t work.