Friday, 28 December 2012

Writing with Sentence Frames from a (Great) Blogger

Wow. I found a super-great resource for you this morning that I wanted to share right away!

Arlene Sandberg shares "best practices, ideas, strategies, information, and FREEBIES to help teachers make a difference for elementary students, low performing students, and ESL students" at It's Elementary. With 33 years of teaching experience, she has so much for us! I'm now following the blog and I recommend that you do the same.

Arlene's newest post is Using Sentence Frames to Help Struggling Writers Make Sentences, but I think every primary teacher could make great use of her free packet Writing Sentences with Sentence Frames, which includes a whole group activity, two Writing and Illustrating Sentences with Sentence Frames Activities, and a Writing Sentences Assessment. She even walks you through the process of using it, a valuable tutorial!

The preview above links to the packet at Arlene's Teachers Pay Teachers store, LMN Tree, where you'll find more of her creations, with none costing more than $7.50! 

I downloaded it to share with the teachers where I'm working as an academic specialist, and I'm letting Arlene know how much I appreciate her generosity in sharing her expertise. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Teaching by Questioning for the Common Core

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Socrates (470-399 B.C.) 
I like this quote attributed to Socrates, whether he said it or not - and I agree that the brains of our students are not empty vessels that we teachers are to fill from our vast store of knowledge.

From most accounts, Socrates did believe in and practice questioning as a means of teaching and learning. While students may find it easier to be given facts that they can regurgitate on paper-and-pencil tests, Rebecca Alber, in her Edutopia article "When Teaching the Right Answers Is the Wrong Direction" says, "...students are all too often on a quest for the Correct Answers, which has little to do with critical-thinking development..." 

Critical thinking, citing evidence, rigor and relevance...if you, like most U.S. teachers, are implementing the Common Core State Standards, you must incorporate skillful questioning in your teaching strategies.

Here's good information, paraphrased from the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota on How to Use the Socratic Method in the Classroom:

  • Plan significant questions that provide structure and direction to the lesson.
  • Phrase questions clearly.
  • Wait at least 5 to 10 seconds for students to respond.
  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Stimulate the discussion with probing questions.
  • Periodically summarize what has been discussed, on board or projector.
  • Draw as many students as possible into the discussion.
Remind students that they are expected to do the following:

  • Participate when called upon.
  • Answer questions as carefully and clearly as possible.
  • Address the whole class so that everyone can hear their answers.
For more information, LEARN NC includes an article by Heather Coffey on the history and theory of the Socratic method of teaching, with directions for conducting Socratic circles and seminars.

Finally, for a no-holds-barred article on why questioning is the way to critical thinking and therefore understanding, read "The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning" from The Critical Thinking Community:
Questions of purpose force us to define our task. 
Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information. 
Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted. 
Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going. 
Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question. 
Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. 
Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific. 
Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions. 
Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 7

Like me, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack are Tennessee-born-and-bred. This teacher and civil engineer started writing because of their concern about the lack of stories written for African American children; since 1984, they've published a number of books set in the segregated South where we grew up. 

An author study on this writing couple would provide cross-curricular opportunities for learning about the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws, and Black Americans who have made great contributions to our society and culture. Researching primary sources and reading their biographies would offer opportunities for close reading of (and writing about) informational text, a major tenet of the CCSS: "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text."

Their picture books are wonderful; one of my favorites is Goin' Someplace Special, written by Patricia and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
The book is described by Barbara Bader in "For the McKissacks, Black Is Boundless," which appeared in The Horn Book Magazine in 2007: "Though she’ll be allowed into the downtown library, ’Tricia Ann has to ride in the back of the bus, finds that the bench in the nearby park is for 'Whites Only,' and has a real scare when she innocently follows a white crowd into an off-limits hotel."
You and your students will enjoy seeing and hearing Patricia and Fredrick McKissack talk about their work in this Reading Rockets video interview:

Kemp Elementary School in Cobb County, GA chose Goin' Someplace Special as its book of the month in February 2005, and provides reading and writing strategies and a connecting activity to Rosa Parks. In January 2010, the K-2 Exquisite Prompt on the Reading Rockets website was based on Goin' Someplace Special.

You can teach SO much, including vocabulary, visualization, making inferences, time line activities, mapping, US history, and cultural understanding using this beautiful book. Share it with your kiddos and let its important themes help cure your Common Core blues!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Building Academic Vocabulary

I just might have mentioned before that I love Ireland's NBSS site. There are actually many reasons to love it, but as a teacher, I especially love two things. One is the organization's understanding that academics and behavior are tightly interwoven. The second is that it provides truly great teaching strategies; not only are students' needs considered, but teacher support is also a focus.

Today we'll look at their collection of Academic Vocabulary Building Activities & Strategies. Every teacher knows that a student must be able to understand and use the vocabulary of learning in order to succeed in any content area. Our students need a deep knowledge of these words in order to "access information about them from memory as they read" and we must explicitly teach both academic words and strategies for learning new ones that they encounter.

You will appreciate the explanation of Robert Marzano's six steps to effective vocabulary instruction, and the suggested methods of implementing each one: 

  • The teacher gives a friendly, informal description, explanation or example of the new vocabulary term.
  • Students give a description, explanation or example of the new term in his/her own words.
  • Students create a non linguistic representation of the word.
  • Students engage in activities to deepen their knowledge of the new word. 
  • Students discuss the new word with one another.
  • Students play games to reinforce and review new vocabulary. 
You'll love even more the thirty-three vocabulary Graphic Organizers provided for your students with so many different activities that they'll never get tired of them! Here's a sneak peek of some of my favorites:

NBSS provides links to six Useful Websites for Vocabulary Activities such as Visuwords and Triptico, that have fabulous vocabulary activities for your kiddos.


Last, but certainly not least, are Games for Learning. From Charades to Pictionary to Taboo to Wordo, you'll find instructions, templates, and links to sites that allow you to create your own puzzles tailored to your students' needs.

Convinced? I thought you would be. Enjoy this great resource and see how much difference it can make for your students' essential academic vocabularies!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Common Core Practice | Life on a Coastline

The focus of all three of this week's writing tasks at The Learning Network? Living on a coastline, and the impact it can have on the lives of its residents. One of the writing tasks is informative, one is narrative, and one argumentative, providing plenty of variety for your students, even though the locations have their similarities.

After reading "Hopes of Home Fade Among Japan's Displaced," students are asked to compare the March 2011 tsunami and the resulting Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown to a natural disaster with which they are familiar.
The writing task for "Salvaging at the Shore, or Just Remembering" is to "write a narrative that includes figurative language and sensory details, (describing) what 'home' means to you."

The final task, an argumentative one, asks students to examine an op-ed piece, "Good Neighbors, Bad Border," and write a paragraph arguing who should be given possession of Machias Island and North Rock, tiny islands in the Gulf of Maine, whose ownership has been in questions for 230 years.

As always, I ask that you post a comment to Sarah Gross, Jonathan Olsen, and their partners at The New York Times if you use one of their prompts, thanking them for sharing!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 6

As the granddaughter, daughter, and daughter-in-law of women who themselves sewed love into quilts that have kept generations of our family warm, I love The Keeping Quilt, and find it one of Patricia Polacco's most memorable books. It's been called her signature piece with good reason, winning the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries in 1988, when it was first published.

From the dust jacket of the second edition: "When Patricia's Great-Gramma Anna came to America as a child, the only things she brought along from Russia were her dress and the babushka she liked to throw up into the air when she was dancing. Soon enough, though, Anna outgrew the dress and her mother decided to incorporate it and the babushka into a quilt. 'It will be like having the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night,' she said. And so it was. Together with her Uncle Vladimir's shirt, Aunt Havalah's nightdress, and an apron of Aunt Natasha's, Anna's mother made a quilt that would be passed down through their family for almost a century. From one generation to the next, the quilt was used as a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket to welcome each new child into the world." A unique family heirloom, indeed.

Multicultural books like Patricia Polacco's are invaluable tools for broadening our students' worlds, enriching their vocabulary, and giving them a greater understanding and appreciation of people who aren't just like them.

 Read this beautiful book with your kiddos, and then:
  • create an "I Have; Who Has?" game or a card sort for vocabulary
  • sequence the generations of Patricia's family
  • compare and contrast the weddings through the years
  • make a class collage of the varied uses of the quilt (in color, of course, just as in the book!)
  • let them write about a tradition in their own family
And something that was a favorite of my students? A bookmark, with some of Patricia's fabulous artwork, as a reward after completing the book study!
Such a lovely little way to remember a jewel of a book, while letting it help cure those Common Core blues!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 5

I'm a bit behind on this series because our son, daughter-in-law, and grandbabies who live in Tanzania arrived in the states last week for a visit. Oh, and we had a booth selling crafts made there by Holly and her Tanzanian friend Suzy at the local Arts and Craft Fair for three days...a busy and joyful week!
Today I want to share a book by one of my favorite authors, Leo Lionni. Having taught high school for 25 years, I came late to his wonderful writing, learning to love it during the 7 years I taught elementary ESL. 
Inch by Inch was the first of Lionni's books to win the Caldecott Honor, with three more following. It's a fantastic book for integrating measurement skills; Scholastic has a lesson plan on this page. Not only is the prose wonderful; his illustrations are as well. The iconic Horn Book Magazine praises the book's “...lovely definition of cutouts against white space...rhythm of the composition...simplicity of the whole...” 

Weston Woods produced an animated version of the book in 2006, which costs $59.95, but ArtsEdge has a story performance, by Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia, online and FREE!

You and your young friends can read more about Leo on Random House's website, which provides tons of information for an author study - seven short chapters and an essay written by his granddaughter Annie Lionni. Your students can also 
  • watch him explain why he writes books about animals in a short video,
  • see how he makes a paper mouse(and try one themselves) here,
  • learn about his childhood and his imagination in this video,
  • see many pictures, including one of him playing his accordion!
I have other favorite Lionni books (he wrote 40!) that I'll share later, but in the meantime, please let Inch by Inch and Leo's personal story help cure your Common Core blues.

I hope you're having a happy Thanksgiving week; many blessings from my family to yours! 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Common Core Practice | Bad Reviews, Elite Schools and Facebook Fakes

Do all of your students understand different types of questions? Is their questioning effective? Would you like to have a tool that would help them understand rhetorical questioning as a device for proving a point?

If so, one of this week's Common Core Practice writing tasks at The Learning Network is tailor-made for you! Sarah Gross and Jonathan Olsen's students loved Pete Wells’s less-than-stellar review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, with one of them declaring, "This is the best article we've read this year."
The task that references this article asks students to write a letter expressing annoyance or disappointment through a series of rhetorical questions.

The second task is argumentative: students are asked to read an editorial about admissions procedures at a group of highly-selective high schools in New York City. "After reading the editorial, answer the following two questions in a paragraph each. Try to connect the two paragraphs using transitions. A) How should highly selective high schools select students? B) What do you think are the most accurate predictors of high school success?"
This week's final task, also argumentative, refers to people who set up fake Facebook accounts in order to hide their identity, and asks the question: "Do you think it is ethical for high school and college students to create a Facebook profile using a pseudonym, despite the fact the company expressly prohibits it in their Terms of Service? Explain your opinion in one paragraph."

Thanks again to Sarah Gross, Jonathan Olsen, and their students, for these great writing tasks connected to articles in the New York Times!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Reading Strategies and Bookmarks - Great Idea!

Today we revisit a site from a previous post, Great Resources From Ireland's NBSSto look at some very cool bookmarks - but not just any bookmarks. These have purpose...wait, make that six purposes!

I visualize teaching a strategy, making a great anchor chart using the bookmark as a starter for organizing it, and giving each student a bookmark to keep in the books you are using to practice the strategy. Click on the image below to go to the pdf document and print it. There are three bookmarks per page, which you can print on card stock or mount on colored paper and laminate. 
(See if your kiddos notice the different spelling, using "s" rather than "z".) 
Addressing "key comprehension strategies - making connections, self-questioning, visualising, inferring, determining importance, summarising/synthesising and self-monitoring comprehension - can help students become more purposeful, active readers and learners."  

We all need to be more purposeful, active readers and learners. Enjoy this great tool!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Common Core Resources: RAFT Writing Strategy

"The more often students write, the more proficient they become as writers." 

Not only is this true, but writing with proficiency and sophistication is demanded in the Common Core State Standards.

From the CCSS Writing Standards K-5 and 6-12: "Each year in their writing, students should demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use, from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas, and they should address increasingly demanding content and sources."

If you teach writing and aren't already a fan, hustle over to the website, a joint venture of three great organizations:


One of the many resources you'll find there is a guide to using the RAFT Writing Strategy, which is designed to help a student understand his role and effectively communicate his ideas, and to focus on his audience, format, and topic.

Deborah Dean's book Strategic Writing is referenced, as is Project CRISS: Creating Independence through Student-owned Strategies, by Santa, Havens, and Valdes.   

So, what does RAFT represent?

R stands for “Role” – What is the writer’s role? (Ex: news reporter)
A stands for “Audience” - Who is the writer’s audience? (Ex: people in the community)
F stands for “Format” - How should the writer present the information? (Ex: news article)
T stands for “Topic” - What is the author writing about? (Ex: recent election)

ReadWriteThink offers several examples of the strategy in practice; here are two favorites of mine:
  • Decide on an area of study currently taking place in your classroom for which you could collaborate with the students and write a class RAFT. Discuss with your students the basic premise of the content for which you’d like to write, but allow students to help you pick the role, audience, format, and topic to write about. 
  • Have a class think-aloud to come up with ideas for the piece of writing that you will create as a group. Model on a whiteboard, overhead projector, or chart paper how you would write in response to the prompt. Allow student input and creativity as you craft your piece of writing.

Modeling is invaluable for teaching in any discipline; I am convinced that it builds confidence that many students need before they can even begin to write effectively.

There are seven lesson plans provided, from grades 3 - 12. I especially like the Raft Writing Template, a graphic organizer, to use as a starting point:

Enjoy using the RAFT strategy, as you work with your kiddos to help them become not just proficient, but great writers!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

November is Picture Book Month!

You KNOW I love picture books, and I'm delighted that this month is the second November that has been designated as a special time to celebrate them!

Go to and read what the 2012 Picture Book Month Champions, such as Chris Raschka, Doreen Cronin, and Peter H. Reynolds, have to say about why picture books are important.

In Jackie French's words, "picture books are magic. In a picture book, turning every page is a new adventure. Every page is a smile."

Grab your child or borrow someone's and enjoy the magic!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

New Discovery: Teacher Support Force

Thanks to Pinterest and my friend Melissa McCormick Roysdon, a Tennessee ESL teacher in DeKalb County, I have a wonderful new discovery to share with you!

Pat Jones, a teacher for almost 30 years in Georgia & North Carolina, writes a blog that is part of an amazing website called Teacher Support Force.


The site is divided into sections: 
  • Aesthetics, which includes strategies using drama, art, dance, and music
  • Learning Environment, including cooperative learning, creative grouping, motivation, time management, and lowering stress
  • Reading, with coordination, vocabulary, Dolch sight words, reading fluency, and comprehension sections
  • Math, addressing the language of math, math word walls and centers, math and art, engaging the senses, and integer rules
  • Games & Strategies, including word walls, focus games, memory activities, and free games
  • The Early Years, featuring early childhood, parents, car games, benefits of play, reading together, and focus problems
The "pin" that grabbed my attention and took me to Pat's site was this one:

Citing the brain research of Dr. Fritz Mengert, she explains using a red dot in the center of a word to help kids focus on the middle of a word and not just the beginning (to stop guessing), as well as Using a Red Dot to Improve Fluency

I'll be letting Pat know that I linked to her site today; I can't wait to share it with the teachers at the school where I'm working as an Academic Specialist. I hope you'll find the site useful and that you'll let her know if you do! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 4

Today's fabulous book for your Common Core blues? Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady, one of my favorite picture books of all time!

"One summer in 1940s Iowa, a librarian welcomed a migrant worker child who found the wider world—and his future—in books. This powerful story is based on the boyhood of Tomás Rivera, who would...become Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside."Smithsonian Magazine, where it was included in Notable Books for Children, 1997

Inclusive Classrooms Project has activities including discussion questions and writing activities for Mora's book about this amazing man.

You and your students can watch Pat Mora talk about Tomás in this video from Colorín Colorado, where you will also find her biography, more videos, and an annotated list of some of her other books.
Mora is the founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children's Day/Book Day, which is celebrated in April. More about that in the spring! 

In the meantime, grab a copy of this wonderful book and read it to your kiddos. Create a vocabulary card sort. Make an I Have; Who Has? activity for sequencing the story. Lead your students through a research activity about Tomás Rivera

And let his inspiring story help cure your Common Core blues!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Common Core Practice | Chickens, Clouds and the View Outside Your Window

I hope you're using the super writing practice prompts that The Learning Network at The New York Times shares most Fridays. They are so diverse that there's something for almost everyone. And for each task, designed and tested by teachers Sarah Gross and Jonathan Olsen and their ninth-grade humanities students at High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J, you'll find suggested preparatory activities and extensions!

This week, your students can:

All great ideas based on informational text from the Times, for your students' Common Core writing practice!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 3

What a book I have for you today! My Name is María Isabel has been on my short list of fantastic children's books for several years.

Publishers Weekly describes Alma Flor Ada's beautifully written chapter book this way: "Armed with her new blue book­bag, María Isabel bravely faces her first day at a new school. But when she meets her new teacher, she is told there are already two other Marías in the class. 'Why don’t we call you Mary instead?' her teacher sug­gests, unaware that María was named for both her grand­moth­ers, a grand­fa­ther and her father. María's inabil­ity to respond to 'Mary' leads to more prob­lems. Sim­ply told, this story com­bines the strug­gle of a Puerto Rican family’s efforts to improve their life with a shared sense of pride in their her­itage. The author’s care­fully drawn char­ac­ter­i­za­tions avoid stereo­types, thus increas­ing their appeal and believ­abil­ity. An essay involv­ing a wish list gives María a chance to reclaim her name, and allows her teacher to make amends."

Reading is Fundamental has several excellent activities for the book that you can adapt and make your own:
You and your kiddos can read Alma Flor Ada's biography and watch a video interview with her over at Colorín Colorado, a fabulous site worthy of its own post, and soon!

When I read My Name is María Isabel with a group of 4th graders several years ago, I asked them to write an essay about their "Greatest Wish" as María did; one of them brought me to tears. My sweet student wrote about how much she wanted to see her sister who lives in Mexico with their grandmother, and whom she hasn't seen since she was two years old. What a heartfelt, and mature, wish from a precious little girl! 
(Note: one of the activities suggested by Reading is Fundamental is writing just such an essay.)

Enjoy this wonderful book, available at Amazon, with your kiddos! Teach them the important vocabulary -  attentively, Hanukkah, manger, menorah, misunderstanding, pageant, strumming, Three Kings' Day, troublesome. Discuss the realistic fiction genre. Have them write, look for evidence and cite it, learn about measurement using the recipe, and much more.

And as always, let it help cure your Common Core blues!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Everybody is a Genius

Ok, so I was busily pinning post after post from Everybody is a Genius, and suddenly realized that only my Pinterest followers were ever going to see Sarah's amazing blog if I didn't write my own post about it!

Sarah is a middle and high school math teacher in New Jersey who's been teaching for six years and blogging for four. She's young and inventive, and some of her ideas knock my socks off!

From her lesson plan binders
to her activities with manipulatives
and interactive student notebooks,
Sarah's ideas simply ROCK!
So, click right on over, "steal" all of Sarah's ideas that will work for you, and maybe leave her a thank-you comment. I'm letting her know how much I like them and that I've shared with you!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Coraline. The book. On video. Free!

"When Coraline steps through a door to find another house 
strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem 
marvelous. But there’s another mother there, and another 
father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. 
They want to change her and never let her go. 
Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage 
if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life."

Good news for fans of Neil Gaiman's CoralineTo celebrate the 10th anniversary of his #1 New York Times bestseller, Neil Gaiman is posting readings of each chapter of Coraline on his official website for young readers, Mr. Bobo's Remarkable Mouse Circus.
Gaiman himself reads Chapter 1, Lemony Snicket reads Chapter 2, and Gaiman's "fairy goddaughter" Natashya Hawley reads Chapter 3. Chapters 4 through 11 are online now, read by such luminaries as John Hodgman, Melissa Mars, Holly Black, and R.L. Stine.
Gaiman was born in the U.K. and now lives near Minneapolis. He is a lifelong "devourer of books" who began his writing career as a journalist. I love this introduction of his biography on the website:

"Sometimes, when he was smaller, people used to tell Neil Gaiman not to make things up. He never listened. Now he’s written over twenty books, been given dozens of awards, many of them astonishingly ugly. He’s written television drama and for movies, and for comics. He’s even written “non-fiction” which he learned is only marginally less made-up than the fiction. Sometimes he thinks about finding some of those people who warned him of all the awful things that would happen if he kept making things up, and finding out if it’s happened yet, or is still going to happen, and whether he should buy a tin hat and thick boots for protection. In the meantime, he grows pumpkins and keeps on making things up."
Coraline was awarded the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. The 10th Anniversary Edition of the book features a new foreword from the author, a reader's guide, and an author Q&A.

In 2009, the book was adapted by Henry Selick into an animated film of the same name, which is now available on DVD.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 2

This is the second in a series about books that have great potential for Common Core lessons. Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 1 was published two weeks ago with the promise of a new book post each Thursday. That was interrupted last week by the birth of our granddaughter (I write with a smile on my face.) This week we're back on track, with Patricia Polacco's amazing book about the friendship of two boy soldiers during the Civil War,  Pink and Say.

Here is the story, paraphrased from the words of Leah Polacco, the author's daughter-in-law: "When wounded attempting to desert his unit, Sheldon Curtis (Say) is rescued by Pinkus Aylee (Pink), who carries him back to the Georgia home where he and his family were slaves. Say is nursed back to health by Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, and begins to understand why his new friend is determined to return to the war, to fight against "the sickness" that is slavery. When marauders take Moe Moe Bay’s life, Say is also driven to fight, but both boys are taken prisoner by the Confederate Army. Say survives to pass along the story to his daughter Rosa, Patricia Polacco’s great grandmother. Pink was hanged shortly after being taken prisoner, so Patricia’s book "serves as a written memory" of him. At the end of the story Patricia tells the reader, "Before you put this book down, say his name (Pinkus Aylee) out loud and vow to remember him always." A defining moment in the story is when Say tells Pink and his mother that he once shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. Convinced that his encounter is a "sign" of hope, Say reaches for Pink’s hand, exclaiming, "Now you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln!" At the end of the story when the boys are dragged apart, Pink reaches for Say one last time to touch his hand."

When my co-teacher and I read this book with our ESL students last year, we began by having them research online which states were part of the Confederacy and which ones remained with the Union, and plot their locations on a table-sized laminated map. The kiddos color-coded the states, and we maintained the colors when we wrote anchor chart type notes about the advantages and disadvantages that each side brought to the war due to location and economy. 

We staged a simple role play of a slave market, which opened the floor for many questions and a brief Socratic discussion of slavery itself. We set the stage for reading with video clips and photos of battlefields. When we finally read the book using our visual presenter, the students were captivated. 

After reading, we did vocabulary work with card sorts; the culminating assignment was for each student to write a letter home from Andersonville prison. 

The letters written by our 4th grade English Learners blew us away with their insight and honesty. 

If this incredible book sounds like one you want to share with your students, you might want to look at the sites below.

Storybookipedia has numerous activities, from anticipation to building connections at Pink and Say Activities. provides lots of information about the author and has a page for each of her other wonderful books.

The Civil War for Kids is a site our students used for their beginning research.

When you finish your study of the book, which you can purchase from Amazon, reward your kiddos with these beautiful bookmarks available on Patricia Polacco's website. Just print on cardstock and cut apart; I promise they will love them.

I think you will love this book, and that it can help cure your Common Core blues!