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9 Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE for Reading

Since it is summertime and so many of us are already in planning mode for next year, I wanted to utilize my Mentor Text series post this month to share books to help you introduce basic reading skills to your students. 

Last summer, I spent a large chunk of my summer working to find mentor texts to use in the first ten weeks of school. I used these books (along with others) to help me introduce and review basic reading skills that I wanted my students to use for the remainder of the year. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

The Little Red Pen

I absolutely love to use The Little Red Pen for introducing my students to making connections. It is the perfect way for me to model my obsession with office supplies and the hours spent grading papers. The way that the characters talk to one another is entertaining and so fun to read! 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

This book is so interesting and maybe even a bit odd! When Sylvester discovers a magic pebble, he mysteriously turns into a rock. His parents look everywhere for him, but they aren't able to find him. Will they ever discover that Sylvester is actually sitting near their house? There are so many questions that you and your students can generate as you read this book aloud! 

The Sweetest Fig

I don't know why I love this book so much, but I do! One day, as Monsieur Bibot is working in his dentist office, he is offered two figs for payment rather than money. He took them but wrote the old lady off as crazy as she told him that they would make all of his dreams come due. After he eats the first fig, he realizes that she was completely right! This book is so perfect for introducing the reading comprehension skill of making inferences. There are SO many things that are left to the imagination in this classic from Chris Van Allsburg! 

The Night I Followed the Dog

Have you ever wondered what your dog does while you are sleeping? When this young boy follows his dog, he learns so much that he never knew! This story has a great plot structure that allows you to show your students the components that all great stories should include. 

Bedhead

Just look at this cover! Isn't it perfect? Margie Palatini does an amazing job of describing Oliver's hair as he wakes up and attempts to get ready for school on picture day! I love hiding the cover with construction paper and having students draw what they "see" as I read this book aloud. I have them record phrases from the book that describe each of the five senses. 

Creepy Carrots

I love everything that Aaron Reynolds writes, and I put it to work during the week that I teach Point of View. This is a hilarious story written in the third person about a bunny who believes that carrots are following him everywhere. And they are! They are playing a trick on him. The reason is pretty funny! 

Enemy Pie

Enemy Pie is a classic book that I believe every student have read to them at some point! When the main character has a new enemy, his dad volunteers to help him make a pie that is PERFECT for an enemy. But there's a catch. You have to find a way to trick your enemy into actually eating the pie. This book is full of great themes for your students to discover, learn from, and support with evidence from the text! 

Seriously, Cinderella is SO Annoying!

I really love all of the books in this series, but this one is my favorite! Did you know that Cinderella was mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters because she never stopped talking? Why didn't she get to go to the ball? Well, she lost her voice, of course. This book is perfect for comparing to the classic version of Cinderella that we all know as well as many other versions from other countries. 

The Littlest Matryoshka

I love using Matryoshka dolls to help my students visually see that their knowledge of a particular idea or topic is growing and changing as they read. The Littlest Matryoshka is perfect to both demonstrate the skill and tie in the visual! 

I also spend a week working to introduce summarizing, but I rely on non-fiction articles for that particular skill! If you would like graphic organizers, anchor charts, grammar lessons, and reading comprehension passages for assessments, be sure to click on the image above! 

SIMPLE Special Education Tips for NEW Teachers!

I absolutely love being a special education teacher, and I've learned so much throughout my time teaching students with disabilities (...and I know I have so much more to learn!). 

If you are new to special education, I want you to know that there are many days when you'll feel like you're drowning, but I want to share with you a few tips to help set you up for success. When those stressful, crazy days come, I want you to be prepared and have an organizational system in place to help keep you sane...as much as it can be anyway! 

Tip 1: Create a "To Be Filed" Area

We all know that the role of a special education teacher is known for an enormous amount of paperwork. And while I like to pride myself on being on top of the paperwork and being organized, we all know that there are times when things just get a bit crazy. Because of that fact, I like to have ONE spot where I can "shove stuff" until I have time to sit down and file it. Sometimes, my stack is small. Other times, my bottom tray is overflowing. Either way, I know where I can quickly and easily find paperwork rather than shuffling through my desk.

Tip 2: Create Folders for Commonly Used Forms

I have a few forms that I ALWAYS have copies of in my drawer that are ready to go. My most commonly used forms are packets for initials and Functional Behavior Assessments. If I have a meeting with a parent about possibly identifying a student, I don't have to remember to make copies or wait on the printer. I can have them ready as soon as I need them. For you, you may discover that you are repeatedly printing something for parents or staff members to complete. Make a folder and shove five to ten additional copies into it! It will save you time and hassle later. It also makes you look super prepared and organized! 

Tip 3: Parent/Teacher Envelopes

While I wish every parent could attend every meeting, we all know that there are times when we have to send an IEP home with a student for a parent to sign and return the next day. I like to have these envelopes ready and waiting in my drawer. I can easily put the IEP and signature page into the envelope and send it home with the student. When the parent or their classroom teacher sees that note on the outside, they immediately know what to do. I've also had parents sign it and bring it into the office the following day. The lovely secretaries are able to put it in my mailbox right away. 

Tip 4: The Originals Folder

I've done this for years, in both general education and special education. I keep a folder with all of my commonly copied pages. I can quickly grab the folder and run to the copier. I keep assessments, flashcards, forms, spelling test papers, graphic organizers, and other things that I need regularly. At my previous school, our mailboxes were in the copy room, so I just kept the folder in my mailbox. It definitely saved me a few steps! 

Tip 5: Clipboards with a Purpose

I have two clipboards that I almost always have on or near my desk. The first one has blank paper and is used for classroom observations. When I have a student that is being evaluated, I have to complete a classroom observation as part of the evaluation process. I like having a stack of paper to make notes, draw pictures or digraphs, and record the events of the classroom. I try to do my evaluations when I have random times when I can't see my regular groups. For example, this spring, our third graders were on a field trip. During my regularly scheduled times with third grade, I grabbed my clipboard and went to complete observations that were noted on my clipboard. 

The second clipboard is used for paperwork that is *almost* ready to be submitted to the special education office. For example, I will often give a classroom teacher and a parent their packets of information to be complete for an evaluation. Usually, either the parent or the teacher completes it quickly and we are waiting for the other to finish. I like to put it on my clipboard so that I have it as soon as the other party finishes their portion. I always know right where to find it. 

Tip 6: IEP Binder

I use this binder all. the. time. my friends! I bought these alphabetical tabs at Walmart for a couple of dollars and recycled a 1 1/2" binder. Inside are all of the most recent IEPs for all of my students. I use it a lot during high stakes testing season to ensure that all students get the accommodations that are outlined. It is also nice to have while making schedules at the beginning of the year to ensure that I am providing all of the services that are required. I also use this to stick post-it notes in as I have phone conversations with parents. I can make notes about their concerns or things to be aware of at a later date. 

Tip 7: The Blank IEP

When I first started teaching special education, writing IEPs by myself gave me nightmares. I was afraid that I would leave something out or make a mistake. It scared me that my director would find major errors in my IEPs and fire me immediately. <----He wouldn't have, but I was nervous! I remembered that my supervising teacher during student teaching had an IEP that she used as a model for other IEPs. She had taken Wite-Out to a well written IEP and hid the name and information of the student. I called her up and asked if I could make a copy of that IEP to use as a model as well. 

If you are new and uncomfortable writing IEPs on your own, this may be something that you might ask your director, supervising teacher, or fellow special education teacher in your building for. If you aren't comfortable asking, then browse the IEPs of your new caseload and see what you think is a good example and create your own model. If someone is helping you write your first IEPs, create a model from those! 

 Tip 8: Understand Progress Monitoring & Get Organized

Progress Monitoring is something that I am very passionate about. It's also something that I think can make or break a school year for both you and your students. Find or create a system for monitoring your goals that is easy and effective. If your students aren't progressing, you can't wait until Spring Break to realize it. You have to have a proactive approach to ensure that your students are making adequate progress. The picture above shows my system and is listed on TeachersPayTeachers. Check it out and ask questions if you have them! 

Tip 9: Create Groups

At the beginning of the year, I had to attend a Google Training. I had been using and familiar with Google Services and really thought that it was a waste of my time. Boy, was I ever wrong! I learned so many helpful tips and time-saving tricks. Creating groups was one of them! I have groups for each of my grade levels and RTI teams. When I have to make a schedule change or get an opinion on something, I simply type in the first couple of letters in the grade level and up pops the four teachers on that team! It's perfect for quick emails and not leaving anyone out. 

Tip 10: Copy and Paste Statements

Maybe there is a better name for this, but I use Copy and Paste Statements OFTEN. For a long time, I typed each and every one of these things over and over and over again. I was literally writing nearly the same thing every time. WHY?! Stop the madness and copy and paste that $#*+! It saves me time, ensures that I don't have typos in redundant text, and allows me to include everything that's needed without getting sloppy. I also do this with my reports for Functional Behavior Assessments. Why find new ways to describe an assessment? Copy and paste it and add the information for the student you are currently describing. 

Tip 11: Contact Your Team

When you first begin teaching, whether it be in a new school, a new role, or a brand new job, always take a few minutes to contact your team. At the beginning of the year, I sent an email introducing myself and welcoming them to catch me in the hallway or come visit my room for a chat. I even told them I had a basket of chocolate! I hate being the new girl, so I wanted to get to know them quickly. I wanted to start seeing them as my friends and colleges and not strangers.

It also allowed me to tell them a little about my vision for the program and that I was open to suggestions, comments, concerns, or questions. It also gave me the opportunity to show them how much I love teaching and helping the special education population. 

Tip 12: Call Parents Before the First Day

If you're a little introverted, like me, this might be hard for you. Do it anyway. Call parents to start the year off on a positive note. Tell them who you are, that you are new to the building, and that you are calling to introduce yourself. Set aside a decent chunk of time, because these parents will fill you in on their child if you let them. It really helps me get off on the right foot with my parents. It gives them someone to reach out to and allows you to make a game plan for future conversations.

Tip 13: Join My FaceBook Group!

I love having a group a people who understand what I do and are available for questions, ideas, and inspiration! If you are interested, join my Primary Special Education Teachers Facebook Group! :)

Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in May

As you know, I LOVE using picture books to teach and review upper elementary reading comprehension skills. In today's blog post, I share a few books that are perfect for May as well as a few books that could be used at any point during the year! 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

Where Oliver Fits

Where Oliver Fits is my absolute favorite book in this set! Maybe I should have saved the best for last, but I just couldn't! This is an amazing story about a round puzzle piece named Oliver. No matter what puzzle he tries to fit into, he can't find where he belongs. The theme of this story is absolutely perfect for showing students that although it may take a while, you'll find your place if you give it time and stay true to yourself. 


Blacksmith's Song

Ahhh! I wish I had discovered this book when we were studying the Underground Railroad! Although this story is not based on factual events, it is still a great read aloud to get students thinking about the interworkings of the Underground Railroad. In this story, the narrator's father is a blacksmith on a southern plantation. He helps guide travelers of the Underground Railroad by playing a specific rhythm as he hammers the anvil doing his daily blacksmith work. The narrator longs to take his turn helping others through their journey, and in the end, he gets his chance! 


Lazybones

This is so childish, but I love it anyway! This simple book is told from the perspective of a dog, Robert Exelby Perdendo, or as everyone calls him, Lazybones. He tells how he has his owner trained, why he hates to go on walks, and how he falls in love! It's the cutest book and perfect for teaching and reinforcing various points of view and how they impact the story. 


On a Mission: Undercover Police Officer

In honor of Police Appreciation Week during the month of May, I thought I would share something nonfiction to help students learn about an interesting topic and the job of a police officer. I like using a main idea graphic organizer with multiple copies on a page to allow students to find the main idea and details of each section of the book.


El Chupacabras

Maybe it's just because I'm teaching at a school with a high number of English Language Learners this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It uses a combination of Enligsh and Spanish to tell the story of the legend of the goat sucker. It is such a great way to help your students retell or practice sequencing events. 

If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer.

Mentor Texts Your Students will LOVE in April

As you know, I LOVE using picture books to teach and review upper elementary reading comprehension skills. In today's blog post, I share a few books that are perfect for April as well as a few books that could be used at any point during the year! 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

This wordless book is so perfect for upper elementary students to REALLY put those drawing conclusion skills to work! The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and it is perfect for spring. I also love that I don't even know if my inference is correct regarding what is happening!

Since April is National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a couple of books that are perfect for sharing poetry with your students. I love that the Emily Dickenson poems are classic and something that all students should read at some point. Put Your Eyes Up Here is a fun book that shares an array of poems about school that my students really enjoyed! It also offers many opportunities for your students to imitate and create poetry of their own.

This month, we also celebrate Earth Day, and I love bringing nonfiction text into the classroom for our students to learn new information in an engaging way. By printing multiple copies of a main idea graphic organizer on one page, your students can find the main idea of each section of this book!

I could probably go on and on about both of these books! They are both PERFECT for teaching theme, character traits, and story elements. When I began my review, I read Janine. first. I really loved it, and I thought it would be a great story for all students to read.

Then, I read Millie Fierce. In the beginning, I felt like I was reading the same story! Two young female characters who were struggling with being different. As the story progressed, I saw that each of these characters handle themselves very differently. Both learn valuable lessons. And both are completely worth the read!

This book has amazing illustrations! The story is excellent and shares how Boo, the dog, helps his owner, Tom, meet new people in the park. It is a simple story that is great for practicing sequence, story elements, or problem and solution.

If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer. 

Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in March

I'm back once again with this month's mentor texts for reading comprehension skills. This month, I discovered several really great books. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

12 Questions about the US Constitution

You can read about the Constitution at many points throughout the school year, but I like reading about it during the spring. It usually takes me this long to reach this in our social studies curriculum. This book is a great nonfiction book to help your students discover the answers to common questions about the US Constitution.

I like adjusting my printer settings to print four (or more) graphic organziers to one page. Then, my students can find the main idea and supporting details of each question or section throughout the book!

The Lost Hour

Daylight Savings Time happens every March in most areas of the country. When I stumbled upon this book, I couldn't resist it! What happens to that lost hour? What does he do? This book is perfect for demonstrating story structure as this lost hour searches for a new job. 

Once Upon a Daylight Saving Time

While this book is at a higher reading level, I absolutely LOVE it! In this short story, the rattlesnake needs help adjusting his clock at Daylight Savings Time. He learns that people aren't willing to help him out when he talks nasty to them. It is written as a poem, with several lines that repeat throughout. It's so cute and my upper elementary students do really well with this when we pick apart and discuss each part. It is also a great way to expose your students to new vocabulary!

Long Shot

I am NOT a basketball fan, but I wanted to find a great book that could work well with March Madness. While Chris Paul is now in the NBA, I fell in love with the lesson in this book and couldn't resist sharing it. In this book, Chris Paul is a great basketball player, but people often don't take him seriously because of his height. The theme in this book is excellent and there are so many opportunities of evidence that your students can find. My favorite quote comes from Chris's Papa Chilly who says, "Work harder than everyone else on the court and your size won't matter."

Tornadoes!

First of all, I love Gail Gibbons. Her books are absolutely amazing, and this book is no exception. In Tornadoes, she shares many facts and details about Tornadoes, but the portion that I love the most is where she explains how tornadoes are classified on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale. I also love the book Tornadoes by S. L. Hamilton because it has an amazing graphic with pictures that show the differences in each classification rank. Maybe the differences are common knowledge to others, but I learned a lot.

In addition to the classification of tornadoes, there is more information about safety, famous tornadoes, and other basic information.

If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer. 

5 Simple Ideas for a Classroom Valentine's Day Party

Are you allowed to have a Valentine's Day party? If you do, you'll need a few fun activities to spice up your afternoon. But if you're like me, I want to have fun without breaking the bank. Today, I want to share a few of my favorite simple and inexpensive ideas for having a little fun on Valentine's Day! 

Hot Potato

I don't care how old your kids are, they will enjoy playing Hot Potato, especially when you use Valentine themed objects! I found a Valentine's Day balloon for $1 and an adorable stuffed animal for $2 at the Family Dollar. I always let the winner keep the object as a prize! 

Candy Hearts Relay Race

Relay races are always great for getting the kids moving and having fun. I bought plastic spoons, a four pack of candy heart boxes, and a six pack of cups at the Dollar Tree! The object is to get an entire box of candy hearts from the starting line to the cup. Students can take as much or as little as they like in their spoon, but if they drop them, they have to go back and start again. 

Sock Hands Relay Race

This is always so much fun! I found these socks at the Dollar Tree and bought enough for four teams. I also found little mesh bags that contained 12 chocolate hearts wrapped in foil. We brake up into even teams and do this relay race style. The first team to unwrap all 12 chocolate hearts wins!

STEM Vases

This is ALWAYS so much fun! Give your students two tubs of Play-Dough and a small box or container of toothpicks. I already had the Play-Dough on hand and found a three pack of toothpicks at the Dollar Tree! I set a timer for fifteen minutes and let them go at it.  Through trial and error, they worked to find a way to hold my dozen roses, which I also found at the Dollar Tree. There are really three different bundles, which added to the difficulty! 

House of Cards

This was hard, but it was so fun! I bought several boxes of cheap Valentine cards from the Dollar Tree. Each group worked together to create a house with the most stories. I always start with by showing a few YouTube videos for students who are unfamiliar or need an idea or two to get started. There are many strategies for building, and I love watching my students experiment. You can give them a time limit, but it really takes a bit of time to build confidence. 

I couldn't have done this post without the help of my own children! I do these games each year, but I didn't have the permission of the parents to share them. In the end, my daughters and I had a really fun time playing these games together and snapping a few pictures for the post! We were really proud of our house of cards! 

A Simple Idea for Helping Students Easily Cite Evidence

Teaching students to cite evidence from the text can be tricky but is so essential for upper elementary students. Today, I'm sharing one idea for helping introduce your students to the idea of citing evidence accurately.

Yesterday, we spent our small group time reading a passage, discussing it, and completing a graphic organizer. Today, we focused our time on answering an open ended question about the story. This week, we read about a couple who made a house, church, wishing well, and bathroom out of glass bottles. It was really a cool story!

Before turning them loose, we brainstormed a list of ways that we could describe Bob and Dora. I allowed them to choose one of these options or something they developed on their own.

We've been practicing restating and answering the question, so they began there. The first post in this series is all about restating! It can be found here. Then, I handed them a skinny blue Post-It Note and asked them to write their "answer" again on the Post-It. I stressed that EVERYTHING they write from here on out has to be about their answer. 

Then, I gave them a second Post-It Note to write a piece of evidence from the text. This student first wrote, "They collected bottles together." We were able to quickly discuss that these two things didn't quite fit together! Collecting bottles didn't support that they were happy sharing their bottle collection with others. By using Post-It Notes, it was easy to remove it and try again. The second time, he wrote, "Bob and Dora like sharing their collection."

The Post-Its Notes are also great for helping them skim the text while looking for evidence that fits their answer. I have them stop and stick the Post-It when they feel like they've found something. Then, they can easily copy it down. I also have them write the page number in the bottom corner. If we are reading a short passage, I have them write the paragraph number instead of the page number.

In the end, we have one answer with TWO supporting pieces of evidence.

Then, it's time to begin putting this into an actual answer, which we all know can be the hard part for many of our students. I've found with my students, especially my special education students, it is best to give them sentence stems to help get them started. They can easily choose a stem and add a sentence from one of their Post-Its.