February 2014 Archive
Bad Kitty: Mentoring Students To Becoming Authors and Illustrators

[All images seen in this post are © Nick Bruel.  Purchase all the Bad Kitty books at Amazon.com]

Have you seen the new Bad Kitty book by Nick Bruel?  My friend Sarah introduced it to me (as she does for all good literature) and I was so excited about it!  My first graders LOVED Bad Kitty.  I couldn’t keep the series on the shelves.  And now Bad Kitty: Drawn to Trouble is the perfect book to use in your writers workshop for grades 1 and up.  I’ve outlined an amazing lesson that your students are sure to enjoy and of course I’ve aligned it to the CCSS for you.

Nick Bruel Author Study

To start this unit, I think it would be awesome to dive into a full on Nick Bruel author study.  You can find information about Nick here on the Bad Kitty site or visit his author page on Macmillian publishers.  I especially enjoy Nick’s interview with Bad Kitty herself and it would be great to share with your students to model what to do (or not to do) in an interview.  Also you can click on the image below to see a great trailer of the Bad Kitty Series to drum up interest in your students.  And you can stock your library with the previous nine Bad Kitty books too (the books range in GLE from 1-3)!  Plus check out the games and extras that would be perfect for another indoor recess activity or morning work!

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Once your students are familiar with Nick (and he seems like such a cool and friendly guy!) then you can introduce them to his latest book, Bad Kitty: Drawn to Trouble.   One thing I love about this book is that Nick is introducing all of the story elements in each chapter (see image below).  This allows for you to read the book together as a class, chapter by chapter, and stopping to discuss the story elements as you go.


Writing Activity

For first grade, I’d create a class book on the chart paper, but for 2nd and up, I think you can give them their own blank books and allow them to create their own stories.  As you work through Drawn to Trouble, you can discuss various story elements with your students such as: author, illustrator, protagonist, foreshadowing, setting, antagonist, plot, problem, solution, and the MacGuffin.  Wait.  What’s a MACGUFFIN?!?  Well, the MacGuffin is what a character in your story really wants.  Your students take control and decide where they want the story to be set, what the plot will be, who is causing problems and what their solution is, etc. all with Bad Kitty as their guide.  Look at the following image to see how Bruel uses his conversational style of writing to talk to the students.  The author is truly becoming the mentor in this situation, because it’s as though he’s sitting in your class, conferencing your students as they work.

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As you walk your students through the step by step story creation/publishing process, you can easily differentiate and scaffold their learning.  This set up really lends itself to the students authoring and illustrating a story at their level, plus as you conference with them one-on-one you are able to see which story elements they grasp and which ones they may need a little more help with.  As far as assessment goes, this could not be easier to take anecdotal notes as you meet with each writer and gently push them along in their process.

Sarah did this actual lesson with first and second graders at the Discovery School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  And she’s shared some of photos of the process they went through as they worked through the story elements as a group and also as individuals.

First up, the first graders wrote a class story together.  And they wanted to create their setting of their Bad Kitty story in the world of Minecraft!  With little prior knowledge about the topic, Sarah enlisted the help of the 5th graders to work on the illustrations.  This offered a unique opportunity for students to collaborate and the 5th graders were able to step into a mentoring role to the younger kids and work as the “experts”.


The continued to work on their book through the week.  Here are some additional examples:

CJTeach_BadKitty4 CJTeach_BadKitty3 CJTeach_BadKitty2

Some students were so excited about their class story, that they went home to create their own.  When they brought them back to school, they not only were able to share with the principal but also emailed them to Nick Bruel himself!  How wonderful (and exciting) is that?!

This story was written by a first grader.  Ah-mazing what personal interest can do to students writing skills, right?


Common Core Connection

This lesson hits a plethora of Common Core Standards too.  I’ve included the Anchor standards for Reading, Writing, and Language that all tie into this lesson, but more detailed in depth standards can be found at the grade level you will be working with.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

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.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


This is a great lesson to work on at this point in the school year because students writing is more developed, plus it allows students to be creative and work on something fun, all while learning the elements of a story.  And having a real author as your mentor is imperative as you model with your students of any age “what good writers do“.  So a big Thank YOU to Nick Bruel for his contributions to the world of reading AND writing.  You make our jobs just a tad easier.  😉



The Literacy Series: Part 2 (Comprehension, CCSS, and Technology)

Hello!  First thing’s first: congratulations to Brian Floca on his Caldecott medal for Locomotive!  I still feel like Mr. Tiger was robbed without even an honor mention, but I digress.

Next up is that things have been quiet on the blog for two reasons.  The first is that we are in the process of moving.  With the craziness that is buying/selling a house, blogging takes a backseat.  The second reason is that I decided that in 2014, I wasn’t going to limit myself to blogging x amount of times a week.  I want to only blog when I have some amazing things to share.  This way the content is rich and meaningful and not watered down just for the purpose of posting.  And luckily, today is a pretty awesome post!

As I prepped for the Lit class I’m teaching this semester, I started to thing about technology.  My 19 month old son can work an iPad like a pro.  What will he be like as a kindergartener?  A 4th grader?  When he’s in high school!?!  I can’t even imagine the limitless technology he’ll have on his hands.  I think it’s so important that students really learn to incorporate technology into their learning and as teachers we do them a disservice every time we don’t use a piece of technology.  But what does this look like in terms of literacy instruction?  I feel like in the world of the books we are so anti-technology at times that we really become our own worst enemy.  So I’ve compiled a few comprehension activities that tie into the Common Core standards and activities that use technology to synthesize student learning.

All these activities are centered around the theme of equality.  I always made equality and freedom our focus for February as we celebrated Black History Month.  In addition, it is a great time to also discuss the Civil War because of Lincoln’s birthday falling in February.  So the following activities will fall under the “Civil Rights and Equality” tag and are most appropriate for 4th grade and up.

Activate Prior Knowledge

Applicable Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Applicable Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

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

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

As you begin to study the Civil War (or any topic for that matter), you want to gauge what information your students already know.  For this, my suggestion is to play “My Favorite No“.  This pre-testing strategy (shared by my friend Karen) will help you plan where to begin your lesson from and also to help clear up any misconceptions that students may have before you begin.  The way it works is this: you propose a question to your students.  I like something broad and general (“What do you know about the Civil War?“) then they write down one answer anonymously on a slip of paper.  Once you collect these, sort them into correct and incorrect answers.  Out of the incorrect answers, choose your favorite.  Discuss with the class why this answer is your favorite no.  For example, let’s say a student writes down, “The Civil War was fought between England and the United States“.  This is a perfect opportunity to not only clarify for this student but also to begin to discuss the definition of a Civil War and how our own country was divided.  Also it lets you know that you can’t assume that they all know that this war was between the North and the South.  [this activity is originally done in math class, but it works wonderfully in literacy as well.  Check out the full video here.]

Once you’ve clarified their wrong thoughts or pre-conceived notions, it’s time to get your students to dive into the research.  What better way than to take a look at two different perspectives within the Civil War.  There are lots to choose from: the North v. the South, Abraham Lincoln v. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee v. Ulysses S. Grant, or even Harriet Tubman v. the Slave Owners to name a few.  Ask your students to study and research each perspective.  A great book to model their research after is The Split History of the Civil War (part of the Perspectives Flip Book series.. an amazing series by Capstone that also includes titles on the Civil Rights Movement and the Battle of Gettysburg).


Have students write their own perspective flip books as they give the point of view of two separate sides of the era of the Civil War.  This activity will allow students to synthesize their information and for you to see how well they comprehend and present the information.  BUT don’t stop there!

You can take it a step further by having students create text messages or Instagram accounts for the two sides.  For example, here is a text message I created between Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant using the SMS text message generator.  I used what I knew about Civil War battles and each of their roles within the war to create the following text:

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And I saw this amazing blog post from Kleinspiration about creating Instagram accounts of historical figures (Erin Klein’s blog post is awesome and includes the free Instagram template too!).  But also, you could tie this in with your study of primary sources.  Students would need to use various websites to find primary sources from the time period.  Then use the photos to create an Instagram account of that historical figure.  I would take it a step further and ask students to create two opposing Instagram accounts that must include a geographic location, as well as a caption and additional comment to go along with their primary source.  See my example of Jefferson Davis’ (President of the Confederacy) Instagram account and the comment by Ulysses S. Grant (general of the Union army).

CJTeach.com InstagramAcct

Some of the primary sources websites I looked at for this topic were DocsTeach.org, The Civil War @ the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress Civil War archives, and the American Memory Project.  But there are lots more resources out there for you if you just start looking.

Also there is a great website called FakeBook that allows students to create their own fictitious Facebook accounts for historical figures, which may be something that they would really be interested in doing since some of your students may already have their own Facebook accounts.  Here is Abe Lincoln’s:

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If you want, you could even take out the writing piece that I suggested before the technology and use what the students write for their texts and Instagram comments as the writing portion.  But I never think extra writing is a bad thing, so I’d have them do both.  Plus you can get a better comprehensive idea of their comprehension level by looking at their research through their writing and their synthesis of information through the technology.

Digging Deeper

Applicable Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 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.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

Applicable Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing

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.

Sometimes we need to get students to dig even further into the text.  My friend Sarah shared the Fishbowl activity and I was able to incorporate it into this theme.  The PDF of the activity is here, however, I used a different poem and extended the activity a tad further (read on…)

First, you choose a poem for students to analyze.  I chose “O Captain, My Captain” by Walt Whitman, written on the night of Lincoln’s assassination, five days after the Civil War had ended.  Here is some background about the poem from the Library of Congress website:

Whitman had lived in Washington for most of the war and was a great admirer of Lincoln, whom he felt embodied the American virtues of plain-spokenness, courage, and “horse-sense.”  Lincoln’s death inspired Whitman to write one of his most memorable works—a simple, three-stanza poem of sorrow that bore little resemblance to his other, more experimental writings. “O Captain! My Captain!” was published in New York’s Saturday Press in November of 1865, and was met with immediate acclaim. The poem’s evocation of triumph overshadowed by despair spoke to readers throughout the shattered nation, and it was widely reprinted and published in anthologies. “O Captain! My Captain!” became the most popular poem Whitman would ever write, and helped secure for him a position as one of the greatest American poets of the 19th century.

Have your students go through the fishbowl activity where they analyze the poem using the primary analysis tool and look critically at the poem.  Have them think about one question that will drive their discussion in the fishbowl: How does this poem express Whitman’s feelings about the culture of America post-Civil War?

Some guiding questions to further their discussion may be:

  • Explain the contrast between the sailor and the people on the dock.
  • Does Whitman think the country will heal from the wounds of the war?  Cite a line from the poem that supports your evidence.
  • “O Captain!  My Captain!” is an extended metaphor, as Whitman symbolically connects the death of the captain to the assassination of Lincoln.  What else do the following represent in the poem: “our fearful trip”, “the prize”, “the vessel”, “the swaying mass”?

Once the students have analyzed the poem, allow them to write their own pieces of poetry based on the research they have done about the Civil War.  OR use this poem to illustrate how Whitman was feeling after the end of the Civil War and have your students write a poem that reflects the feelings of the country after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60s.  Have them continue to research this period of history as they use similes and metaphors to evoke mental imagery throughout their poem.

And as a fun side activity, to tie in the technology piece, have students play the game “Who’s Cell Phone is this?”  I love this activity because it dives deeper into the lives of prominent members of historical society.  It goes as follows: Choose a historical figure.  If you are extending the learning from the Civil Rights poetry your students have written, choose Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson or Rosa Parks as an example.  Complete the activity to show what would be on this person’s cell phone.  First, what wallpaper would be on their background (use those primary sources to help find photographs to use).  Explain why this image is important to this person.  Next, write two fictitious emails that this character just received.  Who would they be from?  What would they say?  Finally create a playlist of three songs that would be on this person’s iTunes.  Explain the reasoning behind your choices.

Here is an example of Scout Finch’s phone from To Kill A Mockingbird.  Although she is a fictional character, her message and cell phone would tie right in with this study of America in the pre/post Civil Rights Movement era.  It would even be fun to have students create their cell phones and have students guess who’s phone it was before they revealed the answer.

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[This activity was created by Laura Randazzo and can be purchased here.]

Again by synthesizing their learning and digging deeper into the content that we’re studying, we’re extending students comprehension and furthering their knowledge base.  And that’s precisely what the Common Core encourages us to do.

Questioning and Determining Importance

Applicable Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Finally we want students to be able to take their questions and their research and organize it in a way that will determine importance to their audience.  Of course, I can’t say enough about the Wonder Bubble™ research project for any of the elementary grades.  It is the perfect unit to guide your students from wonder questions to full presentations that encompass all the features and elements of non-fiction.  But how can you pull in the technology piece?

QR codes!

QR codes are digital codes that you scan on your smart phone or tablet and it automatically takes you to a website or video or primary source!  It’s perfect for pairing with this type of assignment and can be used to further students research.

I used this QR code generator to create codes that fit perfectly with this Wonder Bubble™ about sharks.  Download a free QR scanner from the App Store and scan these (go ahead… these ones really work!)


Fun, right?  And you can add QR codes to any theme or topic wonder bubble.  Think of the possibilities you can tie in with QR codes for this our theme of “equality” – watch the “I have a dream” speech or listen to the Gettysburg address, see letters and telegrams that were sent during the Civil War, and watch real interviews from people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, including Rosa Parks.  The possibilities really are endless.

This second half of the year is the perfect time to incorporate some of these more detailed and research oriented projects.  It will prepare students for the state tests and allow them to have fun and be interested in the process.  Plus all of them lend themselves to the students presenting their research and synthesizing their learning.

Do you have other creative ways you tie in technology with comprehension strategies to teach the Common Core?  I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Happy Researching!

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