Literacy Archive
Inferring and Story Telling Books

Happy 2016!  I am so excited to share with you a few of my favorite new books for kids that will be perfect to use in your Readers and Writers Workshop!  First up, is this book “How to Tell a Story” by Daniel Nayeri.

From the publisher: The book is a guide to the principles of creative storytelling. It covers the essential elements like conflict—that thing that no one likes in real life, but without which no story could ever start—characters, motivation, dialogue, theme, and, of course, the climax. As you turn the pages, you’ll be prompted to roll the story blocks. And that’s when the magic starts to happen.

The blocks are coded by color, each loosely associated with a part of speech. A simple exercise about motivation, for example, asks the reader to roll the blocks and find one red block (person or animal) “who wanted nothing more in this world than to” one green block (action). Depending on the outcome, the reader might end up telling a tale of a cowboy who just wanted to dance or a mummy who wanted to race cars.

*This is my most favorite feature of this pack – the color coding!  Because I think that students can really get interactive with this piece.  See my video below for more detail.  -CJ

How to Tell a Story combines the surprising whimsy of Mad Libs with the compelling fun of storytelling cubes. Its exercises and games will have readers mastering the basics of storytelling while exercising their creative muscles. And who knows where that journey will end?

I also love these little games scattered throughout.  I think this book would be a perfect addition to your Writers Workshop for any grade K-8.  Also I’d love to see you get a few of these kits and have them around the room for multiple groups of students to use at once!


The next book that I’ve recently discovered is Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec.  This book is a perfect introduction to early inferring concepts (grades K-1).  Even my 3 year old loves it!


Each page poses a question that the reader then needs to infer the answer to, based on the illustrations!  So for example:


I talk through why my three year old chose the illustration that he did and we make a lot of text-to-self connections (i.e: “That’s what happens when you have a potty accident” or “he looks embarrassed and that’s how I felt when I had an accident“)  And occasionally when he chooses incorrectly, we can talk through why that may not be the best choice, thus increasing his comprehension skills and use of illustrations to comprehend stories.


Overall, I think both of these books would be nice additions to your classroom library as you look to spice things up in your Readers and Writers workshop!  Also, I gave a more in-depth look at both of these texts during my show on the I Teach TV Network, every other Thursday at 7 CST.  You can see some of my past show replays here.

I hope to see you over on the iTeachTVNetwork very soon!

3 NEW Holidays Books for your Library this Season

A short and sweet post for today, as the holiday school season is coming to a close!  I’m jumping on the I Teach TV Network tonight to share more details about these three books, but I thought I’d outline them here for you now.  So zip out to your local library or B&N (or hey, Amazon now delivers in an hour…) and add these to your holiday book collection.  They’re worth it!

  1. Oskar and the Eight Blessings
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From the Publisher: “A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world.

The illustrations in this books are absolutely stunning and worth purchasing it alone.  But Oskar’s journey through Manhattan in 1938 is just as heartwarming.  Each person that he meets, offers him kindness and generosity, not to mention that each event has a historical tie-in to real life events during the 1930’s.  For example, Oskar picks up an Action Comic Book and sees Superman inside (below).  Superman first premiered in action comics in June of 1938.  I could see a lot of historical tie-ins with this book, including timelines, geography, and immigration topics.  The publisher even included Oskars map of his travels in New York City that would be great to use in your classroom.


Finally, the overall message of this book was one to Oskar from his father, and is appropriate to share with your students all year long: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

2. When Santa Was a Baby


This is such a sweet story that gives the background of Santa’s life before he became “the guy”.  The authors do a wonderful job of integrating all of those things that we’ve come to love about Santa (reindeer, his big laugh, his love of chimneys) into his interests as a child.  Not to mention the illustrations are beautiful.


In your classroom, I think it would be so interesting to have your students write back stories for all of their favorite holiday (or non-holiday) characters.  What happened in Frosty the Snowman’s childhood?  How did the Elf from the Shelf come to be?  Your Writers Workshop could be filled with these potential stories that your students imagine in a creative and fun way!

3. Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein


When I was in the classroom, I always struggled to find stories for those children who celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.  I did not want those students of other religions to feel left out as we so often focus on the Christian holidays during this time of year.  Actress, Amanda Peet, felt the same way so she co-wrote this story for not only those who may celebrate both holidays, but also for us to understand other cultures and religions during the holiday season.  Isn’t that fun?!  Typically, I try to shy away from stories written by actors (no offense!) but I thought this one was cleverly written and great for your students to identify with.

From the publisher: “Rachel Rosenstein is determined to celebrate Christmas this year—and the fact that her family is Jewish is not going to stop her. In a series of hilarious and heartwarming mishaps, Rachel writes a letter to Santa explaining her cause, pays him a visit at the mall, and covertly decorates her house on Christmas Eve (right down to latkes for Santa and his reindeer). And while Rachel may wrestle with her culture, customs, and love of sparkly Christmas ornaments, she also comes away with a brighter understanding of her own identity and of the gift of friends and family.”

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I think it can be common for those students who don’t celebrate Christmas to sometimes feel left out, but this story does a great job of tackling those emotions head on and celebrating everyone!  Plus in your classroom, I think you could tie in a friendly letter lesson or review or use this as your introduction for students to write their own letters to Santa or to their parents, etc.

So there you have it!  Some newly published holiday stories that are a great compliment to any classroom (or home) library!  Happy holidays!  Wishing you lots of relaxation and rest during this season and cheers to the new year!



Differentiating Shakespeare

What if William Shakespeare wrote Star Wars, instead of George Lucas?  Wonder no more… Ian Doescher has answered that question for you with his series, William Shakespeare Star Wars.

When a friend of mine first introduced me to Ian Doescher, and this series, I thought, “eh, this isn’t really relevant to me because I teach the younger grades”.  But then I quickly remembered how interested obsessed my first graders were with Star Wars.  They couldn’t get enough!  We even celebrated with a school wide “May the 4th be with you” celebration.  So, I knew that by the time those kiddos of mine got to the middle grades and upper grades, they would be itching to get their hands on these.

“Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearstome stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.” (Quirk Books, 2014)

I love the implications of this series in the classroom.  I think this is a wonderful tool to use for your students who are either a) not interested in William Shakespeare or b) just can’t seem to grasp verses of iambic pentameter. Not to mention, there is an amazing educator guide that ties in with this series that explains more on how to best use it with your students.

The initial series was launched in 2013-14, with the prequels just being released earlier this year.  I encourage you to at least check out the series for yourself.  I’m not even a Star Wars fan, per say, however, I really enjoyed this series.

Finally, when you do use this with your students, make sure to tweet @iandoescher to let him know.  He’s pretty active on social media and is known to tweet back!


This is also a perfect time to highlight two of my other Star Wars favorites, for the younger elementary ages, by the cartoonist Jeffrey Brown.  Written in graphic novel style, your students will truly enjoy Jedi Academy, as well as all the books in the series.  Vaders Little Princess is a bedtime favorite around these parts.

OMG Shakespeare


While we’re on the topic of Shakespeare, perhaps you have seen the OMG Shakespeare series, that includes the two titles you see above, in addition to Srsly Hamlet and A Midsummer Night #nofilter.

“A Shakespeare play told through its characters texting with emojis, posting photos, checking in at locations, and updating their relationship statuses”, this series is perfect for young adults (Penguin Random House, 2015). It is a brilliant way to re-imagine the works of Shakespeare as told through the lens of the 21st century.


Initially, people were quite upset about this series, saying that it was “disgusting” and a true “defamation of a classic” (Amazon reviews).  Personally, I think the people who reviewed this series in that way are taking it a bit too seriously!  Certainly, I don’t think these books should replace the classics, however, I think they are a great way to get kids excited about Shakespeare!

In the essence of differentiation, these books would be a nice compliment for those students who are truly struggling to grasp the works of Shakespeare.  They could even be used to introduce your middle school students to Shakespeare before they have to dive in and really study him in high school.  OMG Shakespeare may pique their interest enough to go into their high school English class with some schema and confidence.


I also love the idea of asking your students to use emojis to re-imagine some of their favorite stories and books.  How fun would that be?!  And you’d also be accessing those higher levels of thinking and comprehension by allowing students to use these emojiis in the appropriate way.

See if you can figure out some of these below:

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Answers: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Giving Tree, and Charlotte’s Web [source: Buzzfeed]

Shakespeare can be fun!


And since I am a first grade teacher at heart, I had to share this last series with you because it is one that I used often in my classroom and my students loved it!  The Shakespeare Can Be Fun series by Lois Burdett is excellent to use with second through fourth grade.  I taught at a magnet school for high achieving students, so it was appropriate for them towards the end of first grade.

I used this series in literature circles with my higher readers.  We also read it in a readers theater context and used it to book talk and study some basic ideas about William Shakespeare as a poet and playwright.  The kid friendly illustrations and easier text made this book ideal for book clubs and lit circles in the classroom.


While Shakespeare is not typically a topic that I discuss often in the younger grades, I think that there are some really fabulous pieces of literature that will allow you to tie it in to your curriculum and differentiate for your students, no matter what age you teach!

Want more book recommendations like these?  Looking for something to do every other Tuesday at 7 pm CST?  Well come on over to the ITeachTV Network and follow my live Periscope show next Tuesday, November 17th at 7 pm CST!  Or catch the replay here.  Hope to see you soon!



Mesmerized: Colliding Science and Social Studies through PBL

I. am. back. I took a rather long break from blogging to focus on my business and to just soak up our new baby (who is now 9 months old), but I am ready to jump back into sharing lots of ideas for your classroom.  I am gearing up to teach my seventh class at the university level, which has my brain working overtime on new ideas and resources.  I am also collaborating with some of my very favorite teacher friends to bring you what is new and current for your classroom, so let’s jump right in to one of my most current lesson ideas!

Ben Speech Bubble C. Jayne Teach

Today I am going to be sharing a wonderful Project Based Learning (PBL) lesson that will merge the content areas of science and social studies.  As a teacher, we have to fit a lot into our day.  And sometimes the best way to do this is by cramming strategically planning as much content as we can into one lesson.  I find that combining science and social studies is the trickiest, because mostly we think of science/math and social studies/language arts to go together… but not today!  I’ve written a fully aligned Common Core unit plan for the upper elementary grades that will walk your students through biographies, research, and the scientific method.

Here are the Common Core standards we will cover:

Reading: Literature

  • Key Ideas and Details
    Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
  • Craft and Structure
    Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
  • Integrations of Knowledge and Ideas
    Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.


  • Text Types and Purposes
    Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.
  • Production and Distribution of Writing
    With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
  • Research to Build and Present Knowledge
    Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).

Social Studies Content Standards (Tennessee)

  • 2.3.2: Participate in shared research using biographies to interpret the significance of contributions made by people of the United States, recounting or describing key ideas and details from the texts.  Teachers may choose any biographies.  Some suggestions are as follows: John Smith, Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, etc.
  • 2.3.3:  With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish a writing piece in collaboration with peers on a famous American to describe how his or her accomplishments were significant.
  • 2.4.0: Analyze primary and secondary source maps, photographs, and artifacts for  contradictions, supporting evidence, and historical details.

Science Content Standards (Tennessee)

  • Inquiry
    GLE 0207.Inq.1: Observe the world of familiar objects using the senses and tools.
    GLE 0207.Inq.2: Ask questions, make logical predictions, plan investigations, and
    represent data.
    GLE 0207.Inq.3: Explain the data from an investigation.
  • Technology and Engineering
    GLE 0207.T/E.1: Recognize that both natural materials and human-made tools
    have specific characteristics that determine their uses.
    GLE 0207.T/E.2: Apply engineering design and creative thinking to solve practical

Sooo, that’s quite a lot of standards that we can cover in this unit.  Plus, with this being a PBL*, your students will be open to many inquiry opportunities that can extend further into even more areas.

*Need a PBL refresher?  Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. [BIE, 2015.  Check out their site for more information.]

So the basic outline of this unit is as follows:

Inventors Notebook

Each student will begin with an “Inventors Notebook” as seen above.  Download the labels as you see here at the end of the post.

Part 1

Students are given their inventor’s notebooks (seen above).  Inside is notebook paper, a pre-test/post-test, and research note-taking sheet.  This folder will hold all of their notes and information as they move through this unit.

The students will take the pre-test to see what they know about Ben Franklin and his many inventions [attached in the unit below].  Students begin the lesson with guided questions and connections that they can make to Benjamin Franklin.  Then we will read the following book:

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“Now and Ben” compares inventions of Ben Franklin’s past with the inventions of his that we still use today!  A class discussion will ensue and students will start to generate questions about Ben Franklin’s contributions to society.

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Students will choose one of Ben’s inventions to research, learning about the research process and primary sources along the way.  Students will use library and internet resources such as World Book for Kids to conduct their research.  (Ask your school librarian to help you with some great sites that he/she would recommend!  Here in Tennessee we use the Tel4U library quite a bit.)  Also it is assumed that your students have done a bit of research up until this point in their elementary careers.  If they haven’t, I created an amazing research unit titled: Wonder Bubbles™ that you can purchase here. It will give your students the comprehensive background in inquiry and research that they will need to build off of for lessons to come (grades 1 and up).

After your students have researched their invention, they’ll present their research to the class.  To summarize, they may choose to complete a timeline through TimeToast or World Book Kids.  You can also wrap up with a game of questioning through various levels of Blooms to check their understanding of what they’ve learned based on their research.

You can also extend the learning into other famous Americans, thus covering your biography standards.  The Who Was book series is a great place for students to start… and plus they have a cool app that your students may enjoy as well.

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Another favorite book that you can use to teach about Ben’s inventions.

Want more details than that?  Well as I mentioned, I have scripted out and detailed this entire unit, including resources such as rubrics, I Can statement, differentiation for students at, above, or below target, assessment measures, additional books and web links and lots more.  And you can have it all for FREE!  Keep reading…

But wait.  You said we were going to be merging social studies AND science, right?  So far, that’s just social studies.  Yes.  Yes it is.  That’s why it’s now time for…

Part 2

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Students begin by taking the post-test for part 1 which also serves as a pre-test for part 2 (two birds, one stone!).  Then after a brief discussion, we’ll read the book you see above: “Mesmerized” by Mara Rockliff.  (Easily one of my most favorite new books of the past year).  The premise of this book is based off of the true story of one of Ben Franklin’s trips to France.  The introduction reads: The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!

That’s right… you’ve just made a connection between Benjamin Franklin (a common social studies topic) to SCIENCE.  You see, Benjamin Franklin is also credited as inventing the scientific method.  I know… mind blown.

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And as any of you teaching elementary knows… this is a HUGE standard.  So what a cool way to connect it and introduce or review it with your class.  So once you read this book and cover the Scientific Method (and maybe watch a BrainPop or two) then you can begin the true PBL portion of your unit.  Students will be asked to brainstorm in their Inventors Notebooks about some everyday problems or issues they may have.  The idea is to push them towards something that they may like to “invent”, much as Benjamin Franklin did, as they’ve previously studied.

Depending on the age group, you could then come together and have a class discussion on some of these problems that they’d like to solve.  You can either choose 4-5 of these questions/problems/inventions for everyone to investigate OR have each student work on their own.  You do what you see fit for your group.

Students will then work to create a solution or inventions to solve their everyday problems such as “how to keep your ear buds from getting tangled in your backpack” or “how to keep your cat from eating your dangerous houseplants”.  The catch is that they must work through each step of the scientific method as they work to create their solutions.  Recording it in their Inventors Notebooks, all the way.

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A sample student Inventors Notebook as they hypothesize about a brighter flashlight.

As the teacher, you may provide materials for them to work with and build with or they may provide their own from home.  Students will use general inquiry to drive this portion of the experimental phase, often testing their hypotheses multiple times.  They will look at their gathered data in their individual or small groups to decide whether to further test or draw conclusions. (This is also a place you can sneak in a few math standards -score!)

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Another example of student work.  Interactive notebooks like these provide excellent assessment measures and also offers a “peek into their mind” for you as an educator.

After a few days of their work through the scientific method, they will then gather, share, and present their findings to their peers and/or parents and faculty.

Additional resources and extensions for this unit

I love to have opportunities for extensions in all of my units so that students who may need extra practice or further studies in a subject, may have that opportunity.  Here are just a few ways you can change the medium or allow for extensions of the learning (and more are also included in the full unit below).

  • Have students journal through Kidblog instead of their Inventor’s Notebooks.  In this age of technology, some students may be more comfortable to record their findings in a digital format.  This is an excellent way to do so.
  • Students can present what they learned either in their biography research and/or their scientific method findings through a platform such as Storyboard That or Pixton.  The popularity of graphic novels are on the rise and both of these offer excellent ways to present all the research that your students have gathered.  Plus they are really fun and offer a digital alternative.
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  • Encourage students to take their love of inventions a step further and enter into a Young Inventors contest either locally or nationally – or better yet, tell them to audition for Shark Tank!

Now, as I promised, here are the links for the full unit:

Scripted Lesson Plan

Pre and Post Test

Research Form

Inventors Notebook Labels

Inside Notebook

Example of the pages included in the Inventors Notebook.

[And special thanks to Mrs. Payne and Mrs. Svarda from the Discovery School for their help in giving me this idea that I just ran with!  You guys are the best.]

And if you are interested in more Common Core aligned book lessons, please check out the category links on the side bar or click here for specific literacy links only.

Thanks for reading!  Happy teaching!


[All images and photos of Mesmerized are © Mara Rockliff and Iocopo Bruno and all images and photos of Now and Ben are © Gene Barretta.  Both are available on Amazon and most retail bookstores.  All rights reserved.]

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]

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.  😉



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