Caviar Dreams Tuna Fish Budget Book Review

I LOVE The Real Housewives franchise. I can honestly say I’ve spent an insane amount of hours binging these shows over the last ten years. As a Jersey girl, I’m automatically drawn to the NJ housewives, and as a small business owner I was really excited to see how these women tackle business in the Garden State.

Caviar Dreams Tuna Fish Budget: How to Survive in Business and Life, by Margaret Josephs, is spunky, authentic and inspirational to all women.

On the RHONJ, Josephs comes out with an incredible sense of humor, a ton of honesty and an over-the-top personality. As I was reading her autobiography, I could seriously hear her voice in my head the whole time, and I truly loved it! She has a way of being blunt with humor that I have yet to encounter in any other work, and nothing is off limits. She owns her actions and decisions while keeping a smile on her face.

Childhood

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how much our childhood shapes us. Josephs did not have a typical past, as she has expressed for years on the show, but reading about her experiences with her mother, Marge Sr., left me with an incredible amount of respect for this woman. I don’t want to go into too much detail because a lot of the stories build on previous events, and honestly you need to read them through Josephs’ words and not mine. Many times people will spend time blaming their parents and holding grudges, but the author loves her mother unconditionally, and her maturity and acceptance are to be admired.

Women in Business

I come from a family deeply rooted in family business on both sides. My paternal grandmother owned a pool business for fifty years, that she started with my grandpa from nothing. My mom has started multiple small businesses since I was five years old, so I have seen women in business first hand.

Josephs’ business journey was eye-opening for me. She openly and honestly recounts situations she was placed in from her first job until present day because she was a woman in the business world. There was no Me Too Movement in the ’80s, and it’s clear that women were treated differently than men. When she stepped out of the business world to be a mother, I could personally relate because of my own life choices.

Her drive and ambition to be a good mom and have a career are inspirational. She literally started a multi-million dollar business from her kitchen table. I had no idea she was the one behind the monogramed colorful clipboards during the 2000s (I worked in retail at the time and totally sold those products), and I didn’t realize how truly intelligent she is at spotting “the next big thing”. Her natural business abilities are to be admired. Yes, she has made mistakes, but many of those came from not being treated as an equal in the business world because she’s a woman.

I also LOVED how she gave kudos to her team throughout the book. She is extremely humble and acknowledges those who have helped her along the way. It was really interesting to see how she operates her business since the show doesn’t go into as many details as her book. As a business owner, Josephs taught me a few things and has given me more confidence in myself.

Life Lessons

My absolute favorite part of this book were the life lessons at the end of every chapter. The teacher in me LOVED that Josephs included main idea statements about the chapter, but the reader in me appreciated the wording of each one. The lessons are meant to be straightforward reminders for readers about life. I really wish she would create a calendar with her life lessons :).

Personal Takeaways

Josephs leaves on impact on readers that can’t be ignored. Even though there is lots of humor and f-bombs, the messages she’s getting across are extremely important.

Don’t judge. It’s easy for viewers to judge someone on TV. It’s easy for a friend to judge another friend’s actions. However, unless you walk in that person’s shoes, you have no idea the reasons behind the decisions. Josephs had an affair, but as she says, people don’t leave a happy marriages.

Love yourself. It is possible for a woman to be a good mom and a business woman. It is possible for women to be strong in the business world. Trusting our instincts and following our hearts to what makes us as women happy needs to be a priority in our lives.

Who cares what people think. This one is a biggie. Too many times women stay in situations, or avoid confrontations because we are afraid what other people think. Once we realize that other people’s opinions shouldn’t (and don’t) matter, the world is full of even more possibilities. Don’t let someone else’s opinion keep you from doing you.

I recommend this book for moms, women in business, fans of the show and those who read Open Book by Jessica Simpson. Yes, there are some additional tidbits from the show, but that is not the focus on the book.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Fadeaway Book Review

As a teacher, I always try to read a variety of book so I can make recommendations to my students. With the end of the year on the horizon, I have more time to read, so I made a fantastic Amazon book purchase. I’ve been a little out of the reading loop over the last year, so I really focused on new(er) releases. I usually have my tutoring students read a novel during our summer sessions and I wanted to find the perfect book for middle and high school boys. Not only did I read this perfect book, it just came out in March!

Fadeaway, by E.B. Vickers, is a realistic young adult novel about basketball, love and addiction.

Summary

Jake is a senior in high school who is the star of the basketball team with his fadeaway move. He has just won the state championship for his team, but instead of celebrating at his coach’s house he disappears without a trace. His little brother Luke, best friend Kolt, teammate Seth and ex-girlfriend Daphne play roles in trying to find Jake.

The majority of the story revolves around basketball. During summer ball in sixth grade, Coach Cooper tells Jake, Kolt and Seth that he plans for them to win state championships their senior year. He gives them an intense pep talk that ends with, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”This lays the ground work for Jake’s life on and off the court as he dedicates his life to football, basketball and baseball. Jake’s world is turned upside down when he suffers an injury and he starts taking prescription pain killers.

First, I have to say that I am in love with the cover! Just like the title states, some of the letters pop and others fade. I just think it’s super creative and eye-catching.

The structure of this story is similar to Wonder, in that it’s told from multiple perspectives, but almost every chapter alternates between the characters. Usually, I’m not a fan of this constant switching, but in this case it really helps build the suspense in the story and I couldn’t imagine it being written any other way.

Themes

My favorite aspect of this book is the portrayal of realistic relationships.

Friendship is one of the most prevalent themes in this story. That day in sixth grade, Kolt and Jake become best friends because they have connections. Kolt’s older brother is an addict and Jake’s father was an alcoholic. Kolt and Jake are the typical best guy friends we usually read about in YA novels, always looking out for one another and making teenage boy comments.

The romantic relationship between Daphne and Jake is the definition of teenage love: pure, honest and supportive. While we don’t see a lot of this relationship, the little glimpse that we get shows a realistic teenage love complete with binge watching Netflix, helping each other with basketball and homework, and being together as much as possible. They don’t have drama, but they do tackle some serious real life issues that lead to Jake breaking up with Daphne out of nowhere. Personally, I love that their relationship isn’t based on physical acts, but rather being there for one another.

Sibling love is an incredibly powerful theme throughout this book. Luke idolizes Jake, and Jake wants to be a great role model for his younger brother. The two of them keep the lines of communication open by writing back and forth in a notebook (which I LOVED). Luke is actively involved in the search for Jake, and gives information that helps spark a development in the case that Daphne and Kolt investigate along with the twelve year old.

While there are lots of different types of love in this book, there is one major concept that is deeply explored: addiction.

Vickers does an incredible job in describing many aspects of addiction. Readers learn how it starts, how Jake realizes he needed help, and the direction that Jake’s life will take in the future. Through Jake’s character, readers see that addiction can be hidden from those closest to a person and anyone can struggle with this disease (teenager or adult). The pressures Jake feels of not being enough will resonant with young adults who can relate to the stress of athletics or academics.

I recommend this book for young adult readers (especially boys) in grades 7 and up, and for parents of high school students.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Admissions Book Review

Like many, I was very intrigued by the college scandal a few years ago. From an educator’s perspective, I was curious how they were able to get away with all that they did. Of course, I was not surprised that lots of money was involved, but I was shocked that celebrities, including Lori Loughlin, were guilty. So when I saw there was a fictional book about the scandal, I knew I had to read it.

Admission, by Julie Buxbaum, is a dramatic and eye-opening story about privilege and social issues in America.

Summary

Chloe’s mom is a famous TV star and her dad is in finance. She’s living a very glamorous life in LA, attending an elite private school, preparing to go to prom with her crush and getting excited to attend her dream college. That is, until the FBI shows up at her house and arrests her mom in the college admission bribery scandal.

Analysis

The structure of the story alternates between past tense and present day, which took me a little while to get used to (I prefer the sequence of events to go in chronological order). Readers are literally thrown right into the story, creating an immediate sense of engagement.

The setting is modern day Los Angeles. I am a fan of the Housewives franchise and other reality shows, so I really enjoyed the descriptions of Chloe’s luxurious life.

I like how well-developed the characters were, and how authentic they all seemed. They each served a very specific purpose and helped move the plot along.

Chloe

I have to admit that as a reader I was going into this story with some bias based on my background knowledge of the scandal. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I sympathized with Chloe in the beginning of the text. She comes across as very innocent about the scandal events, and readers instantly believe and support her. However, throughout the story, she gets these little flashback memories relating to the scandal, and like any other teenager, she dismisses these thoughts.

One of my favorite aspects of Chloe is that the reader is reflecting and accepting right along with her. When I first meet Chloe, I felt for her. I wanted to give her a hug when her best friend stopped talking to her and her life spiraled out of control. However, as the truth slowly unravels, and Chloe accepts responsibility for her actions, I didn’t feel as bad for her. I was proud of her for how she handled her situation in the end (I can’t give too much away, but I personally feel made the right decisions). I gained a lot of respect for her as a character.

Chloe is defintely a relatable character. She sees herself as a plain girl, “nothing special”, that doesn’t really know what she wants to do in her next chapter. Chloe loves spending time with Cesar, a little boy, reading Harry Potter after school. She states multiple times that she is “not smart enough” to get into ivy league colleges and universities, and she has a hard time with the SATs. She doesn’t even know what to include in her college essay because nothing has ever really happened to her. Buxbaum truly captures the essence of a teenage girl with Chloe, the insecurities, avoiding grown up responsibilities and the inner dialogue of a girl with a crush.

Themes

This novel highlights a few specific themes that all relate around current social issues: privilege, family and expectations

Growing up, I would hear the word privilege and just knew it meant someone had money. In recent years, this term has evolved to mean so much more than that and this book tackles the concept in a way that speaks to young adults.

Shola, Chloe’s best friend, is Nigerian American and attends the elite private school on a scholarship. She works her butt off for her grades and hopes to go to a top college on a scholarship. Throughout the text, we see Shola ground Chloe and give her “reality checks” in a way that is respectful but eye-opening. She tries to help Chloe see outside her “bubble”.

While the book doesn’t use “privilege” a lot, it’s very easy to see the hints left by Buxbaum to alert readers. I feel this was tastefully done and encourages readers to reflect on what they see in their own lives.

Family is also another concept that is explored in this work. However, I believe that this theme can be broken up into two different thoughts: doing what’s best and supporting one another.

In truth, I can’t think of another book that includes one theme used in two different ways.

Chloe’s parents defend their actions by saying they “did what they thought was best”. They wanted to help their child. In typical situations, we would applaud parents for this belief, however, bribery and fraud are not to be commended. But, it does bring up the idea that parents usually want to do anything and everything to help their children.

As readers, we know that Hollywood is all smoke and mirrors, so when Chloe’s family came together during the scandal, it showed us that at the core of a family there is love. Regardless of how much someone can mess up, family is there to still love and support that individual. This is such an important message for teenagers to remember, because notoriously the teen years are a time when many mistakes are made.

Finally, as a teacher who has worked in affluent districts, there is absolutely an expectation put on students today. Every single grade matters because a student has to get into the best schools. This is clearly displayed in Admissions because it directly impacts a family’s social standing. This is not only seen in California, but across the country. There is real pressure put on students, as we see with the characters in the book, but there is also a pressure on parents. College has become a status symbol for many, and these expectations can be extremely heavy burdens on all involved.

I would recommend this book to parents of high school students and young adult readers.

To purchase this book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Bridging the Gap: 3 Virtual Ways to Help Students in Grades 5-12

Growing up, I was that kid who LOVED the summer read-a-thon my school hosted. I remember constantly going to the library and reading anywhere and everywhere. I probably should have also done some math work (I teach reading for a reason), but back in the day this was how students continued to improve their skills.

25 years later the world is a different place. Kids spend the summer playing video games, texting with their friends and getting involved in activities. Life is no where as simple as it used to be.

The expectations today are higher. The pressure to get good grades to get into good schools is real. The anxiety that kids have is real. During the school year, there just isn’t enough time.

Which is why summer is a great opportunity for students to practice and improve their skills. Over the years I have helped teens complete summer reading assignments, go through the writing process with a research paper, and complete college essays. I’ve also worked with students who need additional skills support by reading, discussing and analyzing novels and responding to writing prompts in preparation of the next school year.

The past year has been challenging for so many students and families. We can’t get time back, but we can take advantage of the summer months to fill in any gaps in reading and writing.

Below are three virtual options Little Reading Coach is offering to help students in grades 5-12 for summer 2021.

​Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12

Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills
*Distance/home-based learning support
(managing & organizing tasks, help with completing assignments)

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Tutor notes emailed within 24 hours

Enroll in Virtual Tutoring

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp Course

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

Use code SUMMER2021 to save $50

Are you concerned about learning loss?
Does your child need time to brush up on reading and writing skills?
Want to make sure your child is prepared for high school?

Developed by a certified English teacher and Reading Specialist, this 6-week virtual self-paced course covers all major reading and writing skills taught in middle school English Language Arts.

Grammar
* Parts of speech
* Sentence structure

Writing
*Paragraph Writing
*Essay Writing
*Persuasive Writing
*Research Paper
*Personal Narrative

Nonfiction
*Main Ideas and Details
*Author’s Purpose
*Cause and Effect
*Retelling and Summarizing
*Note-Taking Skills
*Lego Nonfiction Activity

Literature
*Reading Comprehension Strategies
*Plot
*Sequence of Events
*Point of View
*Figurative Language
*Symbolism
*Theme
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Lessons include:
– PowerPoint presentations
-Teacher created guided notes
-Quizzes
-Online games/activities
-Practice activities (with answer keys)
– Essay writing
-Teacher led read aloud of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

When you purchase this class, you get….
*Access to the LRC Academy VIP Facebook group to get advice, literacy tips and more!
*Teacher feedback on writing assignments. Students will participate in a variety of writing activities that can be emailed to the teacher for feedback
*Printable notes and presentations that can be utilized for future English classes
*Skill based lessons to help your student become confident in his/her reading and writing abilities

Enroll in Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

*Free* Weekly Read-Aloud

For students who love reading and may need some additional support, the weekly read aloud includes a teacher analysis and notes of the text covering:

 Reading comprehension
 Characterization
 Making inferences/drawing conclusions
Quote analysis
Theme 

5th & 6th graders will read The City of Ember
7th & 8th graders will read The Giver


Each week a new video recording will be released from 7/5-8/9. Students will have access to their text until 9/1.

Enroll in *Free* Weekly Read-Aloud 

Taking advantage of this summer to help students gain confidence in their reading and writing skills will provide a great transition into the ’21-’22 school year.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Teaching the Classics in Middle And High School

Even though kids consider classics to be “old”, they have stood the test of time because of their outstanding quality.

The characters, settings and conflicts of these pieces are relatable even hundreds of years after they were published. As teachers, it’s up to us to show students that these texts are truly gems.

In order for students to really appreciate these works of art, they need to comprehend the plot and make connections to the themes and characters. Below are some suggestions for teaching classic pieces of literature to middle and high school students.

Choosing the right text

For many teachers, our curricula dictate which texts we teach. While we may not have much wiggle room when it comes to choosing what woks we use, we do have control over the right type we use based on our student population.

Use the original work. During my time in public schools, I always used the original version of the text. To differentiate, I provided reading comprehension questions to my students and spent time reviewing major characters, plot events, symbols and themes. I also provided students with graphic organizers for writing assignments and to record their notes.

The version I used with my students.

Use alternative resources. Companies are constantly creating new materials to support teachers and students. Personally, I have my own preferences of the alternative texts I’ve used, especially with my struggling readers.

  • Great Illustrated Classics. This is by far my FAVORITE resource to use when working with my population of readers. I remember going to a bookstore out in Pennsylvania with my grandparents growing up and seeing the huge display of these books in the front of the store. It allowed me to read Oliver Twist as a fourth grader because the works are geared towards younger readers. The vocabulary and sentence structure are more simple, and some small details are changed, but the characters and plot events are the same. I will admit, that there were words I didn’t know in the book, but I was able to independently read and understand the books.
  • Textbooks. Years ago, when I did sixth grade curriculum writing, I was super excited to read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I was a little surprised to find that the textbook we were using did not include the novel, but rather it had a play version. I did supplement parts of the plot by reading aloud the novel, but my students really enjoyed the play and were able to practice recognizing and interpreting the various literary devices.
  • No Fear Shakespeare by SparkNotes. Unfortunately, I just missed these amazing helpers as a high school student. Many students are so put off by Shakespeare because they get confused with the Old English language. No Fear Shakespeare takes the stress out of figuring out this older wording, allowing kids to comprehend the plays, with minimum effort. Through sparknotes.com, teachers and students can access side-by-side Old and Modern English versions of Shakespeare’s works. FULL TEXT versions :)!
SparkNotes’ No Fear Shakespeare- The Prologue from Romeo and Juliet

Supplemental Aids

Educator’s know that all students learn differently, which is why it’s so important to present information to classes in a variety of ways. Providing different activities to keep students engaged is essential in the classroom.

Unit Plans/Reading Guides. There are TONS of pre-made activities floating around online. A simple Google search will provide you with thousands of results, some free and some you can purchase. Teachers Pay Teachers is a phenomenal resource that always pops up on my Google searches.

I just finished reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with my students, and I used the vocabulary, reading questions and activities from this awesome free reading guide. I LOVE the police report activity for chapter four and made sure to use it with my class. I also paired it with a sample police report and did a mini lesson on formal writing.

Audiobooks. It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of using audiobooks with my students. There’s something magical about listening to someone read a story. YouTube is full of free versions, and I also use Audible if I can’t find exactly what I want on YouTube. For virtual teaching, I prefer to use YouTube so I can post/share the link with my class in case they’re absent or want to go back and re-read. I used this version for Jekyll and Hyde (I did speed up the reading a smidge, which made a big difference).

Film Versions. Again, I LOVE using films and TV shows with my students. Being able to see the story in a visual way helps many with reading comprehension. A popular teacher favorite moving pairing is using The Lion King when teaching Hamlet. As with any form of media, always make sure to check the rating and content before showing a film version. I was all excited to use a Jekyll and Hyde movie on YouTube, until I saw in the comment section that some kind person mentioned an inappropriate scene. Needless to say, I went with a cartoon version instead for my students.

Activities for Teaching the Classics

Every classroom looks different and every teacher is different. What works for one teacher will not work for another, so the ideas listed below are just that, suggestions on how to read classics in the classroom.

  1. Act out scenes (readers theater). I have personally seen this in action with Shakespeare and it’s engaging for students. While kids can read aloud from their seats, there is nothing wrong with taking it up a notch. Include props, have students create a mini set, take a trip to the auditorium and read on the big stage.
  2. Have kids teach the class. Who says the teacher always needs to be at the front of the class? Allow students to get hands-on and create a lesson. Whether kids work individually or in groups, assign them a concept and give them freedom to teach it. I would suggest giving them some creative freedom with this choice and a rubric, so they know what the expectations are.
  3. Virtual field trips. Since field trips may not always be realistic, having a few virtual options is always a great choice. These can be done in-class or for homework and can provide students with some new information about topics relating to the classic text.

Importance of Theme

As with any text, teachers know to focus on plot, characters, conflict, figurative language, quote analysis, etc. We know these works are classics for a reason, and our goal is to show students how magnificent “old” books can be.

Universal themes are truly fantastic, as they can be found in any text, so incorporating these themes into class discussions, writing prompts and homework help students of all ages realize that even though the story is not modern, it deals with similar themes as books today.

Love, good vs. evil, jealousy, friendship, family, etc. can all be seen in classic literature.

For instance, one of my favorite themes of all time is good vs. evil. This can be seen in The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde quite clearly AND it is also seen in the Harry Potter series (especially book seven). Giving students copies of quotes from both works and asking them to write a comparison paragraph explaining how the theme is used and its meaning is a great activity to help students make connections with a classic text.

Classic pieces of literature are timeless for a reason. With modern technology, creative thinking, and the right resources, students of all ages and skill levels can read and enjoy these works of art.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

My Name is Layla Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As I mentioned in my last post, “10 Reading Comprehension Tips“, middle and high school students are living in a text heavy world. They need to have strong reading skills to navigate reading textbooks, emails, writing lab reports, etc. But, what happens when a student is a struggling reader?

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, is a realistic depiction of a dyslexic middle school student.

Layla, or ‘munk to her mom and older brother, is an eighth grade student who struggles with reading and writing assignments. Her best friend Liza and her neighbor Sammy, help Layla through the ups and downs of middle school life.

Layla

Like all middle school students, Layla wants to fit in. She worries about what she wears on the first day of school, what the popular girl thinks, and she worries that her teachers think she lacks intelligence. She envies Sammy, whose family sits down for dinner together every night, since Layla’s mom is a nurse who works the night shift and her dad has been out of the picture for 12 years.

On top of all this, she has a secret that she doesn’t share with anyone. It takes her a long time to read. “The words hop around like any good bunny should, refusing to stay still so I can get a grip on what they mean.” (15). The pressure to read quickly in class and get through homework each night is a lot for this thirteen-year-old, and she is used to low grades. For writing assignments, she struggles to get ideas from her head, through her fingertips on a keyboard and in an email to her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Through her frustrations, she has learned how to cope by watching movie versions of books to assist her in getting through assignments.

As a middle school English teacher, I can honestly say that the depiction of Layla is incredibly accurate. She avoids reading aloud in class or participating so she doesn’t bring attention to herself. She will submit gibberish writing out of pure frustration and she relies on her best friend to help her navigate projects. Layla’s emotions of anger, confusion, fear, and self-doubt resonate with readers on multiple levels as the school year progresses.

Plot

I really enjoyed the multiple layers happening in this book. The main conflict is Layla’s reading difference, but there is also a fair share of minor conflicts as well. As with any teenager, there are internal conflicts about her mom working and her dad not being present (until later in the book), problems with friends that involve trust, and the innocent buds of a potential first romantic relationship with a boy. Teenagers take everything to heart and can be very sensitive to change, as readers see when Nick suffers an injury in basketball. This book touches on all of the important themes in a young adult’s life: family, friends, relationships, and self-image.

Theme of Family

Today, families come in all shapes, sizes and forms and I really like that Marder Gentin chose to focus on a non-traditional family structure. Readers see Layla’s mom work overnight shifts, catching some sleep during the day to just repeat the routine again. She takes on extra shifts whenever she can in order to provide for her children, yet she will show up to basketball games and the first day of school when her children need her support. While Layla and her brother do have freedom after school, neither one of them takes advantage of this and continue to do homework, go to basketball practice and socialize with friends without getting into trouble. This maturity and self-reliance teach readers that being independent is important in life.

While no family is perfect, readers can empathize with Layla’s desire to have more family around for holidays, like Sammy’s. Or to have a mom that is very actively involved in her school life, like Liza’s mom. However, through her interactions with her friends, readers are reminded that each family has their own problems even if the outside world does not see them. For many teens, this nugget of wisdom is important because they don’t realize others may feel the same way they do.

Theme of Friendship

Friends are without a doubt the most important aspect of a teenager’s life, according to them. Establishing and maintaining true friendships takes time and effort on all parts, along with honesty. Typically, in YA books I find that there is often a backstabbing or betrayal between friends that causes a conflict. That doesn’t happen in My Name is Layla. In fact, Liza is an incredibly kind young lady (I hope my daughter has a Liza for a best friend in middle school). Liza knows that Layla struggles, but instead of ignoring this, Liza offers assistance to her friend wherever and however she can. From reminding her what class they have, or being partners for an in-class assignment, Liza takes Layla under her wing and supports her friend. There is never any negative comment made and Layla always feels comfortable.

Sammy. Ah, if there was ever a character I wanted to hug for being a good kid, it’s Sammy. His obvious crush on Layla isn’t the normal teenage kind. He truly likes Layla for who she is and wants to help her in his own way. I LOVE that he has the courage to ask Layla on a date to the basketball game and doesn’t leave her side when Nick gets injured. He mentions the Learning Center at school in the hopes of giving Lyla support in English. Through it all, Sammy is right there to help his neighbor (and girlfriend!).

Learning Differences and Dyslexia

Every single child learns differently. Some students show their struggles more than others, which is why there are always those that manage to “get by” in elementary school and part of middle school, but at some point someone notices.

Mr. McCarthy was Layla’s someone. He saw past her coping mechanisms and reached out to his school’s administration and helped create a plan for Layla (after a MAJOR plot twist that I refuse to mention). There were clues along the way that McCarthy was onto Layla, but she continued to plug along just “getting by”.

As I said before, teenagers worry about what others think of them. They never want to be “different”, especially at this stage. Layla is no exception to this because she cringes at the thought of going to see Mrs. Hirsch in the Learning Center.

What I LOVE about this book is the realistic way Marder Gentin has captured a teenager’s feelings when dealing with a learning difference. Readers experience the incredible emotions and thoughts that students cope with on a daily basis. As adults, we are reminded that these feelings need to be addressed when offering help to students. Anxiety and fear are incredibly consuming at this age, yet we need to provide the proper support.

Teachers like Mr. McCarthy and Mrs. Hirsch literally change lives.

Free Curriculum Guide

As always, my teacher heart gets insanely excited when there are resources to extend themes and learning in books. I will admit, I’m very picky with curriculum guides for my middle school learners, but this one is absolutely perfect! Not only is it aligned to the Common Core, it hits on all major teaching points for middle school English. There are plenty of discussion questions that can be used in small groups or whole class, it includes a few different activities for students (even some writing ones), a character chart with adjectives and practice with textual evidence and making inferences and drawing conclusions! AND, it’s also *FREE* on the author’s website! Pure perfection!

Never have I read a young adult book that hits on so many real-life issues for teens with so much accuracy. I highly recommend this book for parents and students in middle and high school, especially those with learning differences. Students will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

To purchase this book head over to Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

10 Reading Comprehension Tips

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.

Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.

There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.

So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?

Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.

Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.

When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.

Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?

The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.

Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.

This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.

Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).

Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary

So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.

Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.

Tip #4- Provide a summary

SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.

As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.

It’s okay to give students a summary of the text before or after they read.

Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.

Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.

Tip #5- Listen to the audio version

I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).

Currently enjoying book 5 of Harry Potter…again :).

So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.

While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.

Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.

Tip #6- Read the eBook version

Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.

Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.

Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.

Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.

Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.

Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.

Tip #7- Covering the basics

This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.

In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:

Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet

Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.

Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.

For more note-taking suggestions, check out my post: 6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips.

Tip #8- Always share thoughts

Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.

Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?

When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.

Tip #9- Encourage connections

The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.

So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?

This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.

Tip #10- Keep communication open

It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.

As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.

When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.

In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.

Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.

Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.

Head over to my TpT store to snag this FREE resource

In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.

For more specific tips and tricks for parents, check out my post on Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do.

Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Best Virtual Activities to Celebrate Read Across America & National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month. Schools dedicate time for kids to enjoy reading at all age levels by incorporating fun-filled literacy activities. These activities can be used throughout the month, not just during Read Across America week.

Virtual reading activities can still promote the love and joy of reading. In fact, there can be even more creativity to be had in the online environment.

D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read)

This is an oldie, but a goody. D.E.A.R. is one of those activities that can be done at any age, that allows kids to choose whatever they want to read. Whether it’s a graphic novel, or a classic piece of literature, giving students time to just read is always beneficial. However, if you’re looking to take this classic idea up a notch, add in an extra step to increase student engagement. Pose a question for students to answer in the chat, on Padlet or a Google doc so all can see the responses. Some really great prompts include: What kind of reader should choose your book? If you like ____________ then you’ll love this book because…

Themed Reading Days

Similar to D.EA.R, having students participate in themed reading days adds a little bit of fun to reading time. Teachers have more creativity with this chunk of reading time. My personal favorite themes are:

*Camping– when we think about camping, many of us instantly picture a roaring fire, s’mores and the great outdoors.

Some great ideas to make this set up virtual is to have a video of a campfire going on in the background, have kids wear camping clothes, make microwave s’mores using a recipe like this one, and allow kids to choose one of these ghost stories to read during class.

*Beach Day– students should bring their devices on the ground while sitting on a beach towel, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with flip flops, so they can read their favorite book. Personally, I prefer to sit in a beach chair for added comfort :).

*Coffee Shop- with the popularity of Starbucks, many students LOVE coffee shops. Kids should sit in their most comfortable chair with their favorite beverage (hot chocolate, tea, smoothie, etc.) and read some Time for Kids articles.

*Pajama Party– this is by far, my absolute favorite theme. Who doesn’t like to read in their pajamas? Students should wear their pajamas to class and bring a copies of their favorite bedtime stories to read.

Read Aloud Videos

As educators, we know that we are working with the YouTube generation, so why not incorporate videos into the classroom? There are TONS of read aloud videos on YouTube from picture books to chapter books. You can check out my latest read aloud video below.

My personal favorite read aloud channel on YouTube is Storytime Now for picture books.

School Wide Story Time

Now more than ever, schools are really trying to encourage school spirit and socialization in safe ways. Holding a school wide story time is a great opportunity for all students to come together and listen to a story. If the plan is to make this a one time occurrence, I would suggest reading a few picture books, especially for elementary kiddos. If this will be repeated a few times I recommend a short chapter book like Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, which is one of those books that appeals to grades K-6.

Guest Reader Visits

Sometimes it’s good to change up the readers in the virtual classroom, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to have a guest reader. Having parents or even other teachers in the building read a story adds some extra excitement to reading time. Whether the reading happens live, or a parent/guardian sends a recording of the reading, having difference faces and voices reading goes a long way. If you’re unable to find guest readers, a website, like Storyline Online, is a fantastic option for any elementary classroom. Storyline Online features popular children’s books read aloud by different celebrities.

Student Choice

As educators, we know to try and give students choices as much as possible in the classroom. Why not let kids pick the book the teacher reads? Online platforms Vooks and Epic! are amazing resources for activities like this. For more resources for teaching reading online, check out this post.

Divergent is a great read aloud book for grades 6-12.
Divergent is my all-time favorite read aloud book for grades 6-12.

Teacher Read Aloud

While all of these ideas are great options to celebrate the joy of reading, sometimes just reading to a class is engaging. Whether a teacher reads a book from the curriculum, or changes it up by reading a personal favorite, kids LOVE being read to all the time. For more specific suggestions about virtual read alouds check out Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom.

It is possible to celebrate National Reading Month in the virtual classroom.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with reading activities. We always want to show kids that reading is enjoyable, even if it’s being done virtually.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Mini Movers and Shakers: Anne Frank Book Review

I will be the first to say that I am not a history person, but there are specific time periods that do interest me. One of those is WWII all because of a young girl named Anne Frank. I was always a fan of the Dear America series as a kid, and in middle school there was just something about Anne Frank’s diary that helped me wrap my head around the historical events.

Anne Frank, written by Mary Nhin and illustrated by Yulia Zolotova, is an insightful picture book about the life of one of the strongest young women in history.

My readers know I am no stranger to Mary Nhin books (How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas, Arial the YouTuber, and eNinja to name a few), but when I saw that she was starting a new series called Mini Movers and Shakers and one of my personal favorite figures was to be featured, I instantly added the book to my ‘To Read List’.

Right away readers connect with young Anne because the story is told from her point of view. The writing is simple, yet mature enough for elementary school students to read. Nhin simplifies the events of Anne’s life, but does not water them down, which I really enjoyed. Vocabulary words like ‘invaded’ and ‘confidante’ give this text a more sophisticated feel that I was personally drawn to as a middle and high school teacher.

The illustrations really elaborate and explain the main ideas in the text, helping readers with their comprehension. I especially liked the map of Germany because it provides a visual to those children not familiar with the other side of the world. The Reading Specialist in me got excited that this text provided necessary background information to support reading comprehension.

It’s very clear that Nhin spent time researching her facts, and that she is a mom because she’s able to express these nuggets of information in a kid-friendly way. I even learned some new things about Anne Frank! The tone is friendly, as though Anne is speaking to the reader like a new friend. Kids are also to pick up on themes of perseverance, faith, courage, and family throughout the book.

Personally, I would use this in the classroom as a cross-curricular activity with social studies. It does a phenomenal job of introducing children to the events of WWII and the Holocaust. I would recommend this book for children ages 3-11.

*Be sure to check out more books in the Movers and Shakers series

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.

Love in YA Books Distance Learning Activities for Grades 6-12

YA books are known for having incredible characters who experience intense love. Whether that is friendship love, family love or romantic love, young adult texts show readers the power that love has in our lives.

Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to love, and as a secondary teacher I still love celebrating holidays with my students. However, it can be hard to find activities that don’t involve writing love notes or the usual reading and answering comprehension questions. So, I decided to use popular YA novels to help me discuss the theme of love in a distance learning bundle.

Love in YA Books PowerPoint Presentation– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This PowerPoint presentation, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, dives into the specific types of love (family, friends and romantic) in these texts. YA literature and the different types of love are defined. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments.

Love in YA Books Guided Note Sheet- Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This guided note sheet is based on the Love in YA Books PowerPoint presentation, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist. ,This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments.

Love in YA Books Quote Analysis Activity– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This quote analysis activity, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, includes quotes from popular YA titles (The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, and City of Glass). Part one requires students to label each quote with the type of love being expressed and part two has students write a quote analysis paragraph. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments. An answer key is included.

Love in YA Books Write Your Own YA Love Short Story– Young Adult literature is known for focusing on the theme of love. This short story activity, created by a certified Teacher of English and Reading Specialist, requires students to write their own short story including one type of love. This is a great Valentine’s Day activity for students in grades 6-12, and can easily be adapted for Google classroom assignments. A rubric is included.

Love in YA Books Bundle includes the following activities:

*Love in YA PowerPoint Presentation

*Love in YA Guided Note Sheet

*Love in YA Books Quote Analysis Activity

*Love in YA Books Write Your Own Love Short Story

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information click here.