6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips

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My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Resources for Teaching Reading Online

 

As a middle and high school teacher, I was never really given a reading program to use with my students. I loved this flexibility,  but it was time consuming to find the resources I wanted to use with my students.

As many educators are putting together their own collection of online reading resources, I wanted to share my experiences with ones that have helped my readers.  I have used these programs with general education students, special education and honors students.

Raz-kids– This is an awesome online reading program. I love that students have access to their account 24/7 and that parents can see what their student is reading. This site is great for students in grades K-6. I did use this for my readers in 6th grade and some of them were too advanced for the program, so I gave them a supplemental novel to focus on instead. The leveled libraries are filled with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction texts that require students to read each work multiple times by listening to it and reading it independently. The comprehension quizzes focus on specific topics (characterization, plot, cause and effects) so teachers are able to really see the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The system also creates progress reports based on this data, which I’ve actually used in parent conferences.

Teachers do have the ability to conduct running record assessments with the program as well. I have used some of the passages, but have never had students record themselves with the software.

ReadWorks– I found ReadWorks when I first started teaching in 2010 and have used it since. This is one of those rare programs that can be used with grades K-12. The site has SO many filer options for finding the perfect text. Users can search using Lexile levels, grade level, fiction/nonfiction, content type, activity type, etc. I typically use grade or Lexile level and fiction/nonfiction to find the passages I want. Users can listen to an audio version and/or read the text independently before tackling some reading comprehension questions. Being super honest, I wish that the questions were a little more challenging at times, especially for the older grades, but these work really well for my population of students.

While teachers can print the passages and questions, you can also set up online classrooms through the site and electronically assign students assignments. I have used this feature tutoring and it was super easy to navigate and access.

Reading Detective by The Critical Thinking Co.- This is hands down my FAVORITE  resource to use with my kiddos. Each passage is one page and has a page of questions that accompany it. The questions are absolutely incredible by requiring readers to use their higher thinking skills. The questions also constantly ask for textual evidence to support answers, expecting students to look at specific sentences and paragraphs.

I’m currently using the traditional book version, and using my document camera or taking pictures on my phone of passages. However, the company offers e-book, win software and app versions that I will definitely be looking into in the next few weeks to make my life easier.

Vooks– I came across Vooks earlier this year when I saw they were doing free accounts for teachers. This resource is geared towards preschool and elementary aged kiddos, so I don’t use it as much with my students. Each book is read aloud and students watch the book come to life through video. It feels like like a mix between a read aloud and watching a cartoon, which is really cool for readers.

Epic– this is a one of a kind resource. It’s a digital library for grades P-6 that includes popular texts for students to read. It includes works such as Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad and Ella Enchanted. I would recommend using this program for mini lessons and activities.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Questions for Parents to Ask Their Readers in Grades 3-8

For some, getting kids to read is a battle. Last week I shared 5 Effective Tips to Help Kids Read More. But, once we start to get kids reading, what should parents do next?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to help readers of all ages understand and engage with a text is to talk about it with them. Depending on the child, this is easier said than done.

For those students who may need some prompting, asking questions is a great strategy for parents to use. “What did you learn?” ” What was your favorite part?” These are examples of great starter questions, but in order to engage in meaningful dialogue about the text, try to ask more specific questions.

Little Reading Coach has created a FREE resource with different types of fiction reading questions for readers in grades 3-8. The questions are broken into categories (general, reading comprehension, character, setting, conflict, and higher order thinking questions). Click here to access the free resource.

Parents can pick and choose which questions to ask their reading, depending on age, type of text being read, etc. They can just be discussed verbally, or students can write or type responses.

To check out more products from Little Reading Coach, click here

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Rescue Book Review

One of my favorite things about being a book blogger is being able to introduce children and families to quality texts from authors. I’m fortunate to have connected with indie authors who are extremely passionate about their books and take pride in what they create.

I’ve been working with kindergarten students over the last few weeks for summer school, and during our morning meeting we read a different picture book. I read them PB & J (see my review here), and the other day they requested another book by the same author.

Rescue, by Christine Reynebeau, and illustrated by Jessica Kopecky, is a fabulous picture book about the importance of teamwork and friendship.

Readers are introduced to three dogs (Finley, Walter and Phoebe) who are friends. Phoebe is playing with balls outside when her favorite ball makes its way into Lulu’s yard. Lulu is not the friendliest dog and Phoebe knows she will need some help from her friends, Finley and Walter, to get her ball back. Together, the three friends create and execute a successful plan to help Phoebe.

Personally, I really liked that this story featured dogs as the main characters. While I feel the story would have been just as engaging with humans, there’s something  special about using animals in picture books. My kindergarteners would also agree that they loved having dogs as the characters, and they really loved the name Walter.

As a teacher and parent, I loved the simplicity of the writing style. When reading to my six year old students, I didn’t have to stop and clarify any words or explain situations. My readers were able to comprehend on their own, with the use of the pictures.

Since I had been working with my students on using pictures to help them understand a story, they were able to practice this strategy on their own with this book. I LOVE that the pictures supported and elaborated on the text. For instance, the picture of Lulu clearly lets readers know that she is not the friendliest dog in the neighborhood.

As always, I’m a huge fan of the themes used in books by Reynebeau. Readers are able to pick up on the themes of friendship and teamwork quite easily while reading this text.

I recommend this book for readers 0-7.

To purchase this book click here.

Summer Family Bookish Guide Review

Summer reading is a pretty popular term. Schools encourage young child to participate in reading contests, high school students usually have to read a book and complete an activity. However, many families are unsure how to structure summer reading at home because there are so many different options.

But, what if I told you there is an all inclusive guide available for families to use right away?

One of my amazing book friends, and my Usborne Books & More consultant, Lis Moriarty has created an absolutely incredible Summer Family Bookish Guide.

This guide can be followed exactly like it’s outlined, or parents can pick and choose which parts to use. The guide includes a table of contents to help direct users and is super user friendly.

One of my favorite pages is the Daily Summer Themes. This is a fabulous option for those who have kids home all summer long and want to provide some structure. Each day has a theme, such as Make it Monday, and includes a handful of ideas that can be done with the whole family. Some of the ideas includes: virtual field trips, trying a new recipe, and go on a scavenger hunt.

If you’re a planner, this guide has printable templates that can be filled out in as much detail as you like. You can literally plan your entire day and week in a manner of minutes. Post your schedules on the fridge so kids can see what’s coming up.

As a Reading Specialist, I get excited when I come across materials I can share with families that encourage kids to talk about what they’re reading. This fantastic guide includes so many conversation starters for parents to have with kids of all ages. Also, for those who love to read aloud, there are ideas for how to keep kids engaged during this precious reading time.

This guide puts a TON of emphasis on making reading fun! Summer Book Bingo provides some great opportunities to read different texts in some different ways and places. I really like the square to read with a flashlight.

Finally, this guide provides printouts to record books to read and books read. Book tracking forms helps provide kids with a visual to see how much they have really read over the summer months. It also includes so great book suggestion lists that literally has something for every kid.

For more information about this incredible summer guide click here.

Pandemic Academic Regression: What is it and how do we combat it?

When schools shut down in March no one knew how long it would be before students could go back to their classrooms. Teachers, in many cases, were given merely hours to prepare as many online activities and lessons as they could, not knowing how many were needed.

Each district and each school had their own expectations with e-learning. Some had a rigorous schedule that mirrors the typical school day, complete with daily live lessons. Others posted assignments on Monday and had them due on Friday. And, in some cases, teachers were still driving to school to make copies of assignments to send home packets to students.

The world of education was turned upside down literally overnight. Parents scrambled to keep their kids learning from home with distractions, technology issues, and living through a pandemic.

Now that the school year is over, or almost over, it’s time to take an honest look at where our students are academically.

Pandemic Regression is when students have not progressed positively with their academics due to the disruption of pre-pandemic instruction.

Many schools went to pass/fail for fourth marking period grades, did away with finals and other end of the year assessments. This is without a doubt what is best for students, however, it leaves families and educators not knowing where students are in their learning. This, coupled with pandemic regression, really leaves us in uncharted territory.

So, what can parents do to combat pandemic regression?

  1. Get as much information from teachers as possible. As previously stated, teachers don’t have final assessments to determine if a student has mastered skills over the last few months, so parents should reach out to individual teachers to get some feedback. It’s also important to note that you should request feedback from September to now so you have a better idea how the pandemic has impacted your student’s learning.
  2. Spend time working on material at home. Put time aside each day to focus on skills from this past school year. There are TONS of resources out there for parents right now from workbooks to online programs that can be used at home to help support learning. My personal favorite at home resources are Usborne Books & More. These books and activities are superior in quality and are super engaging for kids of all ages. (Click here to check them out)
  3. Read. Reading is always a fantastic and easy option for helping students grow academically. Don’t be afraid to have kids use reading apps and online programs, such as ABC Mouse and Reading Eggs. (Click here to read my review of ABC Mouse). Reading aloud to kids of all ages is another great summer activity (take the reading outside, to the beach, etc.).
  4. Work with a tutor. If you feel your child needs more support geared towards specific skills, hire a qualified tutor to come up with a plan of action. Tutors can provide incredible insight and customize instruction so that your student gets exactly what he or she needs. Many tutors offer online sessions, but as time goes on, some are starting to offer in-person sessions as well.

By using the summer months to catch up, kids can start the next school year feeling confident in their skills and ready to learn.

If you’re looking for a qualified virtual reading and writing tutor, Little Reading Coach can help your student catch up on skills. As a Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) with over ten years of experience, LRC provides the following services:

*assessments to determine reading level, comprehension and writing skills

*distance learning support (homework help, organization, etc.)

*essay writing

*reading comprehension

*additional reading and writing activities

*multi-sensory writing for grammar and sentence structure

Click here to learn more about LRC.

ABC Mouse Review: Early Literacy Skills for Preschool

Lockdown has completely changed our lives the last few months and will forever leave its mark on the education world. Like so many other parents, I have had to adjust to working with a child at home 24/7. In the beginning, I was all about creating a routine for her that mimicked her school schedule, but in reality this was impossible for me with work. I realized I needed to find a way to provide my three year old with a quality education at home without much prep work on my end.

For years I had seen the commercials for ABC Mouse and read testimonials on the company’s website. In full disclosure, I was skeptical. It’s very easy for a company to make a product look good and hire actors to portray parents and educators. However, I needed a program that Molly could work on while I worked with students and ABC Mouse seemed like the best option, so I purchased a subscription. I have no affiliation with ABC Mouse, and the following are all of my personal and professional opinions as a teachermom.

As a Reading Specialist, I’m very picky with what I look for in a literacy curriculum. I believe in phonics, multi-sensory learning, and reading quality texts. As a parent, I know my child’s strengths and weaknesses and worry about her early literacy skills.

Being a virtual teacher and tutor has made me quite tech savvy in navigating online programs. I can say that ABC Mouse is one of the most user-friendly apps I have used. It has a great balance of games, puzzles, art and music and academics. The concept of the classroom is fantastic for familiarizing little ones with a classroom environment.

Since Molly is a technically a preschooler, that is the level I have her profile set as. When I want her to work on different skills I have her continue her progress through the white board. One activity could involve counting, and the next could focus on practicing colors. The constant change in topics keeps her engaged, and the clear directions allow her to figure out the activities on her own, which is super important as a working mom.

When I want Molly to really focus on specific skills, I have her access the different options at the top of the classroom (reading, math, world around us, art, songs, library, puzzles, and games). I will admit, I do have her spend lots of time in reading and the library.

In the reading section, kids have a few different options for practicing their reading skills. Since Molly is at the preschool level, the activities revolve around the alphabet, letters and sounds. Molly can choose to listen to a library of books about letters, short stories, nursery rhymes and more. They program reads everything to her in a loud, clear voice and really emphasizes individual sounds when necessary. This is a fantastic option for learning phonics. Molly can also play games with letters and the alphabet. They even focus on ideas like capital letters. I LOVE that they have a tracing game for Molly to physically practice writing her letters, making this a great multi-sensory option. The puzzles section allows Molly to click and drag pieces with letters and pictures. The arts and music category offers “painting” activities with letters and songs about each letter to reinforce phonics skills. Everything in the app is very visual, with pictures used to support whatever the letter is, which also supports multi-sensory learning. Molly ABC Mouse

And my absolute favorite feature is the library. This digital library is jam packed with some great characters that kids will recognize. There are tons of options including Curious George, Disney princesses, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic and more. There is a good balance between fiction and nonfiction texts that are engaging for young readers. Molly is a huge fan of the princesses, so she usually chooses one of those titles. Parents and kids can search using the categories button to filter all of the different choices. Since Molly can’t read on her own yet, I usually have her pick a text from the ‘Read to Me’ category. When she clicks on one of these, the text will read the story to her automatically, just like I would during a read aloud. But wait, it gets better! While the story is being read to Molly, it highlights the word as the voice reads it!! This is by far my most favorite feature in the entire app because it helps her practicing “reading”.

While I was very hesitant at first about using an app to continue Molly’s education during this time, I am truly so glad I took the chance. She has become more independent with learning and wants to do ABC Mouse. She usually works in the app for an hour a day and I have seen a growth in her skills since she started. The app is a good supplement for supporting early literacy skills at home and I would highly recommend it for all learners.

For more information about ABC Mouse click here.

For more information about Little Reading Coach’s online tutoring services click here. 

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery Book Review

Literacy in the content areas is a topic I’ve been interested in since college when I had to take a class on it (with one of my favorite professors). I love coming across books that will spark the interest of a reader who has a love of science, math or history.

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery, by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Varcelija, is a delightful story about using the scientific method to solve a real life mystery.

Lizzie’s mom just baked a batch of delicious peanut butter cookies, but unfortunately a bunch have gone missing. Lizzie asked to have a cookie, but she listened to her mom and did not take one. She went outside to play with her neighbors, Robert and Joule. Lizzie’s mom thinks Lizzie ate the cookies, and has given her daughter an hour to explain what happened to them. Robert, Joule and Lizzie use the scientific method to create a hypothesis and design an experiment to show Mrs. Loftus what really happened to the cookies.

The format of this book is fabulous! Each chapter is a few pages long, which are filled with dialogue allowing the story to flow really well for young readers. The conversations are extremely realistic and allow readers to truly get to know the characters. The illustrations are adorable and can be used to help aid readers with comprehending the text.

Two of my favorite components of this story are the characters and the explanation of the scientific methods.

The three main characters are Lizzie, Robert and Joule. Robert and Lizzie are in second grade, and Robert’s older sister Joule is in fifth grade. Even though the story is about Lizzie’s situation, Joule’s character definitely steals the show! Joule is a know-it-all, with a big personality. She likes to remind Lizzie and Robert that she learned all about science and experiments “last year in fourth grade”. She is the driving force behind Lizzie finding out the truth about the missing peanut butter cookies, and truly moves the plot along.

For the record, science was in no way one of my best subjects growing up. I remember learning about the scientific method and having to use it in class, all while thanking my lab partner for getting me through.

This book not only does a marvelous job explaining and defining the different parts of an experiment (hypothesis, designing an experiment) it also provides clear examples in a real life situation. Joule spends lots of time teaching Robert and Lizzie about science in this short text, but her explanations are kid-friendly while using the proper scientific terminology, which I loved. There is no watering down of ideas and concepts, but rather a dialogue between characters that helps readers comprehend the ideas. For instance, Joule spends lots of time discussing hypothesis with the two other kids. She corrects them and explains why their ideas are incorrect, and provides guidance to the right way of thinking.

There were also some nice little surprises at the end of the story. The teacher in me always gets excited when an author includes extra educational activities that correlate with the story, and this author definitely got me excited!

Not only did she include a glossary of the scientific terms mentioned in the story, she included comprehension questions based on each term and the story! Truthfully, I have never seen it done this way, and I think it’s great! It adds an extra layer of skill building in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming for young readers.

And in true saving the best for last fashion, there is a recipe for peanut butter cookies! The illustrations of the ingredients make the recipe very kid-friendly, and the references to the story in the directions just add that little bit of extra.

I recommend this book for ages 5-12. It would work really well as a cross curricular activity with science and reading for students in grades 2-5. It is a must have for any kid who likes science or mysteries.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do

Whenever I chat with parents, they always express concern with their child’s reading comprehension. They worry that their child struggles with reading because they don’t understand what they are reading. While every child learns differently, there are some general tips and tricks that parents can do to help their learners at home. Below are some of my favorite, easy to incorporate ideas that I share with my families:

  1. Background information. This is HUGE! The more background students have about a topic or idea before reading about it, the more their brain is prepared to learn new information. Take a look at the passage or book your learner is reading and provide them with some information about the topic. For instance, if your student is going to read Anne Frank, find a Youtube video about WWII. Videos and movies are a great resource for background information, especially since kids will be reading in the near future.
  2. Predictions. This strategy works really well with elementary students, who seem to really enjoy it. Stop periodically and ask your learner what they think will happen next, where will the character go, will the problem get worse? Always try to keep the questions opened-ended so kids can explain their answers fully using examples from the text. Feel free to ask follow up questions, such as why or how to get your student to expand on their prediction.
  3. Stop and check. Kids need to learn to check in with themselves while they’re reading. No one wants to sit and waste 20 minutes reading a short story to realize none of it makes sense. Help your child figure out when is an appropriate time for them to stop in their reading and do a quick reading comprehension self check. Maybe have younger students stop after every paragraph or page and see if they can summarize what they just read to you. For older students, maybe have them stop and give a summary or main idea every 10 pages or chapter. If your child got all the big ideas then keep reading. If he or she missed some big concepts go back and re-read.
  4. Re-read. This is by far the best reading comprehension strategy for kids to use, in my opinion. Once a student realizes they are lost or confused, re-reading can usually help them get back on track. We all zone out sometimes when we read, or get mixed up at a particular part, so re-reading is a great, quick way to clarify any confusion and continue reading. Sometimes just re-reading a sentence or two does the trick, but if a student needs to re-read a few paragraphs or a page let them.
  5. Visualizing. I knew I was a strong reader as a kid when I could read a novel with no pictures and have a movie playing in my head. Elementary students rely on pictures in books to help them visualize when they are learning to read, but as kids get older and the texts become more complex, usually there aren’t any pictures to help students. That is where visualizing comes in. Usually a novel will provide readers with a great description of a setting or character. Stop and have kids draw what the description is using colors. For those that don’t like to draw (like myself) show kids some pictures. For instance, in Divergent readers are introduced to the city of Chicago, so show students pictures of the city to help them visualize.

 

Does your learner in grades 3-12 need additional support with reading comprehension? Check out https://www.littlereadingcoachllc.com/ for details about online reading and writing tutoring.