Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Circus, John Henry, and Inference practice

This was the week of the Boston Marathon bombing. I followed the news from home as much as possible, but it did not come up in conversation with students. Just as well; I trust those children who know the area are talking with their parents about it.

In the library, we continued with our various units. It was sunny (finally) and we shared lots of giggles and good stories.

PreK 3 and PreK 4: Guiding Question - What's a circus?

Circus!, by Peter Spier

The detailed pictures in this story make it best for one-on-one reading, but since it gives so much information, I use it as a "talk aloud" as we look at the pictures.

We learned about the work involved in packing, moving, unpacking, rehearsing, and performing. We also noticed how multicultural the circus troupe is: Japan, China, Hungary, Holland, New Zealand, Russia, many countries are part of the story!

Oliva Saves the Circus, by Ian Falconer

The irrepressible Oliva charms us again as she spins a yarn for her class. She tells them that she went to a circus but that all of the performers were out sick "with ear infections." She was able to fill in for ALL of the roles. Oliva the tattoo lady, lion tamer, and trampoline queen. It's fun to pretend along with her, and it's really hilarious when the teacher sees through her tall tale.

After the stories, we play "Clown Canon". ('s a good physics lesson!)

Kindergarten: Guiding Question - How can inferring help us understand a story better?

We continued to practice the skill of puzzling out a part of a story that the author hasn't directly told us. 

Billy and the Bad Teacher, written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Elivia Savadier

Billy is a major rule-follower and it really irritates him when his teacher does things he's not supposed to do. So Billy decides to make a list of all of his teacher's transgressions and send the lists to some Very Important People! On the list? Chewing bubble gum, running in the halls, and falling asleep in a teachers' meeting, to name a few. But when it's time to send the list off to the Principal, Mayor, and US President, Billy has some doubts. What SHOULD the perfect teacher be like? His own answers surprise him!

Our inference task: Why doesn't Billy send the lists?

Blackout, by John Rocco

This recent Caldecott honor book shows a family's experience during a blackout. We infer many of the emotions of the night from the pictures. The youngest child in the family wants to play a game, but everyone is busy. After the blackout, they come together over candles and with their neighbors to share the excitement of the quiet dark city. 

When the lights come back on, little sister flicks them back off. Our inference task: Why does she?

Grade 1: Guiding Question - Who was Dave, the Potter? Who is Barak Obama?

This week, we looked at two African American men born 250 years apart. One is known only by his first name and was not famous during his own time. The other is the current US President.

I didn't realize these are illustrated by the same artist until I got into the story time!
Dave, the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier

Dave, a slave born in 1801, was a gifted potter. We watch him in his pottery shed as he moulds a lump of clay into a beautifully grand but simple jar. When it's finished, he signs it with his name, the date, and a short poem. One of the most engaging aspects of this story is the viewpoint the illustrator chooses: we're over Dave's shoulder or looking down directly at his hands as he works. It creates an intimate feeling giving us the sense we're part of the creation process.

Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier

We learn about Barack Obama's childhood in Hawaii, his struggle to define himself, his family's value for education, the sadness he feels after his parents' divorce, and his final move into public policy and leadership. From an early age, he wanted to use his talents to help others. The illustrations are mixed media. 

In a story time setting, I cut parts of the story to move things along since it's a bit long for youngsters.

Grade 2: Guiding Question - What's a tall tale?

We watched a fantastic video about John Henry, the freed slave who blasted through a mountain to compete against the machinery brought in to do the railroad workers' jobs. Parts of his story have some truth to them, parts are exaggerated. This video shows the more truthful side.

John Henry and The Railroad from Whitestone Motion Pictures on Vimeo.

Grade 3: Guiding Question - How do we analyze a poem's rhythm?

This week, we studied rhythm in poetry and tried to unlock the key to how a poet creates rhythm from the words he or she chooses. To start us off, I read two poems with contrasting rhythms: "Lullaby for Suzanne" and "Shepard's Night Count", both found in X. J. Kennedy's Talking Like the Rain.

Here's the powerpoint I made to lead us through some concepts and practice. 

Next week, all grade 3 students will come to library time with a poem that has a clear rhyme scheme and a sense of rhythm. Students will read and discuss the poem in Photo Booth.

Grade 4 and Grade 5 checked out books as needed. Sometimes they come for reading workshop time, sometimes to read with buddies from younger grades, sometimes in pairs or threes for book recommendations or independent catalog searching. 

Checking out as needed = student ownership over their reading choices.


  1. I just stumbled across your blog and am a new follower. I love all of your ideas. I can't wait to incorporate them into my lessons next year. You can follow me at

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment and for stopping by. I'm following you, too!
      Cheers, S