Immersion Helps Children Envision the Possibilities

By Stacey Shubitz, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Instagram Stories have been around for two years. They came onto my radar about six months ago since several people I follow started creating them. I thought about dabbling in Instagram Stories, but knew I needed to watch a bunch of them before I tried on my own. (Even though Instagram Stories disappear from your profile after 24 hours – unless you save them to your profile from your private archive – I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself!) Therefore, I immersed myself in many Instagram Stories before creating one.

LFA2018-Stacey-ShubitzJust as I needed to view many Instagram Stories to help me figure out how one of my own would go, immersion helps young writers envision what their end products will look like. Regardless of the genre, time spent immersing children in the kind of writing you expect them to produce in a unit of study is time well-spent (Bomer, 2010; Caine, 2008); Eickholdt, 2015; Ray, 2006; Shubitz, 2016). After all, it’s hard to understand what’s expected if you don’t know what the finished piece could look like.

Typically, teachers share mentor texts with students during read aloud time. The first reading of a text should be to experience it as a reader. The second reading of a mentor text should be to notice craft or, rather, how the text is written. After reading a text twice, it is time to dig deeper to notice and note what an author did that made the writing come alive. Many teachers provide time for whole-class discussion of a text so that all students’ responses are honored and recorded on an anchor chart for future reference.

In addition, students can work with partners to read like writers. You may provide students with a variety of mentor texts (i.e., published, teacher-written, student-written) to read and explore together. Provide students with a variety of mentor texts – at different levels – so all students can engage in immersion with a partner.

There are many ways to help students read like writers.

Katie Wood Ray (1999) suggests:

  1. Notice something about the craft of the text.
  2. Talkabout it and make a theory about why a writer might use this craft.
  3. Give the craft a name.
  4. Think of other texts you know. Have you seen this craft before?
  5. Try and envision using this craft in your own writing. (120)

Ralph Fletcher (2011) encourages students to:

  • Make a copy of the writing and put it in your writer’s notebook.
  • Copy a sentence or short section of the piece in your writer’s notebook, maybe mentioning why you chose it.
  • Share it with a friend, zooming in on one part or craft element you really liked.
  • “Write off the text” – that is, create a similar piece of your own. (13)

While Katherine Bomer (2016) provides a third way to examine texts:

Step 1: Read Out Loud.

Step 2: Respond as a Reader.

Step 3: Reread.

Step 4: Read with a Lens.

Step 5: Talk.

Step 6: Record. (10-11)

There isn’t one way to read like a writer. Therefore, it’s important to provide students with a variety of ways to read texts – some are more structured than others – so students can find a process of their own to adopt. After all, we want kids to continue to do this work independently in the future.

After spending two to four days at the beginning of a unit of study to immerse students in a genre, it’s time to determine what they’ve absorbed. After immersion, set aside a day to administer an on-demand writing assessment (Calkins, Hohne, and Robb, 2015). On-demand writing assessments give students the opportunity to try out what they’ve learned after immersion. The data you’ll glean from an on-demand writing assessment will help you modify your whole-class instruction, if necessary, if you notice there are some big understandings about a genre the entire class is missing. In addition, you’ll be able to look at each student’s piece to determine strengths and areas for growth, which can help you set goals for one-to-one writing conferences. Furthermore, on-demand writing assessments provide you with data to create groups of students so you can create a series of small-group strategy lessons to meet multiple needs at one time.

We want students to feel confident when they begin the first non-immersion lesson in a unit of study. One of the best ways to empower kids to feel like they can create writing is to help them understand what it is they’re going to create from the start.

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References:

Bomer, Katherine. 2010. Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching from the Brilliance in Every Student’s Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

—————. 2016. The Journey Is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Caine, Karen. 2008. Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, Lucy, Kelly Hohne, and Audra Robb. 2015. Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Eickholdt, Lisa. 2015. Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fletcher, Ralph. 2011. Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts and Craft Notes. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ray, Katie Wood. 1999. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

—————. 2006. Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Shubitz, Stacey. 2016. Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

My First Favourite Year

By Allyson Matczuk, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

As the school year moves into first term, I have been thinking about my all time favourite year of teaching.  Over coffee with a couple of close colleagues it all came back and I felt that pleasant rush of excitement as I walked home later.
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We had a district early years team with one or two reps from each school.  The meetings rotated from school to school and were held after school hours with a pizza dinner served. Even though I had four children at home, my husband was accommodating enough to take over and give me that one evening a month free to indulge my appetite for all things “teaching”. Our early years team got to visit each other’s teaching environments and every meeting opened with a little “tour” of the classroom we were meeting in.  While the equipment and the organization of the room was always of interest, the ‘why’ of the room looked as it did was a richer conversation.  We all had the “same stuff” but how it was used and why we had made the decisions we had was fascinating.  We found that we were able to personalize our contexts so that others could understand that what mattered about the experiences we created for the individual children we worked with.  The team from my school consisted of myself and my teaching colleague.  We carried the things we had discussed at the team meetings back to our own school where we couldn’t stop talking about the possibilities.  It led us to arrange to do recess supervision together — twice the amount of time on the playground but also twice as much time to talk with each other and with the children.  We found that our plans about how to implement the curriculum were coming from what we knew about our context… our students.

In a radical move, we proposed a change to the principal.  We would combine our classes and our classrooms and teach together. My classroom was a blended first- and second-grade and my partner’s was a blended second- and third-grade class. We were convinced that we would more than double our enthusiasm for teaching and not double the duties each of us had.  Much to our shock, he agreed and the next year we were a team with open doors between our adjoining classrooms.  The next year was my first “favorite-year-of-all-time”.

During that “favorite year” one girl in first grade stands out.  Within the first day or two of school she informally demonstrated she could tell tall tales better than anyone…ever! Rather than stifling her enthusiasm for story-telling by suggesting she was making things up and grumbling about her sense of honesty, my teaching partner and I embraced her skill and built our plans around it. The year revolved around stories of tall tales, legends, and fantasies.  By contrasting them with narrative non-fiction and informational texts, the students learned to distinguish reality from make-believe and everyone had a favorite they liked to think and talk about. They may have been in grade one, but they had taught each other about genre. We all were fanatical about reading and writing in different genres and trying new ways on for size. First grade students were able to classify the little stories they heard, wrote and read.  The older students motivated the younger ones to read more, to listen more, to write more, and to find others who enjoyed the same types of text as they did or suggest different texts to each other. All the while, they were all having fun and the amount of time-on-task was amazing!

As we welcome new students into our schools, I wonder how much we still are able to do that.  Are we able to wrap experiences around the students? Do we greet the new immigrant student, or a student whose home life has changed, or a student who has just moved across the country, or a student who is differently abled with the same respect for their individuality, their diversity and their hidden expertise as my partner and I did with the students in my first favorite year of teaching?

As P. David Pearson says, “Children are who they are.  They know what they know. They bring what they bring. Our job is not to wish our students knew more or knew differently. Our job is to turn each student’s knowledge and diversity of knowledge we encounter into a curricular strength rather than an instructional inconvenience.  We can do that only if we hold high expectations for all students, convey great respect for the knowledge and culture they bring to the classroom, and offer lots of support in helping them achieve those expectations.”  I’ve had other favorite years since, but I’ve learned that harnessing the power of diversity makes teaching my “favorite” thing to do!

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A First Timer’s Guide to Registering for the Literacy for All Conference

We’re excited to announce we’ve opened registration for the 28th Annual Literacy for All Conference, co-hosted with The University of Maine, and the University of Connecticut. This year the conference will be held October 22–24, 2017 in Providence, Rhode Island. While we know many of you are veteran LFA attendees, each year we have more and more new faces joining us in Providence. Welcome to all first timers!

We have made it even easier to register for the Literacy for All Conference! Simply visit www.regonline.com/lfa2017 and enter your email address to begin your registration process. We’ve put together a little guide to our online registration system to help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

An Important Note

We have created an online registration process that seamlessly guides you through the steps of registration. Please do not use your Internet browser’s “back” button if you want to go back and make a change, as it will cause errors and you will not be able to complete your registration. Instead, if you need to change something, complete your registration and then email us at literacy@lesley.edu, and we will make the changes for you.

Before You Register

First, you should make a list of all the sessions you want to attend. You can find the full list on our website. Each time block is listed with a letter, ie: LCA, LCB, etc. Then, each session within that time block is numbered. So, the full session code will read something like LCA-1 or LCC-4. You can only choose one session per time block, so you should have one LCA, one LCB, and so on.  Please note, that on our online registration system, RegOnline, the sessions are listed with only the code and the presenter name, not the session title, as shown below.

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The only variation is in the In-Depth sessions, which occur either in the C or F blocks. In-Depth sessions are three hours long, not the normal 90 minutes, so if you choose an In-Depth session for your C or F, you will not be able to choose a D or G, respectively, as the In-Depth session will run through that time.

If a session doesn’t appear on the drop-down menu that means it is sold out and you will have to choose another session. Sessions do sell out, so we recommend registering as early as possible to ensure you get all your first choices.

Second, know your method of payment. If your district will be paying for you with a purchase order, you don’t need to know the purchase order number to register. If your district will be paying for you with a credit card, you can still register yourself. When you get to the checkout screen, simply choose “Pay with Purchase Order” and then have your district call us with the credit card number, or fax or email us the PO within ten business days of registering.  Please note, if you are paying with a purchase order (PO), we require that you submit a copy of your PO to secure your registration.  If your PO has not been received by the opening of the institute, you will be required to provide a credit card in order to attend the institute.

We recommend that all attendees register themselves. The process begins with an email validation– you’ll receive an email with a secure link, which you’ll need to click on in order to continue your registration. Forwarding these emails can sometimes be tricky, so we recommend you register yourself to avoid confusion.

If someone else has to register for you, we recommend that you choose your sessions ahead of time and give the list of sessions, including session code and presenter name to the person registering you.

When entering in your personal information, please note that there are separate spaces to enter your school district and your school name, as shown below. When entering your district, please don’t use abbreviations like RSD or UFSD– if the district has a separate name (ie: Oxford Hills School District) please use that; alternately, please spell out the words Regional School District. This will help us keep uniformity in printing name badges, and help match up registrants to purchase orders when we receive them.

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Confirmation

When you’re done registering, you will see a screen confirming that your registration is complete. If you don’t see that screen, you haven’t finished registering yet! Once you get to that screen, be sure to read it thoroughly, as it contains details about which sessions have required readings and materials, a list of conference policies, your own detailed agenda based on the sessions you selected, and other helpful links.

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In addition to the confirmation page, a confirmation email will be automatically sent to the email address you provided. If it doesn’t appear within an hour of you registering, check your spam and junk folders, as some email providers mark emails from RegOnline as spam by mistake. In the past, many were not able to receive RegOnline emails, because many schools block emails from RegOnline, so if you have a personal email address, we encourage you to use it, instead of your school email, when registering.  If you don’t receive your confirmation email at all, please email literacy@lesley.edu and we will re-send it to you.

Please help us be environmentally conscious! Do not print out your confirmation message to mail in with your check or PO. Instead, just make sure your full name and district are written on the PO or in the item line of the check. That’s all we need to match up your payment with your record in the system.

Conference Events, Exhibit Fair, and Other Information

The conference registration desk hours are as follows:

  • Sunday, October 22, 2017: 10:00 am–6:00 pm
  • Monday, October 23, 2017: 7:00 am–5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2017: 7:30 am–9:00 am

The conference help desk will be open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm each day.

Literacy for All also includes an exhibit fair with booths showcasing classroom services and products for all grade levels and subjects. Exhibit hours are 4:00-6:00 on Sunday, 10:00–6:00 on Monday, with the Exhibit Fair from 5:00–6:00; and 7:30–3:30 on Tuesday. During the Exhibit Fair on Monday, you can enter to win something from our prize raffle, and get books signed by some of our featured and keynote speakers.

Please visit the conference website, www.lesley.edu/literacyforall, for information on hotels, parking, attendance policy and certificates of attendance, and sessions with required readings/handouts/materials.

Have questions? You can contact us anytime at literacy@lesley.edu or by phone at 617.349.8402.

Looking forward to seeing you all in October!

Originality—the Nonfiction Advantage

by 2014 Literacy for All Featured Speaker and Guest Blogger, Sneed Collard III

FireBird.finalCovOnly lo-resLike many people, I enjoy reading before going to sleep every night. Lately, a curious thing has happened. Despite a stack of novels next to my bed, I’ve found myself exclusively reaching for nonfiction books to wrap up my day with. Many factors could explain this phenomenon, but I think I’ve figured out the real reason. Nonfiction, unlike fiction, is more likely to offer me something I crave: originality.

I should explain here that I make my living as a writer, and have been writing both fiction and nonfiction children’s books for thirty years. And while I’m very proud of my novels, I’m the first to admit that the stories in them have been told before. Sure, I offer new characters, voices, plots, and twists, but the basic barebones stories are as timeless as storytelling itself. I recognize this in my favorite adult novelists, too. I enjoy their work, but I rarely encounter something fresh and original.

The same cannot be said of nonfiction.

Unlike fiction, nonfiction has the potential to offer readers almost limitless refreshing, thought-provoking, and often delightful experiences. In the past month, I’ve read three amazing books: Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and Mark Karlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Each of these books provided pleasurable, surprising reading while inducing me to think about the world in a slightly different way. How can that be?

Simple.

The world is an astonishingly complex and fascinating place. Furthermore, it is filled with the myriad experiences of more than seven billion people. Almost every thing and every person has a fascinating story to tell—one that probably has never been told before. For the nonfiction writer, it’s not too difficult to come up with a story that breaks new ground. Nowhere is this more true than in my primary field of expertise, the biological sciences.

About two years ago, for instance, I got interested in woodpeckers and heard that Professor Dick Hutto, an ornithologist at nearby University of Montana, happened to work on them. I called him up and asked if I could buy him a coffee, and find out exactly what he’d learned about these birds. Our chat amazed me.

It turns out that, although Dick Hutto did know a lot about woodpeckers, what he knew even more about were burned forests. After the fires of 1988, he and his wife began poking around burn areas all over the West. All the press had been negative about the fires, and he wanted to see for himself if the fires really were the terrible, destructive force everyone was claiming.

Turns out, they weren’t.

In his first year of looking through burn areas, Professor Hutto observed more than 100 species of birds nesting in and using the burn areas. That launched him into studying the importance of burn areas not just to birds, but to thousands of other species of animals and plants, too. Over the next few years, in fact, Dick would discover that burn areas aren’t just important, they are essential for many species of life. In the West, for instance, dozens of bird species use burn areas, and 15 species use them more than any other habitat. These birds include American Robins, Mountain Bluebirds, and the ultimate “fire bird”, the Black-backed Woodpecker.

Not surprisingly, once I heard this story I knew that I had to write about it. I began reading scientific papers, going out into burn areas with Dick, and interviewing other scientists as well. The result is the book Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests (Bucking Horse Books, Missoula, 2015). I’m very proud of this book, and not only because it’s a fun, engaging story. What I love about it is that the book offers young readers—and, I hope, adults—a topic that they’ve never seen before, one that has the potential to change how they think about our world.

And that’s the beauty and power of nonfiction. We humans still know so little about the world. What some of us do know often isn’t ever transmitted to the rest of the world. I am so excited when I discover a new interesting person or historical event or natural phenomenon, and children are too. Recently, there’s been a big push to incorporate more nonfiction books into classrooms and to me, this is a no-brainer. While fantasy and other fiction books are often shoved down young readers’ throats, I’ve never found one half as interesting as the real world around us.

If you are an educator, I encourage you to look beyond Common Core requirements in choosing the books to share with your students. Instead, embrace the remarkable complexity and diversity of our planet. When you start sharing real stories with your kids, you won’t need to force them to read. Instead, you’ll join them in a great journey of discovery.

Sneed Collard will be presenting at the 2014 Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI:

LCB-2 — Common Core Canines: Great Dog Books to Use in K–8 Curricula (Grades K–8)

LCD-3 — Exploring the Frontier of Children’s Literature (Grades K–8)

In addition to Sneed’s sessions, there are two other sessions at the conference that will focus on nonfiction literature:

LCF-11 Best Nonfiction Literature (Grades K–2) with Catherine Desjardins, Julie Connors, Julie Murray, and Nicole Daly

LCD-14 The Reality Is: Nonfiction Books Kids Will Want to Read (Grades 3–6) with Susannah Richards

The Power of Engaging in Genre Study as Readers

by Toni Czekanski, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

Noticing, sorting, and classifying.  We start doing this when we are toddlers: putting red blocks in one pile and blue in another.  We call the piles by their names:  “the blue blocks,”  “the red blocks.”  Later on we notice that there are some letters of the alphabet that have tails and some that have stems.  Some have neither, and we sort them into groups as we learn to copy them and name them.  When people read to us, we begin to notice that some books have similarities, and understand that there are happy endings, villains, heroes, and magic.  We come to expect these things and even predict who will appear next or what the outcome will be.  We know it will be a happy ending no matter what.

Genre study is like that.  You collect many examples of texts within a genre and each day read one aloud to your students, allowing them time to enjoy the text and talk about what they are thinking about it.  Later, you come back to consider what they have been noticing about the books they’ve heard.  What are the similarities?  What are the differences?  You begin to create a list of common traits.  Once they begin to notice these characteristics, you provide even more texts within the genre that they can explore on their own.  They cannot help but notice even more.  You have activated their thinking and together you work to form a working definition of what a particular kind of text is.  Together, you define the genre.  How is this helpful to them as readers?

9780325028743In their text, Genre Study: Teaching with Fiction and Nonfiction Books, Fountas and Pinnell say, “Through experience with texts, readers recognize common elements, as well as ways that texts in the same genre can vary.  They use their knowledge of the predictable elements as a road map to anticipate the structures and elements of the text they are reading”  (2012, p. 11).  Think back to your own experiences as a reader.  If you loved mysteries and read a lot of them, it was not long before you were spotting clues and differentiating between those that mattered and those that were potential red herrings designed to lead you off the track.

Readers who are hooked on one genre and read many texts come to learn the bones of that genre and anticipate what they will encounter even before they begin to read.  Being able to anticipate the structure or other elements of a text frees the mind to look more closely at other aspects of the text.  For readers, this is a helpful tool that can enhance not only what the they understand about the author’s message or meaning, but also how the author crafted the text to support and develop that meaning within the structure of the text.

If you make time in your reading instruction to delve into genre study, you will be helping students to investigate texts more closely.  This close reading and rethinking will help them consider how and why authors write books.  “Knowing these features helps you begin to comprehend a text even before starting to read.  You have expectations and a kind of in-the-head graphic representation of what the text will be like – how the information will be presented and organized” (Fountas and Pinnell, 2012, p. 11).  These expectations are not only applied to this text, but to other similar texts.

When studying genre in the classroom, many teachers do so through inquiry as outlined above.  This process of inquiry in itself teaches students that they can apply these steps to analyzing other genres as well.  Students learn that if they examine several texts from a particular genre, they will begin to notice characteristics that are true across the genre.

Even without your help, they will form conclusions about how the genre works and what to look for and expect as they read other texts that are similar.  “Taking an inquiry stance enables students to learn how to learn.  They become empowered and develop a sense of agency…they believe in themselves and their ability to find out, and the process itself is inherently pleasing to human beings” (2012, p. 5-6).

Learning about genre with your students can have far-reaching benefits.  As readers it helps them to look at texts more closely, and have meaningful discussions with one another about how the author’s decisions affect the way the text works.  Students can use specific examples to support their thinking about the text as they write about it.  As a teacher, you build the confidence in understanding the genre that will help you take your students deeper through your modeling and prompting as you engage in the work together.

Professional Development in Genre Study For Teachers

If you are interested in learning more about genre study, consider attending the four-day Summer Literacy Institute, Genre Study: Teaching With Fiction and Nonfiction Books in a Reader’s Workshop, Grades K–8 with Irene Fountas and Lesley University faculty from July 15–18, 2013 in Cambridge, Mass. This is a process-oriented, hands-on literacy professional development event. The format and structure of this institute will be very different than previous summer institutes. You will leave this institute with a genre study plan that you created, ready to use in your classroom.

The Sharing of Amazing Books

by Helen Sisk, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer (our new trainer from Fairfax, Virginia)

* blog post from Friday, March 8th (when it was snowing here in Cambridge, Massachusetts!)

It’s snowing, again, and this southern transplant is fascinated with the uniqueness found in each storm – never the same old, same old. One storm, Nemo, created mounds of snow, yesterday it snowed all day and never accumulated, today’s surprise storm left traffic in a snarl. Schools aren’t closed and I’m in awe of the hardiness of my neighbors. All winter long, the changing weather keeps things interesting.

Isn’t that also how we want to keep our teaching – fresh and exciting?

Recently, I read the book Moonshot by Brian Floca to a group of educators. We were fascinated to learn about the first trip to the moon from a technical perspective interwoven with narrative and wonderment. And, we loved it – wanting to talk about it, to look closely at the pictures, and to reread it.  We searched the award it won – The Sibert Informational Book Medal, and discovered new nonfiction titles. We went to Brian Floca’s website and learned why and how he created this book. We couldn’t wait to return to our classrooms to share MMoonshotoonshot with our students.

We became engrossed with this book. How do we generate similar responses with our students? Are we sharing books that are new and amazing? Do our students clamor for them? Are WE engaged? We need to continue honoring classic picture books such as Owl Moon and Big Mama, but intentionally add books by different authors and novel topics that our students find captivating to expand their repertoire.  Constantly mixing it up engages us, too. It’s a teaching perk we need to tap.

We are all looking for the next great book. Please comment below on titles of books you and your students discovered this year. We’d love to hear from you!

Content Area Learning Comes Alive in Beautiful Picture Books- Part 2

By Irene Fountas

Today’s nonfiction is not simply dry facts presented as dense material. Rather you will notice that today’s high-quality nonfiction picture books are quite different from textbooks.  They are pieces of literature and often beautiful works of art.   They are more up to date, contain less overwhelming vocabulary, and dig deep into interesting topics.

Consider some of these wonderful picture books to read aloud and engage your students in real-world learning:

  • Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals by Steve Jenkins
  • My Season With Penguins: An Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb
  • An Egg is Quiet by Sylvia Long
  • A Seed is Sleepy by Sylvia Long
  • A Platypus Probably by Sneed Collard III
  • Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies
  • The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History by  Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
  • Little Lost Bat by Sandra Markle
  • Move by Steve Jenkins
As a follow up to your beautiful picture books, expand your students learning by creating a classroom library filled with informational texts. Consider filling your classroom with baskets of children’s nonfiction magazines such as
  • Cobblestone
  • Muse
  • Ranger Rick
  • Zillions
  • National Geographic News for Kids

Also consider collecting series books that are informational for your classroom library.

  • Let’s Read and Find Out
  • Rookie Read About
  • Coming to America
  • Animal Predators
  • True Books

You can make nonfiction come alive for all of your students and set them up for success across the grades with the range of extraordinary nonfiction materials available.

Want more information on using nonfiction texts in the classroom? Come to our Summer Literacy Institute this July and hear international nonfiction children’s book author Nicola Davies and others speak on this very subject.