Building a Reading Life

Check out my “Building a Reading Life” prezi here. Feel free to use or share this with your staff!

I had the opportunity to hear Donalyn Miller speak at the Heinemann “Bringing the Standards to Life” Institute in Santa Fe this past January. There are no words for what her talk did for me personally and professionally. I know we’ve all felt a bit mired down by the overwhelming task of incorporating the new Common Core State Standards. I have been optimistic about the opportunity to revitalize our school program with an increased emphasis in rigor, relevance and readiness. Donalyn brought me back to the heart of the matter with her conversation on building lifelong readers. I cannot recommend her work in Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild more fully. Each time a sit down to read them, I spring up after a chapter or two and go off to read a book or write a lesson about book love. She has inspired me to look beyond close reading, evidence and articles and remember what I’ve known all along: books are a refuge that every child deserves a key to.

reading in the wild book whisperer


Author Studies

This was my first experience teaching with Author Studies, and I am hooked! There is so much opportunity for rich discussion of texts, not to mention it’s like hanging out with your favorite authors for a week or so!

We covered four authors during our month of Author Studies: Mo Willems, Seymour Simon, Donald Crews and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.


Mo Willems was an obvious choice, as our students adore Knufflebunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I took a trip to the library to grab some of his lesser-known works and set up a text set in our library. We read one book by the author per day and compared and contrasted his characters and his illustrations.

ImageGood point, Mateo! Mo Willems actually shows students how to draw his famous pigeon in this .pdf – perfect for a whole-class shared drawing activity. His website has lots of great resources for kids and teachers! Our students explored the use of speech bubbles in their writing center. The week culminated in a “buddy read” with our 2nd grade friends (who just happen to adore Willem’s Elephant and Piggie early chapter books!) Check out these adorable hats that my teaching partner thought up! We made them using construction paper and sentence strips. It made everything so festive!

ImageIn an effort to weave some nonfiction into our unit, I chose Seymour Simon as our next author. His detailed photographs and broad topics made selecting books for the text set a snap. However, I can’t say that his books are especially primed for a read-aloud (read: loooong), especially running on a five year old attention span. 🙂 Gail Gibbons was also highly recommended, but I was pulled to Seymour Simon because of his real-life illustrations. In the end, I would recommend Simon for upper-grade author studies and stick with Gibbons for primary.


The transition from Mo Willems to Seymour Simon did open up the perfect opportunity for discussing Author’s Purpose a bit (this doesn’t happen a bunch in kinder)…



Donald Crews was also a fantastic choice for a primary author study. We had read his text Shortcut during our Personal Narrative writing unit, so the students were familiar with his style. This week we zoned in on what made Crews’ books unique and tried using similar features in our own writing.


Our last Author Study came about in an unexpected way. A student in my partner’s class brought in several books from a family friend, including some original author’s manuscripts. I was delighted to discover that it was none other than, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, whose book Little Pea I had fallen in love with during my time teaching preschool. Apparently, she had brought them over to test-read to the children to see if they laughed when she expected. Amazing! I could go on and on about her illustrations, her witty little stories, ect. Let’s just say it was fate.


Her stories lend themselves perfectly to a character comparison chart:


At the end of the week, we took a vote and created a graph of which family we would like to move in with: Little Pea’s family, where they serve sweets for dinner; Little Oink’s family, where they keep things messy; or Little Hoot’s family, where you stay up late. I was surprised to see that the Hoot’s got the most votes. Good thing summer vacation is just around the corner. 🙂

What experiences have you had with Author Studies?

Poetry in Primary

Poetry is much more suited to primary than you might initially think (i.e. Mother Goose). The rhyming and alliteration found in many poems is great for building phonemic awareness, but interpretation? Theme? In Kindergarten?

Why not?


When gearing up for our 2 week poetry unit, I came across this text, Poetry Speaks to Children, which features a number of illustrated poems for children with a CD of readings by the poet. Between this and a bit of Shel Silverstein, I was ready to plan!

Reading Poetry

  • Show a poem on the smart board and invite students up to highlight rhyming words or repeated beginning letter sounds
  • Choral read
  • Memorize a poem – We did this with “Boa Constrictor” by Shel Silverstein. My kinders learned it in a snap and I would invite one students up at a time to act out the poem while we recited it. Bursting into giggles together… now that’s what I call learning.ImageWriting Poetry
  • Write poems together in a Shared Writing activity. This is a great way to tie writing into other genres, such as science or social studies. Students learn that any topic can be poem-worthy.
  • Create a few charts with common word endings and have a “Rhyme Time” gallery walk. Students can rotate between charts, adding rhyming words as they go.


  • Using a mentor poem, like “The Reason I Like Chocolate” by Nikki Giovanni (in Poetry Speaks), emphasize that poetry does not need to rhyme, but it does need to capture an emotion or feeling.


  • Include children’s sunglasses (lenses popped out) and fancy pens at your writing center, to help your students look at the world around them with a “poet’s eye”.
  • Place some sensory objects in your writing center as well, such as feathers or photos, to promote poetic thought.

I adore poetry and the freedom I feel when I read and write it, so it was rewarding to see my littles enjoying the rhymes, silliness, and snapshots of emotion in the words we studied. Do you have any ideas on incorporating poetry into primary classrooms?