Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog!

Writing About the Self Leads to Learning About Others

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Sep 6, 2017 11:18:00 AM

susan-weaver-jones.jpgToday's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an ESL teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.


As a child, I eagerly read biographies about historical figures, especially those that featured women. I was fascinated to learn about the lives of women, such as Sacagawea, Phillis Wheatley, Maria Mitchell, and Liliuokalani, and their significance in United States history. I was especially interested in the life of Susan B. Anthony, since we shared the same first name! My understanding of our country's past was enriched through reading about many remarkable women and men and their contributions.

Unfortunately, many students today might not be familiar with the names and stories of those who lived long ago, despite their place in history. With a few exceptions, our predecessors often lack the name recognition of contemporary celebrities. The background and importance of our forebears may seem distant and irrelevant to our students. How can we as teachers help our students build meaningful connections between the past and the present?

One way to spark students' interest in biographies links the familiar with the unfamiliar. In this case, the known information involves the people the students know best: the students themselves! As an introductory activity to biographies, have students focus on autobiographical information. With the spotlight turned inward, students can use their vast amounts of expert knowledge about themselves.

To that end, I have modified a Bio Poem format intended for persons whose life histories and accomplishments are well known. The resulting Autobiographical Poem format works well for students whose adult lives and notable achievements are yet to come. You may want to prepare a sample Autobiographical Poem about yourself as a model for your students. Discuss with students possible ways of addressing the details needed to complete their own poems.  


Once students have worked through creating and sharing autobiographical poems about themselves, help them shift their focus to friends or family members. Students can interview their selected subjects to learn what information could be included when they write Biographical Poems about the other persons.

The Biographical Poem template shown below was adapted from the Autobiographical Poem format. Since both poems describe living persons, the descriptors are phrased in present tense.

Contemporary Biography396.jpg

After students experience writing autobiographically about themselves and biographically about people they know, turn their attention to biographies about people they don't know. Choose a biography of a person likely to be unfamiliar to most, possibly all, of the students, and read it aloud to provide a common experience and basis for discussion. One source, the Hameray Biography Series, includes 30 different inspirational individuals who could be of interest to your students.

Once you have read and discussed the chosen biography with your students, guide them through the process of completing Biographical Poems about the person. You may opt to allow some differences between students' poems, as long as the information included in their poems is accurate.

An example of a Biographical Poem about Eleanor Roosevelt is shown below. The details in the poem reflect the content included in Eleanor Roosevelt: A Modern First Lady by Dvora Klein, which is part of the Hameray Biography Series.

Roosevelt Example Biography396.jpg 

After students have finished listening to the read-aloud biography and have written their Biographical Poems about the subject, provide them with the opportunity to work individually or in small groups. Use multiple biographies on different reading levels about several other historical figures to accommodate students' interests and reading proficiencies. Students who read different biographies about the same person can work together to share information.


To follow up reading and learning about other well-known individuals, students can begin working on Biographical Poems independently or with students working on the same person. Using their familiarity with the Biographical Poem format, students can locate pertinent details to complete poems about their current subjects. (A past tense Biographical Poem template for persons who are no longer living can be downloaded.)

Historical Biography396.jpg

            By the time students finish their last Biographical Poem, they will have participated in several opportunities to develop appreciation for, interest in, and understanding of the genre of biography. Writing about themselves first allowed them to make connections to other people through Biographical Poems.   

eleanor-roosevelt245.jpg              martin-luther-king-jr245.jpg


walt-disney245.jpg               sacagawea245.jpg





To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the Hameray Biography Series, which contains the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.


     Biography Series Highlights     Bio Poems Packet



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Topics: Teaching Writing, Biography Series, Poetry, Writing Activity

Hi-Lo Books for Movie Fanatics

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on May 4, 2017 4:17:00 PM

Books have a lot of competition in the modern day—children are increasingly turning to TV, video games, and the internet as their preferred form of entertainment. Many reluctant readers love watching movies, but find books to be stuffy or boring. Different media don’t have to exist in isolation to each other, though. Why not capture your reluctant reader’s interest with books about movies?


Behind the Scenes: Special Effects, from the Download series, discusses the various cinematic features included in movies. Readers learn about stop-motion animation, stuntmen, CGI, and more! The book showcases many pivotal moments in moviemaking history, such as the first movie with special effects and the first IMAX film. Any movie buff will be thrilled to read about the work that goes into moviemaking. Best of all, the book is filled with photographs from famous movie franchises such as King Kong and Spiderman.


The Hameray Biography Series highlights the life of Walt Disney, one of the most famous moviemakers of all time. The biography traces Walt Disney’s path to fame with Steamboat Willie and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Today, Walt Disney’s name still makes any child perk up with excitement; even your most reluctant reader will be drawn to this high-interest book!

Specifically written for students reading below their grade, Behind the Scenes: Special Effects and Walt Disney are perfect high-interest, low-level books. Your students will realize that books are just as entertaining as movies … and some books can even make movie-watching more interesting!


To download information about Download Series, click the left image below. To download a free Teacher's Guide for Walt Disney, click the right image below.

                                        Download Series Highlights    Bio TG

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Topics: Biography Series, Download, Reluctant Readers, Hi-Lo, Movie

Guided Reading to Support Textbook Reading, Part 3

Posted by Geraldine Haggard on Mar 14, 2017 3:34:00 PM


This is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. It is the second post in a series about using guided reading activities to support content-area textbook reading. To read the first post, click here.


The same procedures used for teaching Fantastic Frogs can be used to teach higher-level books like Benjamin Franklin from the Hameray Biography Series. The biography is a longer book, and thus contains more informational text tools:

  • The TABLE OF CONTENTS includes chapter titles. Discuss the meaning of a chapter.
  • Invite students to go to page 38 for the LEARN MORE section. A list of books and websites encourage students to do more reading about Benjamin Franklin.
  • Use CHAPTER 1 for guided reading. Discuss the picture on page 4: Why is Franklin hungry? Who is the young woman?
  • Ask the students to read with you in a guided reading setting. After reading, discuss the answers to the two questions.
  • Ask the students if there are any unfamiliar words in the chapter. Invite the students to find the bolded words in the glossary and use the words to create their own sentences.
  • What happens in a print shop? What is a document? Can you think of an example of a document?



  • Remind the students about the various informational text features that can help them read the text.
  • Emphasize the importance of pictures and their own prior knowledge to supplement their reading.
  • Encourage rereading and making a note of questions. Using graphic organizers allow the students to write what they already knew, what they need to learn, and questions still left unanswered by the text.
  • Ask children to do further reading on the content area topic.

Using parts of content area books for guided and shared reading will help students both in content area subjects and language arts. Don’t forget to frequently use the new vocabulary in your classroom!


Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our Kaleidoscope Collection. She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. 


Click the image below to download a FREE Teacher's Guide for Benjamin Franklin. 

Bio TG

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Topics: Informational Text, Biography Series, Geraldine Haggard, Guided Reading, Social Studies

Maps and the Common Core

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Feb 23, 2017 3:19:00 PM

 One of the ten Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading is to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.R.7). In addition to illustrations and diagrams, looking at maps can fulfill this Common Core State Standard. Not only does map-reading further a students’ comprehension of nonfiction informational texts, this skill is also helpful for social studies and history lessons.

All maps provide information, but their specific function within a book depends on the textual context. Understanding these different functions will allow you, as an educator, to effectively discuss why an author decided to include a map and how a map brings important information to the text.  

Maps support an argument.

Wolves in the Wild, a nonfiction book from the Story World Real World series, argues that hunters threaten the future of wolves (7). This textual claim is supported by a map showing where “wolves used to live” (red) and where “wolves live” today (green). This visual evidence allows students to immediately understand that the wolf habitat is shrinking. Thus, the map strengthens an argument that is made through the text. 5337 Wolves in the Wild_Inside_FINAL (dragged).jpgMaps express diversity.

Breakfast Around the World opens with a two-page world map. The map is labeled with different breakfasts explained in the book. By pinpointing each breakfast on the same map, students can understand that these dishes really come from different corners of the world. A world map also encourage students to locate themselves and understand their geographic position relative to the children features in this book.

Maps explain history.

Anne Frank from the Hameray Biography series features a map of Germany and its surrounding countries (12). The map provides a visual aid for understanding that the Nazis crossed a border to invade the Netherlands, where Anne Frank lived with her family.

Maps provide information on different scales.

Nelson Mandela’s biography contains multiple maps. First, a map of Africa explains South Africa’s location within the continent (4). Then, a second map zooms in to focus on the country of South Africa and its major cities (13). Although both maps include South Africa, the first map provides a global context while the second focuses on the cities within the nation. Emphasize to your students that each map carries a certain perspective and scale.


Exposing your students to different maps is the key to honing their map-reading skills. Maps don’t just serve a purpose for geography and history lessons—they fulfill Common Core Reading Standards, too!


Click the left image below to learn more about Story World Real World, which contains Wolves in the Wild and Breakfast Around the World. Click the middle image to download a Teacher's Guide for Anne Frank. Click the right image to download a Teacher's Guide for Nelson Mandela.

New Call-to-Action      Bio TG        Bio TG


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Topics: Common Core, Real World, Biography Series, Social Studies, Maps

Inauguration Day: Compare and Contrast

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Jan 19, 2017 2:27:00 PM

Tomorrow, January 20th, is America’s 58th Presidential Inauguration. Students are sure to have heard about it from their family or the media; your school district may even encourage watching the event on TV during the school day. Acknowledge your students’ curiosities and provide them with basic inauguration facts by comparing and contrasting the past

First, ask your students for basic information about this year’s inauguration:

  • When will it take place?
  • Where will it take place?
  • Who is the next president?

Students can also visit kids.gov, a federal government website designed specifically for kids, to find information about the inauguration. Visiting this website will fulfill the Common Core State Standard to “integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.9

Next, tell the students that you will be examining American life in 1789, when George Washington became the first President of the United States. George Washington from the Hameray Biography Series describes Washington’s inauguration on p. 30:


george_washington_180.jpgBIO_GEORGE WASHINGTON_INSIDE (dragged)-2.jpg


Ask students to compare and contrast George Washington’s inauguration to tomorrow’s inauguration. You may want to create a Venn diagram to record the similarities and differences.

Use the rest of George Washington’s biography to get a glimpse into American life in the late 1700s. How was the late 1700s different from your life today?

  • p. 6: the calendric system
  • p. 9: American schools
  • p. 17: Fashion
  • p. 19: The political status of colonies
  • p. 30: The U.S. capital

By using the Hameray Biography Series to compare and contrast, your students will learn real-world knowledge while fulfilling Common Core State Standards!


Click the images below to download the Hameray Biography Series Teacher's Guides for George Washington.

Bio TG


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Topics: Common Core, Biography Series, Social Studies, Compare and Contrast, Election

Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Jan 17, 2017 3:47:00 PM

Yesterday, many schools across America observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While teachers and students both enjoy the extended weekend, we must never forget that this day serves to remember Dr. King’s achievements and dreams of racial equality. With Black History Month only two weeks away, now is the ideal time to introduce African-American biographies into your classroom!


The Hameray Biography Series features the life stories of famous African-Americans: Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet TubmanMuhammad Ali,Barack Obama, and Jackie Robinson. Although his work was based in South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s fight to end apartheid is also a relevant and inspirational account during Black History Month. Providing a diversity of historical topics, from the Civil War to Major League Baseball, your students will be sure to find a biography that piques their interests. 

At Guided Reading Level M–S, each biography is written as a Hi-Lo text for reluctant readers. Our Hameray Biography Series Teacher’s Guides provide ideas for you to build social studies and literacy knowledge at the same time! Each Teacher’s Guide is specifically tailored to one biography, saving you plenty of time when you create lesson plans. 

You can download the Hameray Biography Series Teacher’s Guide for FREE by visiting our website or clicking on the images below. Extend your student’s knowledge of black historical figures and their passionate work towards social equality!


Click the images below to download the Hameray Biography Series Teacher's Guides.

Bio TG Bio TG Bio TG Bio TG Bio TG Bio TG Ali


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Topics: Biography Series, Reluctant Readers, Martin Luther King Jr., Social Studies, Black History Month

Election Vocabulary with the Biography Series

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Nov 3, 2016 3:01:00 PM


In just five days, American voters will elect the 45th President of the United States. Everywhere we turn, the media bombards us with the latest campaign news, polls, and political advertisements. Our students also want to take part in the fervent discussions taking over our country, but they are still too young to actually cast a ballot.

Especially in this year’s controversial election, discussing politics in the classroom is complicated by the need to respect the different beliefs of all students and their families. How can you, as an educator, healthily and productively teach students the knowledge needed to become responsible citizens?

A great way to address the current campaign in the classroom is to turn back into history. The Hameray Biography Series features the stories of three American presidents: George Washington, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Reading past and current presidents’ stories will circumvent heated debates about the 2016 candidates while still providing students the opportunity to learn about the U.S. Presidential election. 

Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan’s biographies devote multiple chapters to their presidential campaign. Each book also includes a glossary that allows students to familiarize themselves with this informational text feature.


Using the glossary and relevant chapters in the book, ask students to create a list of election vocabulary and their definitions. Underneath each word, have them write examples about how the vocabulary word relates to Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan.

Example: Campaign- the competition between political candidates.

Ronald Reagan talked about the danger of the Soviet Union during his campaign.

Barack Obama began his campaign in February 2007.


obama-glossary (dragged).jpg

This exercise will help students draw connections between two historical figures through specific information in the text (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.3). The two biographies also include the following election vocabulary words:



Concession speech









Vice President



In a follow-up class discussion, ask your students about the current election using their newly learned vocabulary: Who are the candidates? When is Election Day this year?

Encourage your students to watch the news with their family on November 8th. They’ll appreciate how classroom literacy directly relates to important current events happening in the country! 


Click the image below to download the Teacher's Guide for Ronald Reagan and for Barack Obama.

Bio TG     Bio TG

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Topics: Leveled Readers, Biography Series, Social Studies, Election

The Summer Olympics: A Golden Opportunity for Teaching

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Aug 4, 2016 3:30:00 PM

After four years of anticipation, the day has finally arrived—tomorrow’s opening ceremony marks the beginning of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! The Olympic Games, with their energizing excitement and patriotic spirit, appeals to sports lovers of all ages. This event is also a perfect opportunity to integrate world events into the classroom by reading relevant informational texts.


Summer Olympics from the Kaleidoscope Collection introduces students to the ins and outs of the Games. Featuring photographs from the most recent 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the books explores different competitions and Olympics traditions.

Kaleidoscope_Book.Sports.HighResFinalp4.jpgKaleidoscope_Book.Sports.HighResFinal.jpgFor early readers, the Kaleidoscope Collection’s Sports and My World’s Play Ball! tie in with the Olympic theme by identifying different types of sports.

  • After reading, ask your students this question: What is your favorite sport? Students can identify sports that they enjoy participating themselves or watching on TV.
  • If necessary, use the sports mentioned in Play Ball! for reference. Create a class bar graph to determine the most popular favorite sports (CCSS.Math.Content.2.MD.D.10).


More advanced readers can read about a timeless Olympic star, Muhammad Ali, from the Hameray Biography Series. In addition to winning gold in heavyweight boxing at the 1960 Rome Olympics, he also lit the symbolic torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In the London 2012 Games, Ali carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony. This high-interest biography will engage the reader by connecting Common Core Social Studies Standards to current entertainment.




The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place from August 5th to the 21st, so your students will be buzzing about it all month. Don’t miss this fantastic teaching opportunity—it only happens once every four years!


Click the left image below to download an information sheet with key features about the Kaleidoscope Collection, which contains Summer Olympics and Sports. Click the middle image below for an information sheet about the My World series, which contains Play Ball!. Click the right image below to download the Muhammad Ali Teacher's Guide from the Hameray Biography Series.


Kaleidoscope Collection Info Sheet        My World Series Info Sheet        Bio TG Ali

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Topics: Leveled Readers, Kaleidoscope Collection, Biography Series, My World, Social Studies, Olympics, Sally Hosokawa

Muhammad Ali: Celebrate His Life and Greatness

Posted by Tara Rodriquez on Jun 7, 2016 3:13:30 PM



In honor of Muhammad Ali, we're offering his biography on sale for $5. It's a great summer read, and learning more about his life is a wonderful way to celebrate the accomplishments of this sports legend. The book has a free downloadable teacher's guide, in case you need some inspiration for your summer school lessons. You can download that at the bottom of the page. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BOOK ON OUR WEBSITE.

Heavyweight Champion of the World

A three-time World Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali's popularity transcended the sport of boxing and made him an international icon. He made headlines for his refusal to enter the Vietnam draft, his conversion to Islam, and for being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Follow along, from his early years as Cassius Clay, to his emergence as Muhammad Ali - The Greatest of All Time. 

Written by Alan Trussell-Cullen
40 pages
Guided Reading Level: P


For more information on the other books in the Biography series, you can click the image to the left below to download a series information sheet with key features, or you can click here to visit our website. Click the image to the right below to download the Muhammad Ali Teacher's Guide.

Biography Series Highlights Bio TG Ali

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Topics: Biography Series, Special Offers, Sports

Hameray Herald April '16: See What Joy Cowley Has Been Up To & More!

Posted by Tara Rodriquez on Apr 28, 2016 12:37:00 PM


Joy does it again! If you love her trademark humor and storytelling, you’ll want to hop along and preview the Joy Cowley Early Birds Little Rabbit Set. LEARN MORE!



Bring biographies to life by using current events to show the importance of historical figures with this blog post featuring Harriet Tubman. READ ABOUT IT!



Miniboy, Oscar, and Sloppy Tiger to name a few...This month only—take advantage of our special on Joy Cowley’s New Character Set. SEE THE SALE!



We post all kinds of good stuff on our Pinterest page, from free worksheets to information about our book series to inspirational teaching quotations, and more! Make your boards a little more Wishy-Washy and fun!



Contest winner Billie Fuller sent in pictures of her students enjoying their prize package when it arrived. It made us smile…how about you? SEE MORE PICTURES!

Like what you see here? You can subscribe to our blog in the upper righthand column and get it delivered in your email each week!

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Topics: Joy Cowley Early Birds, Biography Series, Special Offers, Newsletter

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