Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog!

3 Wishy-Washy Lessons with Joy Cowley Early Birds—with FREE Download

Posted by Cindy Price on Jun 28, 2016 2:34:34 PM

Today's guest blogger is Cindy Price, who is currently teaching first grade after 20 years in kindergarten. If you like what you see here, be sure to check back frequently for more posts, and take a look at her blog, Mrs. Price's Kindergators!

I am excited to share with you some of the ways I used these awesome Mrs. Wishy-Washy books in my classroom. My kiddos and I love Mrs. Wishy-Washy and they were so happy to be able to read more books about her.

The books we read were Wishy-Washy Sleep, Wishy-Washy Card and Wishy-Washy Road.

As usual, we began by learning the vocabulary. Each book had some awesome words to teach my kids! I love having them try to come up with synonyms for the different vocabulary words. The one they had fun with was "roared." This word was found in Wishy-Washy Road! The words they came up with surprised me.


We made inferences about the stories. They looked at the cover and told me what they thought would happen. The text was perfect for my small group and my low readers. All of my kids gravitate towards these books. They love the characters and their adventures.

The one thing I love about these books is the fact that they increase my kids' self esteem and they become more confident in their reading. This is because these books have text that is easy for them to read as well as characters they love.

We can use these books for many Common Core Standards. We can use them for point of view, opinion writing, compare and contrast stories, text to self connections, listening and speaking standards, as well as reading fluency and writing activities.

Wishy-Washy Sleep was a book that my students related to. They discussed how they are similar to the animals in the book. They made a personal connection with the characters. Once they did this, we described and wrote about sleep.

Here are some of the things my kids did:


We used this graphic organizer to write down our thoughts about sleep and then to create the book pictured here as well! They then shared their books with the class. This worked on their listening and speaking standards as well.


The next book, Wishy-Washy Road, was one of their favorites! They discussed the safety rules and how we should never go in the road. I asked them what they thought should happen to the animals for not being obedient and for going into the road. They made many personal connections and shared with us what their parents would do if they were playing in the road.

And of course we read an emergent reader that I wrote about Wishy-Washy Road.


The last book I got to discuss was Wishy-Washy CardThis book is great to use during the month of February because the animals are making their valentines. So I made Mrs. Wishy-Washy Valentines for the kids to color and share with their friends. I also created a letter for the kids to send to someone who they would like to be their Valentine!

These books were awesome! There are so many things that we can teach our students using Mrs. Wishy-Washy books.  Group discussion, increasing self confidence in reading, causing kids to smile as well as foster a love for reading are just a few things these books accomplish. If I could, I would read Mrs. Wishy-Washy everyday!


I am now a first-grade teacher, so that makes me a first-grade teacher for one year and a kindergarten teacher for twenty years. Every day is a new and exciting learning experience for both myself and my students. I believe that kindergarten should be a fun yet educational experience where the students are immersed in poetry, children's literature, music, kinesthetic and hands-on activities, as well as hugs and love!


To download the activity packet, or an information sheet with key features about the Joy Cowley Early Birds series, which contains the book mentioned in this post, click the images below.

New Call-to-Action Early Birds Wishy-Washy Mini Unit



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Topics: Mrs. Wishy-Washy, Joy Cowley, Joy Cowley Early Birds, Teaching Writing, Writing Activity, Teaching Reading, Reading

Five-Senses Poems: Expanding Students' Writing

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Jun 16, 2016 3:30:00 PM

susan-weaver-jones.jpgToday's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee.

What can teachers do when their students' writings have the bare bones of stories or paragraphs but not much else? How can educators encourage their students to expand their writing by adding more information? Simply instructing students to add interesting details to their writing will not help them understand how to incorporate such description. To assist students in expanding their writing, teachers may find a five-senses poem to be an appropriate place to start.

A “five-senses poem” is a non-rhyming poem that follows a certain format. Once the topic is determined, each of the five lines in the poem focuses on a particular characteristic of the topic using a different sense: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. You can download my reproducible poem template at the bottom of this page

Topic: ___________

It looks like _____________________.        

It sounds like ___________________.

It smells like ____________________.

It tastes like ____________________.

It feels like _____________________.

Modeling the development of a five-senses poem provides the initial support that many students require. Choosing familiar experiences as topics involves students in the thinking process, since many students have relevant background knowledge.

For instance, I have used the topic of recess to introduce five-senses poems to my elementary students. The topic has been successful because recess is an activity in which they all have personal experience, as shown below 


It looks like kids playing together.

It sounds like friends yelling to each other.

It smells like sweaty socks and shoes.

It tastes like dirt in my mouth.

It feels like my legs are tired from running.

Discussing additional possibilities for the senses as they relate to the topic can help students create their own versions of the poem. Subsequently, students can attempt other five-senses poems on topics such as birthdays, holidays, and seasons with teacher support, as appropriate. As students become proficient in using their senses to describe, they can be guided to include sensory description in their narratives, as well.

Once students have accessed their background knowledge to write five-senses poems about familiar topics, they can learn to use informational texts as resources to create fact-based poems. Depending upon their familiarity with the topic, they may be able to combine their prior knowledge with new information gathered from text, pictures, and discussions. Primary, ELL, special ed, and struggling students may be more dependent than other students on what they learn from teacher-led class discussions and pictures to supplement what they can read.


For example, when using the book Bat by Lee Waters in the Zoozoo Animal World series, teachers can provide important information about bats' habitats through the talking points on the inside back cover of the book. The following five-senses poem could result from students' knowledge about bats, the text, and the talking points. 

A Bat’s Habitat

It looks like a dark cave.

It sounds like fluttering wings.

It smells like a rainy day.

It tastes like crunchy insects.

It feels like a safe place to sleep upside down.

After modeling and discussion, students could work individually or in pairs to choose animals to read about. Afterward, they could write and illustrate their own five-senses poems about the habitats for the animals they selected, using their texts for reference.

Later, teachers could guide students to use the research-based poems as the basis of paragraphs about the topic. Instead of writing only two or three sentences using their background knowledge or copying sentences from books, students could develop paragraphs using details from their five-senses poems. Consider the differences between the following paragraphs about bats:

Bats live in caves. The caves are dark. Bats fly a lot. 

Bats like to sleep in dark caves. On rainy days, many bats hang upside down in the caves. They fly around at night to find crunchy insects to eat. Then they rest. When the bats wake up, the noisy sound of their wings fill the caves. 

Students can practice reading and writing about chosen topics through five-senses poems. Learning to write five-senses poems can help students include descriptive details and expand their writing, whether they are working on narrative stories or informational paragraphs!


Susan Weaver Jones 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.


To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the series Zoozoo Animal World, which contain the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.


New Call-to-Action     Comparing and Contrasting Packet

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Topics: Teaching Writing, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Poetry, Writing Activity

Cinquain Poems: Transition to Expository Writing

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Mar 3, 2016 3:36:54 PM

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.


Teaching primary students how to read informational text is one thing. Teaching them how to write it is definitely something else! Then consider the challenge of working with intermediate students who struggle with writing or who are reluctant writers. What's a teacher to do?

With increasing emphasis on incorporating more expository text into literacy instruction, teachers may wonder how to best foster informational writing. Cinquain poems are one way to effectively link informational writing with description found in both narrative and expository writing.

Because cinquain poems do not rhyme and contain limited text within a specific format, they often appeal to students who prefer tasks with less writing. Cinquain poems are five-line poems that utilize different parts of speech, beginning with nouns. Though several variations exist, one version uses the following format. (Please see the reproducible cinquain template below.)

Adjective   Adjective
Verb with -ing   Verb with -ing   Verb with -ing
Descriptive phrase or short sentence
Synonym for noun

 For primary students who are not accustomed to using factual sources beyond themselves, the selection of nouns, adjectives, and verbs for the poems requires them to select key words that capture essential aspects of the subjects. Informational texts, such as Puffins by Lee Waters in the Zoozoo Arctic Animal World Collection, can provide important information about unfamiliar topics when students lack sufficient background knowledge and need additional resources. 

Consider this cinquain, based on the text and talking points in the early reader, Puffins.

Colorful   Hungry
Flapping   Flying   Swimming
Likes to paddle in the water
Sea parrot

 Initially, teachers can model the process of writing cinquain poems by using topics with which the students are familiar. Familiar topics allow students to use their collective background knowledge as they experience the line-by-line creation of group cinquains. Later, students can experiment with less familiar topics once they have appropriate resources from which to gather needed information, as well as experience with the cinquain format. 

Here is a cinquain based on another bird, the bald eagle. Most primary students probably know more about eagles than puffins, so books, such as Bald Eagle by Lee Waters from the Zoozoo Forest Animal World Collection, can add to their knowledge. The text and talking points at the back of the book provide needed information.

Bald eagle
Fast   Light
Soaring   Grabbing   Eating
Builds big nests
National bird

 Cinquain poems are stand-alone, end products that can be illustrated and shared. However, they also provide students with key concepts that can become the basis for informational paragraphs. Read the following paragraph, which is based on details about bald eagles from the cinquain.

A bald eagle is a bird. It flies very fast. It is light, not heavy.
It soars in the air and grabs fish to eat. It can build a really big nest.
The bald eagle is the national bird for the U.S.A.


Here is another example of an informational paragraph written from the key concepts used in the cinquain about puffins.

Puffins are birds with colorful beaks and legs. They like
to swim in the ocean. They can catch 10 fish at one time. When
they paddle, they look like they're flying in the water. Some people
call them "sea parrots."


Teacher-led discussions about key concepts access students' background information from their own experiences and other resources. Those discussions are crucial for students, so they can verbalize different possibilities for the cinquains and the paragraphs, prior to recording their chosen information. In the paragraphs, the students can elaborate upon the key concepts.

Students can enjoy writing cinquain poems as they focus on informational text. Then they can learn how to expand their writing into sentences and paragraphs by using the cinquain poems as basis for discussion prior to further composing. Because the cinquains help students transition from outside sources to their own written expression, they are less likely to plagiarize source materials. Students can creatively demonstrate what they have learned about informational topics through poetry and expository writing. Happy writing!


puffin.jpg         bald-eagle.jpg






To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the series Zoozoo Animal World, which contain the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.


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Topics: Teaching Writing, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Poetry, Writing Activity

[New Post] Reading and Writing the Room—with FREE Download!

Posted by Kathy Crane on Feb 12, 2016 4:26:14 PM

This is a guest post by Kathy Crane, who will be contributing a series of posts over the next few months. If you like what you see here, check back frequently for more posts from here and click here to read her blog, Kindergarten Kiosk.




Students in my classroom have been writing and reading the room since the early '90s when I first heard of the concept at a conference, and I have yet to find a student who is not in love with the activity! To make these activities even better, both of these reading and writing activities are easy to set up and use.

Reading the Room involves providing students with a type of pointer and allowing them opportunity to read any printed matter that you have in your classroom. To prepare students for this opportunity, have name charts, posters, etc. in full view of the students and use the teacher pointer to model reading displayed activities on a daily basis. Have them look for snowflake cards with letters on them (found in the free activity below) or Letter Books that are hidden around the room. 

Writing the Room involves students searching throughout the room for assigned print such as letters, numbers, words, or even poems. You can supply students with clipboards, or you can have them glue the sheets in composition journals.

Below is a "free write the room" activity your students will love.



Kathy Crane holds a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction: Reading, is a published author of thirteen books, a freelance author and developer of teaching curriculum, has been a teacher of kindergarten for twenty-two years, and publishes the blog Kindergarten Kiosk


For more information about the Letter Buddies series, click HERE to return to our website or click the series highlight page below to download an information sheet.


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Topics: Making Learning Fun, K-2 Literacy, Reading Activities, Teaching Writing, Kathy Crane, Writing Activity

Ways to Balance a Curriculum in the Primary Grades

Posted by Geraldine Haggard on Mar 13, 2015 8:00:00 AM

GHaggardbiopicThis is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. 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.

Today the teachers of primary grades face some challenges. There are demands from national and state governments that require the teaching of set curriculums for reading, writing, and the content areas. Time allotments of the days do not seem adequate to meet all of these requirements. Teachers are looking for ways to plan their instruction and not neglect any of the disciplines. There are large numbers of children who enter the classrooms with a lack of experiences needed to develop vocabulary and the use of English. What might be the answer to these problems? How can teachers better prepare the children for the shift from 'learning to read and write' to using 'reading and writing to learn'?

childdrawing_84196873_AndreyShtankoResearch and some schools are finding that integrating the three curriculum areas (reading, writing, and content areas) is the answer. Better readers and writers result from using the content areas with focused reading and writing activities. However, there are four important components needed in this procedure if it is to be effective. (source: www.primary-education-oasis.com, "Teaching Writing to Children") These components are:

  • Modeling, done by the teacher
  • Shared writing, led by the teacher with student(s) participating
  • Collaborative writing, allowing student(s) to work with other students and/or the teacher as they are writing
  •  Independent writing, allowing the student to work alone

If you do not include all four of these components as you teach, the results will not be pleasing. This could be compared to baking a cake and leaving out an important ingredient. The purpose of this blog post is to introduce the reader to some research-based ways to deliver a writing program that includes the four important ingredients. I’ve referenced some websites to help you become more familiar with the various procedures.

READ ALOUDS (www.readwritethink.org, an IRA site, "Teacher Read Aloud.")

I once heard Marie Clay say that when a teacher reads aloud to students, meaning can be negotiated in the discussion and activities that follow. After the reading, the children are provided released responsibility as they discuss new vocabulary and the message of the read-aloud, and as they write together and independently.

I recommend that each teacher maintain a vertical file of fiction and nonfiction books that can be used as read-aloud during special content-area topics and holidays. After the books have been read aloud, they can be placed in a reading center and be re-read by a student or a group of students. Include computer programs that you have available and that are approved for your use.

teacherclassreading_26364244_MonkeyBusinessImagesLANGUAGE EXPERIENCE APPROACH (www.k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com,"Understanding the Language Experience Approach")

The teacher models and shares writing techniques as students dictate. The results are used for reading together with the teacher or other students, or reading alone. In New Zealand, I saw the charts on the walls and heard the children talk about 'reading the walls' that had been put there by the teacher.

I did my student teaching in a first-grade class in a demonstration school. The children were in a social-studies unit on transportation. The charts from Language Experience were displayed on the wall and read and re-read. The students decided to make a train from boxes. They wrote and illustrated magazines for the people who rode the train.

SHARED WRITING (www.readwritethink.org, "Strategy for Shared Writing")

This approach is much like the language experience approach, but students do part of the recording of the message. Two colors of pens can be used, one for the teacher, and another for the student(s). These compositions can become big books, or small books, to be read in a center or the class library. Students can illustrate these books. They can add to the original scripts. This can be an opportunity to share what they are learning in the content areas.

WORD WALLS (www.teachersnet.com,"10 Great Word Wall Strategies")

I recommend two word walls. One should be for the special words that are needed to write about the content-area studies. As a teacher, I used a long piece of wide shelf paper. As we met new words in fiction and nonfiction that were related to the content area, the words were entered in large print on the list. These words were discussed and used orally. The children used them as they wrote. I have seen teachers ask the students to record these words on a special page in their writing journals.

READING/WRITING JOURNALS (www.eworkshop.on.ca, pages 15-30,"Independent Reading Assessment Tools") and (www.scholarwork.edu, "The What, Why, When, and How of Reading Response Journals")

Written responses can be made during and after reading. The journals can stimulate discussion during center time and in large groups later. The children can write answers to questions and create their own questions. They can interact with each other as they write.

Writing about what is learned and expressing reflections facilitate growth in content areas, reading, and writing. Explore 'jigsaw' and 'circle' writing.

WRITER'S WORKSHOP (www.busyteachercafe.com, "Writing Workshop")

This teaching tool includes all of the requirements for creating a successful program for children in content areas, reading, and writing. The site shares activities for teachers and students. The teacher models a writing technique. Children read, write, and participate in conferences with their peers and teacher. These interactions can result in books written by children to add to the class library. The site defines the workshop, gives hints for planning, and shares examples of writing done by children.


Study the standards and essential elements in your state and school settings. Start your vertical file of books for guided and shared reading, read-aloud, and writer's workshop. Use personal libraries, the school library, and the public library to supply you with books for read-aloud and research by the students. As you purchase new books, buy books that fit your curriculum. Use nonfiction and fiction. Hameray has a huge selection of both fiction and nonfiction that are based on the content areas.

childrenreadingsmiling_16636344_DarrinHenryRemember the four research-based tasks of the teacher:

* I do it. MODELING


* CHILDREN do it together

* CHILDREN work independently

One goal of integrating the three disciplines is to make writing relevant for all students. Study students' writing over a period of time. Decide what still needs to be modeled and practiced. Plan conferences that allow you and other students to study writing done by the students. You will find all of the children are writing and reading with more enthusiasm. You will be preparing the students to move to higher grade levels that require 'using reading and writing to learn.'

If computers are available for students, explore district-approved sites for reading stories online, using the search engine to find related activities, and for writing for a purpose. Saved writing samples can be dated and used in the students' portfolios.


Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our Kaleidoscope Collection Series. For more information about the Kaleidoscope Collection Series click HERE to return to our website or click the series highlight page below.  

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Topics: Kaleidoscope Collection, Teaching Writing, Read-Alouds, Shared Reading, Geraldine Haggard

7 Ways to Use Wordless Picture Books in Your Classroom

Posted by Amanda Ross on Feb 25, 2015 12:00:00 PM

This is a guest post by blogger Amanda Ross. If you like what you see here, you can check out her blog, First Grade Garden, for more of her writing.  


Hi there, my name is Amanda Ross. I am usually blogging over at First Grade Garden, but today I am visiting to share some ideas on how I use wordless picture books in my class. I have quite a few wordless picture books, and I was excited to add a couple books from the Zoozoo Into the Wild Wordless series into my collection.

Here are a few ways that I like to use wordless picture books in my classroom:

1. Writing Prompt: Choose a page from the wordless picture book and write your own story based on what is happening in the picture.

ITW-wordless-Giraffe-2002. Oral Storytelling: Students can work with partners to practice telling a story orally. They can take turns describing each page. I like to give each set of partners a different wordless picture book and have the partners practice their oral story a few times. Then they can tell the story to the rest of the class. I love hearing their imaginative stories! This is also a great activity to remind students that if you can TELL a story, you can WRITE a story. I always tell my students to say what they want to write out loud before they start putting pencil to paper.

3. Sequencing: Photocopy three or four pages from a wordless picture book and practice sequencing the events. Have students describe what is happening in each picture and explain why the pictures go in a particular order.

ITW-wordless-Frog-2004. Speech Bubbles: Use speech bubble sticky notes or print out a page of speech bubbles that students can cut out. Have students stick the speech bubbles on a page or two in the wordless picture book and have them write what they think the characters are saying.

5. Predictions: Wordless picture books are perfect for making predictions. Starting with the cover, students can predict what they think the story is about. As you “read” the story together, students can confirm or change their predictions based on information from the pictures.

6. Daily 5 Lesson: One of the lessons in Daily 5 is about the three ways to read a book: read the words, read the pictures, or retell the story. A wordless picture book is a great mentor text to model reading the pictures. Use the pictures to tell the story.

7. Easy Reader: Do you have a struggling reading group that isn’t ready to read level-A books yet? Use a wordless picture book to model concepts of print—without print! Practice identifying the cover and author, reading from front to back, and holding the book properly. They can tell the story themselves by looking at the pictures, which is another important reading strategy they can practice with a wordless picture book! 


Amanda Ross is a first grade teacher in Canada. She has been teaching for seven years. The last three years have been in first grade, and that’s where she plans to stay! She is currently on maternity leave with her daughter Zoe, but she will be heading back to first grade in September. You can find her over at her teaching blog, First Grade Garden.


To learn more about Zoozoo Into the Wild, click here to visit our website, or click the series highlights image below to download information sheets with key features.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Teaching Writing, Zoozoo Into the Wild, Wordless Books, Amanda Ross

5 Ideas For Using Nonfiction Books In Writing—with FREE download!

Posted by Amanda Ross on Jan 27, 2015 8:00:00 AM



This is a guest post by blogger Amanda Ross. If you like what you see here, you can check out her blog, First Grade Garden, for more of her writing.  

 Hi there, my name is Amanda Ross. This is my first guest post here at the Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog and I am so excited to be here with you! Today, I’m going to share with you a few ideas for using nonfiction books in writing. I used a few books from the Zoozoo Animal World Series, which are perfect for using with kindergarten or first grade!

1) Nonfiction books usually have amazing photographs and the Zoozoo Animal World books are no exception. Use these photographs as a stem for some descriptive writing! Have the students choose one specific page in a book and practice looking very closely at all the details in the photograph. Have the students create a bubble map and in each bubble write some adjectives or descriptive words/phrases that describe the photograph. The bubble map can be used as a starting point for writing a descriptive paragraph.


2) If you use the six traits of writing in your classroom, one of the traits is "voice". A fun way to get students writing in a different voice is to have them imagine they are the animal from a book. At the end of Polar Bear by Lee Waters, the polar bear is lounging on the ice. Ask your students to think like the polar bear… What is he doing? What is he thinking? What will he do next? Have your students write a fictional story about the polar bear!


3)  The Zoozoo Animal World books follow simple sentence patterns, which is great for weaker writers, especially since they can mimic it in their own writing. In the book Arctic Fox by Lee Waters, every page has the words “The arctic fox is…” Students can write their own sentences about the arctic fox using the same sentence pattern.


4)  After reading a nonfiction animal book, students can use a T-chart to record information that they learned about the animal on the left side. On the right side they record any questions about the animal that they may still have. They can use this as a starting point for a research project on the animal!


5)  The Zoozoo Animal World series has books about animals from different habitats and there are a few different animal books for each habitat. For instance, the "Arctic" habitat has books about arctic fox, polar bear, killer whale, puffin, and walrus. After reading a few books about animals from the same habitat, students can write an informational paragraph about that habitat! They can use the photographs in the books to describe the habitat and also list what type of animals live in it!



Amanda Ross is a first grade teacher in Canada and has been teaching for seven years. The last three years have been in first grade and that’s where she plans to stay! She is currently on maternity leave with her daughter Zoe, but will be heading back to first grade in September. You can read more from her her at her teaching blog First Grade Garden.


To learn more about Zoozoo Animal World, click here to visit our website, or click the series highlights image below to download information sheets with key features. To get today's free activity download, click the image to the right below!

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Teaching Writing, Zoozoo Animal World, Writing Activity, Nonfiction, Amanda Ross

Teaching Kids to Write: Writing to Inform

Posted by Rhonda McDonald on Sep 30, 2014 8:00:00 AM

McDonald-picThis is a guest post by Rhonda McDonald, a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia and author of two books in our Kaleidoscope Collection: Polar Bears and The White Whale. She has been writing a series of posts on teaching children to write; you can view her earlier posts by clicking here!

Writing to Inform

Writing to teach or inform someone about a topic is a strategy that can be useful in all subject areas. Keep in mind the audience that will be reading the finished product. Age-appropriate projects can be adapted to target the participating students. This type of writing must be accurate. Often research is required to verify factual information. Incorporate research lessons into the search for historical or scientific facts. Take the students to the library and guide them as they locate appropriate resource books on their topic. Parents may be asked to assist at home with internet research.


One of the simplest forms would be writing captions for pictures of how to do something, such as make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Children could list the ingredients, draw the steps and then label the pictures.

An extension to this activity would be to create a sandwich with colored construction paper to be glued onto the paper with the “How To Make” directions. To conclude the activity, bring the ingredients to actually make the sandwich and have a tasting party. As one student reads what to do, another student would follow exactly what they are told to do. If the sandwich turns out as desired, Great! If not, revisions may be needed in the directions. If you have students with food allergies to peanut butter, you could vary the activity with “How to Make Pancakes” or some other favorite food.

Teachers often ask preschool or kindergarten students to tell them “How to Cook a Turkey” at Thanksgiving. Their inventive answers are recorded and shared.

Older students may wish to write on the topic “How to Grow a Sunflower.” Combine visual representations of plant parts with the written directions. Have the students grow sunflowers in the spring. Start the seeds in the classroom and transplant them somewhere outside or at home when they outgrow the original container. It would be a fun summer project to measure the height throughout the summer and create a growth chart. At the end of the summer, the large bloom of the sunflower could be collected for seeds. The sunflower seeds could be used in a bird feeder or baked to eat the kernels.

The following books can be found in the Kaleidoscope collection of leveled readers:

McDonald-12-1 McDonald-12-2

Where Does It Come From? (Level D): “Where do apples come from? Apples come from apple trees.”

Seeds (Level G): “Apples, grapes, and lemons have few seeds. A peach has one seed. This seed is called a pit. Strawberries and melons have many seeds. Some seeds grow in flowers. Sunflower seeds can be eaten.”


Writing for informational projects may take many forms, from travel brochures about points of interest to stories on a particular topic. Choose a location and plan an imaginary or real class trip to that location. Have the students research and write about facts on the area, history of the destination, etc. What makes it a place that people want to visit? The field trip will be a success when the students are prepared to see things they have already learned about. If going to the actual place is not an option, some places offer virtual field trips on the computer. Students could create math word problems on distance traveled or elapsed time on the start to finish.

To extend the field-trip idea, plan a pretend weeklong trip to several destinations within one region. Research the weather for the time of year you might travel and create a suggested packing list. Assign different ways to travel on the journey to different groups. Ask them to write about how their trip might be different if they went by train, airplane, ship, car, bicycle, etc. Schedule a sharing time for the finished trip reports.

Choose a health-related topic and ask students to write about why it is important to their health to practice this habit. Examples include brushing teeth, exercise, or eating a balanced diet. Ask them to research factual data to support their presentation. Progress for the individual or the class could be charted. The data could be analyzed and written into a summary.

McDonald-12-3Create a set of factual trading cards on a topic. An example could be important historical people and their contributions. Students could work with a partner to research information to include. This could be an ongoing project as the class studies about different folks from the past.

Select a topic from history and ask students to write about how it has evolved over time. An example would be the purpose of horses. In times past, horses had a very different meaning to people than today’s horses do. The book Work Horses will show students why these horses were needed to help with jobs.

Work Horses (Level F) “Before there were tractors, farmers had big horses called draft horses. Draft horses pulled plows and helped the farmers work the fields.”

Children have a natural curiosity to learn factual information. Tap into this and let them suggest topics of interest to learn more about. We can learn many things from each other and from the personal experiences the children bring to the task of writing.

For more information on the Kaleidoscope Collection containing books written by this author, you can download an information sheet by clicking on the image below. 

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Teaching Kids to Write: Writing to Persuade

Posted by Rhonda McDonald on Jul 2, 2014 11:46:43 AM

McDonald-picThis is a guest post by Rhonda McDonald, a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia and author of two books in our Kaleidoscope Collection: Polar Bears and The White Whale. She has been writing a series of posts on teaching children to write; you can view her earlier posts by clicking here!

Writing to Persuade

Can I have a pet? Can we go to the pool? Can I buy a new bike? Children are experts at coming up with things they would like to have. Truth be told, we as adults are very similar, though our wants may be a little pricier: a new car, a new house, or an exciting vacation. We are bombarded with media trying to convince us to fulfill our wants.

Teaching your students to write a persuasive essay creates an opportunity to channel their passions. Ask them to brainstorm 3-5 things they want or would like to accomplish:

  • Wants: a dog, summer camp, new tennis shoes, an iPad, a fishing trip
  • Accomplishments: guitar lessons, swimming lessons, gymnastics class, job, horseback riding lessons

Next, ask them to discuss the list and prioritize the items. This requires some conversation about why each thing is important. The dialogue would also provoke a possible plan of action to reach the goal. As they discuss the list, ask them to jot down notes that are important points in the discussion. Ask them to compose a one-page argument using the notes. Share the essay with a partner first, then a group or class. They may want to revise the ideas based on feedback from others. 

After a few opportunities in organizing their own thoughts and opinions and creating a plan of action, the class might like to come up with a group project. Small groups of students could prepare speeches as to why their project would be best for the class. After this information is presented, a vote could be taken to select the most popular idea. 

Examples could include cleaning up a playground, recycling soda cans, making signs to help with littering, or teaching younger students about bicycle safety and why they should wear bike helmets. These ideas could be McDonald-1written as a plan of action to be shared with other classes, an entire school, or a Parent Teacher Association group

I Want to Be a Scuba Diver by Anita Goodwin (Level H) in the Kaleidoscope Collection is told from the point of view of a young boy. He tells about the adventures that his family members have while scuba diving and why he wishes he could join them.

“Mom likes to dive with her underwater camera. She takes pictures of sea turtles and different kinds of coral. Dad likes to dive in caves. He has lights on his helmet. He looks for fossils in rocks. I ask Dad, 'When can I dive?'"

This book could be used as an example for showing how the boy creates his reasons to want to be a scuba diver. 

McDonald-2Pet Day by Nancy Brekke (Level G), is another book in the Kaleidoscope Collection. This is a story about children bringing their pets to school. Read the book as a discussion opener to why different people prefer various pets. Ask the children to look for describing words about the pets.

“Carter brought his salamander. It was very slimy.”

“Ethan brought his pot-bellied pig. It looked kind of ugly.”

“Brianna brought her guinea pig. It had a potbelly, too.”

“Our principal brought his pet. It was a python snake. No one wanted to touch it.” 

Talk about the care that would be required for each of these pets. Each student could create an illustrated brochure listing the positive reasons that they think their pet is best. Share with the group to develop speaking skills. 

Extend the activity by thinking of some unusual pets: hedgehog, lamb, spider, etc. Talk about why some animals do not make good pets and are best left in a zoo or the wild. Examples include a monkey, raccoon, skunk, or deer.

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Three fun books from the Joy Cowley Collection are told from the pet’s point of view. They give advice on what to do and not do.

“Do not fly over the dinner table. Humans do not like feathers or anything else dropped in their food.”

“In your new home there is an oven with a glass door. This is not a dog TV.”

Providing children with a personal reason to write is a fantastic way to motivate them. Persuasive writing, when applied to real life, can show them that words on a page can create positive change. Newspaper editorials are another example of persuasive writing. This is just one example of author’s purpose. Ask the question, “Why is the author writing this piece?” They may wish to respond to an editorial with their viewpoint.

  • Create situations where the students are assigned opposing roles on an issue. Ask them to defend their views. Then, mix up the group and have some students switch views. It may be an eye opener to look at the issue from the other side.
  • Create a school survey to take the pulse of how students feel about a particular issue. Tally the results. Assign groups to defend each view. Share.
  • Many stories have been written that show a traditional tale from the other point of view. Look in the library for these titles and share with the class.

For more information on the Kaleidoscope Collection containing books written by this author, you can download an information sheet by clicking on the image below. To learn more about the Joy Cowley Collection, which includes the book shown in this post, click here to visit our website, or click the image to the right below for the information sheet for that series. 


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Teaching Kids to Write: The Author's Purpose and Writing to Communicate

Posted by Rhonda McDonald on May 5, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Rhonda McDonaldThis is a guest post by Rhonda McDonald, a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia and author of two books in our Kaleidoscope Collection: Polar Bears and The White Whale. She has been writing a series of posts on teaching children to write; you can view her earlier posts by clicking here!

The Author's Purpose:
Writing to Communicate

“Why do we need to learn to write?” That is a valid question raised by many of our children and our students. In this blog entry, we will explore writing to communicate. Students need a reason for the practice of writing. We sometimes call this Author’s Purpose. In this age of texting and e-mail, many forms of writing have been abbreviated to the extent that written communication has been lost. Let’s consider some forms of writing to communicate.


Ask students to help plan a trip to the grocery store by making a grocery list. Let them read labels and pick out items on the shelf from the list. They may want to include items to pack in their lunch box, plan out a special meal, or plan items to buy for a birthday party. For your own children, keep a notepad in a special place in your kitchen to write grocery requests. Some of these notepads have a magnet on the back to place on a refrigerator door.


Write notes to your students or children to encourage them at school:

  • “Have a great day at school!”
  • “I’ll be thinking of you today on your field trip. Have fun!”

Post-It notes are great for this short type of communication. Tuck the note into a lunchbox or bookbag. Give them a blank Post-It or notecard and ask them to write a note back to you about how their day was or something special that happened.

Model note-writing by writing short notes to a teacher in an assignment book.

Brief notes can be nonthreatening reminders to complete chores.

  • “Don’t forget to feed the cat.”
  • “Please fold the towels in the clothes dryer.”

Ask your children to write notes to you as reminders:

  • “Mom, don’t forget to wash my basketball uniform. I have a game after school tomorrow.”

Place a note on the dash of the car as a reminder.

  • “Take lunch money to Ted.”
  • “Parent/Teacher Conference at 4:00”


When traveling to new places, I like to send postcards to my students. When I receive one from them, it is a special treat. This is practical writing that shows they are adept at the writing skills that were taught in class. This task takes little time due to the small space on a post card. Students are excited to receive their very own piece of mail. These were written by rising second-grade students.

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In class, design a post card of a place you have been studying or to a place they would like to go. Design a postcard to a character from a book they have read. Make up a creative address:

Winnie the Pooh
503 Hunny Pot Lane
The Hundred Acre Woods, WV 27604

All sorts of creative ideas may go into designing greeting cards or invitations. Cut the card into an animal shape. Make up a verse or short poem for the inside message:

This little panda would like to
Send a special birthday wish to you.
Celebrate and have a blast!
As you remember the year that’s past.

Valentine’s Day is a fun time to practice making cards to send to classmates.

Ask children to design an invitation to an event (birthday party, swim party, cookout, sleepover, skate party, baseball game, etc.). Include important information:

  • WHAT
  • WHEN
  • TIME

Decorate with colorful markers, stickers or glitter.


Teach the students to correctly write their address on a lined piece of paper. When they have mastered the proper spacing and information, transfer the information to an envelope.

Ask them to pick a friend in class and exchange addresses with them. Use this friend’s address on the practice envelope. Talk about the return address and the address of the letter. It may help to draw boxes on the envelope as a guide to enclose the 2 addresses. They may wish to draw a stamp in the upper right hand corner of the practice envelope. Talk about the information included in the address, state abbreviations and zip codes.

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Wishy-Washy Letter from the Joy Cowley Early Birds series is a fun book to read with children when you talk about the job of a stamp on an envelope. Mrs. Wishy Washy’s animals thought they should STAMP on the envelope with their feet.

There are many excellent children’s books that tell a story by writing letters to various characters. Children can see models in these books for a friendly letters or postcards.

Letter-writing to friends, family members, or pen pals will provide practice in written expression. To actually send the letter and receive one back is exciting.

LETTER WRITING CENTER: You may want to have a mailbox in your classroom for interclass mail. A student could be selected as the designated mailman each week to deliver letters on a particular day of the week. Provide colored paper or stationary for the letter writing center. Thank-you letters to grandparents or relatives for birthday or holiday gifts are fun to write.

E-MAIL: Some schools may have the capability for students to write and send interschool e-mail. The content should be approved by an adult prior to sending the e-mail.

SKYPE: If your school has the ability to Skype with a school in another part of the country or world, this is an exciting exchange and an opportunity to meet pen pals. One of our first-grade classes in Virginia had the opportunity to Skype with a class in Tanzania, Africa where my daughter was teaching for a year. The time difference was a challenge, but we were able to work that out. It was an amazing experience for both classes as the image was projected onto an interactive Promethean board. The children talked, sang, and answered questions about their school.

In closing, I would like to reinforce the purpose of writing to communicate. Provide your students with an intended audience. It will motivate them to produce their very best writing!

For more information on the Kaleidoscope Collection containing books written by this author, you can download an information sheet by clicking on the image below. To learn more about the Joy Cowley Early Birds series, which includes the book shown in this post, click here to visit our website, or click the image to the right below for the information sheet for that series.

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Topics: Joy Cowley Early Birds, Rhonda McDonald, Teaching Writing

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