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

Writing Prompts for Kids!

Posted by Sally Hosokawa on Jun 8, 2017 2:12:00 PM

Writing activities are essential for both the teacher and the student. With creative writing prompts, the student practices language and writing skills while the teacher gets a glimpse into the thoughts of every student, even the shy and quiet ones!

To make sure that writing remains fresh and exciting for children, it’s important to present different writing prompts throughout the year. Kid Writing in the 21st Century, Hameray’s newest professional book, provides a plethora of creative and unique writing prompts for any classroom: 

Kid_Writing_Book_500.jpg1. New Adventure Books. If students don’t know what to write about, encourage them to create new stories about their favorite fictional characters like Mrs. Wishy-Washy or Mickey Mouse!

2. Author Studies. Have students research the author of their favorite book by reading the back flap or looking at the author’s online website. Then, have students compile the information they learned into writing!

3. The Ouch Pouch. If students experience an injury or illness, have them write about their experiences on a paper shaped like a Band-Aid. Place the writing into a bag labeled the Ouch Pouch and allow the student to share their writing with the class.

4. Personal News Stories. Allow each student to make their own newspaper centered on their life: what is good news, bad news, and entertainment news that they think is newsworthy? By creating a multi-article newspaper, children will be writing informational stories about various aspects of their personal life. Journalism also encourages students to think about their audience while writing.

5. Yuck Menu. After reading Mud Soup from the Kaleidoscope Collection, ask each student writes and draws something yucky to add to the soup. Compile their work into one big class book called Yuck Soup!


This blog post only features 5 of the countless writing prompts included in Kid Writing in the 21st Century. For more classroom writing ideas, make sure to check out the book!


Click the left image below to download information about Kid Writing in the 21st Century, a professional book written by Eileen Feldgus, Isabell Cardonick, and Richard Gentry. 

 Kid Writing in the 21st Century Brochure

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Topics: Creative Activities, Writing Activity, Kid Writing

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.


New Call-to-Action     Cinquain Poems



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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.


Snowflake Write the Room Activity     New Call-to-Action 


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

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!

New Call-to-Action    New Call-to-action


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

Using Gingerbread Cookies to Teach Writing—with FREE download!

Posted by Laureen on Jan 20, 2015 8:00:00 AM

This is a guest post by blogger Laureen. If you like what you see here, you can check out her blog, Teach with Laughter, for more of her writing.

Hi again! I’ve been enjoying my visits here on the Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog.  The last time I was here I shared my excitement about one of the Story World Real World sets and today I’m excited to share another activity with you that can be used with the Story World Real World Gingerbread Man set.  

I am sure that you are familiar with the traditional tale of The Gingerbread Man.  Well, Hameray has published the most adorable version and paired it up with three informational texts, Gingerbread Kids, Fun With Food and Run! Run! As Fast As You Can! 

Today, I’m going to focus on Gingerbread Kids.  It explains how to make gingerbread cookies—from putting on the aprons through until after they are eaten, and even includes a recipe!

My suggestion—bake the  cookies with your students. Not only will they be excited, but the school kitchen will smell delicious!!!

Have you ever used flip-flap writing books with your students?  I’ve created one to use with gingerbread cookies and I am thrilled with how it turned out.Stewrat-9-300

Before students begin writing, I’d have then brainstorm, as a class, all about gingerbread cookies. I’ve included a header and the can, have, and are gingerbread men to use in a pocket chart or on chart paper. Students can write in their flip-flap books by using the list.


Laureen is a first-grade teacher in Canada. She has been teaching kindergarten and grade one for more than twenty years. Laureen loves to make learning fun and you can find her at her blog, Teach With Laughter. You can also visit her TPT page here.


To learn more about Story World Real 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!

New Call-to-Action   New Call-to-action

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Story World, Real World, Writing Activity, Gingerbread, Laureen

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