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Back to School: Reading to Big Kids


Walking into my classroom as a fifth-grade teacher was a bit nerve-wracking. I'd never taught fifth grade, swore I'd never teach fifth grade, and did everything I could to avoid getting moved to fifth grade. And yet, here I was... teaching fifth grade. 😏

I knew how to get little people excited about books. I knew all about building them up and helping them bridge the gaps in their learning so that they could fall in love with reading. But big kids? That was unknown territory.

Here's the thing about fifth grade readers. If they aren't a reader, this is one of the last chances an adult has to turn them into one. And middle grades fiction?? That was a whole new universe for me. (ALL THE 😍😍😍, by the way! My absolute favorite thing to read.) I knew every book had to be intentional. Every read aloud needed to pull at one of my non-readers and bring them over to the "dark side." 😂 When I looked back on my year, I realized there were three ideas I kept practicing with my choices. It's certainly not foolproof, but it worked for us!

(side note: There are affiliate links throughout this post. That means I get a small commission when you make a purchase through those links. It helps keep the lights on over here! 😉)


When in doubt, pull out something funny. Do the voices. Make the faces. Get into it!

And when you're reading something for the first time, try to look at it through the lens of a ten-year-old. Would they giggle? Break out into a guffaw? If your inner ten-year-old would burst out laughing chances are they will too.

My first-week-favorite-funnies are If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elise Parsley and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos.

Joey Pigza is a hysterical and all too real character that my students find themselves rooting for. It's a short and easy read aloud that lends itself to LOTS of good discussions about behavior expectations, how we treat others, and an awareness that you don't always know everything that's going on with your classmates.

Magnolia in If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator... is my favorite first day read-aloud because she always helps me break the tension. We can't help but laugh at the alligator's antics. It's like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie met Animal from the Muppets. 😂😂😂 I'm not a teacher who subscribes to the idea that "you can't let them see you smile until October." If we aren't laughing on Day 1 in my room, I'm worried!


The next two books are in new places on my "must read aloud" list. Because of Mr. Terupt usually follows Joey Pigza. However, in a time where more and more of my students are on social media, I feel like Posted needs to move into that slot. Posted explores what happens when cell phones are banned at a middle school. The kids come up with a new way to communicate, and just because it's on paper doesn't mean it's any easier.

I'll probably save Because of Mr. Terupt for my third novel of the year. It's an awesome look at an entire year in a fifth-grade classroom, with tragedy right in the middle of it. Rob Buyea explores friendships, stereotypes, family crisis, and the importance of a good teacher.

Both of those books are pretty lengthy, so we should be set until just before Christmas break. 😉 But I've got one more tip for you!


Do you remember sniffling with your teacher while she read Where the Red Fern Grows? Or Charlotte's Web? Or laughing over Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with your fourth grade teacher? All of those experiences are vividly locked away in my reader's memory. I remember every word. If we want big kids to fall in love with books, we have to find those life-changing texts for them as well!

I cannot remember the last time I read a book like this and grieved for days afterwards. Ethan's story is gut-wrenching and wonderful all at the same time. As a class, we listened to the first two chapters when I was modeling how to use some online resources. We were all enthralled.

One of my kids even asked, "Mrs. Spann - why do I feel so sad after hearing that? Nothing even really happened yet!" I smiled at her and said, "That's how you know it's going to be a book that sticks with us. We are twenty pages in and already experiencing big feelings. That's not easy for an author to do!" And it has! I'm still talking about The Ethan I Was Before and recommending it to anyone who will listen. This will probably be the book we start after Christmas break.

I don't have a set-in-stone plan for anything after this, and that's ok. I want to get to know my next bunch and figure out what they need as readers. Which brings me to my last book recommendation.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) is another text for the first week of school, and I always bring it into my Reader's Workshop lesson on finding good fit books. (Yes, big kids need that lesson too!!) Barbara Bottner is another one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. There are kids who walk into our classrooms every year who HATE reading. Man, it hurts my heart just to type that.

It's our job to help them find their "gateway book" --- whatever genre or author they need, it's up to us to help them find it. And when they do?? It's the BEST FEELING EVER.

To find all of these books in one place (and a whole lot more), I'd love for you to visit my Amazon Influencer page!

If you want to save this post for reference later, pin the image below!

Have a great year, bookworms! I'll see you soon! 

Leadership Jobs for Every Classroom

Does EVERYONE really need a leadership job? 

In short, yes. I know that most of us already have a set of classroom jobs in place. There might be ten or twelve kids doing those jobs. But what about the other kids? Do they feel like a part of our (your) classroom community?

The first time I wrote about using leadership jobs in my classroom, I was part of a Leader in Me Lighthouse School. That training created a major paradigm shift in my teaching practices. I no longer teach in a LIM school (sniffle), but so much of what I learned has carried over to my next adventure. Today I'm sharing a few of those carryovers with you. 

1. EVERY child has gifts, and EVERY child has leadership potential. 

Some kids are great at organizing. They will make great librarians. Other students love to oversee the handling of daily materials or the technology in the room. These could be your technology engineers and materials managers.  There are also kids who want to stay in the background, but they also want to feel like they are a part of something bigger. I love these students. They do the things I find the hardest to keep up with - checking homework, sorting graded papers, sharpening pencils. Ensuring that each child had a classroom responsibility was just another way for me to nurture their gifts for the 180 days I got to spend with them. 

2. WE know kids can do more than we give them credit for. Let them!

Tired of sharpening pencils after school? Let the kids do it. (We call it the Saw Master  😊 !) 

Forget to take the attendance? Let the kids do it

Do you struggle to find time to sort student papers after they're graded? 

Let the kids do it!!

Those are all REAL jobs in my classroom that happen every day. I am terrible at remembering to submit my attendance online. So, I created the job of Attendance Clerk, instructed them to bring me my laptop each morning so I could sign in for them, and let them take attendance. The secretary quit buzzing my room during math every day and my student felt important.

Did you read that?

My student felt important. 

3. Classroom jobs build classroom community. 

Everyone involved in a dramatic production or musical theater show is a part of something bigger. The same thing can be said for the football team, the marching band, and the yearbook committee. This is the same philosophy. It builds buy-in! 

I want my kids to know I value their talents, their time, and their input. After the first month or two of school, we sit down in morning meeting and talk about how classroom jobs are going. We discuss which leadership roles are working well, which jobs need to be eliminated, and if there are any we might need to add. 

These are fluid and flexible roles. Not everyone falls in love with the first job they have, right? Our students should be given the opportunity to try out different leadership roles as well. 

Questions?? Here are a few I get often 😊

·       How often do you change jobs?

We change once a month. The first month, we fill out applications during the first week of school. I go over my expectations for what their applications should look like and sound like. They give me their top three choices and I am almost always able to give everyone one of their top three.

After the first month, the application goes home for an overnight assignment. It comes back the next day and I begin handing out jobs!

·       What if you can’t give a child one of their choices?

The larger your class is, the harder this will be. So to be fair, I make sure to let the kids who didn’t get one of their choices know that they will get top priority during the next month. The following month, I have them put a star on their paper so I know to look at those first.

·       How do you make this work when you departmentalize?

Remember how I had the most amazing work wife? I did. We sat down once a month with the completed applications and handed out jobs together. The jobs were the same in each of our classes. We typed up a list for each homeroom and printed out a copy for each other. It was really nice to have someone to bounce job assignments around with.

·       Do you let students have the same job more than once?

Heck yes! Especially if the child does a great job, they want it, and their peers recognize their talent for it! Once I found two students that knew exactly how our classroom library ran, the kids all agreed that they needed to be our permanent librarians. If they need a break, I absolutely give them one. We all need a vacation – right? 😉

If you’re interested in trying out classroom leadership jobs with your kids, I’d love for you to check out the sets I have in my store!

There are also TWO editable pages for you to add any jobs unique to your classroom.
I’ve also included a primary and intermediate application, and a job tracking sheet for your data notebooks.

Make sure you save this post on Pinterest and follow my 7 Habits/Leadership board to find more great ideas! 

Halloween Treats ~ A Resource Round-up!

I am really excited to share this "resource round-up" with you! It's full of brain breaks, book recommendations, freebies, and more. Let's get started!

Do you Symbaloo?? I love using Symbaloo to organize our favorite brain breaks. One of our most popular classroom leadership jobs is the Class DJ. The Class DJ gets to pick out our brain breaks each day, and they often like to choose a quick song or dance video.

As Halloween approaches, I thought it would be a great idea to keep our seasonal brain breaks all in one spot, but separate from the songs we tend to use every day. So I made a separate Symbaloo just for our October Brain Breaks! You can access the board by clicking directly on the link below! (Thanks to Hollie for letting me know it didn't quite work the first time!) 

By using Symbaloo to keep them all in one spot, I'm not hunting down a video on You Tube every time we take a break. I can also control what the kids have access to this way!

As always, watch the videos yourself to make sure they are appropriate for your own students. The videos on top are Just Dance clips (my students' favorites!) and the clips on the bottom are better sing-a-long videos.

How about a BRAND NEW freebie to kick things off?? 

I just posted the Primer level of my SPLAT! sight word game for FREE on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you'd like to see the all five Dolch levels, check out the full game by scrolling below.

Next up is a super-fun center I made for my kids a few years ago. They were really struggling with rhyming concepts, and our poetry lessons were becoming increasingly frustrating for all of us. The vocabulary is perfect for 2nd and 3rd graders, and it really helped my ESOL kiddos to "hear" what rhyming sounded like. After practicing in isolation for a week or so, they were able to apply it to the poems we read each week. 

You can grab it from TpT by clicking on the image above. I would love a little feedback if you think your kids will enjoy it!

I also recently featured this freebie sampler, but in case you missed it - click here or on the picture below to grab a set of sample lessons for The Ugly Pumpkin! 

You can also check out the rest of the unit for my FAVORITE fall book!

Who doesn't love a new book to read at Halloween? My book-loving heart would get so disappointed when my kids would sigh and say, "We read that in second grade!" 

Last year, I gathered up 5 books your students (hopefully) haven't heard yet! Click on the picture above to check them out. The books I selected are perfect for 2nd and 3rd graders. I've included non-fiction, chapter books, and picture book favorites. 

I also have a few spooky resources of my own to share with you! 

They will all be 20% off through Sunday, October 23rd... including my Ugly Pumpkin unit! 

Apply the Adjective {Halloween Edition} is one of my students' favorite ways to practice using expressive words and phrases to describe a given noun. There are differentiated practice pages they will love completing after playing! 

If you're unable to use Halloween-themed resources, you can also check out Apply the Adjective {Fall Edition}

Creepy Contractions is another resource you can use to have some seasonal fun without connecting it directly to Halloween. :) I've included a poem with different response options, anchor charts, interactive foldables, and a differentiated matching game you can use according to your students' readiness and abilities! 

SPLAT! is a complete Dolch sight word game I made last year for my intervention groups. I love that I can have everyone playing at once, based on their sight word strengths and weaknesses. There are also various recording sheets that encourage students to practice using the words in context. The sets are easy to keep separated, as each Dolch level has its own background scheme. 

Want to make sure you stay up-to-date with my favorite October find for the classroom? Follow my October Classroom Pinterest board - LOTS of freebies, resources and fun ideas for your classroom! 

The Ugly Pumpkin: A Fall Mentor Text

I'm so excited to get back to blogging with my friends from The Reading Crew. We have an amazing collection of lesson ideas and fall mentor texts to share with you today!

Make sure you read all the way through today's post to see how you can enter to win ALL of the books featured in today's link-up! {There are affiliate links in this post in case you're like me, and can't wait a week to get a copy! :)} 

I chose one of my FAVORITE books for October (and really, November too). The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz is a book you can carry across both months, and I have the best time reading it to my kids each year. It is perfect for teaching readers how to examine a character's actions, traits, and motivations. I usually spend a whole week with this book, and slowly scaffold character actions, traits, and motivations as we go. 

Before reading, I always do a quick review on what it means to think about someone's actions. We use a piece of chart paper to make a list of the things we've done since we arrived that day. 

Once we've got a good list, I ask them to keep track of the ugly pumpkin's actions as we read today. Someone almost always realizes they are listening for verbs that tell us what the ugly pumpkin is doing. :) 

The kids are listening for actions, and afterwards we go over the day's reading response. You may want to fill in an example (or two) with them. I really emphasize writing in complete sentences because they'll be expected to do the same as the week progresses. 

I don't worry too much about the page numbers, but I included it when I made this unit because this is a book I have multiple copies of. :) 

In the days that follow, we move on to examining a character's motivations and traits. 

What my students and I love about these lessons is that each response builds on information we gathered about the character the day before. All they have to do is transfer the information to make the connection. I encourage them to go back to the previous day's response to get their assignment started. 

I love re-reading this book each day. But if you are going to be out, or you just aren't feeling up to a reread, I did find this cute video on YouTube! :) 

It's less than 2 minutes long - perfect for a quick review! 

On Day Four, we connect everything together in a sentence frame response. I love being able to have them go back to this activity when they begin to write responses about characters using their independent books in the weeks and months ahead. 

As I was looking through this pack, I decided to add on an extra day where I could invite the students to step into the character's shoes. I can't wait to try these responses out in the next week or so. I think I'm going to use them to create a fun hallway display and have the kids mount them on construction paper. 

I included one of those new responses (along with a few others!) in this exclusive freebie sampler pack. Just click the image below to grab your copy from Dropbox

If you'd like to know more about the rest of the activities in this pack, take a peek at the pictures below and keep reading! 

This 40+ page unit includes:

  • ALL of the printables featured in this post
  • three different center options
  • interactive notebook pages for retelling or sequencing
  •  a mystery phrase activity
  •  and an Ugly Pumpkin writing craftivity! 

You can find it on TpT for $4 for this week only! Click HERE or on the image below to grab it! 

Make sure you check out the rest of the fall mentor text lessons and snag the freebies we're sharing with you this week. 

Don't forget to enter our Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win ALL of the books featured in today's link-up! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stop by the rest of The Reading Crew's posts to continue gathering phenomenal ideas for fall mentor texts! 

An InLinkz Link-up

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