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Using Diverse Texts to Teach Across Content Areas


We need diverse texts during content areas for the same reasons we need diverse texts in every other Our students need to feel represented - especially when we are teaching Science or Social Studies. Social studies, in particular, should not be filled with stories of white men and women. Whether we're reading biographies or historical fiction, we need to do everything we can to make sure our students see themselves in our lessons.
part of our day.

When I look for texts that align with our content units, I purposefully look for books that represent as many groups of students as possible. The texts I'm showcasing today - What Can a Citizen Do? and Lillian's Right to Vote - are two that I would use with our first social studies unit on Government and Civic Understandings. They are filled with images and instances where my students can see themselves and still learn the content we need to master.

A retelling of how the U.S. Constitution was written would've have worked great, but let's be real. How many of my students are going to connect with a text where the focus is on a group of old white men in leadership? Very very few.

When you know better, you do better. 


Well, this post is a great start! I've joined The Reading Crew to bring you several new pieces of multicultural literature that you can bring in to your classroom today! Even better --- we're all sharing a freebie for you to use as well! You'll find the complete link-up at the bottom of this post.

I also follow the Nerdy Book Club blog (and on Twitter), I search random phrases on Amazon 😂, and I collaborate with my fellow bookworms all the time. Don't be afraid to dig deep in those Google searches, bookworms!


TIME is not something we have a lot of as classroom teachers. Teaching across content areas is one of the biggest challenges I've faced in the classroom. It was also an area I found lots of success once I discovered how to connect the pieces in my classroom.

When I brought mentor sentences into my classroom, I found that my students needed more practice than just the small lesson I was leading them in each day. I began to extend my lessons and add in a few additional activities to give my students extra practice during our Daily 3 reading centers. Soon, I was searching for texts that mirrored the concepts we were learning in social studies. I wanted to make cross-curricular connections to give myself more time to teach everything they needed.

Towards the end of the year, I discovered Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter. Lillian's story is beautiful and I wish I'd found it sooner. Jonah Winter does a brilliant job of bringing all of the pieces in history together to communicate the importance of voting for Lillian to the reader.

It also lent itself quite easily to an informational close reading passage that I wrote to supplement our social studies lessons. The sentence I chose was full of opportunities to discuss the different ways we use capitalization in our writing. This was the perfect skill for the beginning of the year when I would typically use this unit, or towards the end of the year when we need to review grammar rules for state assessments and we approach our civil rights unit.


When What Can a Citizen Do popped up deeeeep in an Amazon search for kids' books on citizenship, I was beyond excited. Then my heart fell. It wasn't even out yet! This gem was published in mid-September, a few weeks after I really needed it. But when an amazing book falls into your Amazon cart, you go ahead and pre-order it!

Dave Eggers has written such a beautifully simple message for our students - Be good humans. Be good to each other. If you can do that, you'll be a good citizen of this earth. In 40 beautiful pages, he manages to cheer on student activists, celebrate differences, and empower our young people with the will to stand up and do the hard work with us.

While this book is fairly simple prose, it gave me a great starting point for writing an informational close read on what the right and responsibilities of a citizen are. In my state, that's part of our Government and Civic Understandings unit so I jumped at the chance to bring this book full circle.

I also added a cloze activity to each book's companion unit and I'm excited to share one with you today! They are even differentiated!! I noticed that some of my attention-challenged children 😉 were taking a bit longer to complete these tasks. So, I reduced the numbers of words I expected them to "find" within the passage.

Cloze activities typically use a reading passage students have seen before, with keywords and phrases omitted. The missing words are put into a word bank and students are asked to select the correct word to fill in a given blank. You can make your own cloze activities using a site like this one, or you can build your own in a basic document.

You can choose to give your students access to the original text while they work, or ask them to complete it using only the word bank. Here are my 2 cents on that: When they are assessed with any kind of reading passage in "real life," no one ever takes the passage away. Why not let them use it??

Today, I'm sharing a close reading passage and it's cloze companion. Both activities come from my newest Social Studies Pop Up unit, The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens. What Can a Citizen Do? is the mentor text, and I cannot wait for you to read it!

To grab your freebie, click above!

Check out either of my Social Studies Pop-Ups by clicking on either of these images as well! 

Don't forget to read through The Reading Crew's collection of diverse mentor texts. There are SO MANY of my favorites being share today - with freebies! 

Books to Grow Leaders: Part Two


If you've been waiting for this post, I apologize! Life has gotten a little nutty and I am clearly not winning that battle. 😂

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I get a small commission from the items you purchase through these links, at no extra cost to you.

If you're looking for Habits 1-3 (and 5 essential paradigms, click on the image below!

Habits 4-8 are known as the "external victory." These are the changes other people will see in you! Again, I've worked to ensure a variety of text types (picture books, chapter books, graphic novels) and diverse reads. I became painfully aware of the "holes" in my classroom library last year as I realized several of my students were not represented. This list is far from perfect, but it's a good starting point, so let's dive in!


This set of texts includes several classic favorites. Each character is an "overcomer" and works to find a solution that requires working with a positive attitude, no matter what their circumstances are. I love "overcomer" stories and the connections my students make with them. These are no exception!

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller


Each of these books teaches children to be willing to seek out others' thoughts and feelings before sharing their own. In each text, the main character(s) are either misunderstood due to the assumptions of others, or they almost miss out on the opportunity to form a friendship because they are busy guarding their hearts against others. Such rich discussions just waiting to happen! 

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Rules by Cynthia Lord

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah

Stargirl by Herry Spinelli


Working together is always better, and all of these books promote that idea. These books teach students to value the input and strengths of others, and learn from them. The characters learn to solve problems with others, a huge lesson for our students. 

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia


This collection is pretty unique. The majority of these characters are in some pretty dire situations - but yet each of them finds a way to happiness. To do something that makes them happy in the face of adverisity. In an internment camp, a baseball league is set up. At a concentration camp, prisoners find solace in the music of a harmonica. Isn't that incredible? 

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

The Harmonica by Tony Johnston

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

The Courage Test by James Preller


I mean, can you think of a character better than Auggie to teach children to find their voice? Find the things you love about yourself and use it to make the world a better place. Find the things you have right now at your disposal. Use them to create happiness for yourself and those around you - it's contagious! These messages are prevalent in each of these texts. 

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Again several of the texts I've mentioned today are FREE with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. I look at it as self-care and a pretty awesome teacher hack. 😉 If you have any questions about how Kindle Unlimited works, I'm happy to answer them! 

Don't forget to download your FREE set of paradigm posters by signing up for my newsletter as well! 

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    Books to Grow Leaders: Part One


    Collecting texts to teach the Seven Habits of Happy Kids isn't always something that comes easy. 

    The Leader in Me school I was a part of had a "book of the month" for the whole school, and we usually connected it to the 7 Habits of Happy Kids. The challenge soon became finding a text that was engaging and appropriate for kindergarten through fifth grade. 

    As a third grade teacher at the time, I found myself in the "sweet spot" - we could make just about anything work for us. But I kept hearing from my upper grades co-workers that they needed something a little more on their level. And when I transferred to another school to teach fifth-grade last year, I found out exactly what they were talking about! 

    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I get a small commission from the items you purchase through these links. It keeps the blog on! :) 


    The first three habits are known as "the private victory" - the idea being that they change a person from the inside out. The Leader in Me principles teach that it's hard to practice the last four (five) habits effectively without the first three solidly in place. We spend a lot of time focusing on the first three habits, especially during the first half of the school year. 

    One of the ways I do this is through read-aloud. As I worked more in upper grades, I saw more opportunities to do this with class novels or in guided reading. Today, I'm sharing with you my favorite texts for promoting the first three habits (and paradigm shifts - but we'll get to that in a minute 😊). 

    For each habit, I'm including three novels and one picture book. I've poured through my own collection to ensure a good mix of diverse texts and genres. I would love any suggestions you have as well! I hope these are helpful! 


    Each of these titles features a character who has to learn that he (or she) is in charge of his (or her) own actions - no one else. They also become more aware of how their actions impact others. Or, in the case of Dream Big, they learn that they are in charge of their destiny. 

    Links to Habit 1 Texts: 

    Restart by Gordan Korman


    These books all focus on a character with a plan who is determined to see it through. There are often obstacles - socio-economic status, race, tragedy, etc. - but each character learns to persevere in his or her own way. 

    Links to Habit 2 Texts:

    Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue

    Ghost by Jason Reynolds (This is the first book in a 4-part series. SO INCREDIBLE.)

    The School Story by Andrew Clements

    Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm


    This is probably a teacher's favorite habit --- "Work first, then play." 😂 Luckily, there are more than a few books out there to help us teach our students about the reward of relaxing once our work is done, and done well. There is also huge value in our students learning to say no to things they know they should not do! 

    Links to Habit 3 Texts:

    Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

    Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (One of my annual FAVORITES)

    The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson 

    The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola

    Several of these texts (Dream Big, The Hero Two Doors Down) were FREE as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I plugged my iPad into my Smartboard "dongle" and projected the texts. We were able to close read several sections and "mark up" the text as well. It was a really great way to dig into the book!

    I also have two sets of leadership story sorts that I use to teach and review the habits throughout the year. The primary version is best suited for kindergarten through third grade, as it provides more visual support. The intermediate version uses more detailed stories for students to sort into examples and non-examples.


    A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in the way we think or behave. We have paradigm shifts because of events in our world (September 11th), in our lives (a new baby, the death of a loved one), and because of our relationships with others. These are often "internal transformations" so I'm including them in this group of texts to share today. 

    These books show characters who undergo their own paradigm shift for one reason or another - and they provide incredible opportunities for rich conversations with our students. 

    The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

    Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

    Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

    The Janitor's Boy by Andrew Clements 

    As a school, we adopted five paradigms for reaching and teaching our students. 

    1. Everyone can be a leader. 
    2. Everyone has genius. 
    3. Change starts with me. 
    4. Educators empower students to lead their own learning. 
    5. We develop the whole person.

    Find Part Two by clicking on the image below!

    On a final note, I turned those paradigms into a set of posters! If you'd like to use them, sign up for my email newsletter below and download them for free! You'll also get access to exclusive content, freebies, and more! 

    Join the Newsletter

    Subscribe to download a set of 5 Leadership Paradigm Posters for FREE!

    No Classroom Rules = Better Classroom Management


    Before we get any further into this post, let me assure you my kids definitely *think* there are classroom rules. 😉 But, I don’t call them that and I haven’t for a long time. By the time they get to fifth grade, even the most well-behaved students are OVER the long lessons on classroom rules. I started using "Work Hard" and "Be Kind" after reading There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith.

    I had a major paradigm shift in the way I handled discipline and spoke to my students, which in turn had a big impact on my classroom management. Rafe has written several books and has been a huge influence on me personally, but that's a story for another day. 😊

    So exactly how does that affect my classroom management? What do I do instead? I’m excited to share a part of that with you today!

    (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! )


    It sounds so primary, doesn’t it? Almost preschool-ish! But it has worked so well for me I can’t really describe it another way. Our kids know better and can choose better – but they need us to remind them sometimes. 

    When my students come in on the first day, the first thing they see is our door. 

    After morning announcements, our first order of business is our inaugural morning meeting. I like to start it off by saying…

    “WE are going to do two things in here all year long. We are going to WORK HARD and we are going to BE KIND. Who can tell me what it means to WORK HARD?”

    Right off the bat, the kids recognize that there are plenty of "rules" that fall under our two guiding principles. Like... pretty much all of them! 

    We make a t-chart and describe what it means to work hard and be kind in the fifth grade. We discuss what it looks like and sounds like when fifth graders are NOT working hard or being kind. Don't skip this step! It's incredibly powerful, and it really sets the tone for the expectations I have for them this year. 

    I still wanted to dig a little deeper with my students so I pulled out some of my "old tricks" from my time at a Leader in Me school.


    Part of determining our guiding principles as a class is going over what it means to “Be Kind” and “Work Hard.” Those are the values I stress to them throughout the year. I also spend time talking about the 7 Habits of Happy Kids and what it means for us (as fifth graders) to use them. 

    I’m not at a Leader in Me school anymore, but several of the things I practice daily in my classroom are carryovers from my six years in a school with a strong LIM program in place. 

    If you’re in a kindergarten through third-grade classroom, you might want to investigate using The 7 Habits of Happy Kids to introduce the leadership habits to your students. We focus on one habit a day until we’ve gone through all seven. 

    For fourth and fifth grade teachers, this book can feel a bit primary. I ended up writing my own stories to go along with each of the habits, and we turned it into a group activity. 

    For each habit, I’ve written eight stories – 4 examples and 4 non-examples of the habit in action. Students work in small groups to determine whether the children in the story are using the target leadership habit or not. When they have their answer, I ask the teams to describe to their classmates why (or why not) the story does (or doesn’t) use the habit we’re discussing that day. There are also templates for students to write out their own scenarios. We usually focus on one habit a day until we've reviewed them all, so this is a a great writing activity for the first week or so.

    I also have a primary version of the sorts. The students will use them a bit differently, but the ideas are the same. There is more visual support in this set (and YES, the stories are different), and I've also included an "If... Then..." scenario sort for students to complete as you study each habit.

    Now for one of the questions I get the most often - HOW do you fit it all in????


    I want my students to emulate the leadership habits I’m modeling and teaching. The habits should feel as though they are a part of who we are. It’s NOT instantaneous, but it does feel more natural to look for and talk about the habits throughout our day as the year goes on.

    For example, we might talk about how the countries that made up the Allied forces could have been more proactive prior to the start of World War II. We examine historical figures and talk about which habits are a part of their legacy.

    When we’re doing read alouds, we look for ways the characters are using the seven leadership habits.

    Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is our first read aloud and it's FULL of places to stop and talk about how Joey (and the adults in his life) could have really used the seven habits. Look for those everyday moments!

    We also connect the habits to current events and our everyday lives in and out of the classroom.

    For more ideas on making those connections, make sure you're following my 7 Habits pinboard!

    There’s so much more to talk about, and I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you. I'll be back soon with a post on books that I love to use to teach each habit, as well as some new leadership freebies! Make sure you’re subscribed to my email list so you’ll be the first to know when a new blog post is out, or if an exclusive freebie is headed your way!

    If you sign up today, I have some TEN FREE PAGES of common and proper nouns activities for you! 

    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!