Category Archives: Late Elementary School

E-BOOKS – Make Beliefs Comix

FREE E-BOOKS – DOWNLOAD, READ, WRITE & DRAW! FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitterYouTube Dear Reader, On this page you will find free e-books I have written as part of my mission to help people of all ages discover their writers’ voices and express the important things in their lives . You can do so by creating comic strips at […]

Source: E-BOOKS – Make Beliefs Comix

What a fantastic resource for teachers in elementary and middle grades!  Make Belief Comix offers an array of structured books in PDF to help guide students in expressing their ideas and writing.  Some eBook templates also encourage drawing as a form of expressing ideas.  The pages are paced so that even the more reluctant writers can feel accomplished.

Books | The Great American Read | PBS

Source: Books | The Great American Read | PBS

While I find promotion of reading through a television series a little odd, I love the idea of the Great American Read.  The top 100 novels selected by national survey is broad in scope, but I do question some of the titles that made it to the top 100, feeling this is more a projection of a title’s contemporary popularity rather than the voters’ mindful reflection of best loved novels that might have been read over a lifetime.  The list, however, is otherwise alluring especially to those who wish to be better readers or more prolific readers. has joined in the fun with a matching list providing a user-friendly way to managing your progress, especially in conjunction with their yearly reading challenge. hosts a site wide reading challenge every year beginning in January, allowing participants to elect how many books they would like to read over the course of a year, and track their reading progress along the way.  I’ve found this to be a fantastic way to challenge myself to read more throughout the year, and with each successive year.  Additionally, goodreads members have produced hundreds of themed lists, including the avid reader’s answer to the Great American Read list: The Great American Read – What they missed.


Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – The Atlantic

“The results [of research] could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

Source: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – The Atlantic

How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 11


It’s one thing to appreciate haiku, but it’s a totally different animal to teach it.  Teaching requires flexibility, passion, and a degree of mastery of the subject that allows the teacher to converse freely and energetically enough to engage the audience in a learning moment… wherever and whenever that teaching moment occurs.

Check out this inspiring Teaching Story – How We Haiku.

Source: How We Haiku — Teaching Stories 11

The Reason for the Seasons – National Geographic Society

Happy First Day of Fall!  To celebrate the Autumnal Equinox – and discover the science behind the change in season- visit this National Geographic Society blog.  Students use polystyrene foam balls and light bulbs to investigate the sun’s intensity on the surface of the Earth.

Source: The Reason for the Seasons – National Geographic Society

Teaching math through managing money: “Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday” (1978) by Judith Viorst

“Last Sunday, when I used to be rich, I used to have a dollar.  I do not have a dollar any more.  I’ve got this dopey deck of cards.  I’ve got this one-eyed bear.  I’ve got this melted candle.  And… some bus tokens.” (p. 25)

"Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday" by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz. Lexile 570 Adult-directed Retrieved from

“Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday” by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz. Lexile 570 Adult-directed Retrieved from

One of the surest ways that I know to get students of any age to understand math is to deal with money.  And only slightly less effective is to apply principles of mathematics to favorite foods like cookies, pizza, and candy.  Children learn the advantages of money at a very early age: Money is useful to get things that they want.  They learn the values of coins and bills, and learn to negotiate payment for services (chores), as they observe and interact with their families and local community.  In my experience, even the most mathematically resistant student will look like a wiz when posed with a math problem headed by a dollar sign.  Percentages, fractions, proportions, and even algebra are more easily navigated if money is the topic.  Of course this is not to say that students are financially literate.  When I came across Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday (1978) by Judith Viorst, I was instantly attracted to the possibility of not only using this picture book for math instruction, but for financial literacy instruction as well.

"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz. Lexile 970 Adult-directed Retrieved from

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Ray Cruz.  Lexile 970 Adult-directed    Retrieved from

Alexander (the same beloved character from the well known story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1972) by Judith Viorst) has received a dollar bill from his grandparents on their visit, but cannot manage to save his money.  Over the course of a week, Alexander has squandered his treasure.  To add insult to injury, Alexander is faced with his older brothers’ uncanny ability to hold on to their money.  Tortured by their teasing and taunting, Alexander retaliates prompting his Father to fine him for his bad behavior. (I have a special appreciation for this: My father would fine me and my siblings for bad behavior, rather than doling out other more common types of punishments.)  Lamenting his poor money management skills, Alexander discovers that it is difficult to save money, and equally as difficult to earn money; but to spend money is far too easy!

Uses in the Classroom

There are so many uses for this picture book in the classroom.  I feel comfortable that this would be a well-received story from kindergarten through 6th grade, because Alexander is a familiar and well-loved character.  Alexander is also imperfect, making him an especially engaging and sympathetic character.

“Mom says if I really want to buy a walkie-talkie, save my money.  Saving money is hard.” (p.11)

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday can be used to develop reading and listening skills in young and emergent readers.  Short bursts of text (Lexile 570) surrounded by white space are supported by highly expressive black and white illustrations, adding visual context clues to aid in comprehension of the corresponding text.  Key words are repeated throughout the story, and stylistic patterns pop up throughout the story, reinforcing the iterative learning process.  Because the context of the story is familiar and relevant to the audience, the life skills lessons being taught serve as an extra layer for learning.

“It isn’t fair that my brother Anthony has two dollars and three quarters and one dime and seven nickels and eighteen pennies.” (p.1)

Math instruction or practice can be easily integrated into the reading experience.  Students can be directed to add up the amounts that Alexander spends using mental math skills , or as a challenge, they can subtract from his starting point of one dollar.  Students can also be challenged to add the amounts each of Alexander’s brothers have, computing numerical value from money vocabulary listed in the story.  Students can chart Alexander’s spending, practicing organization of data.

“My father told me to put the dollar away to pay for college.

He was kidding.” (p. 8)

Financial literacy – which includes understanding the value of money, as well as developing skills in handling money responsibly – can also be addressed using Alexander, Who used to Be Rich Last Sunday.  Class discussion of choices – what, how, and why choices are made – and the repercussions of those choices is a great place to start.  Discussing and demonstrating the hows and whys of saving money is another great lesson in financial literacy.  Finally, discussing the ease with which Alexander spends his money compared to the difficulty he has to make money will help students understand the value of money not just as currency for purchasing, but demonstrating the value of money as payment for hard work.

For examples of lesson plans check out the following:

Second grade lesson plans:  Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday  – Financial and economic concepts

Scholastic Lesson Plans, Grades 3 – 6: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday – Understanding Opportunity Costs

Second grade lesson plans: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday – Making Choices

Kindergarten through 2nd grade lesson plans: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday – Coin Values

AASL: 1.1.2 Use background knowledge as context for new learning

CCSS: 5.NF.6 Solve real world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed mumbers  K.CC.4a Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities  K.MD.3  Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category; sort the categories by count


American (2013). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner. Huron St. Retrieved from

Common core state standards initiative. (2016). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from

Crawford, J. (2011). Math solutions lesson from the classroom Alexander used to be rich A lesson for grades K–2 overview of lesson. Retrieved from

Grade Two making choices. (2005). . Retrieved from

Reading is a window to the world. (2007). Retrieved from

Second grade – mathematics – FITC. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from

Shirley. (2012, March 28). Resources and lesson plans for financial literacy. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from Integrated Studies,

Upromise. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from

Viorst, J., & Cruz, R. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. New York: Atheneum

Viorst, J., & Cruz, R. (1978). Alexander, who used to be rich last Sunday. New York: Atheneum.


The works of David Macaulay: Science and engineering illustrated

I was first introduced to the works of David Macaulay by my 3 year old nephew.  He’s in his first year of college now, as it happens, deciding on whether he would like to focus on engineering or design as a career. Like the causality dilemma (“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”), it’s difficult to tell whether my nephew was influenced by Macaulay’s books, or whether he was attracted to Macaulay’s books because he was inherently drawn to engineering and design.  Regardless, my nephew was enthralled by the drawings at a very early age, and later on entranced by the explanations that Macaulay provided on the logic, engineering, and mechanics behind the structures and machines he featured in his books.

"Cathedral: the story of its construction" by David Macaulay. Retrieved from

“Cathedral: the story of its construction” by David Macaulay.  Lexile 1120  Retrieved from

Cathedral: The story of its construction (1973) is Macaulay’s first publication, and received the Caldecott Honor Book award in 1977.  Over-sized (9″ x 12″) like a common picture book, Cathedral is anything but a common picture book.  It tells the story of the conception and construction of a 13th century Gothic cathedral in France with 79 beautifully illustrated pages detailing the structural design, the people, geography, and other contextual  elements seating the structure in time and place.  Each page, on average, incorporates only one paragraph of text off-set by considerable white space, appealing to emergent readers and advanced readers alike.  With a Lexile of 1120, Cathedral can captivate a broad audience with its easy to understand explanations and commentary, however, I recommend adult-direction for younger readers even though the pictures alone can be a satisfying exploratory experience.

While Cathedral (as with most of Macaulay’s works) focuses primarily on the practical and logical matters of engineering, Macaulay also includes historical context, explaining not just the hows, but the whys as well.  Adding this extra layer gives depth to the information, connecting the scientific concepts to the human experience, and the building of communities.  Macaulay also includes descriptions of the craftsman and the tools that they use, further enhancing the human connection – suggesting the possibility of developing such skills and mastery in the reader.

"The New Way Things Work" (1998) by David Macaulay. Retrieved from

“The New Way Things Work” (1998) by David Macaulay. Lexile 1180  Retrieved from

Since his first publication in 1973, Macaulay has published a new book nearly every year through 2010.  While most of his works are similar to Cathedral, focusing on engineering and mechanics, the topics vary from architecture of the Egyptian Pyramids to the mechanics of a toilet and the civil engineering of a sewage system.  Where Macaulay stays true is in his exceptionally detailed illustrations and his comprehensive (and entertaining) explanations, making his works a go-to for any child eager to understand the workings of the world around them.

"The Way Things Work" (1988) by David Macaulay. Retrieved from

“The Way Things Work” (1988) by David Macaulay.  Lexile 1180  Retrieved from

Included in his works are the titles The Way Things Work (1988) and The New Way Things Work (1998).  While still incorporating masterful illustration, Macaulay created these compendia to  include explanations of fundamental scientific concepts like the mechanics of movement, harnessing the elements (flying, floating, etc), electricity & automation, the digital domain, and the invention of machines.  Again, Macaulay uses illustrations and concise explanations to convey the science behind these swooping concepts, but this time uses the aid of a friendly woolly (pictured above) mammoth as host and chief demonstrator of the ideas.  This friendly character increases the approachability of the concepts for younger readers and those not predisposed to scientific inquiry, making these excellent additions to a the reference section of a school library or classroom.

Building Big logo from Retrieved from

Building Big logo from Retrieved from

Building Big  –  Lexile 1260

ALA Notable Children’s Books 2001

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Books for Youth, Older Readers Category, 2000

New York Times Notable Books – Children’s Books 2000

Parents’ Choice Awards – Nonfiction, 2001

Finally, owing to Macaulay’s in-depth and comprehensive approach to the otherwise daunting (to the lay person) concepts of structural and civil engineering, PBS has created a series of fascinating video broadcasts that apply the principles Macaulay discusses – applying them to actual structures and engineering projects.  Building Big (2000), a companion book to the PBS series of the same name, focuses on planning major civil engineering projects, identifying the design problems, and resolving those problems using practical application of engineering principles and the tools of the trade.  Both the book and the five part PBS series investigates bridges, domes, skyscrapers, dams, and tunnels.  This combination of educational videos, additional educational guides ( including labs and hands on activities), and companion book make this a fantastic selection for a school STEM (or STEAM) program.

NGSS: Meets standards across K – 12 in Engineering & Design Storyline, particularly “Ask questions, observe and gather information about a situation people want to change; identify the problem and its resolution.

CCSS:  Meets standards across broad range of grade levels, including RI.2.1 Ask and answer who, what, when, where, and why and demonstrate understanding of a text; RS/TS7 Integrate quantitative of technical information expressed in words of a text with visual version of that information

AASL: 1.1.3 Develop and refine a range of questions to frame the search for new understanding. 2.1.5 Collaborate with others in the exchange of ideas to come to new understandings, come to conclusions, and problem solve.


Achieve, Inc. (2013). DCI arrangements of the next generation science standards. Retrieved from

American (2011). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner reading standards literacy in science/technology all AASL standards common core crosswalk. Huron St. Retrieved from

H, W. (2000). BUILDING BIG: Home page. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from

Macaulay, D., Macaulay, D., & Houghton Mifflin Company. (1973). Cathedral: The story of its construction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Macaulay, D. (1988). The way things work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Macaulay, D., Ardley, N., & Macaulay, D. (1998). The new way things work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Macaulay, D. (2000). Building big. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Reading is a window to the world. (2007). . Retrieved from