Thinking Back Thursday: Organizing Record Keeping

Thinking Back Thursday


Reading gurus Debbie Miller and the Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, are some of my go-to experts when it comes to reading instruction. They are masters at creating a Reader’s Workshop, and their strategies have proven to be essential for many of us over the years. While keeping those strategies intact,  the time has come for a 21st century update.

Reading with Meaning

The Daily 5 & CAFE















There is no doubt among these experts that the greatest power for teachers in a reader’s workshop lies in conferring with students. The tricky part is organizing the notes you take from these conferring sessions. In her book Reading With Meaning, Debbie Miller states, “I’ve experimented with many different ways of record-keeping, and have finally settled on small 4-by-6 inch notepads that I keep in a basket near my desk. There is a notebook for each child, and every day before our literacy workshops, I scoop up four or five from the front of the basket. Throughout the work sessions, I confer individually with these four or five children and make notes about what I’ve learned about them as readers, writers, and learners. Entries might include words the child wrote on a sticky note, oral responses, a quick running record, and/or strategies the child uses for decoding and comprehension. I also make note of a child’s specific strengths and areas where he or she needs more support. Listing specific examples from conferences and observations keeps my comments real and in context, and puts me back in the scene when I need to refresh my memory. ”

In their book, CAFE, the sisters write, “In this age of accountability and increasing diversity, we need records that document how we are assisting each child with exactly the skills and instruction he or she needs.”  They state that one of the core elements in the CAFE system is conferring: “Children meet with the teacher during literacy workshop conferences to be assessed, to receive focused, explicit instruction, to set goals, and then to follow up on progress. The teacher keeps track of progress on the goal sheet in the notebook and schedules the next conference on the calendar, and the child posts his or her goal on the class CAFE chart.”  They call “the notebook” they refer to a pensive, like the one Dumbledore uses in Harry Potter to keep all of his important thoughts in one place. In their notebook or pensive, they explain that, “Each child has his or her own section of the notebook so that we can easily flip to that child’s name when we meet with him or her in conferences or record notes after a small-group session.”

Debbie Miller, Gail Boushey, and Joan Moser all state that they have tried MANY different ways to keep track of these anecdotal notes–me too! And if you are one of those people who are really organized and make sure that you file each paper in the right spot by the end of the day, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” If you’re like me and the phone call from a parent, the lingering student who wants to chat, or the text from your husband distract you before you end up filing that paper with important conferring notes, you are swimming in papers! Enter technology solution . . .

Even if you are one of those people who can keep your conferring notes organized, upgrading to a tech solution will benefit you too. Not only can you keep track of your anecdotal notes, but you can keep recordings of a student reading, pictures, and videos of each child right at your fingertips. Then you can share that information with other colleagues who work with that child.









There are A LOT of tech solutions out there for organization, and I’m going to share 2 that I have tried with success. Fetchnotes is a great place to start if you are a beginner when it comes to technology. It’s very simple and straightforward, but it will simplify conferring notebooks for you. You can organize your fetchnotes by #hashtag. That means you can create a label for each student like this:

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You won’t have to worry about flipping to the right section in a notebook–just start a new note with #Nani, for example, and start typing. Then move on to the next student by starting a new note with #(their name). You can make a separate fetchnote each time you confer with the same student. When you want to see all your notes about that student, just click on his or her hashtag and name on the left and it brings up all the notes labeled with that hashtag. Simple!

Fetchnotes will let you attach a link or picture, but if you want the power of filing anything (like videos and recordings) in a simple way, Evernote is the tool for you. It is the cadillac of note-taking tools. Even the free version of Evernote gives you more options than fetchnotes. You can set up a note for each student and search for it in a similar way to fetchnotes, but Evernote is a much more robust option. Click here to see the website review from graphite. If that seems a little intimidating, fetchnotes is a great place to start. I still use it for keeping notes at conferences.

Both Fetchnotes and Evernote are free on the computer and on the iPad. Using the iPad version gives you the mobility to walk around the room and confer with your students, which is more convenient than a paper notebook! It also gives you a much simpler way to review your notes when filling out report cards or deciding on next steps for a student. Both tools also allow you to easily share your notes with someone else if you have other teachers who work with that student, or if you are having an RTI meeting.

I know there are MANY more great organizational tools out there, so I started a list on Organizational Tools for Conferring Notebooks. Please add a tool to the list, or link with your own post below!

An InLinkz Link-up

Flip Your Instruction for Daily 5: Work on Writing

Thinking Back Thursday

Students become better writers when they have a lot of opportunities to write, but what if they are practicing bad writing habits? In the Daily 5 reader’s workshop structure (or any reader’s workshop model), students “Work on Writing.” One common way students “Work on Writing” in a primary classroom is by adding to class journals about topics such as ‘My Pets,’ or ‘My Family.’ These are great writing opportunities about common themes that students love, but it is impossible for teachers to give feedback on every piece of writing that students do in this format, and it is unrealistic, not to mention un-motivating, to have students polish every piece of writing. So the result becomes an opportunity for students to do a lot of practice writing poorly. And if no one is really reading it anyway, it becomes like the busy work stapled in packets lying in piles around the room.

As a teacher, I philosophically agree with the idea that students need lots of opportunities to write, but giving them opportunities to write poorly feels like a coach that says, “Yes–keep practicing even though you’re doing it wrong. It’s better to practice wrong than not practice at all.” THAT doesn’t sound right either! The philosophy and research behind the structure of Daily 5: Work on Writing is a sound one, so what do we do?

Because many of our littlest (and biggest) writers struggle with the open-ended task of generating a story idea, Daily 5 classroom journals solved the problem by focusing writers on a topic. But what if we take it one step further — students focus on a topic AND a writing strategy. For example, when students write in a class journal about “Things That Scare Us,” their focus can be on descriptive writing and using the 5 senses to describe what it is that scares them.

Then the question becomes, “When will I have time to teach mini-lessons like this for each class journal?” This is where blended learning has earned a growing reputation for being the answer to legitimate concerns like this one. I used Educanon to flip this lesson for the classroom journal ‘Things That Scare Us,” using the book I Need My Monster as a mentor text.

Click here to see it.

You can also give students a more authentic audience by having them publish their class journal entries on a blog instead of in a composition notebook. This gives students the opportunity to have their writing seen by other classmates, parents, and even students around the world! Just like dressing up for the choir concert performance, students will want to “look their best” when writing for a larger audience.

Click here to see my unit plan for Daily 5: Work on Writing Gone Digital

Education in the 21st century is anything but static and constant, but that does not mean that we should throw out everything we know about teaching. I believe that the Sisters’ Daily 5 & CAFE structures and strategies are solid teaching practices, but I saw the need for a 21st century update. Summertime is a great opportunity to slow down and reflect on our teaching philosophy and teaching practices. That is why I decided to start this linky party called:

Thinking Back Thursday

Reflecting & building on past teaching practices

Link up and share how you are updating your teaching practices this year!

TBA's Ultimate Linky Party

Lesson Idea: How are people transformed through their relationship with others?

edmodoTo keep up with teaching and learning in the 21st century, I believe that every teacher needs a PLC (professional learning community) to stay connected and to collaborate on ideas in education because we simply cannot (and should not) do it  all alone. Surprisingly, edmodo is not just a place to connect with students; it is also a great place to connect with other teachers from around the globe. It is a very diverse and  active community, so if you ask for help, suggestions, and ideas, you are likely to get it!

In the ‘Language Arts’ edmodo group, Katie Meece, a teacher from Ohio, posted the following question: “I am looking for short reading selections in any genre to fit with one of my 7th grade units. The essential question is: How are people transformed through their relationships with others? Suggestions?”

I was one of 9 teachers, elementary – high school, from around the world to reply to Katie’s request for suggestions. She got advice from Justin Foreman in China, Tammy Owen in Texas, Melyssa Quintana in New Jersey, Marie Wallas in Washington, Deborah Bobo in South Carolina, Amanda Arlequin in New York, Trimonisha Singer in California, John Vallerga in California, and me, Emily Stout, in Colorado. I was so inspired by Katie’s essential question and the world-wide collaboration that was happening, I wanted to craft a lesson around these suggestions for my students too.

First, I created this thinglink as a reference library of all the suggestions Katie received for her request for short reading selections that fit her essential question. (Click here or click on the picture to view the embedded interactive media in this thinglink).

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Later I discovered the Global Read Aloud project, which is a program that uses one book to connect the world by connecting classrooms globally to discuss the same book. There are different books chosen each year, and when I saw The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on the list, I knew it was the perfect story for the essential question: How are people transformed through their relationships with others?

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, discusses the habits of life long readers in her most recent book Reading in the Wild. One of the life-long reading habits is: “Share books and reading with other readers. Readers enjoy talking about books almost as much as they like reading. Reading communities provide a peer group of other readers who challenge and support us.” The introduction to this book states, “. . . the real purposes of reading include personal connections— that books can touch us all deeply and elicit laughter, tears, and other reactions. These connections are part of the very heart of wild reading.” In my elementary classroom, I want to use connections from the Global Read Aloud to create a diverse community of readers, and  then use this essential question to help students focus on the theme, or heart of a story and share the essence of that story with others by creating book trailers and/or book reviews.

In her book Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller teaches her students how to synthesize a book instead of simply retelling it. One of her first grade students explains synthsizing like this: “At first it is a little bit of thinking. Then bigger thinking comes and you add and add on and you take your old thinking and your new thinking and put them together.” Using the strategy of synthesizing a book, students have to dig deeper into the meaning of the story instead of simply retelling surface details. I think creating book trailers is a great way to get at the heart of the story and truly synthesize it. A good trailer should be no more than 2 minutes long, which means you have to focus on the theme of the story to really engage your readers, not just the surface details we typically ask students for on a story map. It’s not that students don’t need to know how to identify the characters, setting, events, and the conclusion—they do, but to get other wild readers to connect to a story and want to read it, it has to go deeper than that. Here is my synthesis of the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Debbie Miller showed us that her first grade students were more than capable of creating a synthesis like this for books they read together in class, and Donalyn Miller emphasizes the importance of connecting with other readers and discussing and sharing books. With the right tech tools, even first graders can create a book trailer based on their synthesis.   I created a backward plan for how I would implement The Global Read Aloud project in my classroom and how I would integrate technology using App Flow. You can check it out by clicking here. For more resource suggestions, you can follow my board on graphite called “App Smashing & Making Multimedia Projects” by clicking here.

How else have you used edmodo or The Global Read Aloud?

Literature + Global Connections + Technology– I Love It When It All Comes Together!

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I love it when it all comes together!

I have some wonderful connections to share that integrate my 3 biggest passions in education: literacy, diversity, and technology! I’ve recently found 3 great learning opportunities through my PLC (Professional Learning Community), and I saw a way that they all fit together. I hope you’ll join me in participating in them! Click on each of the pictures below to check out these great opportunities to learn and share.

ramona recommendsCourtney, from Ramona Recommends, is doing a traveling picture book linky for the summer. In this linky, you can share a picture book about where you live or a place that you have visited. The book you blog about should teach us about that place. What a great idea! (I’m not the only one who collects picture books from my travels!)

Pigs over denver

My book recommendation for this linky is a book about where I live. Pigs Over Denver was written by Kerry Lee MacLean in conjunction with school children from the greater Denver area. It names the most popular places to frequent in the Denver Metro area, as told by students! There are more books in this series such as Pigs Over Colorado, and Pigs Over Boulder, but Pigs Over Denver is my personal favorite!


Pernille, creator of the Global Read Aloud, has encouraged a global book exchange this year as part of the Global Read Aloud project. If you haven’t heard of the Global Read Aloud, you have to check it out! It’s a wonderful concept–all over the world, teachers read the same book to their students and then connect with another classroom anywhere in the world to discuss the book. Classrooms can write to each other on blogs, through emails, or even do a google hangout with their global epals. Discussing a common book from different global perspectives will give children a whole new outlook on the similarities and differences they share with people from other places. This year, you are encouraged to share a book with your global buddy about where you live to help them learn more about where you are from.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 4.35.04 PMThinglink is hosting a summer PD set of challenges so that you can get some hands on experience with Thinglink and generate ideas about how you can use it in the classroom. The fourth challenge is to create an interactive map.

Click here to see my interactive map for challenge #4

Here is how I put them altogether . . . Choosing picture books that give information about a place you have visited, as done in Ramona’s Recommendations, is the same idea behind the book exchange with the Global Read Aloud, so I decided to make my interactive map for Thinglink’s 4th challenge a collection of these picture books from around the world. This could be a great resource for learning about other cities, states, and countries through picture books from people who have been there!

This interactive map is open for anyone to edit. I have already added the titles and authors of the books from those who have linked up so far, as well as the link to each blog post, but please continue to add to this map! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could collaborate and share a resource that acquainted us with the whole world through picture books?

To further redefine a collaborative resource once unimaginable on a global scale such as this, I would love to have students create a book trailer for the book that introduces their city, state, or country and add it to the same Thinglink interactive map. What a great introduction for their global epals, and what a great, authentic learning experience for students to conduct research and determine the most important things to share about where they live. Better yet, students could create their own ABC book about where they live, just like Pigs Over Denver, using their own pictures or illustrations from the places they’ve been in their community and writing about it from personal experience. iMovie or Videolicious would be great tools to use. If small groups of students each created a video about one important place in their community, all the videos could be combined into one ebook using the app Book Creator and then published on iBooks, or Nook!

A project like this could redefine age-old assignments such as “What I Did Over Summer Break” and “Create a Brochure About Your State.” By giving these time-honored traditional assignments a makeover using technology and an authentic global audience, you now have a 21st century learning experience that can help students internalize the value of where they live and share it with the world.

Quick Tip: Thinglink and Screencastify

The 21st century tool of the month for June is google apps. This is a quick app-smashing tip about a free google app add-on from the chrome web-store called screencastify and a free program called ThingLink.

Screencastify is a web 2.0 recording tool that gives you the option of embedding a video web-cam in the bottom right hand corner as you record your screen. ThingLink is a multi-media program that you can access on the computer or the iPad. You can use a picture of any background you choose and add  a little bullseye that contains words, videos, or links to other videos anywhere on the screen.

Here are 2 quick lesson ideas for using these tools together:

If you use Daily 5 in your classroom (or any type of reader’s workshop model), then you probably have all the students in your class create goals around a reading strategy that they are focusing on such as Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Extend Vocabulary. In the video above, I used the “rate graph” from the book Balanced Literacy 2nd grade (a book published by Kagan). ThingLink is the perfect program to use when graphing progress over time. Because it embeds links, video, and words, you can actually record a portion of a student reading and embed the little bullseye on the correct place on the graph. This would not only give you and the student a record of their reading rate, for example, but it would also give you and the student data of the change in his/her reading fluency over time. A video placed on the scale in the appropriate place would give the student a better understanding of what it means to be a 2 or a 3 on the rate graph. When the student has 5 points of data that have been collected over time, then he/she can use screencastify to record a self reflection on his/her change over time in the area of focus.

This self-assessment strategy would work well for all reading goals or areas of focus. The Balanced Literacy book has more graphs for different aspects of fluency such as phrasing, expression, rate and accuracy. Linda Dorn has wonderful rubrics for comprehension in her book Teaching for Deep Comprehension that I have used with students, and my favorite vocabulary rubric is Vocabulary Rubrics, Templates, & Graphs for Common Core Instruction from Hello Literacy in the TpT store.

Hello Literacy has a great activity on TpT called Describing & Inferring Details with Picture of the Day: Reading Photos “Closely”. Using this idea of practicing inferring with photos, I used ThingLink and screencastify to record my thinking. This is a great way to make thinking visual! Students could record their thinking with these tools in independently or in small groups during literacy stations.

Thinglink is a cloud-based program that creates a url, which means it can be turned into a QR code. Screencastify can be saved directly to google drive or youtube, both of which create urls as well that can be turned into a QR code. By turning teacher modeling or student thinking into a QR code, you make it visible to others as well.

Hope this quick tip was useful! Please leave a comment on how you will use these 2 programs.

Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers: Let’s Integrate Technology!

Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers: Let’s Integrate Technology! Teachers today, from kindergarten – 12th grade, are tasked with the job of teaching digital natives how to survive succeed in an ever-changing 21st century world. We must prepare our students to have successful careers in jobs that have not yet been invented.  So who […]

Monday Made It #1: Sight Word Bottles and Letters to our Son

Oh Pinterest, how you inspire me! (Click here to see my Pinterest Pages.) So many teachers have a DIY (Do It Yourself) list they’re working on this summer for their classrooms and homes, and I’m excited to start on my DIY list too!  The picture above is my “art room” in the basement. My handy husband built it for me, and I’m ready to use it! So this summer I will be posting a new DIY project each week (hopefully), and linking it up with the “Monday Made it” linky party!

My first DIY project is sight word bottles shared by Classroom DIY (click the link for directions on how to make them). I love these! I already had everything I needed at home in my “Art Room,” so it didn’t cost me a thing. I used baby food jars, letter beads from my scrapbooking stash, pony beads, confetti, and old overhead manipulatives. (I have had a doc camera for years now, and I was going to throw away those see through circles for the overhead, but they were perfect for this project!). I added water, a little hot glue, and WA-LA! A new sight word literacy work station.

I did make a few additions to the original directions that I followed. I made enough bottles to have  2 different pages of sight word bottles, so I spray painted the lids to coordinate with the color of paper I printed the list on.

DIY Tip: If you don’t need a whole can of spray paint (which can be expensive) Krylon makes 3 oz. cans called “short cuts.” (Stores like Joanne’s and Micheal’s had the best prices –under $4.) For small spray paint projects like this, cut one side off of a box and spray inside the box. This will keep you from painting more than the lids!

Because I teach 2nd grade, the words in my jars were longer and a little more difficult to figure out. I was going to use a reusable write and wipe pocket until I found out how to make my own DIY dry erase boards! Using this and a dry erase marker, students can narrow down their choices when using this work station. When they see a letter in the jar, they can check each word on the list for that letter. If a word has that letter, they will cross that letter off. If a word doesn’t have the letter they saw in the jar, they will cross off the whole word. They will continue crossing off letters until they find the matching word. Here’s an example:

I think my students will really like this! Have you ever made sight word bottles? Are you going to? Leave me a comment and/or a link to your blog and let me know!

Teacher Mama DIY project #1: Letters to Our Son

I plan on spending as much time on projects for my new son as I do for my students, so here is my first Teacher Mama project! The original idea was called the ‘mama and me’ journal (unfortunately I couldn’t find the link). This idea was to write letters back and forth to your child. I actually made my notebook before my son was born. Using our maternity photos, I personalized the cover of this notebook using shutterfly. Because I had pregnancy brain, I didn’t want to forget all the fun pregnancy stories! So my husband and I began writing letters to our son about all the sweet and funny pregnancy stories. We plan on continuing to write to our son about fun and important things that happen. When he becomes a parent himself, we will give him his notebook so he can read about what parenthood was like for us. My parents and grandparents have also written to him in his notebook, so he will have letters about his childhood from his family in their own handwriting. (This also makes a great baby shower gift!)

I’d  love to hear about your DIY projects for inspiration!

Featured Book Friday: My Penguin Osbert

My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Publishers Weekly

In this playful cautionary tale, a boy asks Santa for-and receives-a gift that proves more than he can handle. On Christmas morning, Joe tiptoes downstairs to find just what he wanted under the tree: a real-live penguin named Osbert. But after several very frigid days out in the snow, lots of cold-water baths and meals of creamed herring with his new penguin pal, Joe wonders if he’s made a wise choice. A follow-up letter to Santa gets a response with some thinly veiled advice in the form of two free passes to the grand opening of Antarctic World at the local zoo. Though the predictable ending wraps things up tidily, youngsters will still find much to enjoy in this lighthearted fantasy with realistic holiday roots (and the refrain will likely produce chuckles: “But I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him”). Lewis’s (Can I Have a Stegosaurus, Mom? Can I? Please!?) blend of watercolor, pastel and some digital rendering creates an appropriately dreamy-looking backdrop for Joe’s adventure. A cool blue-white palette is often tempered with the glow and shadow generated by inviting indoor lighting. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Curriculum Connections: by guest author Marika Gillis
Check out Marika’s blog: Read to Me (click here)

Sequencing Lesson Plan

Objective:  The student will sequence the events in a story. (Knowledge)

DOL: The students will read a story and put the events from the story in order using a graphic organizer.

Anticipatory Set– Tangled: Horsing Around Video

1.    Start by having students try to order the events from the movie without watching it.

2.     Then students will watch the movie clip and order the events that occurred in it on the graphic organizer.


3.    Ask students:  Why was it hard to put the events in order the first time?

What made it easier after watching the video?

Direct Instruction

1. Pass out paper with tips for finding the sequence of events in a story:

-thinking about beginning, middle, and end

-looking for signal words & phrases (i.e. next, finally, before, after)

-think about other clues in the text like times of the day,

days of the week, and dates

2. Explain to students why it is important to understand the events in a story.

3. Read aloud the book My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

(During the reading, students will need a copy of the phrases that are clues to the sequence of the story.  They will circle the phrases as they hear them throughout the story.  This is to draw attention to the clues in the text that show the sequence of events and keep students engaged during the story reading.)

-while reading, students circle the phrases that are clues to the sequence of the story as they hear them (model the first pages)

-model using the above strategies to put the events from the story into the graphic organizer  (explain thinking!)

Guided Practice

1. Give students a story in pieces and have them use the signal words and other clues to put the events from the story in order, using the same graphic organizer

2. Ask:  What words/phrases helped you decide what order the

paragraphs belonged in?

What would have made this easier?  (reading the whole story first)

Independent Work

Demonstration Of Learning (DOL)- Students work independently to put events from a story into the same graphic organizer

Events from the movie Tangled   (copy and cut apart before lesson):

The bag of jewels flings out of reach and lands on a tree branch.

The tree trunk breaks.

The thief is chased by palace guards.
The thief jumps and lands on the guard’s horse.

The thief quickly climbs the tree, reaching for the bag.



It is important to know the order or sequence that events take place in a story. It helps you understand what you read.

To figure out the sequence or order of a story…

1- Think about what happens at the beginning of the story, in the middle of the story, and at the end of the story.

2- Look for signal words like first, next, last, before, after and finally to help you figure out the sequence.

3- Think about the other clues in the text that indicate the passage of time- time of the day, days of the week, ages, and dates.

after a while                  last year

the next day

next Saturday                        by daybreak

after breakfast

My Penguin Osbert

last year

so this year

when Christmas morning came

that night

after a while

the next morning

after breakfast

that afternoon

a couple of days later

next Saturday

My Penguin Osbert

last year

so this year

when Christmas morning came

that night

after a while

the next morning

after breakfast

that afternoon

a couple of days later

next Saturday

My Penguin Osbert

last year

so this year

when Christmas morning came

that night

after a while

the next morning

after breakfast

that afternoon

a couple of days later

next Saturday


My Penguin Osbert

last year

so this year

when Christmas morning came

that night

after a while

the next morning

after breakfast

that afternoon

a couple of days later

next Saturday



Sequencing DOL

Directions:  Read the passages below.  Then put the events in the correct order.

Wilma Rudolph was born in Tennessee in 1940.  As a young child, Wilma was sick with polio.  Her left leg was so weakened by the sickness that doctors told her she would never walk.  Wilma exercised her leg as hard as she could.  By the time she got to high school, she was able to join the basketball team.  Later, Wilma won several Olympic gold medals for running.  Wilma became one of the fastest women of all time.

The Nile crocodile lays her eggs in the warm sand or mud far away from the river.  Then she listens for the sounds of the young crocodiles inside their shells.  Next, she uncovers the eggs and waits for the young to hatch.  Finally, she carries the newly hatched crocodiles in her mouth to the river, where they learn to swim.

Featured Book Friday(ish): Little House on the Prairie

(oops! I didn’t get the post done on Friday, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)

Grades 1-4 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This beloved classic memoir, first published in 1935, is so well written that it is still a childhood favorite today. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s explicit descriptions help the reader see pioneer life through the eyes of a child. Based on her experiences as a child in the 1870s, Little House on the Prairie takes the reader on her  journey to the west as they pack the covered wagon, say goodbye to friends and family that they may never see again, encounter  life-threatening situations in their covered wagon, cook on the prairie, build a new home from scratch, and leave that new home behind once again.

I remember this book as an old favorite from my childhood, but when I reread it recently as an adult and teacher, I appreciated just how impressive the writing is and how detailed her descriptions of prairie life are. The writing is clear and simple, so there is no need to “translate” it for children today. It is truly a timeless adventure.

~Book review written by Emily Stout

Curriculum Connections: -Literacy & Social Studies Connections: This book is absolutely perfect for taking your students on a pioneer adventure! Using drama is a powerful way to let kids “experience” history. You can make history come alive in your classroom by traveling back to the 1800s with your students and becoming pioneers. Here is how to set the stage . . .

We begin by learning about the differences between life in the 1800s compared to life today. I found a reproduction of the book The School of Good Manners by Nathaniel Patten that was first published in 1787 (Click on the book cover for information on buying the book). This authentic little treasure was one of the first known publications that acted as a guide for the conduct of children. Written in language of the time, this little paperback recreation outlines the expectations for children at home, school, in public meeting houses, etc. For example, here are just a few rules on children’s conduct at the table (which we use with our Little House on the Prairie unit outlined later in this post):

  • Come not to the table without having your hands and face washed, and your head combed.
  • Find no fault with any thing that is given thee.
  • Spit not, cough not, nor blow thy nose at table; if it may be avoided.
  • Throw not any thing under the table.
  • Drink not, nor speak with any thing in thy mouth.
  • Pick not thy teeth at the table, unless holding up thy napkin before thy mouth with thine other hand.

The kids get a kick out of trying to follow all the rules of the 1800s! I recently found a great free resource for a Long Ago and Today Social Studies unit from Mrs. Patterson’s Patch. She has 3 parts to this unit: school, transportation, and home, and they’re are all free! I can’t wait to use them with my Little House on the Prairie unit this year! (click here)

Art Connections: We have to have the proper attire to live in the 18oos when we travel back in time, so we learn about how people dressed in that time period and how different it was for men and women. I use the American Family Paper Dolls by Tom Tierney to show students what the clothing of the time period looked like. The clothing in this book is very detailed, so the kids can really see h0w people dressed. There is also a detailed description about the clothing written in the book. Unfortunately these paper dolls and clothing are EXTREMELY time consuming and labor-intensive to cut out. You have to cut on the lines exactly for the clothes to fit. This is a good project for parent helpers to do at home, but it will definitely take some time. I recommend laminating them before cutting because trying to re-cut the clothes and people would be impossible! I have also let students create their own paper doll to represent themselves and the clothing they would wear in this time period by using the paper doll  ellison die-cut (it has bodies, hair for boys and girls, clothing, shoes, etc.). The die-cut clothing is not pioneer clothing, but I let the students use the basic outline to make their own pioneer clothing with construction paper and scrapbook paper scraps. We glue these pioneer paper dolls in the journals we’ll be writing (see Writing Connections), and label the type of clothing that had to be worn. (This is a great place to introduce the non-fiction text feature: labels.)

We are also ‘in character’ when I read aloud a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, so the girls make bonnets to wear and the boys make hats. I found a great resource for activities that go with all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books (click here). There I found directions for making hats for the boys (click here) and bonnets for the girls (click here). I had the kids make these in the classroom, but this year I think I will have the art teacher help me out. They do require some time to make, but they are perfect! We wear these hats and bonnets to ‘travel back in time’ every time I read a chapter from Little House on the Prairie. When it is read aloud time, the kids put on their hat or bonnet and line up outside the classroom door–girls on one side, boys on the other, just as they would in a one room school house. I ring a cowbell to let the students know that it is time for school (in our one-room school house) to begin. Ladies always get to go in the door first. They remove their bonnets by pushing them off their heads, curtsying, and saying, “Good morning, ma’am” as they walk in the door. Then the boys follow removing their hats, bowing, and giving me the same greeting. The students sit in rows on the carpet with girls on one side and boys on the other while they listen to a new chapter in Little House on the Prairie. We also use the rules from The School of Good Manners during this time. Some of their favorite rules to follow are: stand before speaking, stand and bow if an adult enters the room, and sit quietly facing forward without looking an adult in the eye (yes–it’s true! They LOVED sitting quietly! That makes the whole unit worth trying, doesn’t it?!)

Writing Connections: We make our own classroom book interactively called My School of Good Manners. We use this book to record what we learn about classroom behavior in the 1800s in our own words. We add to this  book throughout the unit as we learn new rules, and we refer back to it whenever necessary. After taking a Kagan class this summer, this year I will use the ‘Team Stand and Share’ structure (see directions below) to brainstorm what we will add to our book.

The students are each responsible for keeping a journal of our “travels” throughout this unit as well. Because things were very gender specific in the 1800s, we keep that theme going by giving the boys one journal and the girls a different journal. (The gender difference is something that the students really notice, and after this unit, they usually appreciate the equality of our time!) After read aloud, the students write in their journals about our adventure on the prairie that day (which is whatever happened in the chapter we read in Little House on the Prairie). In the first chapter of the book, Laura talks about saying goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The students write in their journals as if they are writing a letter to their cousin that they left behind when they began their westward journey. They must use correct letter format as they explain to their cousin what happened to them on the prairie in a letter. At the end of the unit, the students can look back at their journal to remind themselves of life on the prairie, and it’s a great way to introduce writing summaries!

We also do special activities that accompany each chapter in the book. For example, the book talks in great detail about how the Ingalls family cooks and what they eat when they are on the prairie. It mentions making butter, which we do in our classroom with heavy whipping cream and a glass jar with a screw on lid. It also mentions that they ate corn bread and molasses. I have the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook (although the directions on the back of the package of cornmeal works fine too!), and I made cornbread for my students using real ground cornmeal. Using the table manners from  The School of Good Manners (and there are a lot!), the students eat the cornbread, molasses, and the butter that we made in class for an 1800s style snack! This is a great interactive experience that helps the kids relive history. One of the rules (as listed above) is, “Find no fault with any thing that is given thee.” I LOVE watching them try not to make faces as they taste the molasses!

Cross Curricular Connections: This is the perfect unit to collaborate with specials teachers. You can ask the PE teacher to teach your students games that were popular in the 1800s. They can compare them with the games that children play today. We used the book Games from Long Ago by Bobbie Kalman to plan which games they would play. We picked some games that were similar to games that kids play today and some that were very different.

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa loves to play his fiddle and sing. They mention many songs by name in the book, so talk to your music teacher about sharing those songs and some ‘fiddlin’ with your students.

You can ask the art teacher to help you with the art projects listed above. One year, the art teacher also had my students make marbles out of clay, which is what most kids did at the time. Glass marbles were much too expensive for a child’s game, so they played marbles with homemade clay marbles. The kids learned that if the marbles weren’t very round, they didn’t do very well in a game of marbles!

During this unit of study, we go on a field trip to the Littleton Historic Museum. It is a working farm that has several acres with 2 original homesteads–one from the late 1800s and one from the early 1900s. The difference between these houses in just 30-40 years is incredible! There is also a one room school house and a blacksmith shop. There are volunteers who work the farm in clothing of the time period doing daily chores to give students an authentic experience. As the students walk around the farm, the chaperons have a list of old sayings and how they originated from the book Settler Sayings by Bobbie Kalman. As they discuss these saying with the kids, they look for examples around the farm. For example, the saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” used to have a literal meaning. The mattresses from long ago were made with straw and prairie grass (just like Little House on the Prairie) and there were often bed bugs in the straw or grass that did bite in the night! At the museum, the students would look for the bed in the 1800s homestead to see the mattress that was made of straw.

I am currently working on a Little House on the Prairie unit to sell at the Teacher Stuff store. It will include the journal covers (pictured above),  how to incorporate the journals and special activities (like the activities listed above) into each chapter. Check back to see when this unit will be for sale! Creating a literature study through drama with Little House on the Prairie makes history come alive in a lesson, and experience, your students won’t forget. And it’s not just fun! Both Little House on the Prairie and The School of Good Manners are written firsthand accounts of history. In this unit students compare and contrast various aspects of life in the 1800s to life today. They describe the history and interaction of various people and cultures that migrated to communities, and how events and decisions shaped the the identity of communities today. They get to identify historical artifacts, generate questions about their functions, and they identify history as the story of the past preserved in various sources. When children get to interact with history through drama and literature, true learning happens.