Get Ready To Read Across America!


Parents and teachers will join forces on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 for Read Across America Day, which is not coincidentally the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss is known for writing beloved children’s books such as “Cat in the Hat” and “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”

The celebration in some schools may last a week, and others may recognize, March 2nd, in honor of Theodore Seuss Geisel with the goal to promote reading through classroom activities and special visitors. This celebration is a wonderful opportunity for children to see how reading can be fun.

There are numerous ways to promote this week.  As a building reading specialist I have coordinated many celebrations for the past 16 years.  Here are our top 10 favorites:

  1.  Invite community members in to read to classes.  Students especially love police officers, firefighters, parents.
  2. Ask local television celebrities in to read.  Many local television anchors are willing and happy to read aloud to a grade level or even an entire school.  On several occasions the visits have been filmed and aired on the local news which was very exciting for the students.
  3. Contact a local sports figure (or mascot) to join the fun.  Locally, our Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot visited many times.  Although the mascot can not read, the read aloud becomes a lot of fun when the mascot is acting out a book such as “Casey at Bat” being read by a principal, teacher or Superintendent!
  4. Reach out to a local bookstore.  Barnes and Noble is one example of a bookstore that may offer a promotional deal to schools that will afford districts a chance to invite a popular author in to read at a discounted price.
  5. Bring the world to your school for free.  Visitors can join students remotely through a long distance connection.  Skype in the Classroom has been a tool I have used for many years and have met many wonderful authors who have connected for free or for a minimal fee.
  6. Have a Dr. Seuss Riddle Challenge.  A daily riddle is created by a  group of students and then read on the morning announcements.  All riddles pertain to a Dr. Seuss book that classes must solve within the hour.  Winners are announced on a daily basis and the class with the most points by the end of the week wins a small popcorn and movie party.
  7. Create whimsical Seuss-like art to be displayed throughout the halls.
  8. Have a door decorating contest.  Judges could be principals, art teacher and board members.
  9. Reach out to a local shelter to see if they have an outreach program.  Handlers and their dogs visit individual classes and read stories to students.  Students not only strengthen their listening and comprehension skills, but learn valuable information about how to interact with our furry friends.
  10. Have a reading challenge.  Motivate children to read more with a book challenge.  When the school meets the goal a reward will be earned.  Display a large thermometer poster in the lobby of your school to see the progress being made.

Reading is a fundamental skill for children and NEA’s Read Across America helps children discover their potential. So let’s join forces and work toward the goal of creating a nation of readers and don’t forget to take the pledge! Reader’s Oath

Additional links that will help you to plan a great event:

Background on Read Across America

Seussgestions for a Great Event!

NEA’s Read Across America

The Mailbox Read Across America Ideas

Has Reading Gone to the Dogs?

Research indicates the presence of dogs lowers people’s blood pressure while interacting with a dog. The September 2002 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine  research demonstrates “that pets can buffer reactions to acute stress as well as reduce the perception of stress.” One reason this holds true is because animals are not perceived as judgmental.

Common characteristics of struggling readers include not wanting to read outside of school and reading to “get done”.  Children are aware of their limitations and feel judged by classmates. The use of four legged friends and their handlers has been proven to be a purposeful way to overcome these hurdles.  Visits offer children a non-judgmental and supportive environment that helps make reading fun. The relationship associated with reading and dogs becomes memorable.

How does it work? Partner with local shelters that host outreach  programs. Sessions may take place during the school day, weekends at your local library or as an after-school program.

Who can participate? Classroom teachers can request a visit for their class or reading specialists can invite Rover and their handler in for their students.

How long are the visits? Visits are approximately 30-45 minutes.  Frequency of the visits are determined by the availability of handlers and the preference of the teacher.

Why? Canine assisted literacy programs develop fluency and comprehension skills and can also have therapeutic value. Students will begin to willingly reread books at home to prepare for a visit from Rover. The time spent reading new books or rereading familiar books will help build reading skills.  When Rover visits, children are excited and motivated to share their stories with their visitor.

What books can be used?  The implementation of a visit from Rover is twofold.  First, it helps children to participate in a calm, fun reading time.  Second, it is an opportunity to introduce books that will teach proper care and treatment of animals.  There are many wonderful books that are appropriate for younger children that lend themselves to meaningful discussions about taking care of a pet.  The Animal Welfare Institute site offers free publications to teachers.

Where to begin? 

  1.  Contact a local shelter to inquire about therapy dogs/handlers that visit schools.
  2. Send home permission slips for parents.  Let them know about the visits and make certain they are comfortable with their child interacting with a dog.  (*Note:  Participating shelters will most likely require a signed permission slip.  It is always a good idea to include a parent letter explaining the visitors and their dogs have been trained to work with children.)
  3. Announce the visit to your students! Ask students to prepare for the upcoming visit by working on their reading at home.
  4. The day of the visit have your students read a book aloud to Rover and the handler.  Following your students read aloud time, the handler can share a story about dogs or join the group and read a story to your students. It is normally a very relaxed visit so students should be ready to sit in a circle on the floor.  Following the reading allow time for a meaningful conversation about how to take care of a pet and time to interact with the visiting dog.

Looking for some free resources, visit:  Free Publications.  Pablo Puppy’s Search for the Perfect Person and Kamie Cat’s Terrible Night are two favorites.  Also the Gryphon Press has a huge selection of educational books that can be purchased.  Many of which are award winners.  One of my favorites is Buddy Unchained, by Daisy Bix. Gryphon Press

The day of the visit students will feel special and will certainly bring home many wonderful stories about the visit.  Students will begin to gain confidence in their reading ability and even make a few new friends along the way!



Steaming for a Cause!

S.T.E.A.M is an educational term that refers to a means of teaching students how all things relate to one another, in school and in the real world.  The acronym S.T.E.A.M stands for:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM becomes a more engaging approach to learning for students because the learning is based on exploring and investigating. “S.T.E.A.M for a Cause” has proven to be a worthwhile challenge for our students.

“Steam for a Cause” offers students a chance to engage in lessons that not only incorporate science, technology, art, and math, but also seek ways to help make the world a better place. Learning to help others is a valuable skill for building strong friendships.  When children begin to see how everyone’s actions connect and effect the world, change is possible.  Books are always a good starting point and a few of my favorites are Stand in My Shoes, Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson , Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. and Dolphin Tale the Jr. Novel by Gabrielle Reyes.


Students’ learning can be pushed to a new level of complexity without the same level of stress that would be associated with a traditional classroom environment. Students begin to ask the natural questions of who, what, where and why without prompting.  With the correct activities, students will begin to volunteer their free time to work on projects that connect to the real world.  With careful consideration these same activities can open their eyes to how they can positively impact the world.

My first encounter with this type of teaching was brought to my attention while on a family vacation in Marco Island, Florida on the Dolphin Explorer Boat in 2011.  As my family and I were enjoying the scenic ride aboard the Explorer, the naturalist shared valuable information about the dolphins, manatees, birds of prey and mangrove forests.  It came to my attention the team of experts would be using Skype to connect with students around the nation.  An experience that  has changed my perspective of what teaching should truly embrace.  To gain a complete understanding of the program and how it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime,  visit the following links:

A Walk on the Beach

Saving Seymour the Dolphin

Seymour the TV Star

It’s Elementary My Dear Seymour- Sea Rescue

What I learned very quickly was that when learning connects to the real-world students will become active participants in their learning.  A goal I strive to achieve on a regular basis since my students showed me the way to “help to save a dolphin” all the way from Pittsburgh, PA.

A few of my students’ favorite S.T.E.A.M  activities include:

  1.  City of Bridges– Students read books such as Seymour Simon’s, Bridges.  Simon’s book incorporates interesting facts about the more than half-million bridges in North America and how they impact our travel. After learning about how bridges connect us to the world students then have a chance to build a bridge made from toothpicks, gumdrops or K’Nex.  (There are many more options but these are some of the materials my students worked with and found successful).  The topic of bridges lends itself to bodies of water and how the environment is effected by litter and pollution.
  2. Impact of Oil Spills– Students take part in a mock oil spill experiment and the challenges in saving the environment and wildlife.  A meaningful conversation about how  pollution can effect our health and safety concludes the experiment. A great link that offers free lessons to carry out this experiment can be found at Alaska Oil Spill Curriculum.  Prince William Sound by Gloria Rand and Oil Spill by Melvin Berger perfectly and would act as a wonderful introduction.Prince William
  3. Pillowcase Dresses– Students can learn about measurement and sewing and contribute to a worthy cause.  Visit the following link to learn more: Little Dresses for Africalogo
  4. Shoebox Recycling- Students initiate a shoe recycling project and learn about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling in the process.  Also, all money earned can be donated to a favorite charity.  Visit Shoe Box recycling to learn more. Favorite books that connect with this lesson:  A Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser and George Saves the Day by Lunchtime by Jo Readman.

Product Details       

These are just a few of our favorites.  The art portion of the projects usually lend themselves to the creation of environmental posters to hang throughout the school or using recycled materials to create artwork.

There are so many valuable lessons to investigate that will help to foster a love of learning, much more than any worksheet or website can offer.  I am certain there will not be another opportunity to share with the nation what my students and  I are doing in class, but I will definitely continue searching  for lessons that will prompt students to look more closely at the world.  By presenting opportunities for students to take a closer look at real-world problems we are preparing our students for their future.


Making Reading Real!

Avid readers realize how a great book can transport you to another world. Elementary age students can gain approximately 3,000 new words per year. Unfortunately struggling readers do not make those same gains and are faced with the ongoing struggle of catching up to their peers.

We have all asked the same question. What can I do as a teacher to make a difference? Research based strategies are the first step. Students must be exposed to daily interventions which include: word building, sight words, encoding, decoding and fluency. In addition, students should be afforded opportunities to read leveled books that are engaging, high-interest and on their independent reading level. I have found the following  to be helpful:

1. Listen to the experts. Making Sense of Phonics by Isabel Beck is a wonderful resource for all. The book offers insight as to the research behind reading and links teachers to prepared activities.

2. Build a leveled library. Pioneer Valley Books has many collections that include a variety of genres and themes.

3. Offer students activities they perceive as breaks, but are cleverly incorporating reading skills within the instructional time. A few rewards I have found to be purposeful are Education City, Starfall and ABC Mouse.

4. Be Consistent, Keep lessons structured and predictable. The routine helps students to focus their attention on the reading.

5. Don’t be afraid to challenge your struggling readers. Picture books are a favorite of most students because of the colorful pictures that support their reading. Emerging readers feel safe when presented with a picture book, but it is our job to strategically nudge students outside of their comfort zone. Novels allow students to dig deeper into their comprehension. With appropriate support, students can read grade level novels that challenge their abilities in a safe setting. These opportunities allow students to feel a sense of accomplishment and realize how much fun it is to be a part of a “book club”. 

6. Keep Parents Informed! Using technology such as Remind allows teachers to share messages with parents throughout the day or on a scheduled basis. Good news notices can be sent to congratulate a child on extra effort. A free and interesting site is Wonderopolis! Children can explore wonders and submit their wonders to the site to be answered too. 

7. Connect with the world. Through the use of Skype technology students can connect with other classrooms around the world. Renowned teacher, Pernille Ripp created the Global Read Aloud in 2010 and her 6 week project continues to be a motivation to teachers all over the world. Sign-up for the 2016 project at:

Maintaining effective practices for struggling readers is a necessary component, but motivation to read is also key in making a change. Make books readily accessible, high-interest and connect reading to the real-world when possible.