Saturday, February 18, 2017

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The first time I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, I kept thinking... I wonder how many students know what happened during World War II? 

How many even know where Germany is or Europe for that matter? 

Before I even introduced the book to my students, I asked them to locate Germany and Europe on our world map. My expert map student was raising his hand, almost leaping out of his chair and making those familiar "Ooo, ooooo" sounds, we teachers know well. He pointed to Germany and the surrounding countries as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Isn't it great to have an expert in class to help introduce lessons? :)

Then, I asked them to raise their hands if they knew one fact about WWII. One boy said his great grandfather fought during WWII. A girl raised her hand and said that WWII was a big war. Those were the only students who volunteered answers. I was shocked, to say the least. 

It was then I decided to write up a packet of student worksheets for Number the Stars that would include an informational piece about World War II. It was a good way to introduce WWII and even though it wouldn't be a detailed history of the War, it would give my students a "taste" of events and the causes of the War. 

I always try to integrate social studies with my ELA classes so this was perfect!

Lois Lowry's book, Number the Stars, has students walk in Annmarie's and Ellen's shoes as the story unfolds. The setting is Copenhagen, Denmark in 1943, the third year of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Annmarie and Ellen, who is Jewish, are best friends. The story is how Annmarie's family take Ellen into their home to protect her from the Nazis. The story is filled with facts presented in a way students will relate to themes like friendship, trust, honesty, conflict, and hope. 

It's no wonder this historical fiction book won the Newbery Award, in 1990, as the most distinguished contribution to children's literature and remains popular to this day. 

This is my 69 page packet to accompany the book. It has detailed instructions for pre-readinng, reading and post reading activities. Also included is the nonfiction, informational article to provide students with a better understanding of World War II. 

To read the full description of the book, click on the map. There is also a free preview of the packet of my ready to print student worksheets that can be downloaded.


photo of Number the Stars Activities and Worksheets, historical fiction, Ruth S., ELA, historical fiction, reading, writing

After speaking with many of my former students' parents, over time, it's apparent that students aren't receiving a good base of American history throughout their school years. I noticed the changes in textbooks when I was on the social studies curriculum committee for a number of years. The information in textbooks seemed watered down and lacking in good solid information about our history. I began wondering who was writing the text for the publishers and who makes the decisions about what's included in their textbooks.  That remains a mystery, but one we educators should be asking. I hope you are. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

NonFiction Text Four Important Facts

It's not unusual for students to have difficulty identifying the most important facts when they read nonfiction text.

Large group work 

I distribute a one page article or some other nonfiction text  to the large group and have them read it aloud. After each paragraph is read, I stop them and ask if there are any important facts within that particular paragraph. We discuss the answers that volunteers offer and I write them on the board.

Small group work

After they've practiced in the large group, I have them get into small groups and ask each group to work on one particular article or nonfiction text in order to find four most important facts. 

During the time they work in small groups, I ask them to discuss and brainstorm the text. I also tell them they can all use the same facts on their sheets, as long as they all agree about which ones are the most important. (A great tactile strategy is to use highlighters to highlight the most important facts).

Once we're finished the small group work, we get back into the large group.  I have one volunteer from each group summarize the article or text they read and then have others in the group read the facts they chose. As each fact is read,  I have the "audience" do a "thumbs up" if they think the fact is VERY important. 

The more practice the better!

Download this free worksheet by clicking on the cover!

Thanks for stopping by!

photo of nonfiction four main facts free PDF work page by Teacher Park
                                                 Nonfiction Four Important Facts Worksheet

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Author Project Books and Picture Books!

This is a great FREE project to motivate your students to explore new genre and to read more than one book by an author. They start by researching an author and and writing five facts they learned about the author's life.

Have them choose two books by the author and summarize them briefly, and lastly they should rate the books. When they're finished they can discuss their authors and novels in small groups. Laminate the cards and arrange them in a index card box in ABC order so they're available for students to view.
Click on the cover for more information.

photo of Author project free pdf picture books, student worksheet, research an author, genre, facts, author's life

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Common Core Worksheets

It seems the Common Core Standards have become the hot topic of teachers' conversations around the country. The last time I checked, 47 states had adopted the Core. I wasn't concerned about what the Core covered, because our state standards, to this point in time, have been one of the highest ranked in the country. That being said, I wasn't surprised that our standards outweigh the requirements of the Core. 

Because the Core standards were developed for students from different backgrounds,environments and 
socio-economic backgrounds, I had a feeling they'd be "watered down" from the state standards we already had in place. With test scores down across the country, I was expecting a more rigorous set of standards. 

Why not "raise the bar" and increase our expectations? Are we teaching our students the same standards that were in place when I was in school? No. My teachers kept the "bar" high and expectations were rigorous. I memorized multiplication facts in third grade. Rote memorization these days is frowned upon. Why? Because no one is allowed to fail? 

Don't make kids memorize poems? Why not? I memorized many poems as a kid and I can still recite them today. Don't make kids learn cursive writing? I learned to write in cursive in third grade. My hand didn't fall off, although some days I thought it would when I was first learning how to hold the pencil correctly and move it smoothly across the paper. Today, cursive writing is an endangered art.  

Our forefathers scribed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in beautiful longhand. Painstakingly, they formed the letters with flourishes, dipping their feathery pen nibs in ink after one or two words. Will the words of our future children be as beautiful? I think not. With the technological advancements, there may no longer be handwritten signatures. Will there be a computer chip implanted in the fingertip, so all one must do is touch the paper to sign an important document? 

I'm slightly off the topic of Common Core but I think we should take a serious look at what we teach and how we teach it. I'll keep my expectations high and the bar raised. Yes, I do require cursive on certain assignments. I do make modifications for those students who aren't physically able to write. I even still give cursive lessons if asked how to form a letter. 

Like my father used to say... "If it isn't broken, why fix it?"

Back to the Common Core... 

I decided teachers need Common Core worksheets they can use with any story or book. To make sets of these worksheets would take more time than teachers have on hand, so I've developed some that will make teachers' lives easier. I'll continue to create more throughout the year. 

 These are three available in my TeachersPayTeachers store. Take a peek. 


photo of Common Core Standards Reading Themes PDF Teacher Park

photo of Common Core Reading Standards Main Idea PDF Teacher Park

photo of Common Core Task Cards Foundational Skills PDF Teacher Park

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Homophones Are Fun!

Which which is which? I remember my fourth grade teacher writing that question on the board and explaining what homophones are and why it's important to always write the correct spelling of them.

To this day, I remember the important lessons I was taught and still "hear" and "see" my teachers as they stressed important concepts and strategies. 

I had little tricks I used to remember some of them. The word "witch" contains the word "wit" so I thought of a nice witch who had a good sense of humor.  Little tricks like that can make difference. 

Another example are the homophones "bear" and "bare".  The word "bear" has "EAR" in it. Bears have ears! That one is easy. 

As I teach homophones we brainstorm for little tricks like that and I'm always amazed the kinds of clues my students think of to remember the correct spellings of homophones. 

Download my free homophone activities and have fun!

photo of Homophones are Fun, PDF, free, homophones, Ruth S.

Close Reading Informational Text Polar Bears


I've never known anyone who doesn't love polar bears! Ask your students to state facts about polar bears and they'll most likely tell you they're cute, white and live at the North Pole. 

Wonderful. But definitely not enough information. They may think polar bears are cute because they have polar bear stuffed animals that aren't fierce predators and that have white "fur" unlike real polar bear fur that's translucent. 

Trust me when I tell you I had a friend's young son tell me that Eskimos have polar bears as PETS!!!!  I kid you not!

When our social studies curriculum included Native American cultures, I chose the Inuit (Eskimos) and each year, we did in depth research projects about them, as well as study animals indigenous to the Arctic region.

At that time, I developed several nonfiction packets that gave my students activities that  were both tied to English language arts, social studies and sometimes science.  I love to teach integrated units if possible. 

The information in this packet, describes polar bears lives, how they survive in the frigid temperatures and helps students make important assumptions about the fate of polar bears. 

The article is set up with columns on the right hand sides so you students can take notes about vocabulary words, concepts they may not understand or to write opinions about the article.

I love designing pages and used scenic photos of the Arctic with less opacity, so they wouldn't interfere with the text, then laid photos of the bears over the scenery. The pages print out beautifully and students love the realistic photos. 

This is my most recent informational text resource. Stay tuned for more! :)


photo of Polar Bears Close Reading Informational Text, PDF, ELA, student worksheets, Ruth S. Teachers Pay Teachers

You may also like another informational text article about the CHEETAH
Click on this link...

Examples of two of the pages

Teachers Comments :

~ Great work- kids very interested in topics! Thanks!
~Thank you for this wonderful product.
~ Love this!
~Thank you! Such good practice:)
~ Awesome!
~ Love this! Thank you!
~Great Common Core questions!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tony Danza's book "I'd like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had"

Once in a blue moon, a book comes along that makes me want to jump up and down, reach for the stars, sing and dance, laugh and cry, and share with the world. This is a book dedicated to teachers but should be read by everyone. 

So often I've told people they just don't understand what it's like to be a teacher. The joy, the sorrow, the frustration, the hope, the thrill. I usually end the conversation that centers around "teachers have their summers off" with the statement, "You have to walk in my shoes to understand".  If only they would. They might understand.

I was at a book signing event last week to hear author, Tony Danza's presentation about his new book "I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had". Some might remember Danza on the television shows "Who's the Boss" and "Taxi". I really expected him to appear on stage playing one of those roles, but the minute he stepped out from behind the curtain, my assumptions were dashed.

The Danza event was so huge, it had to be moved from our wonderful local book store, "R.J Julia's, who sponsored this event, to a middle school auditorium. 

When we arrived, the school parking lot was packed. There were lines of people waiting to get inside and as we joined the long line, I felt like I was waiting in line to see a rock concert. 

We all had a common mission that night.. To hear Danza talk about his one year teaching experience at Northeast High School in Philadelphia after being an actor for so many years. We all remember our first year and how difficult it was. Did he have the same feelings? Was he treated differently at the school because he was a "star"? Was he given preferential treatment?

When he walked out on stage, he started by telling us he had many, many regrets in life, but the biggest regret was that he never became a teacher. Teachers cheered and applauded. I felt tears well up and it was all I could do, to keep them from streaming down my face.

Danza's presentation was endearing, humorous and it was very obvious that things he was saying touched the hearts of everyone in the audience. He spoke of the educational crisis in the U.S, the kids of yesterday and today, those kids who seemed unapproachable, and other issues that today's teachers face. 

Danza mentioned how teachers' roles have changed. We're teachers in a complex world and we face complex day to day situations. How many times have I been asked for parenting suggestions at student conferences? Parents are facing tremendous challenges at home. They ask us for advice about how to motivate their kids, what to do to get their kids to do homework and more. I've even been asked how I'd discipline their kids. I know my parents never asked those kinds of questions when they met with my teachers. They were there to ask about my grades and progress in school.  

As Danza's presentation continued, there were people smiling and nodding as they connected with his experiences of being a first year tenth grade English teacher. His descriptions of the staff were very easy to relate to. I only wish he had talked for another couple of hours.

His book "I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had" was taped by A&E and was called "TEACH".  I wish I had seen even one episode of it but my usual evening schedule, when the show was aired, was to correct papers, write up new lesson plans and then fall into bed thinking of my next day... of teaching. 

When I handed him the book to autograph, I told him I grew up with Ron Palillo who played Horshak in "Welcome Back, Kotter".  Ron passed away suddenly, a few months ago, and Tony told me he knew Ron and they had done some theater work together. I felt his sincerity and was going to tell him he should be back in the classroom, but I had taken enough of his time, so I moved on. 

After chatting with some high school teachers, we walked into the parking lot and you know what? I HAD been to a rock concert. Tony Danza ROCKS!

If you read his book,  you'll laugh, cry and constantly shout out "YES! YES! THAT happened to me". 

But most importantly, you'll feel extremely proud to be a teacher! 

I wish Tony had stayed in the classroom because he's a natural born teacher. His ability to sense what kids will respond to and how to connect with them without being their "friend" is usually only what seasoned teachers know and understand. 

His heartfelt attempts to reach the unapproachable kids was deja vu for me. One of my former students is on death row and I have to keep reminding myself that I tried. I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out how to reach him. If only that boy had been mine, I kept thinking, things might be different for him  today. 

Tony Danza walked in our shoes and understands what it's like to be a teacher.

See an excerpt

Listen to Tony talk about his experience and feelings about education. 

Tony: For me, teaching was the road not taken. If you look at my acting work, so many of the roles involve being a teacher. Tony in “Who’s the Boss?” becomes a teacher. I studied history education in college. I wanted to be a teacher. Teaching always appealed to me. Arthur Miller once said, “The best thing you can hope for is that you end up with the right regrets.” I didn’t want to regret not trying this.  ~from Amazon

Click on the cover and listen to Danza talk about his book.

photo of Tony Danza, I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had