The “So What?” Factor

When kids have to talk about what they read in terms of why it is important to them, their school, their community, and the world it forces them to search deep inside the text and inside themselves to determine why actions and words matter.

 

 

When working with my reading groups, there was always a huge sign visible near our table that read, “SO WHAT?” Whether we were reading about historic events, a notable figure in a biography, a nonfiction factual piece on science, or a fictional story, none of the words, charts, dialogue, or chapters mattered if we couldn’t figure out why it was important – the “SO WHAT?” factor.

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This can alsobe described as the theme, author’s purpose, main idea, or critical literacy but the two words on the wall were easier for kids of all ages to relate to and figure out. When kids have to talk about what they read in terms of why it is important to them, their school, their community, and the world it forces them to search deep inside the text and inside themselves to determine why actions and words matter. If children and teens can think about what makes a real or fictional character or historic event good or bad, it helps them become better people themselves – the kind of kids we see making a difference. It can help give courage to a child being bullied to stand up and say no! It can help a shy child see why being a friend can help make a friend. It can show kids that instead of being the problem, they can become part of a solution.

The “So What?” factor, therefore, helps to instill values in kids and helps them to form in themselves a good character. They will know what they stand for and why it matters. They are responsible for the future and they will know why they can matter.I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite picture book stories – you know, the ones I go on and on gushing over. I will talk about the “So What” factor in some of them below. Don’t forget to check the Lexile levels of these books before allowing your children to read them alone because many picture books are promoted and marketed to kids who are too young to read the words and understand the ideas on their own.

For example, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site shown here is marketed on amazon.com for kids preschool to grade 1. But if you notice the Lexile level (reading level) is a 710 which, according to my chart on the right, is for average kids in grade 5 to read. ALWAYS KNOW YOUR CHILDREN’S READING LEVEL! As I always do, I suggest that you read them interactively with your kids first and talk about them while you do. In this way, you will guide your children in becoming “smart” and thoughtful readers who know how to navigate through difficult words and parts when they read on their own. You will also show them by searching together for hidden meaning. Here is a Read-aloud Guide for Mighty, Mighty Construction Site which is part of my upcoming book, The Read-Aloud Workout.Mightly consruction site guide

Teamwork on construction site

For P-1, Lexile Level 710

Below I will list some other favorites and a short description about their “So What? Factor”

helping others
For K-2, Lexile Level 460

This story is based on real events. It is about American children who organized food and clothing drives for Dutch children during WWII. It matters because it shows how small acts of kindness can make big differences to others.

 

 

 

 

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For 1-2, Lexile Level 630

In this story, Irene braves a raging blizzard to bring a dress her mother had sewn to a woman going to a big party. It matters because it shows again how one small girl can have the courage to fulfill her mother’s promise when the mother falls ill.

 

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For P-3, Lexile Level 580

The kids at school always laugh when I preview a story I’m about to read by saying it is my favorite.  They remind me that I say that about all my picture books.  I value them like the little pearls of wisdom they each are to me.  This is one of them. Sang-Hee falters when his father is injured and he must light the important fire to signal to the king that all is well. This is a wonderful story matters because it shows how we struggle to do the right thing. It is a story of trustworthiness that will resonate with us all.

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For P-3, Lexile Level 570

 

Poor little Chrysanthemum must find a way to get through her kindergarten day when she is teased about her name – the one her parents chose for her because it was perfect just like her.  This story matters because it shows how easy it is to hurt another person’s feelings with words.

Kate’s story matters because it shows how one small girl extends an act of kindness to a

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For P-3, Lexile Level 540

neighbor that also shows how important it is for us to be mindful of our planet. Kate lugs her wheelbarrow filled with little trees up the huge hill in the hope they will stop erosion and, when grown, will ease the wind that plummets his house.

 

 

 

 

 

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For P-3, Lexile Level 540

 

 

 

Flight School matters because it shows how we can help others achieve their goal by never giving up on ourselves or others. This is a silly story of finding inventive ways to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

 

 

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For P-3, Lexile Level 550

 

We all know the plight of the baby bat, Stellaluna, who becomes lost from her mother and finds refuge with a nest of birds.  It matters because it shows how the welcoming arms of a family of birds means all the world to a frightened and lost bat who just happens to be “different.”

 

 

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For P-3, Lexile Level 440

I discovered Little Beaver and the Echo when I was writing an article that connected picture books to poems based on theme. It matters because it shows how Little Beaver, a lonely young beaver, with no friends decides he will go out and find one – and then another, and another, and another, etc.

As you can see, stories matter to kids of all ages. When you read to them and take time to talk and think about what is going on both stated and hidden levels (like in my sample Read-aloud Guide above),you can help your children discover the traits and values that you want for them – now and in the future.  You can help them find the “So What?” factor in their lives.  Please sign up for automatic notification of new posts. “Happy Reading!”

Character Traits

When your kids can figure out that a character is “like me” because he or she is brave or scared, smart or funny, they make a connection between a literary character and themselves which brings the fictional character to life

My oil painting of Pete the Pelican – like me – he is strong, determined, and proud!

This is the only real oil painting that I own. I commissioned it 12 years ago especially for my newly purchased cottage near the beach – a house, by the way, that I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever be able to buy. Every evening, with the electric fire place blazing, I look at it in the dark and quiet living room while I reflect on my day. I like my pelican -named him Pete -because it reminds me of myself – strong, determined, and proud. These – along with kind, loving, and generous – are some of the words I would choose as my own character traits.

As a Reading Specialist, I believe that it is very powerful to read books to your kids and talk about them as you read together. When your kids can figure out that a character is “like me” because he or she is brave or scared, smart or funny, they make a connection between a literary character and themselves which brings the fictional character to life. This allows your child to understand character motives, feelings, and actions that move the story forward. I’ve worked in schools with students from first to 12th grade (and college) and all English Language Arts classes require that kind of deep thinking about characters.

Those of you who follow me know that I am a big proponent of reading aloud to children using high-quality picture books and talking about them as you read. The power of this interactive reading is well documented. It is my opinion that this kind of reading should go on from the time your small child can talk about a book right on up to junior high. Yea, I know what you’re thinking about that age. In the junior high school and high school,though, we read appropriate stories to students all the time using them as examples or introductions toother subjects. As the parent, only you know what is acceptable with your own children.

Again, the appropriate books are the key to kids of all ages. Refer to the Lexile chart on the side and remember that kids can understand a book read to them that is about 2 years above what they can read alone. Please, please, please take note of these reading levels of books advertised to children. In my opinion, they are often way too hard for an average reader of the suggested age to read and understand alone. By all means, read together first, and then let your children read alone if they want.

Below is a list of stories that I like because they contain characters who exhibit traits of strength and resilience, determination, and pride.

For 1-2 Lexile 630
For P-3 Lexile 490

By helping your children analyze character traits in fictional characters at a young age in the natural setting of reading together in your own home, it enables an easy transition to using this kind of scrutiny when your kids are called upon to do it in school.

For P-3 Lexile 680
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 850
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 380

Start by asking your child to talk about his/her own personality traits and then guide them during the reading to think about actions of characters and what trait it shows. Ask if the trait is a good one or not and why. After reading, have some fun talking about what would have happened if the character exhibited a different trait. How would the story be different? A character – like real people – can change during a story. Talk about that too. Remember that during character analysis in school we always ask for proof from the text. Go back into the story with them and help them find the proof. Help them to become “Smart-thinking Readers!”

For P-3 Lexile 490
For P-3 Lexile 570
For P-3 Lexile 630

I’d love to hear from you about what books you read and the character traits you and your children came up with for them. “Happy Reading!”

Holidays & Winter Fun

In the midst of a lot of academic responsibilities and work, kids still need to have free time to be themselves – unplugged – with just themselves and their imaginations as company. I’ve always argued that children have no way to get good at “thinking outside the box” when studying literature in school if they never practice by playing make-believe at home.

The holidays are here and so is winter! Gifts of books and word games and puzzles go a long way to promote literacy in your home as well as giving the kids educational and fun things to do on cold snowed-in days. Also, encouraging activities that use the imagination will keep kids engaged for hours.

Remember, there are more ways to entice your kids to read than books. Try some of these:

  • Word Games like Scrabble and Boggle
  • Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches
  • Magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, American Girl
  • Cookbooks
  • Riddle and Joke Books

On Snow Days, my sister and I loved to play “School.” Have plenty of pencils, paper, notebooks and even a dry erase board handy. My children used to become “authors” when they wrote and illustrated stories. And, kids just love, love, love to write plays and then perform them for parents.

My children and I lived in small apartments or houses when they were growing up but we always, always had a huge covered cardboard box filled with construction paper, markers and crayons, scissors, glue, stencils, and scraps of gift wrap, ribbon, and gift cards. Let their imaginations go wild!

Don’t forget that there is a lot of power in a big old box. If you or a neighbor received a gift in a big cardboard box, drag it into the garage, basement, or yard and let the kids play in it.

Feeling brave? Let the kids make “forts” in the living room, family room, or their bedroom using sheets and pillows.

It can be fun to work along with you children and take imaginary trips abroad. Pick a destination like Egypt or Africa and, together, do some research with library books and the Internet to find out all about your special place. Wouldn’t it be fun to research castles in Scotland? Build one with blocks or Legos. My girls always loved making things for their dollhouses.

Plan a Winter party for family or friends and let the kids make invitations, food, and a craft. You also might want to do some cooking together and wind the evening down with a gentle movie together. The next day, they might want to write a new ending to the story.

In the midst of a lot of academic responsibilities and work, kids still need to have free time to be themselves – unplugged – with just themselves and their imaginations as company. I’ve always argued that children have no way to get good at “thinking outside the box” when studying literature in school if they never practice by playing make-believe at home.

So, from my home to yours, happy holidays and happy winter fun! I’d love to hear what you and your kids are up to during the long winter days. “Happy Reading!”

Using Jokes and Riddles

After-Reading: I ended the lesson with a question relating back to the riddle. “What if … the sailors or dock workers had cell phones? This brought about new discussions about warnings to the people. Of course, we don’t know if that would have made any difference in the spread of this deadly disease, but it got the kids thinking about cause and effect.

As a parent or teacher, don’t underestimate the value of jokes and riddles. I’ve been using them for years in my Reading Room to:

  • Motivate & engage students in reading
  • Activate Background Knowledge
  • Teach hidden meaning
  • Play with words
  • Enhance lessons
Suggested Grades 2-6, Lexile Level 400

I cannot tell you how many dozens of joke books I’ve nestled in tissue paper inside gift bags for my students – from grade 1 through 12. And, they were always the hit of our holiday and end-year celebrations. One group of 4th grade boys is memorable for their energy and their lack of interest in reading. They couldn’t get enough of the joke books I gave them. From the minute they unwrapped their books to the end of the period, these boys took on a new persona. They were excited to read and, even the shyest child, engaged in sharing jokes and riddles with classmates. They couldn’t wait to go home to try to stump their parents.

From that time on, I decided to regularly use jokes and riddles in my lessons in all grades and you can use them at home too. In small groups of kids, I told the children to browse through joke books for 5 minutes and to use a post-it to mark their two favorites. Then, using their notebooks, I gave them another 5 minutes to write down why these two jokes or riddles were funny. We used the remainder of the period to take turns sharing jokes and discussing why they were funny.

Suggested for Grades 2-5, Lexile Level 580

When given the chance, children can surprise you at every turn with their insight. It is important to rely on background knowledge when reading because it gives a foundation to connect what you already know with the new information being read. This can be seen with the millions of animal jokes we shared. “What do you get from a cow after a milkshake?” “A milkshake.” Kids need to have some background knowledge about cows, milk, and earthquakes to understand this riddle.

Another important reading skill kids need is to find hidden meaning. All jokes are based on some kind of hidden meaning to make them funny. If children can practice making these inferences with jokes, it will be easier for them to do when reading longer stories and books in school.

In addition, Knock-knock jokes are wonderful vehicles for playing with words. For example, “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Orange.” “Orange who?” “Orange you glad I came for a visit?” The more kids play with sounds and different meanings of words, the better they can navigate their way around tricky and new words when they read on their own.

Suggested for Grades 2-5, Lexile Level 670

The National Geographic joke and riddle series is worth getting for your home or classroom. Besides the jokes, riddles, and tongue twisters, I love these books because of the beautiful pictures and illustrations. Please note that the Lexile levels (reading levels) may seem high for younger children. But the little kids I’ve observed reading them do okay because jokes and riddles are small snippets of text. You know your children best, so take a look first and choose the books you feel are most appropriate for them. Please refer to the Lexile-to-Grade Chart on the right.

My favorite unit in our high school reading anthology was “Killer Diseases.” Every story was introduced by me telling the kids a related riddle (and they loved it, even creating their own). In fact, the riddles became my signature “Starter” of every class. This is how I used riddles when reading about the Black Plague.

Before-Reading to motivate and engage students: “How is a cell phone like a life guard?” There was no right or wrong answer. We talked and laughed and discussed this for a few minutes.

During-Reading to encourage making connections and finding hidden meaning: Students wondered about the riddle as we read a short article. We found out that flea-infested rats carrying the disease brought it ashore and into the port cities.

After-Reading: I ended the lesson with a question relating back to the riddle. “What if … the sailors or dock workers had cell phones? This brought about new discussions about warnings to the people. Of course, we don’t know if that would have made any difference in the spread of this deadly disease, but it got the kids thinking about cause and effect.

A similar riddle could be used in the 4th grade when students learn about the American Revolution. “What if … Paul Revere had a cell phone?” How would that have changed the historic story of events?

Suggested for Grades 2-5, Lexile Level 590

Another fun way that I used jokes and riddles was during my lunch room duty in the elementary school. It’s difficult for hungry young children to wait on line to get their lunch. So on Wacky Wednesdays, my lunch duty partners and I used jokes to help the time pass easier.

So, whether you are a parent trying to entice your children to read and think at home, or you are a teacher trying to get kids engaged and thinking about a Social Studies lesson (or any subject), or you are just trying to keep them busy while they wait to eat, try using jokes and riddles. As the saying goes, “A little laughter goes a long way.”

“Happy Reading!”

Beware of Pic Books

Therefore … unless your child is 7 years old, in the middle or end of the second grade, and is an average reader, THIS BOOK IS TOO HARD to read alone. Confusing? Yes. And that is why I write about picture books.

Everyone who knows me, is fully aware of how much I love, love, love picture books. I’ve used them to teach my reading lessons for 20 years, have written volumes about them, and have used them as the theme for workshops for hundreds of fellow teachers. However, parents need to be aware of some readability issues in them. I believe that they are too often advertised for children who are not skilled enough to read them and too young to really understand them.

Lexile Level 460AD (end grade 2)

Wow, that is quite a bold claim! Let’s take, for example, the beloved Eric Carle story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is a book given at baby showers, used in school to teach colors, counting, and the metamorphosis of the butterfly, enjoyed as favorite bedtime stories, and handed to kids to go off and read on their own.

But, here’s the thing. The book is too hard for kids to read on their own – especially the targeted consumers – Preschool to Kindergarten aged kids. These days, school children are given reading tests that rank their reading ability in Lexile levels. Simply stated, this is a number range that matches a book to a child based on his or her reading ability. Please refer to the chart on the right and please find out your child’s recent Reading Level.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as noted above, is recommended for children in Preschool to Kindergarten (ages 2-5). The Lexile level for this story, however, is 460 AD. Looking at our chart, you can see that 460 fits at the high end of an average reader at the end of grade 2 (300-499). AD means Adult Directed which means guidance by an adult for an average reader. Not every kindergarten kid has yet mastered reading – especially boys who typically tend to read a year or more below girls. Also, children who are only 2 to 5 years old lack the background knowledge and vocabulary skills needed to read and understand a book that is rated for kids at the end of grade 2.

Therefore … unless your child is 7 years old, in the middle or end of the second grade, and is an average reader, THIS BOOK IS TOO HARD to read alone. Confusing? Yes. And that is why I write about picture books.

In my opinion, the best way to introduce these wonderful stories is to read them aloud to your kids using the “interactive method.” I will talk more about this in future blogs along with ways to use picture books to make your kids smarter – even into the high elementary grades. More about that late, too.

Here’s the lowdown on readability of another current favorite, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker:

Lexile Level 710AD (beginning grade 5)
  • Targeted to Preschool to Grade 1 (ages 3-6)
  • Lexile level is 710AD (beginning grade 5 average reader)

Whoa!!! Even for a very advanced youngster, this is a big stretch. Even with adult supervision, this is asking a lot from a small child.

So, this is what I suggest that you do. Read the book first with your child using the “interactive reading” method. This is when a parent or adult reads a story aloud, then stops to question, wonder about, and talk about a story and its words with a child. Below, I included a Read-aloud Guide for this story so you can see what I mean. Use as many or as few of the discussion ideas as you wish. Read the book first and use Post-it notes to mark the places where you want to stop and talk. This kind of reading gets kids excited and curious so it’s best not to use as a bedtime story. Rather, set aside some time before or after dinner to enjoy reading and talking together. Keep it natural and never make it seem like a school lesson. Keep it light hearted and fun.

Before-Reading: 

  • Look at the cover and title.  Guess what the story will be about.
  • Do you recognize some of the trucks? What are their jobs in construction?
  • What time of day do you think it is?  What makes you think so?
  • Open to the first page.  Why do you think the words, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, are so big? What time of day is it? Look closely at the building.

Words to Talk About:

“ight” word families. How many can you name? Notice the spelling of “height.” Eager, stare, awe, immense, intense, massive, nimble, duo, drainage, hauled, concrete, churns

  • What’s another word for construct or construction? (build/building)
  • The trucks drive full “steam.” What other steam is there?
  • Onomatopoeia: HHONNK Beep-Beep
  • Alliteration: rolling, rumbling, revving
  • What else churns? Did you ever “churn” butter? Find out how.

During-Reading:

  • Look carefully at each truck and talk about what it is doing
  • What does it mean when there is “ZZZZ” next to a truck?
  • Look at the word, s-t-r-e-t-c-h and talk about why the author wrote it that way. Do you stretch when you wake up?
  • What do you think the new job will be?
  • Are you excited to start a new job?
  • Which truck would you like to drive?
  • What do you think is coming down the road?
  • What do you think people did to build things before there were trucks?
  • How could they move all that dirt and rocks?

After-Reading:

  • Make your own plans to build a structure using trucks and a sand box or dirt pile.
  • Draw a picture of something you want to build. What equipment do you need? Would you need some helpers? For what?
  • Make a list of words in the “ight” family.
  • Build something with blocks or Legos.
  • Visit a construction site with a parent.
  • Talk about how the “team” worked together to get the job done.
  • What would happen if the trucks did not cooperate with each other?
  • What time is it at the end of the book. How do you know?
  • Draw pictures of what happened throughout the day on the construction site. Go in order.
  • Do you know any people who work in construction? Ask them what their job is as part of the “team.”
  • What can you construct out of clay?
  • Get some trucks and cars and play with them.
  • With a parent, get some books about pyramids to find out how they were built without trucks.

When you start to read and talk this way with your kids, you will notice that they soon start to become more curious about other books – especially when they are reading on their own. After your interactive reading sessions, them go off and read the books on their own and you will be pleasantly surprised to observe the way they mimic your way of reading aloud. Ask them to read to you. You have become their reading role model. You have shown them how to think smart about books.

Please, please, please be aware of your child’s reading level and beware of books that look like fun but are too hard for kids to read on their own. Be their guide and show them first. Be their Reading Hero! Until next time, “Happy Reading!”

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Welcome!

Do your kids know how to choose the proper book? How is their fluency? Do they have the stamina to stick with a reading assignment to the end? Do you know their reading level?

Welcome to my reading website. My goal is to bring you free tips and tricks that I’ve used for 20 years as a Reading Specialist in grades 1-12. I love kids, picture books, and Westie dogs!

The picture books I talk often about are the really great ones – the ones with interesting characters who find ways to solve their problems. I use the ones that make us think. I dive into the stories that have tricky words to think about. I believe that reading starts in the home with those wonderful books you read to your kids who are sitting on your lap. But, I said I use them in the high school too. I’ve spent years and years searching for the pic books that give kids an introduction to the concepts they learn in their English and history classes. I take them apart and put them into lessons that help kids make sense of the academic and real world. I love those stories with a good lesson, you know … the ones that you think about for days after reading.

I will talk a lot about picture books but I will also share ideas that have been successful in motivating kids to read, – especially the boys – helped kids study, and everything else reading related. Do your kids know how to choose the proper book? How is their fluency? Do they have the stamina to stick with a reading assignment to the end? Do you know their reading level? Please look at the chart to the right and find out what your child’s reading level is before we begin.

Please sign up to receive an e-mail alert every time there is a new post. I look forward to sharing ways to make our kids think smarter about the books they read so they achieve success every day in school and in their employment as adults. “Happy Reading!”