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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Titanic Strategy for Motivating Informational Reading

Several years ago I was introduced to this strategy and have used it hundreds of time since.  Every time I repeated the strategy the students responded enthusiastic and had a great deal of interest (at all age levels) in close reading and discovery.  I titled this strategy THE TITANIC STRATEGY only because that is the topic used during the first time that I was introduced to the strategy.

Titanic Strategy
  • PRE-LESSON DAY -- If the topic is one that the students would normally have some first hand knowledge about this step may not be necessary. But if it is an event in history, or a topic not normally in their background provide them with the topic, and say, "Tomorrow we will be discussing the Titanic." (or whatever the topic, spiders [a topic such as WWII is probably too broad as is a topic such as jungle animals] -- keep the topic narrow to the focus on the book that you all will be reading).  "If you know anything about the Titanic make a mental list in your head; and tonight you might want to see what others in your household know about the Titanic." (I'm always careful NOT to say parents as many of my students do not have parents in the household - grandparents maybe, step parents, foster, etc.)  "Don't tell me now but be ready for our discussion tomorrow."
  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP: --Put up a large (very large) sheet of butcher paper (white board doesn't work well because this is something you want up over the next several days ALL the time).  Have fat magic markers available and write large enough that the writing can be seen from the back of the room.  Good idea to number the facts as you go and to keep them in a linear fashion [columns perhaps] rather than a hodge podge web type presentation) NOTE: if you have a picture of your FACT Chart I'd love to use it on a revision of this blog post.
"Today we are going to list everything we know about the Titanic.  Does anyone know anything about this topic?"
(As students contribute -- condense their sentence into a phrase such as "The book sunk in the Atlantic Ocean" becomes "Sank-Atlantic Ocean."  We are not teaching sentence writing here.  We are gathering facts.)
You will be surprised at the multitude of facts that the students give you and eventually someone will say "no, that's not right."  To which you respond.  "Right now we are only gathering what we think are facts.  Do you have a different idea of what the fact is?"  (They might say something like "it sank in the Pacific Ocean" so now you put up "Sank-Pacific Ocean.")  Gather as many facts as possible and exhaust every possibility. 

  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP:  Take out a different colored marker and say, "Now we are going to go back through this list and see if we can figure out which ones are actual facts or which statements may be questionable."   One by one go through the facts asking:
  1. Is this a fact that we all agree is actually a fact?  (If it is mark with a star, if not put a ? in front of the statement.)
  2. If there is a fact that YOU think is questionable, press for a total commitment, and ask, "Do you think you could prove to me that this is a fact?"
  3. Any student who is especially adamant about a fact being right or wrong put his/her initials at the end of the statement.
  4. Be careful not to let one student dominate ... you know your students best.
  • FIRST DAY OF LESSON - THIRD STEP:  Observe and comment regarding the facts that all accept, and those statements that are in question.  Divide the class into groups - giving each member in the group a copy of the text you want them to read.  Everyone could be given the same book; or each member of group 1 given the same book and the members of group 2 could be given another title on the same topic.  Ask each group to read their books carefully - together, out-loud, independently -- however  they wish.  But in their reading they should be looking for information that proves or disproves one of the questionable facts.  Give each group a pad of post-it notes so that students can mark their pages for later discussion.  This is where the numbered facts come in -- student can just put the number of the fact on the post-it and use it as a book mark for the page where the information is located. 
    If you are not able to complete this entire lesson in one block of time - call a halt to the reading after giving enough time for the students to read/but not enough time that they have finished.  Leave them eager to find out other facts.  Make a transition to another activity or subject and promise more time tomorrow.
  • SECOND DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Ask groups to reconvene and to reveal what they had discovered yesterday and give them 10-15 minutes more.  At this point call the group back together for the discussion phase of the exercise.
  • SECOND DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP: During this phase the total group will read each questionable statement and either disprove the fact or prove the fact by citing (and reading) convincing evidence from their book.  Passages should be read from their source, passages that prove or disprove the statement.  Make revisions to the statement as necessary and when it is finally accurate mark it appropriately.
    As you go through the list, if the class is satisfied that the fact is correct a star (different color than from the original stars) should be added to the front of the fact.  In the end you will have some statements that have not been proved or disproved.  At this time, each group can choose facts for further reading and research.  Using the library and credible sources on the internet (may be a good time to slip in a "What is a credible internet site?" lesson.) each group will research their statements in order to prove, disprove, or modify so the statement is accurate.
  • THIRD DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Reconvene groups - research time.  Students will need access to the library, computers for research in the library's databases etc.
  • FOURTH DAY OF LESSON - FIRST STEP:  Culminate by finishing up with the found facts.  Make a new chart paper list of all the facts we know -- as you re-list the facts you might want to categorize them into groups/columns. 
  • FOURTH DAY OF LESSON - SECOND STEP:  Recap and discuss what students found out about reading -- Did they find it helpful to use the index? table of contents? Did the section and chapter headings help them?  Did they read the book from front to back?
     Using the chart of information ask students to write an essay about the Titanic (perhaps with the goal of publishing the article in a periodical of historical events).  Incorporate whatever lesson might be appropriate at the particular stage your students are at in terms of writing paragraphs, writing a hook (a sentence that interests others in the writing), and so forth.  The categories you created with the list  of facts should be able to help the writers group information together in their writing.  Encourage members of the smaller groups to share particular elements of their writing -- perhaps sharing their hook sentences, their best paragraph, or their conclusion.

The Titanic Strategy for Motivating Informational Reading

This strategy works with every level of learner -- just adapt the topic, with appropriate books, for the specific group of learners you are working with.  The technique can accommodate a class read, or small group reads.  This could also be used as a read aloud / listening activity -- teacher read aloud the material (say the page number of each page before reading).  As the listener hears something that might prove or disprove a statement they jot down the page number that the teacher is reading (I often just jot the page number I am reading on the white board -- changing it as I turn pages) and add the number of the fact that I think the page proves or disproves.  A discussion is carried out much as it is done on the second day with listeners sharing the fact that they think they have been able to prove or disprove.  The teacher then rereads the particular page identified by the student.  Class listens for the appropriate information.

Use this technique with any topic as long as the topic is not too broad.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Binding

This video is so fascinating.  Imagine how long it took to create a library of books in years gone past -- and how long it takes machines to accomplish a similar task today. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Easter Eggs - in a basket

Dying Hollow Eggs

Nothing fancy here.  We just set out to make a basket of Easter eggs with a 2 year old.  So wanted to keep things simple.  Did not want to boil the eggs (deviled eggs were not in the schedule this Easter) so decided to blow the eggs out (use the eggs for scrambled) and then dye the egg shells for a centerpiece basket.  Read all the blogs with hints and instructions for blowing out the eggs and decided that I was not going to "blow" them at all.  A can of air would do the trick.  So with a cup to catch the insides - I began, can of air in hand.
Holes at each end -- and I used the can of compressed air to blow out the insides.  Worked nicely -- except, the pressure of the air also blew out the egg shell in interesting ways.  Few of the egg shells remained intact.  But fortunately we really did not care as we wanted to have chicks hatching from the eggs anyway so a few cracks here and there would only add to the authenticity.

Cups, a few drops of food coloring, a splash of vinegar, and HOT water filling each cup 1/2 full and... — a great helper.

Since the eggs are empty the shells had to be held down or they would just float to the top and only dye the bottom side of the egg shell.
 Once the egg has the intensity of color one wants it to be it should be lifted out and put gently on a paper towel.  Of course if one is impatient, the eggs may just barely get dyed to the palest of pale colors.
 Now we just need some baby chicks to sit inside the basket with the cracking eggs.

Happy Easter.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Baskets - Easter Books

Easter for many people will arrive on April 5th and those of us who will be observing the traditional holiday may also be dealing with the Easter Bunny tradition.  For those of any religious persuasion who would like to understand the religious significance, a reading of Gail Gibbons's Easter would be in order.
Easter  is a very simple nonfiction book about the origins of Easter. The text focuses on the basic history of the Christian holiday but includes the origins of more secular holiday traditions like Easter Eggs and the name of the holiday coming from Eostre, the pagan goddess of Spring. 

Easter does signify the coming of Spring and new life, both in the animal and plant world.  It is the day for daffodils, and spring flowers.

The tradition of the Easter Bunny seems most prevalent in the secular celebration of Easter and it has long been a mystery as to how a bunny came to deliver colored eggs to all the little children at Easter time -- painted eggs and chocolates delivered in a basket.  Katherine Tegan has written a story that explains how that came to be and leaves young readers with a vision of rabbits in a hollow tree weaving baskets, coloring eggs, and pouring chocolate into egg molds.  A most delightful book.
These are among the books that are just right for sharing during those 20 minute a day read aloud times.  Whether or not your children are reading on their own, only reading aloud to them will stretch their vocabulary above where they are at, at the moment, help to build a schematic background with new information, build attention span, and in general build a love of books and learning.  Read aloud to your children EVERY day.

Gibbons, Gail.  (1991) Easter.  Holiday House.
Tegan, Katherine. (2005) The Story of the Easter Bunny.  Illustrations by Sally Anne Lambert.  HarperCollins.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Time for Spring...Birdhouses

These birdhouses are fun to decorate for decorations indoors or hanging on a covered deck or screened in porch -- don't think they would last too long in an outdoor garden ... but you decide.  The fun is in the process.  Images were affixed with Modge Podge®, painting was brushed on or spray painted.   Books and Birds -- both signaling time for spring.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

March 17 - Happy St. Patrick's Day

Some interesting reading -- Older readers will find many books about Ireland, but one of my favorite readings is a essay about why a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust considers St. Patrick's Day as the favorite holiday in his family.  Read about Erich Otto in an article by his daughter, "Why St. Patrick's Day Is My Jewish Family's Favorite Holiday" at and then don't miss the post and Erich Otto's own story about the Hoover Rolls (Herbert Hoover, WWII) at

Then a  few books to celebrate the day... and beyond.  A few of my favorites...
Six legends about St. Patrick and information about traditions of how St. Patrick's day was celebrated in the past and is celebrated today.

St. Patrick's Day by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House)

 A biography of the man behind the celebration of St. Patrick's Day from his birth in Britain to his kidnapping and being taken to Ireland as a captive of bandits.  Tomie dePaola's signature illustrations are exquisitely integrated into the well-known legends. 

Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola (Holiday House)

A favorite character focused on the holiday.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, Curious George based on books about George by H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

 A parody of the favorite childhood song, The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly -- this parody by Lucille Colandro and illustrated by Jared Lee who also illustrated  St. Patrick's Day from the Black Lagoon (see below).
There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover by Lucille Colorandro, illustrated by Jared Lee (Cartwheel Books)
 And Tomie dePaola is always a favorite story teller.  This legend is straight from Ireland.
Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale by Tomie dePaola (Grosset and Dunlap)

Always a favorite series - The Black Lagoon Adventures --
St. Patrick's Day from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler with illustrations by Jared Lee (Scholastic).

Enjoy celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Re-Thinking the books on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Birthday

Re-Thinking the Wilder books.

Today - February 7th is the 148th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder's  birthday in 1867.  She died three days after reaching 90 years of age (Feb. 10, 1957). Anyone who "teaches" these books or reads them with children should be aware of some of the concerns about the depiction of American Indians in these books.  Please check out Debbie Reese's blog and search for "Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- I think you will uncover some very thought provoking ideas.  And another essay about Wilder that must be read is Laura June's Parent Rap "No Offense to Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- you will see that the stories are no better to African Americans either (although less frequent in the text).  See page ninety-eight of Little House on the Prairie.    But better than being a writer, she was a strong independent woman at the turn of the century and beyond.  She cared for her husband, wrote a column for a newspaper, and became a nationally recognized writer -- all because she was the strong woman that she was.  I'll celebrate that, but to honor her I will eat gingerbread...
I personally LOVE the Wilder books but I read them as an adult and read them from another perspective -- realizing that Wilder wrote these with memories of her childhood but with the stereotypical perspective of a 65-year-old woman who had the ingrained attitude toward many people that had developed over a life-time.  Just as she described the prairie lands surrounding her Dakota home with flowers that did not exist when she was growing up there.  The memories of some of the flowers she describes came most likely from visions she gathered during one of her adult visits back home to see her family.  Her books are indeed a look into the pioneering spirit but they also are reflective of the prejudices and attitudes Wilder developed as she matured into adulthood.  The value in her books is a look at the attitude and prejudices that exist during the 1930s when she and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane wrote them.
When she was writing these books it was acceptable to have a cigar store Indian in front of your store.  And the genocide of 100,000 NA Children was supported by the citizenry of the USA. -- Certainly these attitudes toward NA provided enhancement to any childhood memories and created situations with a lot of hyperbole.

HarperCollins, her long time publisher has put up a list of 10 things one can learn from reading the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder at  Sadly there are other things one can learn from the books as well. She does not treat Native Americans very well in her writings and that is a product not so much of her childhood but of the time in which she lived and wrote.

Consider the following:  
Try the Birchhouse Series by Louise Ehrlich -- or I can suggest others such as Laurie Lawlor's Addie series.

Just think about it --

Laura Ingalls Wilder

For some little known information about the first editions of the books go to the Purple House Press site and its pages about Laura
The books are definitely fiction -- but do share some very important glimpses of pioneer life.
On Laura's birthday I will celebrate her strength of character with her own favorite cake -- gingerbread.  In her later years she often greeted guests with her well-known gingerbread with a glaze of chocolate frosting and lemonade.

Here's her recipe for the gingerbread --

Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread was
most often served with a thin glaze of
chocolate and a glass of freshly made
1 cup brown sugar blended with
1/2 cup lard or other shortening.
1 cup molasses mixed well with this.
2 teaspoons baking soda in 1 cup boiling water
(Be sure cup is full of water after foam is run off into cake mixture).
Mix all well.

To 3 cups of flour have added one teaspoon each of the following spices:
ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Sift all into cake mixture and mix well.
Add lastly 2 well-beaten eggs.
The mixture should be quite thin.
Bake in a moderate oven for thirty minutes.

Raisins and, or, candied fruit may be added and a chocolate frosting adds to the goodness.

And for Google's take on the legacy of LIW - check out the links on this page

And you may also be interested in this post about LIW's days in Iowa --