Wow! The summer is starting, and I have 3 main goals for rejuvenating and relaxing:

1- Get outside and do some good walking with my yellow lab.

2- Try some new, healthy smoothie recipes.

3- Try to keep up with the #Bookaday challenge. So far, I’m on day 12 of the #Bookaday challenge and I hope to continue for 60 days.

I’m not going to lie- so far there have been some rough days, but I’m hanging in there and am feeling good! If you haven’t heard about the #Bookaday challenge, the goal is to read a book each day. You can start the challenge at anytime and end at anytime. Simply set a goal and read! You can read a picture book, chapter book, professional development book, anything! The purpose of the challenge is to simply set aside some time for reading. How glorious! Thank you, Donalyn Miller and The Nerdy Book Club, for inspiring the #Bookaday challenge!

What I love about this challenge is that with each day that I read, I am gaining book talks for Sept., mentor texts for minilessons, and professional development advice. I am growing stronger as a teacher (and reader!)

Today I read and posted a Good Reads review of Bounce, Megan Shull’s new release (out in Sept.) I’ve attached the review below:
BounceBounce by Megan Shull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three cheers for Megan Shull’s new book, Bounce!!! This book feels like a combination of Wendy Mass’s 11 Birthdays and Megan Shull’s The Swap, and it is the perfect blend for readers who love these books. I teach middle school and my students LOVE The Swap. That is why they are counting down the days till Bounce is released. Having just finished reading Bounce, I know they will LOVE it too!

Megan Shull’s distinct writing style and voice shines through in Bounce, and readers will immediately feel like they are back with the voice and style they loved so much in The Swap. Bounce has new characters but the same heartfelt messages and themes from The Swap. While reading Bounce, I laughed, I cried, and I rejoiced. Without giving anything away about the plot, I’ll say that one of my favorite parts of Bounce was meeting such a diverse group of characters. I know that my students will have many discussions about all the characters and how they affected the main character, Frannie.

I am so thankful that Megan Shull writes books that have strong messages, good feels, and diverse characters. As a teacher, I’m always looking for books that will connect with readers. Megan Shull’s books do that. They’re simply magic! If you don’t already have The Swap in your library, it’s a must-have. It will fly off the shelf. In September, get copies of Bounce, too, because they will also be flying off your shelves. I’ve already pre-ordered copies of Bounce– I can’t wait for them to be delivered in Sept. My students will be eagerly waiting for that box, and they’ll love reading Bounce!


Join the #Bookaday challenge! For more information about the #Bookaday challenge, read Donalyn Miller’s blog post here.

You can tweet about your #Bookaday reads with Sonja and me by using the #Bookaday hashatag and our Twitter handle @LitLearnAct. Or visit us on our Facebook Group to talk about about reading, #bookaday, flipped learning, digging deeper into texts, and close reading! We love it!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/770735289739767/


Just saw this Skippy Peanut Butter commercial and thought, “I can use that digital text to teach idioms! Yesssss!” I’m going to add it to my figurative language digital bin. Perfect! Thought I’d share it quickly here. Enjoy!

Make Read Alouds Electrifying Experiences

A classroom read aloud can be an electrifying experience for students… or utter torture.

The ear, eye and the arm

For my daughter, it was the later when she was in 6th grade. The Ear, Eye, and Arm by Nancy Farmer was the read aloud in her Language Arts classroom that dragged across three months, essentially strangling the life out of any pleasure to be gained from the experience.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting about class read alouds, particularly novels. It started when over the course of one week, two of my colleagues came to my classroom to borrow books: Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Of course, I was thrilled to loan them these fantastic reads. But I was puzzled. One of my colleagues is an 8th grade science teacher, and the other teaches 8th grade algebra. They explained that these books were not for their classes, but instead for their own children. Both teachers had the same problem: Their child’s classroom teacher was stretching a class read aloud across several months and their children were dying to keep reading! Their children were so frustrated by how long it was taking to finish the class read aloud that they begged their mothers to get them their own copy!

I have to admit. When I first started teaching, I was THAT teacher. The one who maybe read “a chapter a day” which meant a class read aloud could take multiple weeks. The one who thought reading instruction was about “teaching books.” “I teach The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, 1963,” I might have said to a colleague.

I’m happy to report that I am a reformed read-alouder who understands that stretching a book out across a lengthy amount of time sucks the joy out of reading for students. We may have the best intentions in mind: to share a wonderful story with our students. But let’s just think about it. We select a fantastic book. We’ve got our students right where we want them: on the edges of their seats ready to devour this great story. And then, we rob them from the excitement of the story by dragging it out across weeks or months????

Here are a few things to consider about a read aloud:

  • Teach reading, not “a book.” There are so many wonderful books to introduce to and share with our students. But we are teachers of reading and our students need to develop strategies and skills that go far beyond any one book or story. One of the most important strategies we want to teach our students is how to fall deeply in love with reading. Shouldn’t this be our number one priority with a read aloud?
  • Select one or two strategies to teach and one or two skills to practice. Perhaps it’s a genre specific strategy so that students understand the unique elements of a genre and can apply this to their independent reading. Or maybe you want to help students strengthen their predicting skills. Think about which strategies and skills can be spotlighted with a particular read aloud.
  • Finish the read aloud in a week…two at the most! Yes, this will require setting aside time to accomplish this, but it’s worth it! Our students need to know that reading too slowly, not just reading too quickly, can compromise comprehension. When so much time passes, the specific details can slip away from our memories. Read alouds should happen frequently across the year in the classroom. Therefore, we don’t need to put all of our “eggs” into any one book as if it will be the only opportunity for a shared reading experience. Multiple read alouds, whether they are chapter books, picture books, digital texts, articles, or poems means multiple opportunities to teach reading strategies and to bolster the skills students need to become accomplished readers.

The excitement students have during a read aloud they love is precious and powerful; it’s like catching lightning in a bottle. When teachers capture this it can be used to demonstrate the electrifying experience of reading.

Sonja Cherry-Paul loves reading aloud to her 6th graders. Nothing is better than hearing the chorus of “No! Please read more! Don’t stop! she gets when she tells her class it’s time to go. Sonja is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

Amulet Series is a Must-Have

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When I began teaching 5th grade language arts, I searched websites like Goodreads for books recommendations. Having taught 4th grade for 8 years, I already had a sense of what the age range 8-10 liked to read, but I was interested in finding more titles that appealed to the 10-12 range. I was particularly interested in acquiring high-interest books such as graphic novels, fanfiction books (Minecraft, Lego, Disney), and fly-off-the-shelves chapter books (The Swap, Spy School, The Unwanteds, Mother-Daughter Book Club.)

By chance, I found a recommendation for the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (Twitter @Boltcity), and I bought Book 1: The Stone Keeper. This was a purchase that would forever change my classroom library. I lent the copy to a student in my classroom, and I asked her if she would do a review of the book. “Will you read it and let me know your thoughts?” I said. She agreed.

She sat down with the book and three minutes later I heard a scream. Not a scared scream, but a scream of delight. Although all heads turned toward her, she kept on reading, eyes glued to the pages. It must have an exciting beginning, I thought. I was right. It has an awesome beginning. One that takes students on a page-turning adventure.

The next morning my student asked me for Book 2. “How was it?” I asked. “Amazing,” she answered. This simple one-word review was all I needed. I purchased all of the books in the series, and she read each one.

A book recommendation from a classmate goes far. Very far. Within 24 hours I had multiple students asking to borrow the book. Within a week, every student wanted a chance. Word spread like lightning. All of my readers wanted to read this series. My voracious readers, my two-books-a-month readers, and my reluctant readers. This series ignites interest in all readers. It is like magic.

As teachers, librarians, and parents, we know that it is difficult to find perfect matches for readers. But this series is one that I bet on every time. It is a winner.

Today the new Amulet Book 7 is released. My class has a sign-up sheet of people waiting in line to read it. We also have a sign on the door celebrating the arrival of Book 7 that says, “Coming Out this Week! Amulet Book 7! Sign Up!”

Thank you, Kazu Kibuishi, for writing such an engaging series. You have many fans- students and teachers!

To read reviews, see the Goodreads write-up, Amazon, and Common Sense Media. For ages 8+.

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Dana Johansen teaches fifth grade in Connecticut. She enjoys reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and she is getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 


Vocabulary: Word Gradients


Sonja recently wrote a post about ways we need to change our vocabulary instruction in Wordshop. I admit that I find it challenging to teach vocabulary in my classroom. I hate to blame time constraints, but I do struggle to find enough time to do Wordshop justice.

Like many middle school teachers, I have 50 minutes a day to teach language arts. This means that my Wordshop needs to be under 10 minutes- preferably 5 minutes. I simply must devote the majority of the class time to reading and writing. So I gauge my vocabulary lessons to be about 5 minutes. These lessons are not about memorizing lists of words but about wordshopping- exploring language. These lessons are print rich and word rich.

This is one of my favorite Wordshop 5 Minute Lessons. My students and I come up with a word like “walk.” Students brainstorm in 1 minute words that are similar to “walk.” They might ask themselves, “How do people move? What are other words are like walk?” Next, we make a quick list on the white board (1 minute). Then students create a “Word Gradient” like the one below (2 minutes). Then we share.


Here is what this activity looks like in one of my student’s notebook. On this day, we talked about types of fish (because that was what they were studying in science) and we created a word gradient about the size of the fish. As you can see, this activity is not about synonyms, it’s about the nuances between words. What are the slight differences between words? How many words do we know about this topic or category?

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This is one of my favorite quick, 5 minute Wordshop activities. It is especially helpful during Writing Workshop because students can return to the Wordshop section of their notebooks for lists of words to use in their writing. They can be Word Choosy! In future posts, I’ll share more of my 5 minute Wordshop activities. Let me know what you think.



Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in surprisingly snowy Connecticut, taking long walks in the woods with her yellow lab, and reading the False Prince series by Jennifer Nielsen. Dana was very excited to find out what was at the bottom of 10x on the show, The Curse of Oak Island, last week. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She believes in balanced blended learning and is the co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

A Book in The Hands of a Child

Barnes and Noble2

“You know they’re closing all of the Barnes and Noble bookstores,” my dad announced to me during our weekly visit. “That can’t be right,” I responded. But it was. Last month, the last Barnes and Noble in Queens, NY closed.  I drove past it recently and my heart ached at the sight of it: Stripped down, locked, and barren. Those magical brown doors were the gateway to a wondrous world where my daughter’s love affair with books and reading began.

Our routine was simple. Each week during the first five years of my daughter’s life, we’d visit our local library. She’d pick out 25 picture books, the maximum they’d allow, and we’d race home to spread them across the carpeted floor of our living room apartment. Then, we’d read, read, read! By the end of the week, she’d select a favorite or two from the pile, and we’d purchase these books from our Barnes & Noble. Over time, we grew an impressive home library filled with beloved books. Fifteen years later, many of these books can be found on the shelves of my classroom library where they are read and loved by my students.

Barnes and Noble

As I stared at the vacant bookstore, I was flooded with memories. All of those years browsing the aisles, dollar bills or gift card in my daughter’s hands as she thoughtfully determined which book, out of all the gems surrounding her, she’d purchase that day. What does it mean for young children to grow up in a neighborhood without bookstores? To instead, have to travel many, many miles to experience the thrill of purchasing a book of their own?

Our school and classroom libraries are increasingly crucial to our students. With the closing of small and large bookstores and the reduction of funding of local libraries along with their hours of operation, schools will be the only opportunities for many children to be surrounded by large selections of great books.

I appreciate and embrace change. I understand that change is essential for the growth of any civilization and society. I am not arguing against online booksellers. I use them frequently and could not imagine functioning efficiently without them. Instead, I’m arguing that we need both.

Our children need to experience the possibilities of a new book that can only come from a face-to-face encounter. The sight of it; the cool feel of its cover; the smell of the pages. It’s a sensory experience that brings about a visceral response; one that results in pure excitement for reading.

As I drove a bridge away from those first formative years of my daughter’s childhood at our Barnes and Noble, images of the books she encountered and loved filled my mind. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton; If you Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; The Magic School Bus; The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron; Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

I’ll always treasure the hours spent there, selecting the perfect literary gift for my daughter, family members, and friends. In this ever changing landscape of online activity, let’s remember that few things are more powerful than a book in the hands of a child.


Sonja Cherry-Paul  enjoys trying on a new book as much as trying on a new pair of shoes. She is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee and has been immersed in reading wonderful books by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  Sonja is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 



Legos for Writing, Reading, Building

IMG_5909Our students are writers and readers. They are also builders, makers, engineers, scientists, historians, musicians, actors and artists. The list goes on and on. I teach students, not reading and writing. And I always want to encourage my students to bring their many talents and affinities into the reading and writing workshop. Building with Legos is one way I can do this.

A few years ago, I spotted an image on Pinterest that caught my eye and made me think about ways to bring Legos into my reading and writing workshops. The image that made me pause was a picture of a child’s room that had walls made of Lego flats. I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to have a wall in my classroom devoted to Lego building? We could build our class stories and characters!”

I teach fifth grade, and just like students of all ages, they love building and making! So I went to Toys R Us and purchased 9 green Lego flats. I used push pins and a small hammer to secure the flats to a portion of a bulletin board. It was surprisingly easy to make and didn’t leave any permanent damage on my bulletin board. I really liked that the board was vertical and not horizontal flat on a table. I liked that because it saved space in my classroom and everyone could see it while seated on the meeting rug.


I have used the Lego board in many ways in my writing and reading workshops. Here are few ways that I have loved using it: 

1) Story Setting! In the first image at the top of this post you can see how my class built the setting for our whole-class fantasy fiction story. We mapped out the kingdom and the creatures who lived in our made-up land. We referred to this map throughout the writing process and it helped keep us on track.

2) Story Mapping! Teaching story mapping? This is a great wall to build the beginning, middle, and end. Make a linear BME storyboard or a rollercoaster map out of Legos. It is a great visual in the classroom, and your students will love building it and referring to it.


3) Story Characters! Students can create the characters in their story, a class story, or a read aloud. This is especially great for practicing visualization strategies in reading.

4) The Ending! We’ve all taught students who have story endings that fizzle. Students have spent all their energy writing their stories that when they get to the end, they fizzle. This Lego board revives writers. Have students create their characters with Legos and act out their endings with their writing buddies. This brings much needed energy back to the writing process.

5) Celebrations! Need a new way to celebrate? Have students create an object, symbol, character etc., from their story or from their reading that was meaningful to them. Everyone can share their Lego creation at the celebration and then they can all be displayed on the wall.


Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2 and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel. They’re going to get to the bottom of 10x this week! So exciting! Dana has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop.