Archive for November, 2010

I love Aileen Fisher’s poetry for children. Here is one from her book, In the Woods, In the Meadow, In the Sky, for fall:

Autumn Leaves
by Aileen Fisher

One of the nicest beds I know
isn’t a bed of soft white snow,
isn’t a bed of cool green grass
after the noisy mowers pass,
isn’t a bed of yellow hay
making me itch for half a day–
but autumn leaves in a pile that high,
deep, and smelling like fall, and dry.
That’s the bed where I like to lie
and watch the flutters of fall go by.

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Happy Thanksgiving and a soup recipe

Just got home from NCTE and a school visit in PA. Got up early to beat the grocery-store-rush-on-the-day-before-Thanksgiving! This post is dedicated to my friends at Pleasant View Elementary in Red Lion, PA. During lunch, we shared what we were cooking for Thanksgiving. I told them about my delicious turkey tortilla soup recipe, and they asked me to please put it on my blog ASAP!
Just got back from the grocery store and have started Thanksgiving prep, so while the pies are baking, here’s that recipe for all of you who love to cook over the holidays.
Texas Tortilla Soup (adapted from Rotisserie for Beef & Bird recipe)
makes 6-8 servings
3 T. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, diced
6 ribs celery, diced
leftover turkey (2-3 cups, chopped)
1 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper
1/4 c. flour
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
6-8 cups turkey stock (I make mine from leftover turkey bones after Thanksgiving dinner)
8 corn tortillas, cut in strips and canola oil for frying them
garnishes: sour cream, avocados, shredded Cheddar cheese
Heat butter in large kettle and saute chopped veggies until tender. Then simmer for 5 minutes. Add seasonings and sprinkle with flour. Stir together to blend. Add tomatoes and stock. Simmer 1 hour. Add turkey and cook for 15 minutes more.
Drop tortilla strips into hot oil in frying pan and fry until crisp. Then drain on paper towels.
To serve, top each bowl of soup with tortilla strips, a dollop of sour cream, a few avocado slices and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Bon appetit, y’all!

My Thanksgiving grocery list


Prepping the stuffing for tomorrow

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 One Saturday this fall I worked with early childhood educators at Hearne Elementary in Hearne, TX to help them use resources they already own to create literacy work stations in their classrooms. As part of the day, we did a classroom makeover.

Bethany, a kindergarten teacher, volunteered her room. In one hour, we redesigned her environment and moved all the furniture to create more space for her students. As described in my book, Spaces & Places, we mapped out the important areas in her classroom first, thinking carefully about where to situate each. Then everyone pitched in and we moved things around using the map. It was a bit like an Amish barn-raising, where we all worked together. As the photos show, we got rid of unnecessary furniture that was taking up room for children. Here are a few before and afters:

BEFORE: several pieces of furniture block the classroom entry


AFTER: after moving furniture, the classroom entry is now inviting

BEFORE: looking to the right from the entry computers line the wall

AFTER: now the right-hand wall will be used for a word wall and a writing stations; computers were moved to a location that won’t distract young children during whole group

BEFORE: back wall is covered by portable cubby units

AFTER: back wall now houses a science station at a low table under a window and computer stations

Teachers work together to move furniture in Bethany’s room

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Thanks to the more than 400 elementary educators who traveled near and far to Garland, TX for my vocabulary conference there! I was amazed at the teachers who attended from all over the state! We investigated how to teach high-quality vocabulary lessons in whole group using picture books for read aloud. A great resource for this is Isabel Beck’s Bringing Words to Life.

We learned how to choose the most useful words for teaching vocabulary—words spoken by people with mature speech that can be used again and again at school by kids, especially words that connect with the main idea of the story. Teachers, principals, literacy coaches, and staff developers worked together to create vocabulary cards to use with their students.

We watched vocabulary-related clips from two of my videos, Think Small! and Spotlight on Small Groups, available from www.stenhouse.com and shared ideas on vocabulary-focused literacy stations. If you’d like more ideas on teaching vocabulary in small group, check out these videos and read chapter 8 in Making the Most of Small Groups.

A big thanks to Kyle Warren of Warren Instructional Network and Garland ISD for hosting this day of learning at the Garland Special Events Center. We plan to make this an annual event!

Here are some pictures of educators working together choosing rich vocabulary from high-quality picture books:

A resourceful teacher uses her phone to search an online dictionary for help with creating a kid-friendly definition for one of the words she chose

A fifth grade math teacher’s vocabulary card and picture book

Another teacher’s vocabulary card

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I was browsing my poetry books and wanted to share this one with you. It’s from an anthology called Small Talk: A Book of Short Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (another of my favorite poets).

What Are Heavy?
by Christina Rossetti

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow.
What are brief? Today and tomorrow.
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth.
What are deep? The ocean and truth.

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I joined many K-6 educators in Cromwell, CT for CRA. Cris Tovani keynoted and spoke about the importance of having a core belief system. I agree! When I was a young teacher, my principal would often come into my room and watch me teach. It made me nervous having her stand there and observe all the time. But looking back, I’m glad that she cared enough to come by and watch. I quickly learned how to articulate what I was doing and why! My core beliefs as a teacher have evolved and strengthened over the years. They have developed as I reflect on my teaching practice.

In my session on Literacy Work Stations for K-6, we discussed having “sharing time” at the end of stations and small group instruction. One teacher commented that she loved giving kids the opportunity to reflect and how important it was to teach students how to do this at an early age. Reflection leads to depth.

I shared examples of how to set up a classroom step by step in my session on Spaces & Places. Teachers commented on how much they loved the colored photos in my book and how the detailed “how to” descriptions helped them. One teacher told me that these books changed her life. Wow! That statement alone makes me keep on writing. Thanks to all of you that I met in CT! And, yes, I am going to investigate having that TV show!!!

With friends at CRA

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Pre-K authors

In my recent work with Gabriel Mistral Early Childhood Center, I worked with PreK teachers and their students. In one lesson, we talked about being authors. I showed them my book, Literacy Work Stations and talked about how I wrote my book. Then we learned about Eric Carle and what he does as an author and read his book, 1 2 3 to the Zoo. Later, some kids worked at a writing station making a counting book like Eric Carle. It is a joy to work with our youngest writers and see all they are capable of at the start of the school year!

Showing Literacy Work Stations to a Pre-K class

I show a photo of Eric Carle to Pre-K class and talk about what he does as a writer

Reading 123 to the Zoo to the class

Introducing Little books to the Pre-K writers

A student makes a counting book

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A fun weekend visit

I love spending time with our grown children! Jessica and her boyfriend, Mike, came home from Florida for a wedding recently. We took our 9 1/2 year old Great Dane, Hercules to the park, went shopping, and had meals together. Before they returned to Florida, we joined both families for lunch at Pappasito’s for Tex-Mex. A great weekend was had by all!

Tom and Jessica with Herc at the park

Herc drinks from a water fountain as an astonished onlooker sits on his bike

Jessica, me, and Tom at Pappasito's


Mike and his family with Jessica and me

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Poetry Friday: Zinnias

I think my favorite poem of all times is this one by Valerie Worth. I love to garden, and zinnias are one of my most-loved flowers though they are difficult to grow in Houston. (They don’t like wet feet and that’s hard to avoid in such a humid climate.) My dad and my grandmother both were strong and hardy folks and grew the most beautiful zinnias.

by Valerie Worth

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched
|Arranged to please us
In the house, in the water, they
Will hardly wilt– I know
Someone like zinnias: I wish
I were like zinnias.

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About 30 educators in the Houston Independent School District joined with their leader, Ann Sledge, in a four-week after-school book club at Longfellow Elementary. The goup of teachers, coaches, and principals studied my book, Making the Most of Small Groups. I joined them for a question-and-answer session. It was great fun being part of their discussions about the chapters they read. They worked in small groups to read and choose their 3 most important things learned from each chapter which they then shared with the whole group.

Here are some photos from this meeting:

HISD educators have a book club where they discuss Making the Most of Small Groups

Teachers work in small groups to read and discuss a chapter

Meeting and talking about the vocabulary chapter

Sharing what they learned about teaching phonics


Chart made by teachers about phonemic awareness as part of their book club discussion

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