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Posts from the ‘Reading Strategies’ Category

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

Close reading.

Looking through titles of journal articles, professional development books and teacher training sessions, it seems that close reading is the buzz word of the year. And yes, I already overheard a parent ask, “Is it really something new? Weren’t we all reading texts and answering questions thirty years ago too? What changed?”close.reading

Actually, a lot has changed. We have so many people to thank for helping us understand how readers make sense of text and how meaning is created. (I’m just going to add one gigantic thank you to Louise Rosenblatt at this point!) And while students have been answering questions for many, many years, there is still more for teachers to learn on the subject of reading. Now when we talk about close reading, Notice and Note is the book that will become a turning point for teachers everywhere. I have no doubt that Kylene Beers & Bob Probst’s text will become the definitive text on the subject of close reading for narrative texts. And now I will add: Thank you Kylene and Bob!

What will you learn when you read this book? Topics that will keep your highlighter in use—-

  • What does literacy look like in the 21st century?
  • What are text dependent questions?
  • How are they part of the Common Core State Standards?
  • How can I create and use text dependent questions with the text I am teaching?

And of course, the signposts. What are signposts? Kylene and Bob have identified six signposts that we need to teach:

  • Aha Moment

    Using color with signposts

    Using color with signposts

  • Again & Again – Repetition
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Tough Questions
  • Compare & Contrast
  • Memory Moment

We know what good readers do when they read: they make connections, construct meaning, ask questions and try to answer them. They engage with the text. And we know that often, our struggling readers don’t do these things. They miss the cues for the important moments in the text. Teaching your students the signposts will bring about the “aha moment” – yep, and that is one of the signposts! It is the “wait – that was repetition. We read that phrase in the last chapter. I remember it. Why did the author repeat it? Why is it important?” And we stop, notice it and then take note. Then we build and make connections. So after you learn about the six signposts, you will be ready for anchor questions, reading logs and charts. You will be ready to build these concepts into your curriculum.

  • What are anchor questions?
  • How can I use anchor questions to help students further their analysis of complex texts?
  • How can I use a reading log in my classroom? How can I use signposts with independent reading?
Signpost Bookmark

Signpost Bookmark with color

You will also discover that many teachers are already sharing their signpost bookmarks, charts and reference materials. Check out pinterest boards and Teachers Pay Teachers for plenty of ideas (you will find not only bookmarks, but also posters, anchor charts, flip books, strategy cards, reading logs and more). I made a color coordinated signpost page (to use with colored post-its) and bookmark as well. The book will also give you some fabulous inspiration for creating signpost charts with your students for continued reference throughout the year. The appendix include reading log samples. You can also head to the Heinemann website and find the pdfs of the documents in the appendix, which is quite handy. (Check out the Companion Resources tab)

At the heart of this text is creating opportunity for student engagement with texts – and fostering meaningful, thoughtful engagement and conversations that will create new reading habits. This isn’t a text about how to teach a novel, but rather how to teach students to become better readers of all novels that they pick up, whether it is in the library or the classroom or at home.

Friends, this is a book you will want on a shelf in your classroom. Read. Annotate. Highlight. Start teaching the signposts. And drop me a line to let me know how your students are doing with their close reading!

I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Cris Tovani

IReadItThis book was classroom-changing for me when I first read it. The timing could not have been better. The book was brand new and I was in my first year of teaching. My master teacher told me that I should read the book I Don’t Get it: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers.

Right away I was drawn to the practical nature of this book. With classroom snippets and student dialogue, Cris Tovani illustrates her points about reading comprehension issues in the classroom – not at the elementary level but at the junior-high and high school level. This resonated with me as I was teaching four sections of 11th grade students, and most of the them had an independent reading level of 8th or 9th grade. They struggled with our American Literature McDougal Littell textbook. When I foolishly assigned “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a homework reading assignment, not one of my students was able to write a coherent summary of the reading. I looked at their homework – and they did try – and I was crushed. I knew they were struggling but I was at a loss for how to help them. I knew how to create lessons plans and address the standards. I could write summaries and read to the class but I knew there was more I should be able to do for my students. Cris Tovani showed me exactly what I needed to do to help my students.

So what will you find in this book?

Fake reading. Yep, Cris Tovani discusses what so many teachers see in their classrooms every day. Students “fake” read and make it through the assignments and discussions without actually reading – or comprehending. So what is there to do? First of all, we need to understand the realities of what reading really is and “redefine” our perception of reading. Reading is not just about decoding words. Reading is about constructing meaning and using cueing systems in our to comprehend challenging texts.

Right away, Cris doesn’t want teachers to feel overwhelmed by this information and the thought of teaching cueing systems. She quickly points out two absolutely fundamental ideas that all teachers can do to help their students improve their reading comprehension: 1. Become a passionate reader of what you teach. 2. Model how good readers read. Both of these ideas permeate her book as she discusses specific strategies that will help teachers improve reading comprehension in their classroom.

This leads us to strategic reading. Good readers have a purpose when they read. Having a clear focus on a reading assignment will help students stay focused and cue in to the important information. With a vague purpose (“You will have a test on this chapter tomorrow.”) students have difficulty zeroing in on what the important information and making sense of the concepts in their reading assignment. Thinking aloud and modeling the reading process will help your students see how a good reader makes sense of text, makes connections, and determines important ideas and questions. Marking the text also helps students connect, engage and interact with the text. Following up on marking text, double-entry diaries (as well as other interactive, dialectical journaling) can help students make sense of challenging texts.

What happens when a reader gets confused? First off, we need to teach students how to recognize when they are stuck and confused. Students who struggle with reading don’t always realize the point where they lose track in the reading process. Before they realize it, they finish the entire chapter even though they stopped interacting with the text pages earlier. Helping them identify the point where they first encountered confusion is the first step. Now what? Here is where we encounter fix-up strategies. Rereading is something students are often told, but there are many other fix-up strategies beyond rereading. Cris Tovani will walk you through a multitude of strategies, such as making text connections, making predictions, stopping to think about what you already know and read, asking questions, writing, visualizing, retelling, recognizing patterns in text structure, reading rates, and other ideas that will help your students repair the confusion.

Perhaps most important is Tovani’s discussion of how to teach reading strategies to your students. Not just creating lesson plans that utilize modeling, double-entry diaries, or comprehension constructors. Teaching students how to use these important strategies will help them beyond that particular lesson where you ask your students to make text-to-self and text-to-text connections in a double-entry diary. The strategies will help them become better readers in all of their classes and beyond.

Most of all, Tovani’s book resonates with optimism, energy and enthusiasm for her students and her teaching. When I finished the book, I was energized and excited. I was no longer in despair about my students reading abilities; I had a text in hand (and highlighters – I bought about 100 highlighters in 3 different colors after I read this book – I was so excited to teach my students how to mark and annotate a text!). I had multiple fix-up strategies to add to my reading toolbox. I set off with my highlighters, started posters with reading fix-up strategies and my students and I continued to make amazing improvement over the course of the year. And years later, I still find myself referring back to this book, rereading paragraphs and sections. It is an excellent reminder of the reasons we teach and the possibilities in the classroom, each and every day.

Have you read Cris Tovani’s book? What are your favorite reading comprehension textbooks for the classroom?

Hands Down, the Best Book About Teaching Shakespeare. Ever.

Worksheets, vocabulary quizzes, multiple-choice, fill in the blank, plot summaries, countless books about teaching Shakespeare. Some are good, some are okay, others are less than okay (I found a book once that was literally just a bound set of boring worksheets, boo). A colleague once mentioned how challenging it is to actually find the “good stuff” on teaching Shakespeare that can be used in a high school classroom. I had to agree. So began my quest in searching for a fabulous Shakespeare book.

When I picked up Reading Shakespeare With Young Adults, by Mary Ellen Dakin, which was just published and brand new (there is something exciting about a book still shrink wrapped!) I knew that this book was different.

What do I love about this book? First off, it is written by Mary Ellen Dakin, a high school English teacher who teaches Shakespeare and draws on her own experience with high schoolers in the classroom. (Note: I’ve never met Mary Ellen Dakin, but I would love to hang out in a classroom with her and watch her teach.) Dakin’s approach to Shakespeare is user-friendly – read “high school friendly” – she doesn’t assume that students know more than they do. She assumes they need help reading Shakespeare. And they do. There is a lot of academic, graduate level writing about Shakespeare and the teaching of Shakespeare – at the university and graduate school level. This is not one of those books. This book is meant for teachers at the high school level, who are likely teaching students at a variety of reading levels. Romeo and Juliet is required reading at many high schools in the 9th grade year – regardless of whether the students are struggling readers or college preparatory bound for AP/IB classes. Dakin’s book will help you figure out how to teach Shakespeare to ALL of your students, at all levels.

So now the nitty gritty. What exactly is in this book that makes it different from the other books about teaching Shakespeare?

1. Vocabulary. It’s obvious that Shakespeare involves a different set of vocabulary, which creates quite the challenge for our modern students. Archaic vocabulary abounds and while I’ve seen my share of crossword puzzles and word searches using archaic vocabulary, Dakin approaches the idea of archaic vocabulary with a different slant. Her approach helps students ease their apprehension about unfamiliar words and they learn new words at the same time. Now for a light bulb moment: stage directions. I’m sad to say that I never spent much time with my students on stage directions. Maybe a quick aside here and there, explaining a specific stage direction if someone asked. But I never actually planned anything with stage directions in mind and I quickly realized the fault in my ways when I read Dakin’s ideas for teaching students about stage directions. This is such an important aspect of reading a play and Dakin will walk you through the process of teaching students functional vocabulary.

2. Vocabulary again. Specifically character vocabulary and tone. Analyzing and discussing characters, generating character vocabulary, discussing tone. Amazing. I love having a tone wall in the classroom and Dakin’s ideas for teaching tone – and how to read lines with different tones – will help you bring more “tone” to your classroom (add words to the wall!) and bring more depth and thoughtful analysis to your class discussions as you read.

3. Prereading. This was another light bulb moment for me. While I had created some halfway successful prereading activities with my students, I had never created anything as deliberate and carefully constructed as Dakin suggests in her book and I immediately saw the value in spending this learning time BEFORE starting the play. Another bonus? Many of Dakin’s ideas can easily be adapted and used with other challenging works of literature. Even better.

Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults by Mary Ellen Dakin

Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults by Mary Ellen Dakin

So “Character Bookmarks” are one idea for prereading a play. (Yes, there are other ideas too!) This is perfect with Romeo and Juliet when students are starting out in unfamiliar territory and organizing the characters into Capulets and Montagues on a bookmark will help them not only with starting the play but also as they continue to read. This tool will help them make sense of the play and keep track of characters. I have taught Catch-22 many times with Advanced Placement Literatuare & Composition and I cannot imagine it without a character bookmark. The students find the character bookmark to be immensely helpful. I also share with my students my own experience reading Anna Karenina. I decided to read it several years ago on my own and I knew that I would need help. I spent significant time online reading about characters and creating my own character bookmark. The time spend reading and organizing was very helpful as I started the novel and I referred to my rather large (even folded in half!) bookmark throughout the entire novel, adding notes and page numbers as I read. This tool made it possible for me to read a difficult novel, just as the book marks help our students make sense of Shakespeare.

4. Writing. Annotating. I love annotating. And I believe that we often do not spend enough time teaching our students how to annotate. It takes time and modeling. But teaching students to annotate as they read, ask questions and make notes (connections!) is always time well spent. Dakin outlines ideas for helping students specifically annotate Shakespeare. Sticky notes, copies of texts, close reading. How do you construct an effective close reading of a passage? Mary Ellen Dakin can help you with that process. All of this adds up to TIME WELL SPENT.

5. New ideas. Storyboarding. Reading in companies. Multiple readings of characters. It is impossible to read this book and not be inspired to try new ideas. Dakin outlines so many new ideas – and focuses on ideas that will help bring the full range of Shakespeare to students (the eyes and the ears!) that you will be inspired and energized to bring out storyboards, draw images, and bring performances to a new level (no reading of the script with eyes looking downward!).

6. And finally, a chapter on sound. Shakespeare is meant to be heard, and Mary Ellen Dakin will take you through the process of exploring sound with your students. This is not always easy and quite often neglected.  What is a sound inventory? How do we tell “sound stories?” What about how a word sounds? And meter? Rhyme, alliteration, puns, repetition, irony, assonance? How can we effectively teach sound?

There are so many reasons to like this book and these are a few. I promise that if you spend time with this book, you will have your own light bulb moments. It is all time well spent! Especially for you fans of the Bard out there! Now go forth and read!

One more great piece of news is that after you are finished reading this book, Mary Ellen Dakin has another book for you to read!  Reading Shakespeare Film First was published in 2012. Stay tuned because I will be reviewing it soon and adding a new post!

Do you have any favorite Shakespeare resources? Have you read Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults? Please share!








Picture Books: Not Just for Kids

Picture books can be an excellent source of accessible reading material for 6-12th graders. Yes, even high schoolers. In fact, I promise that if you bring in a picture book to read to your high school students, you will have their undivided attention. Believe me, they will be curious about what you are about to read.

i_never_knew_your_nameThere are numerous picture books designed specifically for older kids. Just check out I Never Knew Your Name by Sherry Garland, which deals with teen suicide, or The House That Crack Built by Clark Taylor and Jan Thompson, which deals with drug use. I will never forget one of my student’s reactions when I read The House That Crack Built to one of my 11th grade classes. Ray, a notorious trouble maker in and out of the classroom, looked at me with wide eyes after I finished and said, “Dude, Mrs. Warmerdam, you can’t read that book to little kids. That would not be cool.” He was right; even though it was a picture book, it was not a book that was meant for young children. Ray’s comment started a lively discussion of the book’s intended audience, the significance of the pictures, and ultimately, the message of the book. This discussion led right into the informational reading that I had for my kids on drug trafficking and the position paper that I wanted them to write. Reading the picture book as an introduction “hooked” my students and they were immediately engaged with the next set of readings and writing assignment.

Picture books also work well in text sets for several reasons. The students in your classes are probably reading at a variety housethatcrackbuiltof levels. You may have mainstream special education students and second language learners who struggle with challenging reading material. Picture books are accessible for them; it is something that they can read independently in a text set (What is a text set? Read more about it!). It also serves to give them background information on the topic or theme, and it ultimately helps them understand the other reading that you are using in the text set. The picture books also provide an excellent source of “text connections.” Because they are accessible, students are able to connect the ideas in the picture books with themselves, with the other readings and even the “text-to-world” connections that ultimately help their reading comprehension. Picture books will not “dumb down” your curriculum; instead, picture books will help enhance the reading and the material you are using and help your students understand the complex topics that they need to master.

For more on using picture books, you can check out The Power of Picture Books in Teaching Math & Science by Lynn Columba. You may also want to read The Power of Picture Books in Teaching Math, Science & Social Studies Grades PreK-8th, also by Lynn Columba.

Also, you can go to for more resources on picture books, including reviews.

Following are some picture books that you may find useful for your subject area. Note that these lists are far from complete; there are hundreds and hundreds of picture books that can be used in junior high and high school classrooms – far too many for me to list here. The following books are those that I own, have used in my classroom, or are books that colleagues have used in their classrooms.


The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland by Cindy Neuschwanderonegrainrice
Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone by Cindy Neuschwander
Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neschwander
One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor Pinzces
A Remainder of One by Elinor Pinzces
Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Maisaichiro Anno
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
What’s Your Angle, Pythagorus? A Math Adventure by Julie Ellis
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi

Social Science

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (African American)
White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman (African American)schoolisnotwhite
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (African American)
The Wall by Eve Bunting (Vietnam War)
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland (Vietnamese refugee story)
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
The School is Not White by Doreen Rappaport (African American)
Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story by Valerie Wesley (African American)
More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby (African American/Booker T. Washington)
Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (African American)
Freedom Like Sunlight by J. Patrick Lewis (African American)
Tree of Hope by Amy Littlesugar (African American/Harlem1930s)
Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers (African American)
If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold
Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting (Holocaust)
Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Braderis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holocaust)
I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova (Holocaust)
Six Million Paper Clips: The Making a Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter Schroederrosesinmycarpets
Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestlandt (Holocaust)
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco (Holocaust)
Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti (Holocaust)
The Roses in my Carpets by Rukhsana Khan (Afghanistan refugee story)
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting (Los Angeles riots)
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai (Japanese Internment)
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida (Japanese Internment)
So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting (Japanese Internment)
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki (Japanese Internment)
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki (World War II)
Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo


The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky
The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker (a longer book)
A Drop of Water by Walter Wick
A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney
Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker
Water Dance by Thomas Locker
Mountain Dance by Thomas Locker
Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art by Thomas Locker
A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry
The Shaman’s Tale: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry
Nature’s Green Umbrella by Gail Gibbons
Planet Earth/Inside Out by Gail Gibbons
Weather Forecasting by Gail Gibbons
Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll by Franklyn Branleynaturesgreenumbrella
The Moon Seems to Change by Franklyn Branley
The Planets in Our System by Franklyn Branley
Germs Make Me Sick by Melvin Berger
A Drop of Blood by Paul Showers
Gravity is a Mystery by Franklyn Branley
What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn Branley
The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David

Do you have any favorite picture books for the classroom? If you do, please share!

Reading Strategies: What is a Text Set?

So what exactly is a text set? And can it be used in the secondary classroom?

I first encountered text sets while sitting in the classroom of my master teacher. It was my first year of teaching and needless to say, I was overwhelmed. The conversation was centered on my American Literature 11th grade English class. We were supposed to follow the textbook, in chronological order, meaning that we started the year with very challenging literature (Puritans! Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God! The Crucible! The Scarlet Letter! Oh my!) and many of my students were not ready for such difficult texts. At this point in time, I was definitely in the “consciously incompetent” phase of initial teaching – that is to say that I was fully aware of the fact that I did not have a clue how to teach these difficult texts. I distinctly remember my master teacher (a gifted teacher and reading specialist) asking me “What are the barriers for your students? What do they need to know in order to read this material?” And she gently guided me toward the idea of text sets. The first text set that I ever created was centered on the idea of the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism, to accompany our reading of The Crucible.

bookmagstackIn her book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?, Cris Tovani writes about the importance of connecting students with accessible texts and how text sets can be used in the single subject classroom. Text sets are not new in the elementary world. But they are not as common in the secondary classroom, and Tovani points out that text sets are a great opportunity for several reasons. This textbook alternative connects students with a wide variety of texts, introduces different options for discovering new material, new viewpoints, creates as opportunity to connect with current events, and helps students build background knowledge. Tovani writes:  “Text sets are not designed to catch kids who aren’t reading. Text sets are designed to give reluctant readers a choice of interesting and accessible text. They provide opportunities for learning and practicing reading strategies.”

A good text set will include a variety of information and reading in different structures (informational, narrative, poetry, etc), different lengths, but will maintain a common theme or topic. The idea is to help your students get information, make valuable text connections, and achieve a deeper understanding of the selected topic or theme.

There are numerous ways to use a text set in your classroom. I have been in some elementary classrooms where the teachers have multiple text sets available to all students at all times and they are in constant motion! It’s amazing. Here are some ideas for how I like to use a text set in the secondary classroom. When creating a text set, there are several criteria that I like to keep in mind.

4-5 pieces of text. More than 5 pieces of text can be overwhelming for students. Keep this in mind as you will need to allow reading time in class for the text set. I think 4 is a good minimum as you want to include enough pieces to allow for multiple text-to-text connections. Of course these numbers are flexible and a lot depends on what you are including in your text set. If you have more than one visual piece, you may want to include 6 or 7 pieces. On the other hand, if you have a lot of text for students to read, you may want to stick with only 4 pieces of text. Or you may want to create multiple text sets (5 or 6 sets, each different with 20-30 different texts total) and rotate them through your class over a two week period. This could be especially practical and useful when tackling a subject such as World War II in a history class.

Visual. This may be a picture or a piece of artwork related to the theme or topic of your text set. This visual may speak to your student artists, who are able to make a connection and discuss the artwork. Another important point to including a visual in your text set is the absence of language. Asking the students to describe and discuss this visual will help them develop their own academic language. This process can be illuminating for students who have not previously thought about the possibility of analyzing and discussing art. It is one more way for students to make a connection.

Poetry. Can you find a poem on the same subject or theme of your text set? You may have some poets in your classroom who would love to read a poem. You may also have some students who are wary of poetry and discussing a poem is an intimidating idea. In both cases, it is important for students to have multiple exposures to poetry and yet another opportunity for discussion and connections.

A short, simple narrative. This may be achieved by including a picture book or short story. A narrative structure can be very important. I think this is especially important if you are asking students to read a significant amount of informational text. If you are a content area teaching who is creating a text set on a topic that will complement your primary textbook, this may be especially important for a successful text set. Reading a challenging chapter in a biology book is intimidating for many students. Reading a simple story of a virus may give them just the right window to make a connection and help them understand some of the academic language used to discuss viruses in their high school level textbook. Remember, a good text set includes reading at a variety of levels. This isn’t meant to take away from your challenging reading or “dumb down” your curriculum; this is meant to enhance your topic and give your students information at multiple levels so they can engage with the reading. (Curious about more picture books for text sets? Read more about Picture Books, Not Just for Kids!)

Possibilities for text sets:

  • Poetry
  • Short Stories
  • Vignettes
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Picture books
  • Biographical information/short biographies
  • Maps
  • Photos
  • Artwork/Paintings
  • Song lyrics
  • Journals or letters
  • Brochures
  • Charts or graphs
  • Almanacs

Another question that I hear from teachers is “can I use a text set if I’m not an English teacher?” The answer is yes, absolutely! I have seen text sets used in high school science classrooms, history, home economics, business, computers, foreign languages, even math – the possibilities are endless! In working with content area teachers and English language arts teachers, I have read teacher-created text sets on a wide array of topics and themes, including

  • Ancient Greece
  • Marketing
  • Civil War
  • Japanese Internment Camps (to accompany reading of Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne & James Houston)
  • Homelessness and mental health (to accompany reading of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls)
  • Solar System
  • Inventions of Mesopotamia
  • Roman Gladiators and the Colosseum
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Race and identity
  • Ecology of rainforests

As you can see, the possibilities truly are endless. Text sets can be used to help students connect with accessible texts and so much more. It is possible to use text sets as jumping off points for reading a new novel, group projects, essay assignments, journal writing, presentations – be creative in your classroom! How can you use a text set?

Have you used a text set in your secondary classroom? Please share!

Reading Rules, by Cynthia Lord

One of my new quests is to find excellent books for our Young Ladies Book Club. So I must spend time browsing online for books – one of my favorite activities. Lucky me!

by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord

I discovered Rules by Cynthia Lord and immediately felt that this was a book my daughters (and our Young Ladies Book Club!) should read – right away! Most of the girls in the group are in 3rd and 4th grade, with two in 2nd grade this year. It means we have a variety of reading levels in one group and that can add to the challenge of finding a good book for discussion that is accessible to all. I thought that Rules could prove to be a challenging book, but one that is worth the challenge. At its core, Rules is a book about family, unconditional love between siblings, making mistakes, and growing up in a world filled with amazing, interesting, and unique people.

In searching online, the reading level of Rules comes up as everything between 3rd and 7th grade. The concepts of the book can be challenging, especially for young readers who have limited experience with special needs kids or autism in general. Be prepared for a lot of questions about autism. Here is what I found – my nine year old sailed through the book without too much trouble, but she had a few questions about autism and she needed a bit of help of understanding a couple of Catherine’s rules. My younger daughter needed even more help reading, and she had a lot of questions about autism and what it means to be a special needs child. I realized that what we were missing was a text set (What is a text set?) dedicated to helping the girls understand more about autism, special needs, and what day-to-day life is like for kids with disabilities. One of the girls in our group has a younger sister with Williams Syndrome (a rare neurodevelopmental disorder – for more about Williams Syndrome read this information at Wililams Syndrome Association). Because of Anna’s experience with her sister, she has a different perspective and a great deal of knowledge about life with a special needs sibling. Two girls in our book club have a cousin with Asperger Syndrome (for more about Asperger Syndrome, read here). Each girl will bring her own experiences to the book club discussion but the text set will help all of us with some important background knowledge and provide for some excellent opportunities to make text connections as we read.

In searching for a variety of information/reading for our text set, I found an overwhelming number of books, essays, and writing about autism and special needs. Keeping in mind that I was searching for writing that would provide different perspectives as well as provide information about children with special needs, I selected several books to help meet those goals. There are a multitude of wonderful books to help teach children about autism and other special needs. Here are the highlights from my search:

A great, easy-to-understand and printable guide to autism (published by the Autism Society of America), including tips for how to be a friend and additional resources

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson *about two young girls, one of whom has down syndrome

In Jesse’s Shoes by Beverly Lewis

Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters with Autism by Fiona Bleach

A Friend Like Simon by Kate Gaynot

Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrome? by Jude Welton

Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrome? by June Welton

Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrom? A Guide for Friends and Family  by June Welton

Views from Our Shoes: Growing Up With A Brother or Sister With Special Needs by Donald Meyer *a collection of short essays

Our book club discussion is approaching and I am excited to hear what the girls think of the book. I am anxious to hear their thoughts on Catherine, David, and Jason. I will add an update soon!

Update 12/14: I am pleased to report that all of the girls really liked the book. They particularly loved Jason’s book of words (and they had a great time brainstorming words and images that could be added to his binder!). I am also particularly pleased that the girls were quite optimistic about the future for these characters. Even though they felt that Ryan was a bully and did not understand David, they were positive that Catherine and Kristy would be able to help Ryan learn more about David and that Ryan would be more understanding in the future. The girls made many text connections and discussed the “lessons” they learned from the book, particularly about being friends and understanding others. Great success!

What books have you read about children with autism and other special needs? Have you read Rules? Or other similar books?

The Reading Corner

A Book Blog for Teachers, Readers & Writers

Reading to the Core

Just another site

Read, Reflect, Write, and Share.

Learning about reading and writing in a high school English classroom.



The Classroom Bookshelf

Books, teaching, writing....and more books


A meeting place for a world of reflective writers.

Pernille Ripp

Teacher. Author. Creator. Speaker. Mom.

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

English's Education

Books, teaching, writing....and more books

NCTE High School Matters

Books, teaching, writing....and more books

Teacher Tech

Alice Keeler

Kylene Beers

Reader. Writer. Teacher. Speaker. Current Cancer Fighter

Classroom as Microcosm

Siobhan Curious Says: Teachers are People Too

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