Pairing Novels with Picture Books ~ Flora and Ulysses and The Secret Life of Squirrels

We read and use novels for our reading instruction.  As a way to teach additional skills and to integrate writing into this reading instruction, we often use picture books that are related to the novel we are reading.  We will be reading the book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DeCamillo next.  This is such a great book.  Not only is it a Newbery Winner, the topic is so kid friendly and easy to read!  The kids will LOVE this book, I am sure!


Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo.

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Timesbest-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

One of the picture books we are going to use with this novel is, The Secret Life of Squirrels, by Nancy Rose.


Adorable squirrels as you’ve never seen them!

You may think you know what squirrels do all day…but Mr. Peanuts is no ordinary squirrel. Instead of climbing tress, he plays the piano. (“Moonlight Sonutta” is his favorite.) Instead of scurrying through the woods, he reads books (such as A Tail of Two Cities). But everything is more fun with company, so Mr. Peanuts writes a letter to Cousin Squirrel and invites him for a visit!
Featuring candid photographs of wild squirrels in handcrafted, homemade miniature settings, this irresistible book is sure to surprise and delight readers and animal lovers of every age!
We will use this picture book as a mentor text for a writing project.  Students will write their own “Secret Life of ____________” pieces on the animal of their choice.  I think they will really get into this writing project.  They will need to do some additional research about the animal they have chosen to use, so we will need to use our Chromebooks or non-fiction books from the library.
I am also planning on having the students write informational reports on squirrels.  I found a great book to get for each of the six tables as a resource.  Here it is…

Did you know that a groundhog is really a type of squirrel? That squirrels control their body temperature with their tails? That most squirrels have yellow-tinted eye lenses that work like sunglasses to reduce glare? That tree squirrels can turn their hind feet completely around when climbing down a tree head-first? In Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell unveil the fascinating world of one of the “most watched” mammals on the planet.

The diversity of squirrels is astounding. There are 278 species that inhabit all continents except Antarctica and Australia—varying in size from the lumbering 18-pound gray marmot to the graceful pygmy flying squirrel that is smaller than most mice. In many parts of the world they readily share human habitats, joining us for lunch in a city park, raiding our bird feeders, and sneaking into college dorm rooms through open windows. Reviled as pests or loved as an endearing amusement, squirrels have played important roles in trade, literature, and mythology.

Thorington and Ferrell cover every aspect of this diverse animal family, from the first squirrels of 36 million years ago to the present day. With over one hundred photographs and an intuitive question-and-answer format, this authoritative and engaging guide sheds light on a common mammal that is anything but commonplace.

I have created a novel unit for the book.  I am currently working on adding a writing section to the unit for the writing elements, so stay tuned!
*Click on any of the pictures to go to the links to purchase the books and/or the unit!
We will also be doing comic strips and we will be working on Superhero STEM Challenges, as well!
I know the kids will love trying out these Superhero STEM challenges!  I have been working out some additional ideas as well, like inventing our own superheroes, etc.
Do you have any other great ideas to use with this novel?  Please share in the comments section!

Two Voice Poetry with The City of Ember


I love doing poetry with my students.  I believe writing poetry makes them better writers and readers.  We keep poetry notebooks and we write poetry 2-3 times a week.  One of my favorite types of poems are two-voice poems.  We are currently reading the book, “The City of Ember”, by Jeanne DuPrau and we created a city-scape of the gray/black buildings in Ember with watercolors and watercolor pencils on half of an 8.5 x 14 sheet of paper.  On the other half of the paper, students create a picture of a brightly colored object of their choice.


Students then write two separate eight-line poems, one for each of the pictures they have created.  These separate poems are written on blank 4 x 6 index cards.  We add borders in thin markers to each of the cards keeping with the color scheme of the painting and the poem.


Next, students write the combined poem by alternating the lines of the two separate poems.  We write the merged poem on a sheet of white cardstock paper.  The students place the four items onto a background sheet of 12 x 18 construction paper.  Once they are compiled, I laminated them so they would stay together.  They look great in the hallway!


Students love reading their two-voice poems aloud!  We read them many different ways, including: with a partner, on their own, as a table group, and even as a whole classroom.  They loved these poems and it was incredible how well the poems worked together even though they were so different separately!


Why not try two-voice poetry in your classroom?  Use just about ANY topic!

Statistical Analysis with m&m’s ~ So much fun!

We just finished a math project that really caught the kids’ attention.  We did a statistical analysis of standard size bags of m&m’s candies.  The company claims that there are a certain percentage of each color of m&m’s in each standard sized bag.  We used this packet to test the claim and they turned out amazing!




We compiled all of our work into a spiral bound report.  They look great hanging up in the room.  Here is the packet on TpT if you are interested (it is $4).


The packet covers pictographs, bar graphs, circle graphs, data landmarks, converting fractions to decimals to percents, and more!  This is a great way to make a real-world connection with math!

Found Poetry Activity with Hatchet (or any other novel)


This poetry lesson turned out really amazing, and it was super simple to prep and teach.  I copied two pages from the book, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen for each student.  We used the same two pages for all of the students.  The students then skimmed through the two pages from the book and circled about 25-30 words that they liked for any reason.  They then used the circled words to write their own poem.  They turned out really great!

We also talked about how reading poetry aloud was a type of performance art.  Students then practiced reading their own poems as well as the poems of their classmates.  They loved it!

You could do this with a selection from any novel!

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Why not try found poetry writing in your classroom?

Close Reading with Classroom Magazines (Weekly Reader, Scholastic News, etc.)

What do you do with all those great classroom magazines?  Here is one idea that turned out great for us!


Most teachers subscribe to at least one classroom magazine, like Weekly Reader, Scholastic News, national Geographic Explorer, etc.  These magazines always contain interesting topics that are engaging and fun to read, but did you know they also provide a great opportunity to practice some close reading skills?

We recently read the article, “Great White Comeback”, and made these posters that showed our thinking as we read the article.  We did six separate steps on post-it notes in this lesson and each step had to be included in the poster design.  I think they turned out amazing!

Here are the steps:

1. Before you read the article, write at least three questions about it.

2. Read it! Read the article and write 3-5 interesting facts.

3. Skim it! Write at least 3 vocabulary words.

4. Find it!  What is the main idea of the article?

5. Dig Deeper!  Write a summary of one section of the article.

6. For Future Research, ask 2-3 questions about this topic you would like to find out more about.




Each poster had its own unique style!  Here is a close-up of one!  If you have any of those classroom magazines, you may want to give this activity a try!

North American Animal Reports and Animal Track Molds


As we read the book, Hatchet, we are also working on researching skills by keeping a Nature Log on the different animals Brian (the main character) encounters as he is lost in the Canadian Wilderness.  We use several different websites and books to find information about each of the animals in the nature log.  Just click on the cover picture below, to get to this item in my TPT store (it is $3).


As we were working on the nature log, students wanted to write more in-depth reports on a specific animal from North America.  We decided to make these poster reports.  We charted all of the different heading topics for the report we could think of and then students were able to pick and choose the ones that worked best for their animal and their report.  Here are some of the poster reports:

We got the Animal Track molds from Nasco.  Click here for the link to their store.   We used Crayola model magic to make the animal track molds.  I am always looking for creative ways to showcase student writing, and the poster report is always one of their favorites!








Teaching Visualization with the Novel, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

We are currently reading the book, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.  We focus on several skills while reading the book.  One of these skills is visualization.  In this book, Gary Paulsen uses a ton of descriptive writing.  We reread a section of the book and then the students had to use watercolor paints to show what they saw as they read this descriptive passage.  We discussed and compared our visualizations in table groups and then displayed them in the hallway.


They turned out pretty good for our first try!

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