Teaching Theme with Picture Books

Theme is such a tough concept for kids to understand.  I use picture books to help my students identify the different themes and then use evidence to prove they have chosen a theme that works for the book.  I just found a picture book that was a total HIT with my students!  The book is, Barnacle is Bored, by Jonathan Fenske.


This story is so cute!  Barnacle is so bored just hanging off the dock all day and night.  He is envious of a little fish that gets to do all these fun things…until he gets eaten by an eel!  Yikes!


We read the book aloud and then charted the different themes from the book.  My kids came up with a great list, including:

  • Be careful what you wish for.
  • Be grateful for what you have.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Focus on the positives.
  • Things are not always what they seem.


Students then worked on creating their own theme poster with examples from the book.  This lesson was a huge hit (and the book is really popular in our classroom, too)!


New Use for Picture Books!

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of picture books in my classroom and around my house that don’t get that much use anymore.  But, I found a GREAT way to use them!  I stumbled across this fantastically creative book on the Scholastic site.


This funny little book is really quite original and amazing.  It is an edited picture book, with added pictures, words, side bars, etc.  The pages look like this:


So, I gave my students some unused and no longer loved picture books from my own kid’s collection and then bought a few more from the used bookstore in my neighborhood. Today, each student got a black sharpie marker and a book.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with tomorrow!  You can get your own copy of the book, Battle Bunny, here.

Why not let your students upgrade some picture books?

Testing Fun! (Yes, I said FUN!)

Testing is an inevitable part of every year, especially for teachers in grade three and up.  I want this week (or if you are in my state these weeks) to be as low stress for my students as possible.  We take six total state tests, two in reading, two in math, and two in either science or social studies (depending on the grade level).

Each year, I come up with a testing theme.  We have done Rock Star, Survivor, and this year we are going with an Outer Space/Alien theme.  We start by having students color and fill out a testing motivational poster.


We hang these posters up outside the classroom for the duration of the testing period.  After each day of testing, students get a fun item.  For this theme, we included inflatable aliens, space pencils and erasers, shuttle pens, and more.  We found a TON of fun and inexpensive items at Oriental Trading and on Amazon.  Click here for the FREE Alien/Space Testing Pack!

What do you do during your testing week(s)?

Author Visit 2016

We just had the most amazing Author Visit at my school!  We had the author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.  She was so wonderful!  The students were simply in awe of her all day long.  We have been reading many of her books in class and many students have read even more on their own.


She gave a presentation to each grade level and then stopped by each classroom for questions.  If you have not had an author visit at your school, I highly recommend them.  They are a great way to get students really excited about reading!


I know students will be talking about Margaret Peterson Haddix for a long time, as well as reading all of her books!  A total success!

Vocabulary Activity for Any Subject Area

Are you looking for a way to get your students to learn important vocabulary words?  I am always looking for new ideas!  My kids really like this one!


I printed out pages with the vocabulary words on each one.  Students wrote the definition of the word (each pair had a word related to the science topic), then created 4-5 circles of examples of the word.  So they got the definition and examples of the word all in one lesson!


They turned out great and students seem to be able to remember the definitions AND give examples of each!  What ways do you reinforce vocabulary in your lessons?  Share some ideas in the comment section!

Totem Pole Tales

We learn about the different Native American regions in social studies.  In addition to learning about the different aspects of the region, we also do an art and writing project.  For the Northwest Coast Indians, we read the book, “Totem Tale”, and created our own totem poles from a sheet of paper.

  Click on the book cover to grab a copy!


Once the totem poles were created, we wrote totem tales based on the poles.  We edited the tales, focusing on sentence beginnings, using descriptive details, and proper capitalization and punctuation.  Since we need practice typing, we types these stories and then learned how to embed clip art (just right click on the picture, hit “wrap text”, and then “square”).  Works like a charm!


The students were so proud of their work!  I have to say, they are awesome!  I have created a Northwest Coast pack, if you are interested in purchasing it, click here.  You can still do the project without it!


Why not try some totem pole writing today?

Adopt an Animal Project (Research, Writing, and Science)

I am always looking for a way to get the biggest BANG for my buck in the classroom!  Integrating the various subject areas whenever possible is a great way to do this!  The very first writing project I do with my class each year is our Adopt an Animal project with our local zoo.  Each year my local zoo offers something called a “Spotlight Adoption”.  This means that for a $65 fee you can adopt one of six animals and get a certificate, information sheet, and a stuffed animal to display in your classroom.  I start the project by introducing the class to these six animals.  Click here for the link to my local zoo’s page.


I then got a few informational books for each of these six animals.  Students begin the project by choosing their favorite animal from the six shown.  First students write nine facts about their animal.  They then must write six sentences using “Bold Beginnings” about the animal.  I use the Bold Beginnings chart from Really Good Stuff.  Once they have generated the nine facts and the six students, they will have a lot of the core writing for their persuasive essay done.  Students must use this pre-writing to then write a persuasive essay about which animal they think our class should adopt.  You can grab the packet I made for my own students from Dropbox here!

Once the essays are written, I have the students meet in their animal groups, so all of the giraffes are at one table, all of the rhinos are at another table, and so on.  In their animal groups students share their essays with one another and write one shared essay (usually grabbing parts from all of the essays) and an animal poster each.  The animal poster layout can be found here.


The groups then work to create a presentation for the class.  The goal of the presentation is to convince (or persuade) their classmates to vote for their animal.  Once all of the presentations are given, students vote by secret ballot.  Once an animal has been chosen, the students complete an informational report about the animal as well as a letter each to the zookeeper in order to ask questions, etc.

This one project combines research, science, and many different types of writing (persuasive, informative, and letter writing) and presentation skills as well as speaking & listening!  Talk about integration!  I can’t wait to see which animal we will adopt this year!

*As an added extension, students can be the ones who bring in money to pay for the animal’s adoption fee (tally, count, keep track, etc.).   I hope you try this project (or something like it) this year!