Predicting “Enemy Pie”

With my 1st grade students, I recently worked on the concept of prediction based on visual and text evidence as a comprehension strategy. We discussed the importance of making predictions while reading and supporting those predictions with evidence, including the book’s cover, illustrations, or specific text passages. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson served as our mentor text. We studied the book cover, then took a picture walk, and read aloud the story, stopping after certain passages to make predictions based on visual or text evidence.


If you are familiar with this story about friendship, I stopped reading just after the narrator tells his new friend, Jeremy, to not eat the enemy pie. “Jeremy, don’t eat it! It’s bad pie! I think it’s poisonous or something!” My question for the kids, “What do you predict is going to happen next? Will Jeremy eat the pie, or will he listen to his friend? What is your evidence?”

The students completed an organizer:


They then used the BookCreator app for iPad to write, illustrate, and audio record their prediction and evidence.


We then exported the student creations as movie files to our school Vimeo account and uploaded to each student’s blogfolio.




ChatterPix: Creative Assessment in the Lower Grades


I recently came across a really fun and free iOs app called ChatterPix by Duck Duck Moose. The app allows you to take a photo, add an animated mouth, and then record up to 30 seconds of audio to make the image talk. Here’s the official description:

ChatterPix Description

Our Kindergarten students recently studied panda bears, so the simplicity of ChatterPix seemed the perfect tool to allow the students to share their learning. With their Kindergarten teacher, Arlene Yegelwel, each student had created a panda picture made of pieces of black construction paper and cotton balls. To create the ChatterPix, students took a photo of their panda bears, with their fingers drew a line across the image to create the panda’s mouths, and then recorded what they had learned about panda bears in class. The final products were saved to the Camera Roll and then uploaded to our school’s Vimeo account. This was a super fun and easy way to assess learning while practicing oral language skills.

I also used ChatterPix with our 1st grade students to record a Chanukkiah song. In Hebrew class, the kids had created Chanukkiahs from pasta in various shapes and sizes glued to wooden boards and then spray-painted in gold. Using the ChatterPix app, the students each took a photo of their creations, drew a line for an imaginary mouth, and recorded a song. While I don’t speak Hebrew, the students’ teacher was able to use the recordings as a quick assessment of student pronunciation and usage of word endings indicating feminine and masculine word endings.

A couple of days ago two of my 4th grade students were playing around with ChatterPix. One of them had heard about it from her younger sibling. I love that the app is not only simple to use but allows students to be creative–as well as inspires students to have a go at it for extracurricular purposes. And for teachers, it is definitely an easy assessment tool.

Retelling “The Paper Bag Princess”

My first grade students orally retold The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch (1980). It’s a fun, classic fairy tale with a twist–featuring a princess who rescues a rather arrogant prince. Retelling is such a great exercise to reinforce understanding of sequence. But it’s not just about organizing and describing events, it’s also about vocabulary and language skills.


I really enjoyed this project. I believe allowing the kids to use the retelling rope, holding each “disc” as they were organizing their thoughts, really helped them. Some of the retellings were more fluid than others, some more expressive than others. I loved seeing my students’ personalities on display!

We began by reading and discussing the book. We then spent a considerable amount of time identifying the various story elements (setting, characters, problem/solution, beginning, middle, and end) before completing a graphic organizer.

Template- Story Retelling Map

For some fun and also to introduce the idea that stories should be read and told with expression, we listened to the story read by the author himself on Tumblebooks. If you have access to the database, I encourage you to listen to Munsch’s very expressive and highly engaging reading.

To aid student retelling, I created retelling ropes to serve as visual cues. Feel free to use the template below to create your own. Or, if you have some extra funds, you could also purchase retelling ropes.

Template- Retelling ElementsTemplate- Retelling Elements 2

Using a rope, I modeled retelling the story for the students. Then the kids practiced in groups of three (pairing the more advanced kids with the lower kids really helped) before I recorded each student.

eBooks: Step-by-Step


Young readers typically focus on fiction books. Since a couple of my first graders were showing interest in nonfiction books, however, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the whole class to this genre and take the opportunity to also teach them about nonfiction text features and some basic research steps along the way.

To jump start, I randomly distributed a number of nonfiction books (emergent and fluent reader texts, 0.8 to 4.5 AR book levels) on each of our four group tables and asked students to look through the books, noting any differences to fiction books. I then showed them on the projector screen Big Cats (by DK Publishers) from the website. We looked through selected pages and identified various text features, including the table of contents, headings, captions, diagram, and labels, discussing the purpose of each.

Since one of my goals was to introduce very basic research skills to this class, we discussed what research is and established that good research starts with a “Wonder” question. We brainstormed a list of questions students may wonder about an animal.

Each student chose a book about an animal on their reading level. They then thought of a question they were wondering about their animal and wrote it in the organizer I had created.

My Animal Report

We spent the next two sessions gathering information from the texts to complete the multi-page organizers. Students drew the animal and labeled it. They drew a picture of its habitat and another of its diet. Then they noted at least four facts about their animal. By far the hardest part was for students to compile a five-word glossary. I decided to model this process by reading a section in a book (projected on the screen) and identifying words that provide information about the animal. This process forced students to read their texts closely to not only identify words (or phrases) but also to figure out their meaning.

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I deliberately approached this project step-by-step rather than let each student work at their own speed. So for each section of the organizer, we discussed the type of information to complete and I either modeled or showed examples. Then it was the students’ turn before we moved on to the next part of the organizer. Those students who completed their sections first worked with classmates who benefited from some help or simply encouragement.

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It’s never too early to introduce students to the concept of ethical use of information. So one section of the organizer required the “Source of Information”. We discussed plagiarism and the importance of citing information sources. For our purposes, students noted author names and book titles on their organizers.

Source Info

My 1st graders have experience using various iPad apps, including BookCreator, which they’ve used to create fiction books in the Fall. For this project, I wanted students to again use BookCreator to show their learning. Since it is impossible to create drawings in BookCreator, I decided to introduce the class to ExplainEverything, an app my daughter’s been using for her school work. Its a versatile tool for creating and can also be used for screencasting.

In all, each student created four images: An image for their cover page, a diagram of their animal complete with labels and a picture each of the animal’s habitat and diet. Once finished, the drawings were saved as image files to the iPad’s Camera Roll.

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The next step was to import the images into BookCreator app for iPad and transfer the text from the graphic organizer to BookCreator.  We spent several sessions on this. Each time, I emphasized the need to make sure all required elements are included and sentences have proper punctuation and capitalization. Invented spelling was just fine.

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Our last session was a “quality check”: going through the book to check for all required elements (cover page, table of contents, wonder question and answer, diet, habitat, diagram with labels, facts, glossary, source, headings) as well as punctuation and capitalization.

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I was a bit worried that this project would drag on too long for the students to remain engaged, but they displayed an incredible work ethic throughout. They loved to learn about the animals and at all times lots of verbal sharing of information was going on. Also, I do believe that the use of iPads helped to keep them motivated. While I required that students included certain text features and information elements), it also was important for me to allow students to  exhibit their creative sides. So even though I mentioned that dark text on light background is easier on the eyes, some students just “really liked” the very light turquoise colored letters on white background, or the rather swirly fonts. Not easy on my much older eyes, but the products are definitely the students’!  I believe if we want students to take ownership of their learning and products, they must be allowed such simple freedoms.

The outcome of the digital nonfiction books is incredible! I am so impressed with my 1st graders’ skills. I feel very lucky to be working with such a creative group of kids. Each of them worked hard on their projects (a total of 13 45-minute sessions) to produce quality books about their research. Their books speak for themselves!

Real Author, Engaged Learning


My first graders and I had our very first author Skype visit! Now we are hooked! We had the great pleasure to visit with children’s book author Ame Dyckman, who published her first book last year, Boy + Bot. A second book is scheduled to come out this year, and she is already working on her third publication. Boy + Bot is a simple story about friendship and differences. Many of the beautiful  illustrations are wordless, but brought to life by Dan Yaccarino’s art. Ame gave freely of her time, a generous 30 minutes, visiting with us in Florida from her living room in New Jersey.

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To prep the students for our visit, I showed them the book trailer and then read the story. The students quickly articulated the theme: Friendship and being different. Several students listed how their friends are different from them, but are still great friends.

Then we brainstormed possible questions to ask Ame. Our curious students generated a long list, ranging from “What was your inspiration?” to “How long did it take you to write the book?” to “How do you publish a book?” to “Where do you live?” to “How many pets do you have?” and “What is your favorite sport?” Each student then chose a question and wrote it on a piece of paper. To avoid duplication, we went around the room and replaced those questions that were repetitive.

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During the Skype visit, two of our students introduced the class and then each student asked their question. Ame was so engaging and entertaining, generating more and more questions and comments! If we hadn’t kept her for 30 minutes already, our students would have gladly visited with her some more.

One student asked Ame to read a story and much to everyone’s delight, she read Bark, George by Jules Feiffer, one of her favorites. To top it all off, Ame had sent a package with Boy + Bot bookmarks, stickers, and bracelets — enough for each student in the class and extra for the library.


My take-away: Skyping with Ame Dyckman was a perfect introduction to virtual visits with authors. Students were engaged and inspired. This was an authentic event, telling students that authors are indeed real people who work hard at their craft to produce beautiful stories.

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Thank you, Ame!