Language Development: Creating an Alphabet Sounds Class Book

I love publishing ebooks with my students. My Kindergarten class just finished collaborating on an Alphabet Sounds Book where each page is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet. This idea was inspired by a tweet from Beverley Babbage. Thank you! To get us started, we read The Icky Bug Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello. We decided that the topic of our book should be food and began by brainstorming different foods for each letter of the alphabet. I helped by writing the foods on the board and by naming a food beginning with “U” and another with  “X”. The students easily named several food items for each of the other 24 letters.

This project was an opportunity to build on the work done in the classroom by promoting letter and sound identification. In the classroom, students learn that words consist of small units of sound, or phonemes. Those phonemic awareness skills are important as they allow students to decode words on their own.

We created our class book using the Book Creator app for iPad. The app makes it easy enough for students to work on separate devices. Once finished, all pages can then be combined into one book.

The requirements for each page included the name of the food, typed initial letters in both upper- and lowercase, writing the letter using the app’s pen tool, drawing a picture of the food and, finally, recording themselves saying the sound, the letter, and the word. The students enjoyed playing with the fonts and color options and are very proud of their work. They’d love to read your comments!

Now–can you name a food that starts with X?


Exploring Multimedia Literacy Skills with Animals of the Amazon Rainforest

As a school librarian, I know that it makes sense to teach multimedia literacy skills collaboratively with the classroom teacher rather than in isolation. So I have been very lucky to collaborate with my colleague, Lisa Ross, 3rd-grade classroom teacher. … Continue reading

I SPY: “The Project That Keeps on Giving”


“This project just keeps on giving” was my colleague’s, Arlene Yegelwel, comment on the second blog post about our 2nd grade students’ I SPY project. Arlene is right! After working hard on creating our class I SPY book and then on perfecting our interviewing skills as a means of project reflection, we enjoyed a fabulous virtual visit with Jean Marzollo, author of the I SPY book series, today. It was Jean’s challenge that inspired our own class book and resulted in about 20 minutes of insights and learning from the author herself.



As new experts in the process of creating an I SPY book, our students were especially curious about Ms. Marzollo’s process. They wanted to know how she finds the items for her collages (turns out most are selected by the I SPY photographer, Walter Wick), how she creates the rhymes (as this was not always easy for our kids), and why she chose a 4-beat rhythm for her riddles (we did a lot of clapping to practice). Lots of great questions!


Notice the last question about advice for improvement of our class book. No, Jean did not have any advice for us–instead she praised our book, describing it as “the best one yet”, and telling the kids that they “deserve a blue ribbon” for their work. And she asked if she could feature our work on her website.
The second grade students, their teachers, and I are both thrilled and honored. Thank you, Jean Marzollo, for inspiring us and visiting with us!

Hands On! Interviews for Peer-to-Peer Reflection

At our school, we talk a lot about “reflecting” as a means of self-assessment and thinking more deeply about learning.  Faculty write weekly reflections on our faculty Ning and our students write on their blogfolios. So in order to provide our 2nd grade students with a form of reflection after the completion of their I SPY class book, I decided to have them interview each other.

We first talked about the concept of an interview: What is it? What is it’s purpose? Rather than just letting them loose, I felt it important to provide students with some potential interview questions. So we brainstormed:


The students were paired up, provided with an iPad and a printout of the questions, and instructed to take turns interviewing each other–where the interviewer was also the videographer. The only requirement was to ask at least three of the brainstormed questions.


The interviews turned out great. Definitely listen to the kids reflecting on their learning:

Authentic Learning: Creating I SPY Books in the Library


Teacher Learning: 2nd Graders LOVE I SPY Books

It all began one Friday morning when I found my 2nd grade students sitting comfortably together in the library looking at I SPY and Where’s Waldo books. I thought: I must do something with those kids and those books! Turns out that Jean Marzollo, author of the I SPY series has a fantastic website. There she posted this challenge: A free 15- to 30-minute Skype visit with any class that creates “their own original beautiful I SPY pictures and write their own fantastic I SPY riddles.” I presented the idea to the kids and they were ready to take on this challenge!

I SPY Letter

Student Learning: Media Literacy


We spent our first lesson looking more closely at a number of different I SPY books, paying special attention to the image collages (choice of items displayed, arrangement of items, photographer perspective) and noting the beat and rhyme of the riddles.


To help students begin thinking about their individual pages for our class I SPY book, I created an organizer. It outlines the steps to create a page in the book as well as provides a space for writing the riddle. I wanted them to just brainstorm some ideas. Several kids knew exactly what items they wanted in their collages and drafted their ideas on the back of the paper. Other kids already practiced writing riddles.

Form- I SPY

Student Learning: Visual Literacy


Our next lessons were all about creating the image collages. We began by talking about what to look for when creating a collage using some examples I had prepared: not crowding the picture to make sure we can identify all items, taking the photo from a bird’s eye view, leaving a two-finger-spaces border, making sure to take a straight not crooked picture. Students used poster board as background. They were free to choose any items they found in the library for their collages. However, the big hit were the two bins of toys our 2nd grade teaching assistant, DeeAnn Wulbern, supplied on loan from her two sons.


Student Learning: Problem Solving

Some students worked in pairs, others preferred to create a collage on their own. We actually had two “gos” at this: our first attempt taught us that the white poster board worked better as background than any of the other colors. Also, its larger size provided more space for more creative creations. While I had mentioned to students that they should think of the riddles while creating their collages, none really did and were stuck when DeeAnn and I asked which items in their collages rhymed.

Finally, when the students returned the following week, we emphasized that in each collage there needed to be at least two rhyming items. Several students quickly figured out how to best approach this issue by first finding the “just right” item and then searching for something else that rhymes with it. Only then do you look for other things to add to the collage. Watch our student Talia explain the process of creating an image collage.

Once the collages were created, students took pictures using the iPad. It was not always easy holding the iPad perfectly straight and still, or even be up high enough to get the full bird’s eye view. Multiple pictures were taken and the best selected.


Student Learning: Rhythm and Rhyme

I SPY riddles are written in a 4-beats per line rhythm and an aabb rhyme format. Our students wrote 2-line riddles. To better grasp the rhythm, we listened to some examples of student-created I SPY raps on Jean Marzollo’s website. We also clapped with the beat using some example riddles. If you’d like more information on her riddles, see Jean Marzollo’s brief video on “How to Write an I Spy Riddle”. The students then got to work using the following template:


Student Learning: Digital Literacy


Each student created an I SPY page using the BookCreator app for iPad. They imported their images into the app and then typed their riddles, choosing legible fonts and using the dictionaries to ensure correct grammar and spelling–because, remember, Jean Marzollo is looking for quality work!

Teacher Learning: A Project Worth Repeating

The students and their teachers LOVED this hands-on project. It highlights the four Cs of modern learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creation. But best of all, it is an extremely engaging project. Now we are ready to visit with Jean Marzollo via Skype for her feedback on our great product. Take a look!

Download on the iBooks store:

Modern Classroom Learning: Creating and Publishing Collaborative eBooks

Photo Skitch Document

Photo Skitch Document-1

My 4th and 5th grade students finished creating ebooks on Fort Caroline, the first French settlement attempt in the New World, and the Lost Colony of Roanoke, respectively. This was a collaborative project with their social studies teacher, Ms. Shelly Zavon. Information sources were web-based, previously gathered, organized, and annotated using Diigo. Each student (5th grade) or student pair (4th grade) contributed a chapter to their class books.

1. Brainstorming. Drawing on their subject knowledge, students began by brainstorming possible chapter topics and then putting them in an order.

Untitled document - Google Drive

2. The Writing Process. Once topics were distributed, students began the pre-writing stage by selecting relevant websites, reading the information, and taking notes to organize their ideas. Students used Google Docs and each shared their documents with the classroom teacher and me. This allowed us to provide immediate feedback. In addition, some students also chose to share their work with friends in the class, seeking their input as well. It was particularly important to provide feedback to students at this pre-writing stage as some found it difficult to narrow information to their particular topic or to simply stay focused on their section of the book to avoid overlapping with another section. And we needed to make sure that facts were accurate. Since the writing process required several stages, including extracting relevant information from the sources, drafting, revising, and editing text, it took multiple sessions.

The Colonists - Google Drive

It was very important to me that students take ownership of this project. So, periodically, we checked our progress as a group. We read through all draft sections and checked facts, suggested word choice changes, provided syntax and grammar corrections, and incorporated transitions between the sections. Reading as a group had the added benefit of providing each student with a better idea on their classmates’ content.

Also, once drafts were complete, I provided each student/student pair with a checklist to ensure writing mechanics were in order. Checklists are a great form of self-assessment for the students that ensure learning and also provide them with a sense of project ownership.

eBook Checklist3. Images. Each section was to include at least one relevant image. This allowed me to teach a mini-lesson Creative Commons images and where and how to find them. For our history topics, we found Wikimedia Commons a great resource.

4. Information Ethics. Creating and publishing an ebook is a great tool to teach students digital citizenship. For this project, I introduced an adapted version of the MLA citation style. Students learned to create proper citations for both text and images. Their sections include in-text citations.

Photo Skitch Document

5. Product. Students used BookCreator app for iPad to create their books. Before importing text and images, students checked each other’s work one last time. For this purpose, I provided them with a Final Check sheet. Fifth grade students also compiled a glossary and editors were asked to identify words/phrases to include in the glossary during the final check.

eBook Final Check - Google Drive

The last step was to decide on a format for the ebooks. Each class brainstormed several options for font style, color and size as well as background color.Each also co-designed the book covers and wrote group reflections. Once their sections were finalized, they sent them to me via email as ibooks. I combined the books into one and added the Table of Contents, Works Cited,  Image Credits, and, in the case of 5th grade’s book, the Glossary pages. The final products are multi-modal, including text, audio, images, and hyperlinks.

6. Assessment. The classroom teacher and I informally assessed both the process and the quality of work through observation and reading of all documents at each drafting stage. If we felt we had to take a step back to bring the group together, we did take the time. For example, after reading all drafts, we realized that there was some repetition of information between different book sections. To ensure the students own this project, we then read all drafts as a class to identify repetitive information. We also continually provided feedback on all written work. Most students received comments/suggestions from both of us.


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For both my colleague, Shelly, and I this project was meant to not only deepen our students’ understanding of the time periods and historical events they researched by engaging them in the publication of a book, but from the beginning we wanted this to be a student-centered/student-owned project. Creating and publishing ebooks is a very involved process, but it is worth the time spent planning and then guiding the students.

This project promoted the development of multiple literacies. Students learned so many skills, from writing (organization, word choice, sentence fluency, transitions, and mechanics) to editing/proofreading to finding Creative Commons images to citing sources to collaborating to  fluently transition between multiple apps (Google Drive, browser, BookCreator) to publishing. This project incorporated all the hallmarks of modern learning: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication.

Should you decide to hop on the ebook publishing train with your students, remember to be flexible and to allow time. Each stage of the project evolved slowly in accord with their own unique tasks–research, writing, publishing. Slow but deliberate work is key. In retrospect, the project was more about the process than the end product, not only for the teachers but the students as well (read the “Project Reflection” pages in their ebooks).

My students are sharing their work with a global audience and are looking forward to receiving authentic feedback — from you! Please leave them a comment.

Click to download books from the iBooks store:

The Lost Colony of Roanoke:

Fort Caroline: The First French Settlement in the New World

Or view them below:

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!

A Big Red Flag: Citations as a Source of Concern

My 4th and 5th grade students are currently writing ebooks: 4th grade on the short-lived local French colony, Fort Caroline, and 5th grade on the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The ebooks are culminating projects based on a previous unit I did with both classes using Diigo to organize information.

We began our ebook unit by looking at several excellent student-produced, non-fiction examples I had downloaded from the iTunes store. The examples included not only text, but also student-produced images as well as audio and video recordings.The books were creative and informational and served to motivate and inspire my two classes as they have begun the process of creating their own ebooks.

Standards_cover_200pxAs beautiful as the books are, however, not one cited any information sources. As a librarian, this is a big red flag! My practice as a school librarian is guided by the common beliefs expressed in the American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (2009), one of which is:

“Learners…share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.”

In our copy-and-paste information world, how do we teach our students to use information both correctly and ethically? Most of my career, I have worked in higher education.  I have spent many hours teaching college students the various citation style formats. Even for these students, it is not an easy, nor enjoyable, task. But, as I tell my elementary students, you may not use someone else’s idea or work product and publish it as your own. It is as simple as that. Also, citations allow readers to not only access the original source, but also potentially find more information.

So I’ve spent the last two sessions with my 4th/5th graders discussing the need for crediting sources and creating citations. For this age group, I’ve decided to use a simplified Modern Language Association (MLA) format, consisting of author, web page and website titles, publication format, and date of access. (For this project, student research consists entirely of web pages.)

Reflection_ Citations_ A Source of Concern - Google Drive

As for understanding the need to cite sources, my students are savvy, already getting lots of practice as regular student bloggers. But creating formal citations is so much harder. Students have to understand not only the various elements of a citation, but also where to locate those pieces of information and then putting it all into the correct format. It is a tedious and time-consuming task, but we are getting there.

The process has been a learning challenge for my young student authors–and  their librarian alike. But as the AASL points out, source citation is a matter of ethics. I cannot wait to upload our ebooks to the iTunes store. But first, we have to master the specifics of full and proper citation! Those ebooks will be examples of not only “sharing knowledge” but also “participating ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.”

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers (

EasyBib: Free Bibliography and Citation Maker (Imagine Easy Solutions, LLC)

MLA Style (Purdue Online Writing Lab)