Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

September 18, 2016
by mnosal

Start the Writing Year with Heart Maps!

I am still basking in the glow of my 5th graders’ strong performance on the PARCC ELA test this past May. They rocked it, with a 37 percent increase in scores. As I reflect on the writing instruction we did last year, I am not remembering much in the way of “test prep.” In fact, my 5th grade colleagues and I focused on strengthening our Tier One instruction, and we started the year with heart maps and writing our hopes and dreams for 5th grade. As I get ready to work as an instructional coach in a new school this year, I am going to try to lean on the routines, structures, and resources that informed my practice for the past seven years. I just ordered Georgia Heard’s newest book from Heinemann on heart mapping. I will also be sharing my teaching experiences from Lucy Calkins and her brilliant colleagues at TCRWP. I also found that Nonie Lesaux and her colleagues at HGSE are involved in really smart work that supports academic language development.

Strong writing workshop instruction with units of study that are aligned to the standards can set the stage for joyful, rigorous learning. You just have to trust your teaching heart!


September 20, 2015
by mnosal
1 Comment

It’s Monday and I’m Reading Walter Dean Myers!


It’s the beginning of a new school year, which means new books for my classroom library. After moving a few shelves into place and rearranging some books, it is very clear to me that I need to do more curating and less hoarding  with my classroom library books(thank you, Donalyn Miller!).

This week, I am trying to find books that will appeal to my strong reader  tweens who are “on the reading cusp” between 5th and 6th grade. It’s so tricky, but I am happy to have rediscovered The Cruisers series, by the inimitable Walter Dean Myers. While it’s a little more middle school-ish than 5th grade, those kids who are pushing the middle grades envelope will be happy to have found this series.

Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

From Goodreads:

Zander and his crew are underdogs at DaVinci Academy, one of the best Gifted and Talented schools in Harlem. But even these kids who are known as losers can win by speaking up. When they start their own school newspaper, stuff happens. Big stuff. Loud stuff. Stuff nobody expects. Mr. Culpepper, the Assistant Principal and Chief Executioner, is ready to be rid of Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, and Bobbi—until they prove that their writing packs enough power to keep the peace and show what it means to stand up for a cause.

This book brings the past to the present by taking on the Civil War issues between the Union and Confederacy with a group of middle grades students who are exploring freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and identity. I think this book (and series) is a good “pre YA” transition type book. Let me know what you think!


September 13, 2015
by mnosal

It’s Monday …. “Be Who You Are”


I am a little behind on my reading, as I try to get back into the rhythm of the school year. There are so many things to do, and never enough time to get them all done! However, my priority right now is to get my classroom library stocked and ready for business. My range of 5th grade readers this year spans Fountas & Pinnell reading levels O – V. I spent the better part of my Saturday afternoon at my local indie bookshop combing the shelves for some new titles to add to my shelves. I know I wanted to get

Be Who You Are

Be Who You Are

and it might just have to be a read aloud this year. Goodreads says:


When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

I am so happy to have this book geared for my age group. It’s about time! Thank you, Alex Gino! I am eager to read and plan how to work with George in my classroom. That’s all, this week!

September 12, 2015
by mnosal

Settling Into the New School Year!

We just finished the second week of school, and things are off and running! We are busy establishing routines, getting to know one another, and building stamina for reading and writing. Next week’s work is writing I Am From poems, which I will share more about next week.

Our class puzzle is a precept from A.A. Milne: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

5th grade classroom door

5th grade classroom door

The year is off to a good start. Stay tuned!

September 11, 2015
by mnosal

In Remembrance for Poetry Friday

It's Friday, what poem are you reading?

It’s Friday, what poem are you reading?

Life on the Deckle Edge has this week’s roundup. Thank you, Robyn!

It’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since 9/11. For this week’s poem, I’ve chosen one from poet Mattie Stepanek, from his book, Hope Through Heartsongs. I love this poem for so many reasons, and especially because it was written by a child and so appropriate to share with children when talking about this day. Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers has some very developmentally appropriate and thoughtful ways to mark this day in classrooms. Here’s Mattie’s poem:


For Our World


We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.


Mattie Stepanek 9/12/2001

Have a peaceful day.

August 26, 2015
by mnosal

Making Space for Reading

It’s almost Thursday, and I can’t believe I missed #IMWAYR this week! Time is flying! My school finished two weeks of professional development last Thursday, and this week we are “off” before school starts on Monday. Anyone who teaches knows that we are never really “off” the week before school starts! I have been in my classroom every day, getting ready for the year ahead.

Thanks to a dear colleague, I made some much needed changes in the layout of my room. After moving big and small pieces of furniture, my technology, and my “teaching space,” I am almost ready to do some of the day to day planning. First up is my read aloud planning. I love to think about my book choices and how they will spark strong conversations, gentle or not-so-gentle-laughter, and plant seeds for future discussions. I like to think about a mix of old favorites and new books, and I like to think about the new books that will become old favorites! If you look closely, you can see the newest book on my shelf, The Little Gardener, which I won from the awesome Mr. Schu! Many thanks, Mr. Schu!


My meeting area is the hub of my classroom, and although it is still very much a “work in progress” it is Command Central! Next to the read aloud picture  books for the first few weeks of school are my Family Book Bags. These are books that are chosen to share with families. After we read and discuss the book in school, each child has a chance to bring the book home overnight and share it with someone. They record their response in a notebook and share the experience with the class the next morning in school. It is still one of my favorite rituals and it is surprising how many 5th graders enjoy participating. I will be sharing more about these as the year goes on. Here is one that I made for the fabulous Jeanette Winter’s book, Biblioburro, based on a true story from Colombia about a man who starts a donkey library. What’s not to love?!


Biblioburro Family Book Bag!

Well, time to get back to work….. kids are coming in 5 days and I have books to shelve!  😉

August 20, 2015
by mnosal

Poetry Friday <3



Yes, it is once again Poetry Friday! I am up to my eyebrows in classroom setup stuff, and want to share a favorite Eloise Greenfield poem this week:



By Eloise Greenfield

I’ve got

books on the bunk bed

books on the chair

books on the couch

And every old where

But I want more books

I just can’t get enough

I want more books about

All kinds of stuff, like

Jackie’s troubles, Raymond’s joys

Rabbits, kangaroos, girls and boys

Mountains, valleys,

Winter, spring

Campfires, vampires,

Every old thing,

I want to

lie down on my bunk bed,

lean back in

my chair,

curl up on the couch

and every old






This is a fabulous poem to share at the beginning of the year when getting kids pumped to read books, showing them the library, and talking about reading expectations. I have this poem available around the classroom, and we read it for shared reading. I found it a few years ago in a great anthology of children’s poems entitled:

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

From Goodreads:

Hip Hop Speaks to Children is a celebration of poetry with a beat.

Poetry can have both a rhyme and a rhythm. Sometimes it is obvious; sometimes it is hidden. But either way, make no mistake, poetry is as vibrant and exciting as it gets. And when you find yourself clapping your hands or tapping your feet, you know you’ve found poetry with a beat!

This amazing collection of poems for children is edited by Nikki Giovanni, and it is a brilliant, “must have” book for your classroom library! OK …. back to my books!










August 12, 2015
by mnosal

Non Fiction Picture Books

Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts Non Fiction Picture Book Wednesday today.

Teachers and librarians have been sharing favorite titles of mostly fiction picture books, and I wanted to make some space for some favorite non-fiction picture books. I tend to read aloud a lot of narrative non-fiction during the year, although I also use a lot of non-fiction articles from sources such as Scholastic News, Ranger Rick, and other journals for kids.

I also noticed that I tend to read a lot of Jeanette Winter’s books to my students. Her books often feature the life story of a person who has made an incredible contribution to the world. They are beautifully and simply illustrated, and highly accessible to my English language learners. This week, I am focused mostly on biographies. So, here are some favorite non-fiction picture books I read to my 5th graders:


This is a beautiful story of young Jane Goodall and the power of patient observation.


This is perfect for sharing Malala’s story with elementary students.

Wangari's Trees of Peace

There are many great books about the amazing Wangari Maathai and this is one of my favorites.

Some favorites by other authors:

Amazing young people

Written and illustrated by a dynamic duo!

This is a great read aloud about boxer Joe Louis and America’s feelings about the war with Germany. My students had great discussions based on this book.

Ivan:The Remarkable True Story ...

Is there anyone who doesn’t love The One and Only Ivan?! This is a picture book by the same author and makes Ivan’s story accessible to a younger audience. This book makes a fantastic school wide read aloud. Great book to launch social action project on ethical treatment of animals.

OK ….gotta run to work! This is just the very tip of the NF iceberg, but you gotta start somewhere! 😉

August 11, 2015
by mnosal

Reading Is Not Optional

Reading is EVERYTHING!

Independent reading is everything. I will be addressing this all year, as I embark on another year with 5th grade readers. I find inspiration in many places, and the past couple of years I’ve leaned into Donalyn Miller’s work, most notable Reading in the Wild.

I wrote an article on independent reading a while back for Heinemann Digital Campus that I will share:

Reading Is Not Optional

Helping Your Students Commit to Independent Reading

Lucy Calkins, Dick Allington, Donna Santman, Cunningham and Stanovich, Randy Bomer, and Walter Dean Myers are just a few of the informed voices who remind us how essential independent reading is to student success. Yet it can be a struggle for teachers to translate this information into a classroom of thriving independent readers. We know what doesn’t work—requiring parent signatures on fifth graders’ reading logs, publicly posting nightly reading requirements, withholding recess for noncompliance. All these are actions that have little to do with the relationship between our students and the printed word. So we ask ourselves, What are the behaviors of independent readers, and how can we support students in owning these behaviors as part of their identity? How can we help them know that reading is not optional but instead is essential, not just to them but for them?

Read the rest of the article here on Heinemann Digital Campus.

Share your thoughts….what’s working for you? How do you support independent reading with your students?

August 7, 2015
by mnosal

Academic Vocabulary Matters!

As I reflect on the systems I want to revisit for reading instruction with my 5th graders this year, I am determined to be more intentional about the place for academic language in my reading lessons. Probably one shift I need to consider is from implicit to more explicit instruction when it comes to academic language. I’ve found the work of Nonie Lesaux and colleagues compelling, and I think some of the ideas put forth in a current book, Cultivating Knowledge, Building Language, makes a ton of sense to me.

Building academic vocabulary

Building academic vocabulary

A big focus this past year was on building volume and stamina in reading with my students. Largely inspired by Donalyn Miller’s work, I implemented the 40 book goal and helped my students achieve it. All but 2 students reached the magic 40 book goal, and the two who did not at least cleared 25 books. I collected a lot of data through their reading logs, which I set up in googledocs. Students regularly reflected on their progress, and it was a rewarding journey for me as well as for them. On an end-of-year survey, several students mentioned that I am a teacher “who makes kids love books” and that made me very happy. BUT……

I am learning that, as important as reading volume is, it is not enough. Most of my students are English language learners and I noticed that as the books become more challenging, a number of them start to dip in their comprehension. By far the biggest challenges to their comprehension are figurative language, content vocabulary, connectives, and morphology.

I was struck by this statement from Lesaux, “Good readers tend to have very large and sophisticated vocabularies in the language in which they are reading. A lot of English language learners are still acquiring that vocabulary, and so they don’t bring with them enough vocabulary to make meaning from the text.”

So, my work is cut out for me. I will be sharing my findings as the year unfolds, and I will see how I can bring about improvements through some focused word study connected to knowledge building. Lesaux and Russ Harris provide structures for intentional teaching of vocabulary that I am eager to try out. Stay tuned!

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