Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

March 19, 2017
by mnosal

Interactive Read Alouds and Democracy

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?  is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

After an incredibly energizing weekend at @TCRWP Saturday Reunion, I am recommitting to my blog and trying, ONCE AGAIN, to make a habit of posting more regularly. Every workshop I attended was well organized and provided solid tips on strengthening workshop instruction. One workshop I found myself in was totally unplanned, as I was shut out of my first two choices. I wandered into Gary Peterson‘s interactive read aloud workshop, and was so glad I did. He reminded me of an incredible picture book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks:


A story about a dog, a magpie, and a fox, this is a provocative tale that fosters great discussion around themes of loyalty, friendship, and trust (among other themes). While reading this book aloud, Peterson encouraged teachers to be intentional about prompting students to synthesize and interpret the story through questioning. What resonated most with me, though, was his statement about interactive read alouds. He said, “Interactive reading is about the democratization of the classroom.” Merriam Webster defines democratization as follows:

to make (something) available to all people : to make it possible for all people to understand (something)

WOW! I realized that he actually helped me name one of my most fundamental beliefs about literacy instruction through reading aloud. I know from my 20-plus years of experience that reading aloud interactively is powerful for children. I considered my read-aloud time sacred, and referred to it as the heartbeat of my classroom. Now, I know that reading aloud is probably the single-most reason my students consistently made impressive growth in 5th grade. Not small group, not guided reading, but interactive read aloud and shared reading. With texts like Fox.

Interactive read alouds (IRA) give all kids access to the same high quality text. Well planned and delivered IRAs bring all kids into meaningful instructional conversations that have the potential to raise achievement of all kids, because the bar is raised for all kids.Our English learners and children who are not reading at grade level get a much needed exposure to vocabulary and concepts that they need. Teachers can level the playing field with IRAs.

If you are not reading aloud interactively regularly with your students, you are missing out on the most exhilarating component of reading instruction. What are you waiting for? Start democratzing your classroom today, with Fox!

(Although others may feel differently, I would recommend this book for grades 3-6).

September 18, 2016
by mnosal

It Takes a Village, PLUS!

More reflecting on student reading and writing as the school year begins. I am excited about the possibilities for curriculum work and building new relationships. I was lucky to have some wonderful opportunities for collaboration in my previous school, and one thing I know is that we get stronger and smarter when we teachers work together.

I love to knit and crochet, and have enjoyed learning new stitches and patterns in what is known as “CAL” or “KAL” projects…..crochet-along and knit-along, respectively. I’ve been thinking about “TAL” ….a teach-along, or something similar to the weekly participation projects a lot of bloggers enjoy. Any and all thoughts encouraged…. leave a comment!

Right now, I’m in a major “gathering/collecting” mode……trying to pull teaching resources together. Stay tuned!

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!


August 22, 2016
by mnosal

Tackling Tough Topics With Our Elementary Students


This Monday, I’m reading Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The book centers on fifth grader Deja, and her classmates Ben and Sabeen. Their teacher has decided to assign a project that requires the students to learn about September 11 and the Twin Towers. As stated on the cover flap, Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a story of resilience, hope, and finding yourself in a complicated world.”

Deja’s life is complicated. She lives with her family in a homeless shelter. She’s trying to negotiate her home life with her life on a new school that is very different from schools she has attended in the past. The book offers lots of opportunities to teach topics that can be hard to talk about in the classroom. Because of this, the book is an excellent choice as an anchor book in a text set. In fact, if you want great suggestions, check out Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller’s terrific post on Nerdy Book Club. She offers a great range of fiction, non-fiction, and picture books. A favorite picture book of mine is included: Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. I am a longtime fan of Maira Kalman, and this book is deceptively simple. It is actually great for upper elementary students, as well as younger children, as a springboard for talking about this difficult event.

As a teacher, I struggled with ways to talk about 9/11 with students who weren’t even born when this event took place. I absolutely wanted to steer clear of any type of sensationalism and tried to think about reasons why it would be important to address with 5th graders.  Jewell Parker Rhodes helps make sense of things with Towers Falling by helping children understand many changes in our world since 9/11. Here is a quote from Deja at the end of the book:

“School didn’t teach me everything about 9/11. Still, I understand a lot more now. I understand some of the enormous hurt to families, my family, and country.”

If I were going to add to Donalyn Miller’s list of teaching resources for 9/11, here are some texts I would add:

Messages to Ground Zero by Shelley Harwayne.

An excerpt from the National Writing Project provides information:

In the introduction to this anthology, Harwayne writes:

“On the morning of September 11th, 2001 many of our New York City students saw, heard, smelled, and felt things that none of the grown-ups were prepared to explain. Our students, as well as students throughout our country picked up their pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paintbrushes and attempted to make sense of this most incomprehensible of acts. Our children attempted to use their words and their art to wrap their arms around the tragedy that befell families in the New York metropolitan area as well as residents of Washington and Pennsylvania….Our children also used their writing and art to offer condolence, comfort others, and of course, bear witness.”

I also would include an essay written by self-described Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, entitled

To Any Would-Be Terrorists.

The current climate in our country as we head into our presidential election is filled with fear and hate. It’s a very hard world to navigate these days, and it is good to know that there are books and authors who can help us help children make sense of the senseless….or at least try. I will end with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that I would also include in the early days of the school year, called Kindness, as well as a poem by Mattie Stepanek that follows:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

To read the rest of the poem, find it here at The Writer’s Almanac.

Finally, a beautiful poem for young children:

For Our World by Mattie Stepanek:

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

Read the rest here.

Have a great week!


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 27, 2015
by mnosal

“Poetry Friday” Everyday!

A recent post by Tara Smith over at Two Writing Teachers inspired me to reflect on my out routines and rituals around making poetry an every day part of my instruction, rather than contained in a unit of study to be taught at a specific time of year. Thanks, Tara, for a great post!

Sylvia has the round-up this week over at Poetry for Children. This week, my poem for

It's Friday, what poem are you reading?

It’s Friday, what poem are you reading?

is a poem I wrote a few years ago after attending a summer writing institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Ralph Fletcher gave a terrific keynote and took participants through a few writing exercises that I have since used a lot with my students.


The Good Old Days


Sometimes I remember

The good old days


Riding to Jones Beach in our big, black Chrysler

With my four brothers and sisters


Each of us standing

Shoulder to shoulder across the capacious back seat


I run across the white -hot sand

Twirling in my plaid skirted swimsuit


Dad gives us all

a “ready-set-GO!” and we

Race to the water


I still can’t imagine

Anything better than that.

by Maureen Nosal (inspired by Ralph Fletcher)

Ralph had read his own poem, The Good Old Days, and encouraged us to use his first and last two lines and write our own memory in between. It was a fun, thoughtful, and successful endeavor for most, and I thought about how fun it would be to write this poem with my 5th graders.

This year, I had a student who lost his big brother in an unspeakably tragic incident. He was having a hard time and did not want to talk about it with anyone. When we started working on our own Good Old Days poems, he suddenly wanted to write about a memory of happy times with his brother. He wrote a beautiful poem and the act of working on it gave me an opportunity to talk with him a little about the healing power of writing. He gave me a beautiful smile and asked if he could publish his poem. It was a most fulfilling writing conference, as you can imagine.

You can find this short writing exercise in Ralph’s book Mentor Author, Mentor Texts, at Heinemann.

So, how does poetry fit into my school year? I start on Day One with a poem that we will work on for the week. My students keep a poetry folder and get a poem every Monday that we will take time to read and unpack each morning at the end of Morning Meeting (my Shared Reading time). Students work with the poem, reading, rereading, and annotating all week during morning work and for homework. I follow a structure from Georgia Heard’s terrific book, Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards to implement a 5 day weekly routine. If you do not have this book, you need it! It is a practical and, despite its clunky title, inspirational. I have found countless ways to work with poems. From Goodreads:

Favorite poet and author Georgia Heard shares step-by-step poetry lessons that guide students to identify figurative language, hear rhyme, rhythm, and other poetic conventions, and explore imagery and theme—and then determine how these elements deepen their understanding of the poem. Students gain a thorough knowledge of poetic elements, which helps them meet Common Core State Standards in literature and language. Includes model poems, response activities, and performance tasks! For use with Grades K-5. (less)

Georgia Heard

Georgia Heard

If you are familiar with Georgia Heard’s work from Awakening the Heart, you are sure to be delighted with this resource. I like to use both books. I think of Awakening the Heart as more of a writing resource, and Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards as more of a close reading resource.

We often illustrate poems, or favorite parts of poems, and sometimes these illustrations live in our folders, or sometimes they live on our classroom walls.

By Bobbi Katz

5th graders respond to poem with illustration

Poetry brings us together as a community of readers, writers, and thinkers. While I’ve enjoyed working out ways to use poetry for daily reading these past few years, I haven’t done as much with writing poetry on a regular basis. This year, I am going to find small ways to tuck in a poetry writing routine. I learned a lot last year with my predominately English language learners about the payoff with poetry writing for language development. I will be posting more about this topic and my experiences as I work it into instruction this year.

Here are a few of my favorite poetry books:

one part of my poetry bookshelf

one part of my poetry bookshelf

Poetry bookshelf

Poetry bookshelf

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