Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Take the Challenge with your Child: It's Slice of Life Tuesday!

Welcome to Slice of Life Tuesday! 

slice of life_individual

Just What is Slice of Life?

Stacey Shubitz (co-founder of the award winning blog Two Writing Teachers) originally created Slice of Life as a way to inspire her fourth graders to notice - and write about- the everyday moments in their lives.

"If I dismiss the ordinary - waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen - I may just miss my life."

- Dani Shapiro in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (2013, 123) 

Every Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers challenges readers to write a Slice of Life post on their own blogs.  I'm joining in today and pledge to write a new post each week, either here or on Literacy with Lisa.

Waffles and Minecraft: The Last Mornings of Summer

Joey playing Minecraft on the Ipad.

"Want to see my world, Mommy?"

"Sure," I answer, leaving the kitchen to peek over his shoulder.

"Here's how you blow up a pond.  Just add some TNT."

He expertly navigates the buttons and soon the pond explodes to bits,
leaving a trail of fire and lava behind.

Julia wakes up and joins us. I go back into the kitchen.

"Kill the cow.  Kill the cow," she exclaims.  And then, "Get more lava!"

"What do you want on your waffle?" I call.

No answer.

I repeat myself, "What do you want on your waffle?"

"Butter and jelly," she replies, and then,

"Mommy, can I have a turn on the Ipad?"

"Later," I say.  "Time to put it away, now. Breakfast is ready." 

No answer.

"Joey, did you hear me?"

"OKAY, Mommy," he says, making no attempt to stop.  

"Watch this TNT explode," he whispers to Julia.

"Now," I say, "or you'll lose your Ipad time tomorrow."

"Okay, okay," he answers, placing the computer carefully on the windowsill.

Then he pulls out his chair, sits down, and bites into his Trader Joe's waffle.

When he smiles, a swirl of grape jelly blankets his upper lip like a mustache.

I resist the urge to wipe it off.

The Challenge

Here's my challenge to you..write your own Slice of Life stories with your child.  You can write one together, have each of you do one individually, or just start by writing your own.  This will still model for your child that writers write about the ordinary world around them; that nothing is too boring. The topic can be on anything, making breakfast this morning, a recent vacation or brushing your teeth. Remember that we often find the best stories in small moments.

Once you've written your post, you can share it with me by:
  1. Pasting it into the comments section
  2. Emailing it to me at
  3. Posting your piece in your own blog.  If you do this, put a link in the comments below so I can read it (and also on the Two Writing Teachers site).  
If you're not sure how to begin, just set an egg timer and don't let your pen stop moving for five minutes.  Don't worry about what you put down, just write. Have your child do the same. 

(To read more on the subject of getting started with writing, click here to read my latest post on Literacy with Lisa: Just Shut Up and Let Them Write).

Now get started writing!  

I can't wait to read your stories.

Write on,


P.S. I gave this challenge to Joey, after he finished playing Minecraft.  To read his Slice of Life writing, click here Joey's Slice of Life Writing

Joey's Slice of Life Writing: Mining Small Moments with Minecraft

Earlier today, I took the Slice of Life Challenge and wrote about it here.  Since I've urged you to start writing alongside your own child(ren), I bribed (I mean, encouraged), Joey to do the same.  His story is below.

Yes, it took a little prodding but he eventually agreed to sit down and write for five minutes.

The topic?  Minecraft.


"You said that I could write about anything, Mommy."

Okay, okay.

How to Connect a House to a House in Minecraft

by Joey

Here is what he wrote (correct spelling in parentheses):

A sory (story) in the future in Minecraft.  
How to coonnecht (connect) a house to a house. 
Make two houses. 
Make a tunool (tunnel). 
Fil (fill) it with torchis (torches).

After about 25 minutes of silence, Joey called out:

"Has it been five minutes yet?"

Now, Minecraft might not seem like a worthy topic but it matters to him.  Plus, Joey spent almost 30 minutes on the writing process today, with virtually no assistance from me:

*planning his writing
*stretching out words during drafting
*reading it over and subsequently adding more details (revising)

Thanks Slice of Life!

Joey and I both took the challenge today.  Now it's your turn!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tip #3: Goldilocks and the Just Right Book

A Lesson from Goldilocks

Remember the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

The first bed was too hard, the second was too soft and the third was just right?  Well, choosing a "just right" book is the same idea as finding the right bed!

The easiest way is to help your child find the right book is to use the Five Finger Rule:

Here's how you do it:  

1. Pick a book that your child would like to read.

2. Ask your child to start reading aloud to you.

3. Keep track of words missed (one finger up for each word that he/she is not able to read correctly).

Trying it Out

I decided to try this out with Joey, for help in writing this post but also to check in on his reading. We used book #2 of the popular Magic Tree House Series, The Knight at Dawn, by Mary Pope Osborne.

Joey turned to Chapter 8 - The Knight and began reading.  Here are the words that he struggled with on the first page of the chapter:


According to the chart above, he missed three words.  So this book is probably a little bit above his "Just Right" level, although I think he can still read it with support.

The key is that when your child reads alone (or with your support), that the book is not TOO hard.  That will only result in frustration, for you and himher. Comprehension will be lost, tears may be shed and reading will not be enjoyable.  (Although a challenge book is a perfect read aloud that YOU can read to your child).

A Note on Easy Books: It's okay to read easy books sometimes, especially to practice fluency and foster a love of reading.  But if children only read easy books, they won't challenge themselves to use reading strategies and skills to decode new words and comprehend harder texts.

Comprehension is still King

We all know that the main reason to read is to make meaning and understand the text.  So of course, noting misread words is not the only reading behavior to notice with your child.  Asking a couple general comprehension questions is also a great guide as to whether or not the book is appropriate.  For example,

  • What just happened on this page?
  • What do predict will happen next?
  • What do you think this _[insert word]_ means?

If they can read the words but don't seem to "get" what's going in on the story, than have him/her move to an easier text when reading independently.  Or, provide scaffolding by reading the book together.

What is a Leveled Text?

If your child's independent reading level is available from their teacher,  you can also use that as a guide.  Many schools use the Fountas and Pinnell Leveling System, which is a system that follows the letters of the alphabet, with A being the easiest.

Once you have the level, use the link below to check a book.   Curious to see the actual difficulty of The Knight at Dawn, I popped the title into the site below.

Scholastic Book Wizard

This book is a Level M, which according to the Fountas and Pinnell link above, is an end of 2nd grade book.  Which makes sense that is was above his level, since he is just about to enter 2nd grade.

The point here is not to police your child's reading level but to check in when he/she is reading indepedently.  If she/he misses 5 or more words on a page, it's probably not a good book to read alone.  Instead, choose a different book or read it together. 

They're just words...

When Joey and I finished Chapter 8 in The Knight at Dawn, I offered him some praise.  I was careful to use my "mommy" voice and not my "teacher" persona. (Earlier this summer, both kids told me to stop sounding like a teacher.  "You're not a teacher in the summer," they informed me.  "You're just our mom.")

So here's what I said to Joey this time around:

"Wow, you figured out some tricky words," I said.  "You're a good reader!"

He smiled.

"Now remember, when you see big, scary words, like afloat or flailed, just stop and take your time.  Just like we did together today."

He laughed, like I had just said the craziest thing in the world.  "Why are you calling them scary words?  They're not monsters or something.

"They're not scary, Mommy.  They're just words."

I gave him a hug and smiled too.

Just words.  

My point exactly...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tip #2 - A Book a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Picture Book List

We all know it's important to read to our kids but sometimes finding the right titles can be overwhelming.  

Which ones should we read to them and which ones should they read on their own? It's often helpful to start by looking at your school district's summer reading list.  Most publish one and they are sorted by grade level. Here is the one for our district:

Lower Merion School District Summer Reading List

(Don't forget the Five Finger Rule. Even if a book says that it's the same grade/ability level as your child, it's still a good idea to try this rule out with one or two books from the list.  More to come on the Five Finger Rule and Choosing Just Right Books in a future post).

With that said, here are a few books that I've discovered this summer, from the reading list and elsewhere. To read more of my recommendations, check out the following posts on Literacy with Lisa:

A is for Musk Ox and a Few Other Good Books...

Launching a Love of Reading from Day One

Note: It's certainly fine for your child to read these texts on his/her own, as long as they are on a just right level.  (See the Five Finger Rule above for more on that).  But you also might enjoy sharing them together!


Picture Books

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath: A humorous account of President Taft's bathtub escapes. Guaranteed for a few good laughs and a favorite with my students during our end of year summer reading lessons.

Little Red Gliding Hood: A different take on the classic fairy tale that includes ice skates and other nursery rhyme characters


Wolfie the Bunny: In case you're not familiar with this book, it's illustrated by a local illustrator - Zachariah O'Hora.  He lives in the next town over from us, which is pretty cool.  And the story is great as well, with a theme of overcoming fear and helping others.


Frog on a Log: A great rhyming book, with amazing illustrations and a funny punch line on the last page.  Perfect for emerging readers.

Z is for Moose: A wacky alphabet book where the Zebra and Moose have different ideas about how an alphabet book should be arranged!

Rude Cakes: Read this story with cakes as characters.  A great book for discussing manners! Always a good topic to review often in our house.

Mummy Cat: A quick paced rhyming text that also teaches history about ancient Egypt.  A must read for kids who love mummies, queens, cats or all of the above!

Hilo, the Boy Who Crashed to Earth:  I didn't think I would like this book at first as I'm normally not much of a fantasy buff or an avid comic book reader. But since it was on the Summer Reading List, I decided to give it a try.  

Surprise?  I loved reading HiLo with Joey.  It's about a boy who like the title suggests, crashes to earth.  He befriends D.J., an average kid in a family of overachievers.  Along the way, they encounter evil forces from other galaxies, robotic ants and lots of burps.  Pick up this book today to see what happens with Hilo, D.J., Gina and Razorwark.  We devoured both copies in the series and wished that there were more!

The Saddest Toilet in the World: You can probably guess the plot line - it's about a boy who won't use the potty so the toilet gets fed up.  Joey randomly chose this book one day at the library.This isn't your average potty training book though.

This story has great dialogue, a runaway toilet and pictures reminiscent of Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny.  And the really cool thing is that when we read the About the Author, I realized that I actually know him!  How cool is that?  He's the friend of a friend and lives about a mile away.

Small world!

Big Wig : Are you interested in the history of hair?  This book will take you from ancient times to mohawks to the priciest haircut in history (you won't believe the cost!).  Interesting facts and amazing pictures should keep your child engaged throughout.  (Note - this is more appropriate for intermediate readers).

Inventor's Secret: This wasn't on the summer reading list but is a great read aloud, especially for kids that like science and inventions (like my kids).  Very informative and interesting, it chronicles the friendship between Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Great message of "not giving up" and "keeping at it," whatever your dream may be.  I plan to read this to my students at the beginning of this school year as a way to discuss effort, believing in yourself and hard work. Also connects well to the topic of grit.

I hope that you enjoy the list below and most importantly, that you have fun discovering new books with your child. And don't forget to share your comments.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy reading,


P.S.  Future posts will include recommended chapter books, as well as "How to Choose a Just Right Book" and ways to get kids writing at home (with minimal or no arguing!).

A Note to Parents

It's that time of year again...time for the beach, pool and relaxing with friends.  To catch fireflies, eat popsicles and stay up late.  To ride bikes, go to camp and play with friends.

This often translates to less time reading and writing, which often results in "Summer Slide," when children lose approximately two months of learning gains over the summer.

How can we prevent that from happening?

The first step is to keep students reading daily over the summer.  To make reading and writing meaningful and authentic.  To create family routines around literacy during the summer, like visiting the library regularly, making grocery lists together, keeping a vacation journal.

Our "communal" Grocery List - note that there actually are a few healthy items!

As a parent, it's sometimes hard to know how much to push and when to back off.  We don't want to micromanage our children - after all they are kids and it is summer! - yet we also want to keep them practicing the precious skills and strategies that they learned during the school year.

A Homemade Birthday Card for a Neighbor

The purpose of this blog is to provide ideas to keep literacy at the forefront in your home during the summer.  To infuse it into your summer plans in meaningful and authentic ways.  To hopefully make it enjoyable for your child, instead of like a chore or extra homework.  To foster a love of reading and writing, even when it's not "required" as part of school.

My commitment to you is to share at least one tip or idea each week that you can try at home to keep your child engaged in reading and writing over the summer.  Feel free to modify and/or adjust to suit your child and your own interests/style.  And if you do create a new idea, please share your comments.

Let's work together to keep reading and writing alive this summer, even if it's just a few minutes of reading books together under a beach umbrella, with sand between the pages and sunscreen.  Or, scanning the signs together on a road trip, asking your child to find words and/or letters that he/she knows.

Every little bit counts, no matter how big or small.