Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…

 Harry is the first to arrive. Then Jack and Rowena. Jack’s mum says he’s been awake since 5:30. “We can’t be late,” he says. ” The bus leaves at 9.”  More excited Year 1s come to the classroom as they arrive at school. They wear school uniforms, including closed shoes and hats.  Lunches and drinks in plastic bags are placed in the plastic tub according to the adult who will care for that group of five children on our class trip today. We are going to the Tropical Zoo.

This is part of our unit of work on Australian Animals. Individual ‘studies’ of a self-selected animal and a ‘What am I?’ writing task are well underway. Paintings of animal habitats are awaiting animals. Seeing live animals at the zoo is special. 

And… off we go on the bus! Past houses, shops and shopping centres. Past creeks, cane fields and paddocks of playful horses. We go over bridges, through roundabouts and on highways until we reach the zoo.

We leave the containers of lunches at the large undercover picnic area then head up the hill to the Bird Show.  A young zoo worker provides an informative and humorous commentary as we see the birds: a quiet lesser sooty owl, a beautiful Major Mitchell cockatoo, a black and red cockatoo, a sulpher-crested cockatoo, a cheeky magpie that puts a tissue paper into a bin, a barking owl and a serious white sea eagle – spectacular!
PS How long did it take a zoo worker to train the magpie to put paper into the bin? 
3 days? 3 months? 1 day? 50 minutes? 20 minutes? 1 hour? 4 hours?

A fascinating lesser sooty owl

The beautiful Major Mitchell cockatoo

Next, we go to the kangaroos and then to the crocodiles.  Unexpectedly, we see zoo workers moving a large crocodile. The crocodile’s snout is bound with rope and about ten strong handlers hold him. It looks like hard work… We move on to see crocodiles warming up in the sun and an occasional crocodile opening its mouth to cool down. Other crocs keep cool under water.

Is the crocodile opening its mouth to keep cool?

A kangaroo is nicely camouflaged

After lunch, the adults and small groups of children walk  through the zoo. We see three striped lemurs, a red panda, a well-fed dingo, a resting wombat, a pacing cassowary, numerous sleeping koalas, several long, sleek snakes, green tree frogs, American alligators, eastern water dragons, a blue-tongue lizard, a glorious iguana and dozens of colourul birds. We read the notices giving us information about the animals. We all learn lots!

Koalas can sleep 75% of the day

An eastern water dragon heads towards water

It is a wonderful walk… and slowly we head back to the bus for the return to school.
Tomorrow the children will talk, draw and write about the trip as we re-live the real-life experience.

What excursions does your class take out of school?

Book Week with a Book Parade

Last week in Australia, we celebrated Book Week. We read short-listed books and winning books from the Younger Readers and Early Childhood Books Categories. I know how we early years teachers (and parents) are always looking for good books for our children, so in this blog you’ll find photos and my descriptions of 3 books that my Year Ones particularly enjoyed. And for those of you who enjoy quizzes, there’s a skill testing question for you in the caption under a child’s drawing in the Book Parade section. Enjoy!

Book Week Books displayed in the Library

My class especially loved Look see, look at me, The Tall Man and Twelve Babies and Noni the pony.

Perfect for toddlers – and early readers!

Look see, look at me! is perfect as a read aloud for toddlers  – and ideal for early readers. I like to have any number of  ‘easy to read’ books in my Yr 1 classroom at the start of the year because they provide reading materials for beginning readers – without being ‘levelled books’.

'The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies'

The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies was appealing and funny. The children loved how the babies were all called Aliastair or Charlene. They laughed at the thought of the all the babies laughing together – and all crying together! They loved how the babies had mashed bananas for breakfast and mashed potatoes for tea. One girl commented that the cat was eating the mashed potato – so where was the 12th baby?

'noni the pony': an appealing book in rhyme

Noni the pony is rollicking and rhythmical with a simple storyline that was fun for the group. One boy liked the way the dog was similar in colour to the pony and blended in when Noni protected the dog and the cat. Others laughed at the cows watching Noni dance. “What is spooked?’ asked another – so a discussion of ‘scary’ words ensued.

On Wednesday morning we had our P-3 Book Parade:

Children dressed up as their favourite book characters. I was Little Red Riding Hood.

The witch from ‘Room on the Broom’ appeared

Who are the book characters in this girl's drawing? Place your answers in 'comments'.

A Book Worm cake was part of the celebrations too.

A 'Book Worm' cake was part of the celebrations too!

How did you celebrate Book Week?

Building bushland and crocodile habitats in a Year 1 classroom

A branch stands in a bucket and sticks, leaves and gumnuts litter the floor in the ‘bushland’ area of the classroom. A koala, kookaburra, ring-tailed possum and sugar glider sit and hang in the branches. Kangaroos are on the ‘ground’ along with assorted snakes, ants and insects. By the windows, a green tree frog sits on the rafters looking down at the hanging vines, sand, ‘mangroves’ and crocodiles who live in the ‘crocodile habitat’ below. The geographical areas and animals reflect our unit of work this term: Australian Animals.

A possum hangs from a branch

A glider hangs hangs on for dear life

Kangaroos look for grass amongst the leaves

The green tree frog looks for a damp area

Crocodile habitat – with turtles and frogs in the mix.

The children choose one animal to study. They write a ‘What am I?’ for a class big book – and they learn interesting facts about that  animal. For example, did you know that:

  • really hungry crocodiles will eat bats?
  • most kangaroos can only move both back legs together and not one at a time?
  • green ants can carry up to 20 times their weight?
  • wombats have backward-facing pouches so dirt does not get over the young as wombats dig?
  • koalas sleep about 75% of their time?
This koala is awake!
How are your units of work refelcted in your classroom?

10 for 10: My ‘must have’ picture books

What are the  ‘must have’ picture books in your classroom and library?  10 favourite picture books shared on blogs via Twitter on August 10 was instigated by @mandyrobek and @CathyMere – check #PB10for10.  Here is my list of ten special picture books  that I must have in my Year One classroom and library.

1. Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox is a beginning year favourite. Lyrical and rhythmical language swings right along and whimsical, colourful illustrations add to its appeal. It’s a great book that helps ‘learning to read’ children.

2. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archimbault is a rollicking good read with alphabet letters never being so much fun.  Colourful illustrations add to the light and bright feel of the book as children easily sing along  – again and again.

3. No David  by David Shannon is a special favourite with my classes because it’s funny. Young children identify with David’s antics and his mother’s reactions. Every year I have at least one child learn to read from this book.

4. Just for You by Mercer Mayer is a gem. Contrasts between the character’s intentions and the end results are funny and ‘sketchy’ illustrations add to the hilarity.  Children love looking for the spider and the cricket, too. 

5. Titch by Pat Hutchins is a delightful story of a youngest child who never quite catches up to his sister and brother – until the end.  The direct language, simple storyline and clear illustrations make it another good choice for ‘starting the year’.

6. The Potato People by Pamela Allen is a moving story for some children with Jack and his mum leaving for a time, putting an end to Jack and Grandma’s fun-filled Fridays. The potato people know sorrow too… Seize the moment and have children make their own potato people.

7. Grug  by Ted Prior is a delightful character who grows from a tree and makes a home in a deserted burrow on a grassy hillside. Children laugh out loud at his wayward adventures that are often accompanied by hilarious illustrations.

8. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, is a wonderful story that provokes and inspires. The lyrical, rythmical language and colourful, expressive illustrations add to its charm.

9. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr Suess is still a favourite with the rhythmical language and endless appeal of Suess illustrations. Despite the length for young children, we always go home happy, 100%.

10. Go, Dog, Go by P. D. Eastman is a classic that still has children laughing and talking about the dogs in fast cars and the hilarious dog party.

Listing ten favourite books is easy… stopping at ten is the hard part!

Several of my favourite authors are listed here and I like many of their books.  Mem Fox is a favourite and choosing between Where is the Green Sheep? Koala Lou, Hello Baby, Boo to a Goose and Possum Magic is difficult. Pamela Allen, Pat Hutchins, Mercer Mayer, Dr Suess… how does a person choose ‘just one’ of their books?

Maybe we need a list of favourite authors with lists of all their books you love!

What are your 10 favourite picture books for young children?

Used books from the school fete

It’s dull and cloudy as I drive to school on Saturday morning to help prepare for the fete.  I arrive at the Book Stall and find the convener already arranging boxes of books on long trestle tables in the under cover area – just as well it’s under cover because light rain begins to fall. Several people haul  in more boxes of books and dump them on the tables. We read the labels on the boxes and place them in order: Prep – 4, 2 for 50c; Prep – 4, fiction; Prep – 4, non-fiction, and so on. Quickly I flip through to see that the appropriate coloured dot stickers are on all the books: blue dot (2 for 50c), black dot (50c), yellow ($1.00).

After the children’s tables are done we move to more boxes of books on more trestle tables:  adult authors in alphabetical order, interest categories in alphabetical order: Animals, Biography, Business, Cooking, Crafts, Gardening, Games and so on down to Self-help and Sports (where last year I got Andre Agassi’s Open for $2).

Later, I go through the children’s boxes more slowly to find books I could use in my classroom. I find familiar books like The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words, Put Me in the Zoo, Crunch the Crocodile, Alfie Gets in First, several versions of The Little Red Hen and a quality hardcover of  A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.

I also find some unfamiliar, but appealing books like a starkly simple book of Opposites, an easy to read Cat and Dog, a read it yourself Quick Chick, Kate Greenaway’s Book of Rhymes, a colourful picture book, Splodges and a timely Tale of Two Honey Possums (for a child who is studying honey possums in our Australian Animals unit of work this term).

One pile of books from the school fete

An old 'Noddy' book, dated 1957

An old school ‘reader’, first published in 1939. This revised Third Impression is from 1975

Here are two excerpts from the ‘reader’ with Dick and Dora as the main characters and Jack and May as their friends:

“Jack, will you play with me , please?” said Dick.
“Yes,” said Jack. “What can you do?”
“Bow-wow-wow!” said Dick. “What am I?”
Jack said, “You are a dog. A dog can go ‘bow-wow-wow’.”
Dick said, “What can you throw?”
“I can throw a ball,” said Jack.
(Schonell and Serjeant, p. 2).

In the Park
Dick, Dora, Jack and May went to the park.
By the big tree in the park they will have fun.
Dora has her doll, Jane. May will play with Dora and her doll.
Jack and Dick can play with the dog.
They can throw the ball and Nip will get it. He is a good dog.
(Schonell and Serjeant, p. 24-25).

What childhood memories do these books ellicit for you?

Bins and baskets of books

‘How do you store your books?‘ was a question in the daily5 chat last Saturday. Early years teachers organise, store and use books in their classrooms in ways that suit them and their students.

Using shelves, baskets and labelled bins to organise and store books makes it easy to find a book and return it where it belongs. The books are sorted and organised in a variety of ways:

  • authors: Dr Suess, Mercer Mayer, Mem Fox, Pamela Allen, Paul Jennings
  • series: Grug, Clifford, Spot, Rascal, Zac Power
  • topics of interest: frogs, snakes, spiders, space, pets, Pokemon
  • alphabet books: varied
  • copies of big books: multiple small copies of current big books
  • class books we have made: Our C Book, Our Book of Rhymes, 100 day party, Magnificent Me
  • books we have read: a variety of books that we read as read alouds
  • levelled books: colour coded in levels
  • number books: varied
Baskets of books
A bin of alphabet books
Small copies of current big books
An assortment of class-made books
Colour-coded levelled books
A triangular shelf for all sorts of books
  • How do you organise and store your books in the classroom?

Second semester starts: What’s in store?

The morning sun struggles through grey clouds and a gentle breeze greets me as I walk to the beach. The sand is cold beneath my feet. Small waves tumble forth leaving frothy white lace at the water’s edge. A dozen thoughts race through my head. It’s back to school tomorrow for the start of second semester. What’s in store for the first week?

Monday – Early Years’ professional development
The first day of a new term is traditionally pupil free with professional development (PD) for teachers. Today I present a session, in keeping with the brief, ‘focus on literacy in the early years’, with practical ideas for the classroom and links to the curriculum’. More on my session later…

Tuesday – children return
Talking, talking, talking. That’s Tuesday. The children always have so much to say after two weeks away from school, classmates and friends. Everyone gets to share – and to draw and write. Journal writing is especially exciting because as always, the children are free to write on topics of interest – no need for the restrictive request:  What did you do in the holidays?

Read more in my related article, Children write about items of interest – holidays or not’,  published in Practically Primary in February 2010.

Wednesday – new ‘old’ books to share
I can’t wait to share some new books with the children on Wednesday. I am not a shopper but sometimes I browse – books stores and second hand stores are my favourites. On the holidays I found several ‘old’ books and snapped them up:
The cat on the mat and friends, by Brian Wildsmith

Cat on the Mat and Friends

Arthur and Always Arthur, by Amanda Graham

Arthur and Always Arthur

A Sausage Went for a Walk, by Ellisha Majid & Peter Kendall
I remembered this one because one year a boy came to school already reading and he read this book to the class on the second day of school – interestingly, I hadn’t seen it since.

A Sausage Went for a Walk

Say ‘Hello’ Wombat by Steve Parrish
This one is new. It has superb Parrish pictures of Australian animals with a repetitive and rhythmical storyline – so it will be interesting to see if the children take to it or not. Will it be taken as a ‘story’ book or as an appealing book to read? Stay tuned.

Say "Hello" Wombat

Friday – 100 day party
We have been counting and recording the number of days at school all year and it’s time to celebrate 100 days in Year One. Well, actually it will be day 99 for us – but we could not have a ‘party’ on a Monday!

Last year's 100 day count

P.S. Twitter
Over the past few days I had a taste of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) conference in Melbourne via Twitter at @ALEA. Participants tweeted during sessions with notable comments from presenters, including Debbie Miller, Gay Su Pinnell, Susan Hill and Trevor Cairney. Yesterday I received Trevor Carney’s plenary address on his blog at and I was excited to read his statement ‘the words of literature are economical and powerful’ – with clear examples from books to demonstrate his point.

For people still on holidays, enjoy!
For children and teachers returning to school this week, enjoy!

Are you trying something new with your class this term?

Sharing Breakfast – and celebrating children’s work

A yellow cloth covers the collage table and tea, coffee and juice await parents and children. A blue cloth covered table awaits fruit platters, small pancakes and banana bread that will arrive with parents and children. Mozart wafts from the CD player in our mat area.

It’s 8am on the morning of our Sharing Breakfast – a regular event in the last week of term. Children share their work with parents and parents celebrate children’s accomplishments. Piles of books grace the hexagonal tables – children’s books they work in like journals, alphabet, maths, activity and news books.  Children choose three books to read to parents – and two books for parents to read to them. 

On the previous day, the morning message is displayed at the classroom entrance as a reminder to parents. Children’s colourful drawings add a personal touch.

The morning message is a reminder to all
Evidence of each child’s work and books to read with a parent are displayed on the hexagonal tables.
Henry reads ‘Zac Power’ to his mum
Jake looks at ‘Tigress’ (Dowson) whilst nearby, his big brother reads to their mum
After all that sharing and eating, Ned chooses a Ravensburger puzzle

Parents stay for as long as it suits them. After sharing their child’s drawings, writing, reading books, numbers, science journals, etc., some parents head off to work – and they won’t even be late! Other parents stay and enjoy food, books, games and more time with the children.

How do you share children’s work with parents?
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