This site is the cat’s pajamas

Greetings Fellow Language Arts Teachers:

Thank you for stopping by and spending some time reading, thinking, and sharing about the many amazing things we do as teachers of this dynamic area of education.  Some days we teach Language Arts and others feels like we are trying to infuse rocket science into the minds of our students.  Either way, each day we impact students and we need time to refuel, refresh, and rejuvenate.  Blogging is a great way to kick back, stretch our minds, and connect with our inner reader and writer.

I’m rather new to blogging, so I’m wondering–What are your thoughts about having your at-risk readers blog about their reading responses?

I think my students would love it.  They love technology time even though they grumble when they have to spend a designated number of minutes practicing keyboarding skills.  I tell them they’ll thank me someday.  I’m comfy at the keyboard, but many of my students are still developing the skills.  I think the lack of keyboarding skills would be the biggest hindrance for this reader response format.  I guess my thoughts are it is a great way for them to reflect upon what they are reading without feeling there is a right or wrong answer.

I read this on a George Couros’ Blog (He is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division Alberta, Canada.)   “How many times do we actually just sit down and take time to reflect on what we have learned? How many times do we go to a conference and it is speaker after speaker after speaker, with no time to sit down and reflect on what we have learned? Instead of simply dumping information into our brains, we have to take time to think about what we are learning and make meaningful connections.”  ( My reaction was a resounding EXACTLY!  So why would it be any different for our students?  They get all this information and do a variety of activities, but when do they get a chance to just sit down and reflect on what they are reading?

Okay, with that in mind how do we go about getting our at-risk readers (and their families) actually using blogs to share their reader responses?  How do we go about getting them comfy, confident, and courageous enough to put their thoughts out there for everyone to see?  First of all I think it is important to discuss and model what a reader might put in a reader’s response blog.  My thoughts are basically—show what you know!   What do we include to intrigue them enough to explore and try this forum out under our guidance and that of the trusted adult at home?  Get excited!  Let them see what we do!  Think out loud as we go about it.  Discuss it! Share it!  Prompt them!  Show them that good readers become good readers by thinking about what they’ve read and sharing it with others.

So what am I going to share with you in my Reader’s Response Blog then?  How about “Twin Texts”?  Are any of you familiar with this term?  I’m sure if you aren’t you’re going to realize that it’s just putting a name to something you probably practice on a regular basis.  “Twin Texts” can be thought of as “fraternal twins;” they share some of the same qualities, but they definitely vary in looks and nature.  Simply put–“Twin Texts” are the partnering of a fiction and non-fiction book with a related theme or focus.  For example, Arnold Lobel’s fictional work Frog and Toad are Friends may be paired with Melissa Stewart’s non-fictional book Frog or Toad?:  How do you know? (Which Animal is Which?) or Owen and Mzee:  The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig and Isabella Hatkoff.  Regardless of age or ability level this pairing of texts can benefit readers.

In my classroom “Twin Texts” would be an opportunity for double duty teaching.  This is a term I use referring to cross-curricular teaching; in this instance pairing English Language Arts and Social Studies.  The following Civil War “Twin Texts” are paired for my Upper Level Multi-age Classroom (Grades 6-7-8).  History can be dry and daunting or it can come to life.  I prefer for my students to experience history as an interesting adventure as we travel through time.    Text sets such as these pair realistic historical fiction with an informational text that isn’t a dusty and daunting tome.

Social Studies (U.S. Civil War History) Twin Texts for Middle Schoolers:

The Last Brother.                                             Timeline of the Civil War

The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale (2006), a book in the Tales of Young Americans Series, is a piece of realistic historical fiction in which two young brothers, Davy 16 and Gabriel 11, run away and join up with the Union Army.  In order to enlist, Davy slipped a piece of paper in his shoe with the number 18 written on it, so when the recruiter asked his age he could say, “I’m over 18.”  Gabe becomes the bugler for his regiment and takes his job seriously as it is his calls the soldiers hear over the din of the battles.  Gabe watches Davy throughout the story as they had lost his two older brothers in the war before they enlisted.  Davy is Gabe’s last brother, and he does what he can to protect him when he is on the front lines in the heat of the battle.  During the Battle of Gettysburg Gabe makes a decision that changes the course of the battle.  The ending is a bittersweet revelation for Gabe.

Note:  With the at-risk reader in mind, the author’s note at the beginning of the text sets the stage, for greater understanding.  I would use this as a read aloud prior to introducing its “twin.”

Timeline of the Civil War (2012), a work in the Gareth Stevens Timeline Series, is a non-fictional historical book written with the middle school reader in mind.  This book “walks” you through the events, battles, and developments of the War Between the States.  It is presented through text, pictures, and two timelines (one covering the whole period, the other covering the time period of the chapter).  Samuels (2012) presents this information that will draw readers in.

Note:  For the at-risk reader, I would consider this a “walk together” text, meaning I wouldn’t plunge them into reading this on their own.  It will be important to point out the features and discuss how this book gives us several frames of reference to learn from (a pictorial history, timelines of events, captions, and informational text).  The further reading section gives a combination of books and websites suitable for students (with a disclaimer on the copyright page in regard to the fact websites can change, but at the time of publishing they were deemed student appropriate by the editors of the book.  They remind educators and parents to always supervise student Internet access.)

The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale – Poll Question:

In your Reader’s Response Blog  reflect on why is this was a significant point in the tale.

Timeline of the Civil War – Poll Question:


The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale and Timeline of the Civil War – Reader Response Blog

After reading section on “The Battle of Gettysburg” blog about how this ties to The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale.  Knowing what you do now, what might be other important events to include in writing about Gabe’s experience?

Twin Text Bibliographic Information:

Fiction:  The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale © 2006

Series:  Tales of Young Americans Series

Author:  Trinka Hakes-Noble

Illustrator:  Robert Papp

ISBN:  1-58536-253-0

Cover Image Obtained From:

Noble, T. H. (2006). The last brother, a civil war tale. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press. (print)


Non-Fiction:  Time Line of the Civil War © 2012

Series:  A Gareth Stevens Timeline Series

Author:  Charlie Samuels

Picture Credits:  Christie’s Images, Corbis, Bettmann, Franz-Marc Frei, Getty Images, Library of Congress, Mary Evans Picture Library, Peter Newark, Robert Hunt Library, U.S. National Archives.

ISBN:  978-1-4339-5910-3

Cover Image Obtained From:  Gareth Stevens Publishing

Samuels, C. (2012). Timeline of the civil war. New York, NY: Gareth Stevens Publishing. (print)


Farewell for Now:

Well, fellow educators, it’s time for me to sign off for now.  The next time you have a chance to kick your feet up and enjoy your favorite steamy beverage, stop by to take time to read, think, or share about the amazing things we’ve discovered, encountered, or experienced in this great adventure of teaching!


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