Digital Citizenship Survival Kit

This is a fun and easy lesson I did with 4th-6th graders. I used a new fishing tackle box, and gathered materials to place in it that represented different aspects of responsible, safe digital citizenship. I gave students the opportunity to guess what each item might represent first, before I revealed the answer, and it resulted in enthusiastic participation. The stories students added to the discussion were excellent. For example, when we discussed not sharing anything electronically that grandma would be horrified by, one student contributed that her 13-year old brother started a group text with his buddies and accidentally included his grandma, who got a hilarious eye-full. The point was made for me!

Digital Citizenship Survival Kit

Padlock – Instead of a password, think about using a passphrase. A common 8-character password with an uppercase, a lower case, a number and a symbol character would take a computer only a few minutes to hack.

Bad passwords:  password, passwerd, 1234, onetwothreefour

Better password:  OPELibraryis110%AWESOME!

A good password is: easy to remember, hard to guess, unlikely to be in the dictionary.

Toothbrush – Passwords and toothbrushes are similar in that you NEVER want to share them (Exception: I recommended sharing passwords with parents).

Boxers (new!) – Another password comparison:
Don’t share with friends
Don’t leave them laying around
The longer the better
Change them regularly

Permanent Marker – Everything that is put online is permanent, even if you hit the delete button after posting. Even when using an account you think is anonymous, it’s not that difficult for someone to figure out who you are.

Magnifying Glass – Colleges and future employers will be looking at applicants’ social media activity and basing decisions on what they see.

Small bar of soap – Remember to keep it clean.

Picture of grandma – Don’t post anything you wouldn’t be happy for her to see.

Strainer/Coffee Filter – Learn to filter information found online, to determine reliability and appropriateness.

Toothpaste – Imagine the information that you are putting online is like the toothpaste coming out of the tube. Once it is out, it is almost impossible to get it all back in the tube.

Have fun with this lesson, and if you are local and want to borrow my kit, rather than assemble a new one, just ask.

Thank you to for the inspiration to do this lesson.  Be sure to check his website to see many more ideas for items to include.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Third grade students’ sense of humor, their growing knowledge of punctuation, and developing awareness of nuance make them the perfect audience for Lynne Truss’ witty book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!

Eats Shoots & Leaves2

You may recall the #1 New York Times bestselling book that Truss also authored, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Eats Shoots & Leaves1I started out the lesson with sharing both the hoax and actual magazine cover that went viral a few years ago, picturing Rachael Ray. The hoax version, sans commas, seems to declare that she engages in cannibalism and eats dogs. Talk about an immediate attention-getter!


rachelray02Then I asked two students to each read one of the following statements, being careful to pause for the commas. Everyone listened intently to detect the subtle distinction. The power of the comma is exquisitely demonstrated, as poor canines once again become food, if commas are not properly used.

IMG_7081a IMG_7081With only two sentences on each two-page spread, the book relies on it’s simplicity and highly amusing illustrations to make it clear just how important commas can be when conveying meaning in writing. Students eagerly volunteered to stand up and read some of the pages to the class.  The page spread that had the biggest reaction in every class? A combination filling station and store illustration:  “Eat here and get gas,” vs. “Eat here, and get gas.”

I passed out laminated bookmarks that I cut out of black construction paper, shaped like giant commas, and suggested that students take special notice of all the commas in the books they are reading. I also included a link on the back to a comma game students can play later, and test their commas skills.  (Note:  Requires Flash, and does not work on iPads.)



One 3rd grade boy came up to me right afterwards, and rattled off a series of sentences he made up on the spot that would be catastrophic without the comma, such as, “We’re eating Grandma!” vs. “We’re eating, Grandma!” He cracked himself up!

A 4th grade student was so entertained by it last year, that she has asked me several times to re-read it to her class again this year. I believe I will.

Genre Identification Game

The free website, has a selection of pre-made game templates that can be easily tailored for library learning activities. I used the “Random Name Picker” option, which creates a colorful spinning wheel with names or a word list that are entered.

I tried it for the first time last week, and made this literary genre identification game.  Before 3rd grade classes entered the library, I set books of various genres on every chair.  Students investigated the book on the chair where they sat down, and looked for clues to determine what genre the book was.  Either I or a student touched the iPad screen to spin the wheel, and students who felt they had the genre that was selected stood up to tell why they thought their book belonged in that category.

Could you do this activity without a spinning wheel?  Of course, but I think the fun and suspense of wondering what  genre it would land on next kept students more alert and engaged.


The game also has the option to remove a name once it has been used,
which is ideal for this activity, so that genres aren’t repeated.


Check out the ClassTools website and see what games you are inspired to create!

Create-a-Snowman Game

Here’s an easy, no-mess, low-prep story time activity that was plenty of fun.

This activity would work with almost any snowman book you have, but I used Just a Snowman, by Mercer Mayer.  The kids love looking for the little mouse and the spider that Mayer is known for including in not-so-obvious places in his illustrations. (In fact, it became so disruptive when kids continued to point them out on every single page, I suggested that instead they could put their hand on their head to indicate they spotted them.  Much better!)

IMG_6982I used some blank white dice that were leftover in some dusty boxes of math manipulatives.  No one I asked seemed to know what they were originally intended for, so I re-purposed them for this drawing game, by drawing snowman parts on them with Sharpie markers.  Regular dice could be used if you draw on adhesive labels, cut them to fit, and stick them on top of the dots.

DSC04973Each student had one page with a blank snowman outline.  They took turns rolling the three dice together on the tray, and could choose one item to draw on each turn. For some, it was their first experience rolling dice.  Their teacher must be doing a great job teaching them to take turns, because they nailed that part.  They demonstrated great self-control too, drawing only one snowman part on each turn.  In addition to the hat, scarf, arms, buttons, eyes, mouth, sunglasses, carrot nose, and mittens, they really loved having the “?” symbol on the dice, which meant they could add anything they wanted.

IMG_6980 IMG_6981I have so many more of these blank white dice, I’m pondering what other ways I could repurpose them.  Suggestions welcome!

Who is? Who was?

Amelia Earhart index

Rosa Parks51kx4+QwNUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

anne franknelson mandela

Third graders are starting their biography reports, so to build excitement and to celebrate the addition of 20 new biographies from the wildly popular Who Is…? and Who Was…? series, published by Penguin, we played a quick, fun game in the library before checking out books, using the Apple TV.

Here’s a link to the game:

Students were divided into four teams, and each had my new favorite toy to use:  the answer buzzers from Learning Resources.  Then they challenged themselves to choose the correct answer first.  Because it is multiple choice, even if they don’t know the answer, they are able to figure it out by the process of elimination.  Everyone was engaged.

Examples from the game:

This man was a home run king.

Who was Neil Armstrong?
Who was Babe Ruth?
Who was John F. Kennedy?
Who was Daniel Boone?



This woman is a world famous scientist and animal rights activist.

Who is Dolly Parton?
Who is Michelle Obama?
Who is Jane Goodall?
Who is J.K. Rowling?


There are 10 questions in each round, and if your students are having fun, they can play it a second time, and the most of the questions change.

The books are widely available in paperback, but after some searching, I found the books in hardback with library binding on Amazon.  They are easily identifiable by the over-sized heads on the covers, they are all about 100 pages long, include a timeline in the back, and, most importantly, kids love to read them, even when they don’t have a biography report assignment.  

Also, Penguin just announced the contest results to name the 100th book in the Who Was series.  Over 67,000 votes were tallied and winner was STEVE IRWIN.  Look for the book in Summer 2015.



The Book with No Pictures

Book with No Pictures

“Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.  No matter what.”

Define a rule, and then proceed to show kids how they can manipulate it to their advantage.  Everyone knows, kids delight in that kind of power. This book makes adults who are reading it say very silly things. Because, well, that’s the rule.

I read The Book with No Pictures, by standup comedian, actor, writer, director, and executive producer, B.J. Novak, aloud to all the kindergarten through 3rd grade classes before the winter break, and it was a ridiculous amount of fun. For inspiration, I watched this video of the author reading his book to a group of kids, and I’m so glad I did.  How else would I know how to sing the page about how I eat ants right off the rug for breakfast?

When I reached the marathon gibberish page that starts with “Gluur Ga-wocko ma grumph a-doo…” for about the 10th time, I decided to ask for student volunteers to try it. It’s a challenge! The kids loved getting to attempt it, so I used more volunteers for other silly pages.

At the end of the story, I asked, “What would happen if you handed this book to your dad and asked him to read to you?” (chuckles)  “Or your grandma?” (guffaws) “Or how about the principal?” (completely lost it) They howled, naming all the people they’d like to make read it to them. Let that sink in for a moment–early elementary kids gleefully plotting what adults they will make read a book to them. That’s a win on so many levels.

Does this book foster a positive connection to the printed word? Does it ever.

Will adult curmudgeons sniff their noses and declare it is too silly? Maybe.

Do I wish it didn’t include the words “Boo Boo Butt?” Yes, so I whisper those words.

Is it ever going to be on the shelf again this year? Not likely.

One adorable little boy wanted it so earnestly, he stopped in the library nearly every day to see if I was done reading it to the other classes so he could check it out. When he returned it, he told me all about reading it with his dad, his mom, and his grandma. One of them may now be a recovering curmudgeon.

Next time, I think I’ll add a coloring page activity after reading this book.  I downloaded these two PDF’s from the Bryce Don’t Play blog.

More info about the book and the author can be found here, On the Teacher page, there’s a link to a 10-minute excerpt from B.J. Novak’s keynote address to the American Library Association, including the inspiration for the book, his process of testing it, and (my favorite part) about his epiphany that when a child hands you a book to read them, they are essentially a little producer, handing you a script:

“Here’s what you’ll be performing tonight.
These are your lines.
Be yourself.
Feel free to make it your own, but stick to the script.
I may ask you to do it a second time.”

4th – 6th Graders Rock the Newbery Game

Buzzers 2

BOING!  “The Westing Game!”

HONK HONK!  “Moon over Manifest!”

DING DONG!  “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!”

DING!  “The One and Only Ivan!”

These are a few of the answers the 4th-6th graders excitedly called out when we played a Newbery Award game in the library this week.

I’ll tell you the secret to making answering book title questions so much fun:  It was these answer buzzers that each make a different loud, funny sound. Go to Amazon and order them by Learning Resources. You can do it right now. I’ll wait here.

Buzzers 1A fun-loving colleague from a nearby school district elementary library loaned me these answer buzzers, and gave me the inspiration for creating this game. It cannot be overstated how much fun it is to answer a question when one gets to hit one of these buttons first. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these should be used in court when questioning defendants on the stand. They are just that compelling.

BOING!  I confess, I did it.

HONK HONK!  Yes, I stole those items.

DING DONG!  I had accomplices, and I’ll name names.

DING!  I’ll tell you everything, as long as I get to keep hitting these answer buttons!

I displayed Newbery Award and Honor books on a large table, and gave a short talk about the Newbery Medal. “Who knows what these gold and silver round stickers mean?” I shared some of the eligibility criteria, like the book must have been published in the United States in the preceding year, the author must also be a citizen of or reside in the United States, the book can be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, and that children up through age 14 are the intended potential audience. I also shared some of the history; it is named for John Newbery, and the first award was given in 1922.  Information can be found right here on the Association for Library Service to Children website.

Students eagerly raised their hands to tell me which books on the table they had read and loved.

Holes was awesome, both the book and the movie!”

“We just read Island of the Blue Dolphins in class!”

The Graveyard Book was soooo good!”

“I’m reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle right now, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

“My teacher read, Carry On Mr. Bowditch out loud to us last year.”

I believe the best advertising for books is from peers, and this was even better than I could have hoped for.

I made a two-page list of selected winners and honor books that best suited my needs for the game, that are in the school library collection, and made enough 2-sided copies for every student.


To make 4 teams quickly, I randomly set laminated, color-coded cards that matched the buzzers on all the chairs before the classes came in and sat down, to designated what team they were on.  I learned from a teacher that if you say, “You have 30 seconds to get to your team table,” they get there MUCH faster.

Chairs with Color Coded Cards

Game Table 4 Game Table 3
Game Table 1

I read out clues, and teams searched the lists for books that met the description, and rushed to hit the buzzer first, and called out their answers.  Below are some of the clues I came up with, but there are so many other possibilities.

A book title with Mr., Mrs. or Dr. in it
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Carry on Mr. Bowditch
Dear Mr. Henshaw
Mr. Popper’s Penguins (be sure to point out the year this was a winner–1939!)
The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

A one word title

Day of the week in the title
The View from Saturday
The Wednesday Wars

Book title has the word “game” in it
The Westing Game
The Egypt Game

Insect in the title
Cricket in Times Square
House of Scorpion

A sea mammal in the title
Island of the Blue Dolphins

An animal in the title
Julie of the Wolves
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Sign of the Beaver
Turtle in Paradise
Witch of Blackbird Pond

Title includes something to do with space
Sing Down the Moon
Moon Over Manifest
Walk Two Moons
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
A Corner of the Universe
Number the Stars

Book title has a number in it
The One and Only Ivan
26 Fairmount Ave.
Three Times Lucky
One Came Home
One Crazy Summer
The Hundred Dresses
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963

The last class of the day went MUCH smoother than the first, and I fine-tuned the process as the day progressed.  One lesson I learned:  We kept score for some classes, but not for others.  Funny thing, it didn’t really matter.  Kids loved playing whether they were earning points or not, and I just kept replenishing the books on the Newbery Award table as they were checked out.

Several students stopped by after school to ask if we could do more games like that, and even brainstormed ideas on what the games could be. (“How about a Wheel of Fortune Game?  You could make a big wheel and send us off searching for books…”)  You can’t buy that kind of excitement.

Oh my goodness, I just checked:  Amazon has a Wheel of Fortune spinner!

Mind Your Manners


With Thanksgiving around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to brush up on (or learn) good manners.  I held this story time at both the public library for K-5’s, and the elementary school library for two classes of transitional kindergarteners, omitting the pumpkin craft at the school due to time constraints and skill level.

.Yes Please, No Thank YouSuppose You Meet a DinosaurNo Slurping, No Burping

Students enthusiastically participated in the story, “Yes, Please!  No, Thank You!” by calling out the polite way to answer together throughout the story.

They also were very engaged in guessing well-mannered ways to respond to situations (“thank you,” “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “you’re welcome,” etc.) posed in Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur, A First Book of Manners, by Judy Sierra.

No Slurping, No Burping, by Kara LaReau, is a hilarious new picture book, published this year, with a role reversal twist that makes kids giggle.  A brother and sister have to help their father with his mealtime etiquette, and then a special surprise guest comes for dinner.  The students were so eager (and a little nervous, too!) to see if he could remember all the manners he had learned when grandma arrives.  When it’s time to have dessert, it became clear that she could use a little refresher on her manners also, and everyone dissolved into laughter.



We reviewed a picture of a simple place setting, and then had a relay race with 3 teams, each with a bag containing everything needed for one place setting:  plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon, napkin, place mat.  Students had to run up to the table with the bag, one at a time, quickly set a place setting, and once it was correct, put everything back into the bag and run back to the end of the line.  The teams livened up the race by supporting each other, calling out encouragement, chanting names, and chiming in with helpful pointers.  “Put the place mat down first!”  Who knew setting a table could be so exciting?

We finished up this story time by making a paper pumpkin to use as a Thanksgiving table decoration.  The most exciting part of making the pumpkins seemed to be the novelty of getting to use the hole punches.






orange card stock, cut in 12 strips, 1 1/2″ wide  X 10″ long

green pipe cleaner

pumpkin leaf outline copied onto green card stock


hole punch


Punch holes at each end of all the orange strips, and in the leaf to put the pipe cleaner through.  Crunch up a small section of the pipe cleaner at the bottom and top of the pumpkin, so the orange paper holds the desired shape.  Spread out the strips of paper in a circle.  Finish by curling the top of the pipe cleaner.


What Zombies Can Teach About Writing

Book Cover

Why would a zombie just walk, when she could lurch?  Or clomp?  Or even trudgeMonsters Can Mosey–Understanding Shades of Meaning, story by Gillia M. Olson, illustrated by Ivica Stevanovic, is an excellent read aloud choice for upper elementary students to demonstrate how vocabulary choices can make writing more exciting and vivid.

It presents 18 different words with similar but different meanings, as zombie child, Frankie, is encouraged by her zombie mother to select a signature way of walking.

The illustrations are cartoonishly ghoulish, and will captivate a younger audience without frightening them.  Characters have a gray-green pallor, unkempt hair, torn clothing, and have a few stitches holding them together, yet their wide-eyed faces give them a cute, silly appearance.

What did we do after we read the book?  Picture a library full of 3rd graders, performing their best zombie walks with arms outstretched, and vacant expressions.  These were the instructions, as we took 5 slow steps in each style.

  • Lurch:  an awkward staggering walk
  • Trudge:  walk like it is really hard work
  • Lumber:  walk clumsily and heavily
  • Clomp:  walk heavily and noisily
  • Stomp:  walk heavily, noisily and usually angrily
  • Mosey:  walk in an unhurried or aimless manner
  • Stride:  walk with large steps usually with purpose

You can guess how they walked out of the library, after their teacher lined them up.  All monsters need a good walk.

Creepy Carrots!

 Creepy Carrots Book Cover

Need a slightly scary story to read aloud in October, but don’t want to seriously frighten your little listeners?  The 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds is the answer.

Jasper Rabbit had a passion for carrots, and liberally helped himself to the carrots in Crackenhopper Field…until they started following him.  Dun, dun dun!

Readers are led to wonder whether Jasper is imagining the appearance of scowling carrots in various locations. He sees them in the mirror of his bathroom while he is brushing his teeth, but when he turns around, there are only three orange objects sitting on the bath tub ledge.  Were three creepy carrots glowering at him?  Or was it just an orange washcloth, rubber duck, and shampoo bottle?  Each sighting is similarly vague, with a variety of orange objects providing just enough doubt that only at the end of the book do readers learn the delightful truth about the carrots.

Creepy Carrots!

Creepy Carrots!

IMG_5971[1]  IMG_5982[1]

After I read the book, students made their own creepy carrots, and had the option to take it home with them, or tape it up in the library anywhere they chose (except ON a book).  If they had time, many made two–one to take home, and one to decorate the library with for the month of October.  The library has creepy carrots peeking out of all the bookshelves, and the students are loving seeing them all around.

Student:  “My sister made one yesterday and hung it up on in the dining room at home!”

Me:  “Was it really a creepy carrot, or was it just an orange vase?”