This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Gracie Mata

As a third grade bilingual teacher, I have found that it can be extremely difficult for bilingual students to grasp several mathematical concepts without the use of visual aids. Recently I stumbled across a series of books named MATH START written by Stuart J. Murphy which provide students with realistic life stories and good visual support for math concepts. His goal throughout these books is to provide visual learning strategies that can be used to show how something works, demonstrate academic ideas, and teach new concepts.

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These stories combine math concepts along with the visualization needed to help students understand and become more fluent in mathematics.   The combination of math and text allow them to form a connection to the real world and make their learning relevant. These books produce a balance between the math and the story, providing visual and text.

As an introduction to a new math concept I have incorporated many of these books into my math lessons. To begin a math lesson I scan the book and create a flipchart, incorporating questions in between slides to help create discussion. This also allows it to become more interactive for the students. Some of the most favorable books I’ve used in my class are Probably Pistachio, Racing Around, and Betcha!

A difficult concept for students to grasp is estimation, so the book BETCHA is a great way for students to understand how the concept is used in real life situations that require estimation. The book is about a boy who wants to win tickets to an event but has to guess how many jellybeans are in a bottle, so he estimates approximately how many rows of jellybeans there are by how many in each row and estimates correctly.

Another favorite is Probably Pistachio which shows probability; this book can also be used to teach predicting outcomes. This book really targets the vocabulary in the lesson and uses it repeatedly in content; this is a great method when teaching ELL’s a new concept.

The books are well written in the way that the math content does not interfere or overpowers the story, and that the story doesn’t control the topic to where the math gets lost.

Visual Learning is a method that allows students to fully engage in math through stories that use illustrations, diagrams, graphs, symbols and other visual models.   It can also be used to make sense of difficult information quickly.   It is said that visual learning is an essential part of our communication process and through communication many things can be better explained and understood.

This series can be a possible tool for all students struggling to make a connection with math concepts. The visual aids used in these books and in the story lines are inspired to cater to the needs and likes of children.

Read alouds in ALL subjects!

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By M. Guerra

I always assumed that only teachers in the early childhood grades would use read alouds.  It is thanks to taking this course I have understood and valued reading for what it’s truly worth.  A book can be read aloud to any grade level; it is up to the teacher to choose what is adequate enough for his or her students.

Choosing a book title can be rather tricky if you have no idea where to start.  In my first year teaching, I would randomly choose any book that looked good enough to read to my first graders. Throughout the years, I have changed my ways of selecting books.  Many books can be found to connect to all subjects.

 During Math time, our curriculum has a big book which is used in introducing the new math topic.  Along with this big book, I highly recommend teachers to find books that correlate with the skill being taught.  Several books can be used for different math skills.  One of my personal favorites is Fat Frogs on a Skinny Log by Sara Riches.  This book can be used for number counting, addition and even subtraction.  My students were very intrigued during this read aloud.  One can truly change a story simply by changing their voice and adding excitement to what may happen.

Teaching Science can either be very interesting or boring to students.  Many students need to have visuals, videos, books and hands on experiences in order to truly learn what is being taught.  In our animal unit, first grade students must learn about the life cycle of certain animals.  The Life Cycle of a Frog by Lisa Trumbauer really helps to introduce how frogs develop.  Many students who have no idea how a frog is developed will learn just by hearing you read this book.

The Kite from Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel is a selection from our Texas Treasures basal.  This story is a fiction story about a Frog and Toad who try to fly a kite.  It is quite an adventure seeing them try and try again.  I always introduce this story by having a very dramatic read aloud.  My students get super excited and laugh at how Frog and Toad don’t give up.  Mid week after reading and discussing this story we make a connection to our Science unit and compare the life of a real frog to that of Frog and Toad.

 As you can tell literature can be used in all subjects.  Some books can be read aloud for introducing, teaching and even entertaining.  Using a wide variety of literature exposes our students to the wonderful world of reading.  Take advantage of read alouds by showing expression to your students. It can be a simple expression that will intrigue a young reader to want more.

Helping Young Children Improve Comprehension of Information Texts

This semester in READ 6310 students were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By Ashely M. Clark

As children go from lower elementary grades to upper elementary grades, reading and text changes dramatically. In my opinion, the transition from second grade to third grade is a drastic change for many children and their parents. Children are no longer learning to read but are now reading to learn. As a third grade teacher, I have had many experiences where students feel overwhelmed and parents are wonder what happened to their child’s reading ability from second to third grade; where they were having success in reading and now see a decline.

 In this situation, what is necessary to understand is that, at this grade level, students reading tasks change. Students are assigned tasks in which they have to analyze information, whereas in most cases students do not have the prior knowledge to make connections to text, they do not have the reading ability to decode the vocabulary or they do not how to comprehend the terminology.

 Informational texts carry real information and most often have a structure different from that of a narrative. Timelines, graphs, directions can be key features in informational text. Within both genres of literature, students use skills such as sequence, listing, compare and contrast or cause and effect. Although readers at this grade level have had experience with these skills, they have difficulty relating these skills to informational text.

 In order to build comprehension of informational texts there are simple strategies that can be used with children to aid in their understanding and reading ability. Three strategies that can be utilized are the KWL Chart, Modeled Think-Aloud and Think-Pair-Share.




K-What I Think I Know

W- What I Know

L-What I Want To Learn





Within a KWL Chart, students are listing from general details to specific details. Students can write individually, in pairs or a group. K (What I think I know) is a pre-reading strategy to get the students thinking about their literature.  W (What I think I know) is important because students can relate their prior knowledge to their reading. This can be done at a specific section of the text that introduces new information. Have students stop and write their reactions and talk about it. L (What I want to learn) is done at the end of reading. Students analyze their new knowledge of the subject matter and wonder about other related topics of interest they would like to explore. 

 Think Aloud

MH900445118My personal favorite! I have seen this work wonders for my students and it is very easy to do. This is a great strategy to share with parents as well. The Think Aloud strategy is a modeled strategy of how a skilled reader makes sense of a text. While reading expository texts create intentional stops at certain points to summarize text, paraphrase, predict, question, and relate prior knowledge to the text ALOUD. Let the students hear how a reader thinks, speaks and relates. As the teacher models thinking aloud while reading, children will begin to as well.





MH900433934Think-Pair-Share is a reading strategy that can be used sporadically when reading. When reading informational texts, create intentional stops throughout the text and incorporate this strategy by asking a question. Have students think to themselves about the question, pair up with a classmate, and share their ideas. With this strategy students can gain better comprehension of the text and learn new insights about the text. 

Vocabulary in a Bag

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By: A. Castillo

My fifth grade students and I were reading an expository article, from Time for Kids magazine, about magnets to support (or add) to their knowledge they had previously acquired during their Science block.  I was shocked to discover that many of my students could not tell me the meaning of disconnect.  I thought this would be a word they could easily explain; however, they were genuinely stumped by the word.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was in awe!  Afterwards, I remember thinking how my students have truly struggled with vocabulary all school year – with words that I took for granted they would understand.  So, the wheels started turning.  I had to figure out an activity interesting enough to keep their attention and, yet, meaningful of an experience that they would value the purpose of it.  I immediately thought of an activity my oldest daughter had done in her middle school math class.  All I had to do was tweak it so it could be utilized for a reading class.  As a result, vocabulary in a bag was created.

In her book, Yellow Brick Roads (2000), Janet Allen quotes research from Baker, Simmons, and Kameenui that confirms “reading is probably the most important mechanism for vocabulary growth throughout a student’s school-age years and beyond” (p. 184).  During reading, students kept record of unknown words in their journal.  These words were from a read aloud, class novel, or their personal reading.  At the end of the class period, we would collaborate to discuss the words as a whole group, small group, or with partners.  After numerous discussions, I instructed the students to narrow their lists to a couple of words.  We would then use these words to illustrate vocabulary in a bag.

 Their chosen vocabulary term(s) was written creatively on the top center of the white bag.  Next, they would re-read the word in the context it was used and write a definition of the word.  Then, they would select a picture from magazines that coordinated with the word.  The purpose of the picture was to help my English language learners (ELLs) match the word to a visual.  On the left side of the bag, students would create synonyms of the word. This helps students broaden their vocabulary by becoming familiar with other words that have the same meaning.  On the right side of the bag, students would create antonyms of the word. This assists students to differentiate between examples and non-examples.  The motive behind creating synonyms and antonyms was because I noticed they had a limited vocabulary of basic words.  For example, they knew what the word cry means and how to use it in a sentence, but they had never heard of whimper, bawl, or wail.  I wanted to expose them to new language.

blog post 2As I mounted the vocabulary bags onto the wall to showcase our personal class word wall, I noticed that the activity resembled Janet Allen’s Language Choices, from Yellow Brick Roads (2000), in which she had recorded overused words in books her and her students were reading together (p.189).  My students had created their personal language collection.  I happen to agree with Allen with “using language collection with my students as a way to help them become more aware of language and find words they could appropriate for their own use” (p. 184).  This activity has had a positive impact on my students’ speaking and writing skills.  For example, I can recall a student tell me “Ma’am, this assignment was easy.  No, I mean effortless”.  I also noticed how they would use their creation as a resource while they wrote. 

It is moments like these that signal to me this activity was interesting and meaningful to them as I had hoped for.

Arts Benefit in Student Achievement

By Joe Barrios and Abel Ocanas

This post is written by students in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

According to the book Critical Evidence:  How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement, students that have been exposed to the Arts have greater achievement.   The author, Sandra Rupert, notes that learning experiences in the arts contribute to the development of academics skills, including the areas of reading and language development, and mathematics.  One way of determining these results is by making assessments with standardized exams.  The study of music has provided a context for teaching language skills.  Students that are involved in drama have to use their reading skills in memorizing and acting their part in a skit.  An analysis conducted of multiple studies confirms that finding that students who take music classes in high school are more likely to score higher on standardized mathematics tests such as the SAT.  One example is musical training in rhythm emphasizes proportion, patterns and ratios expressed as mathematical relations. 

Another benefit is that students also improve in using their thinking skills and social skills.  Students that are involved in Jazz are exposed to improvising.  Improvising allows students to be creative and come up with their own melody while listening to the main accompaniment.  Social skills are another benefit that is gained by being exposed to the Arts.  According to Sandra Rupert, Art activities promote growth in positive social skill, including self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy and social tolerance.     

The arts help create a positive school environment.  The learning environment is created by teachers and students success that foster teacher innovation, a positive professional culture, community engagement, increased student attendance, effective instructional practice and school identity.  According to Sandra Rupert, a comparative study with other Chicago public elementary schools, students from the CAPE schools performed better on standardized tests than the students who attended schools that did not integrate the arts with academics.

Criminalization of Immigrants

By L. Treviño

This post is written by a student in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

Now more than ever immigration has become a hot topic here in the United States, especially considering where I am planning to teach, which is in South Texas. I believe that this lesson plan and topic is one that I would definitely try to modify to fit in my lesson plans.  Now more than ever it is safe to say when an American citizen hears about an immigrant or an illegal alien the person will automatically assume that that individual is of Mexican descent.  Although through the history of the United States it is not only Mexicans who are mistreated as immigrants, I felt that because I am addressing a predominantly of Mexican heritage class that in order to grasp their attention and interest it would be best for me to focus on a culture that they may relate to.  I am hoping that this will spark enough interest in them that they will want to begin their own research and look more in depth into other immigration problems and mistreatment of ethnic groups. 

Something I would like to make clear in my lesson is that breaking the law is breaking the law but I would hope to get the point across that these individuals are not criminals who seek to do harm but instead are individuals almost like refugees looking for a safe place and for a better opportunity for their family.  To hear the way several people describe Mexican immigrants and the use of the term wetback really affects the mind set of those around them. The derogatory terms that are used to describe Mexican immigrants create hate and ultimately create tension.  I am not trying to influence the students to be in support of illegal immigration but instead educate them so that when they are in a discussion about this topic that they will be able to speak with knowledge and an understanding of both sides of the problem and not simply regurgitate what they have been spoon feed by the media and by entertainment. 

While looking for a video clip on YouTube I ran across so many videos depicting Mexicans in the most horrid fashions.  It saddened me not because they were against immigration but because of their naive ignorance to what is really going on and the fact that they are posting these videos where other individuals can get influenced by them and become more toxic to the community around them.  Racism is like a disease and if these individuals do not educate themselves it will spread to the ones around them.  I want my students to be able to carry themselves in a respectable matter and to be able to carry a discussion without using derogatory words or using stereotypes to make their point.  Whether they are for or against I wants them to be knowledgeable in whichever side they chose.

The books and articles that I chose because of the information that they provide.  Of the books I have chosen the one that stood out to me was Daniel Rothenberg, “With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today” reason being is that one of the very first articles in the book is an interview with an Anglo man who says that he loves being a picker, that it allows him to come and go as he pleases and to travel the world. Then it is followed by an interview of a Mexican picker who says he cannot leave the farm until the farmer allows him to leave. He must stay there until they agree for him to go. He describes his life as horrible but understands the sacrifice he must make in order to keep his family in some type of life style other than poverty.  To me this shows what a huge difference in treatment that the two individuals faced in the same type of work place. 

I want students to question the treatment of illegal aliens.  Do they believe the United States is being far in the treatment of them?  I would like students to not only be able to identify which laws were used to keep Mexicans out but also if they think the laws carried a bias in them. I would also like to show them the evolution of the Mexican immigration system and let them decided if it has positively affected the Mexican community or has it caused more tension between the 2 countries because of this. I would like students to identify stigmas that they are familiar with and have been placed on Mexican individuals as well as Mexican Americans.

This is an example of the lesson plan:

Criminalization of Immigrants

Content Objective: TLW demonstrate why and how the Border Patrol started and ultimately lead to the criminalization of immigrants.

Language Objective: TLW be able to write about laws that have been passed that deal with immigration and will also be able to identify the stigmas that have been created by the Border Patrol and Media.

Materials: Teacher supplied power point presentation as well as reading materials. Kelly L Hernandez. Migra!; A History of the United States Border Patrol, would be assigned to the class as course material in order to lay down the foundation of the findings, as well as David Montejano’s  “The ‘Mexican Problem ’”  an article that brings race and superiority to the picture. “What Triggers Public Opposition to Immigration? Anxiety, Group Cues, and Immigration Threat” by Ted Brader will also be given so they can see how fear can create cause and swiftly become out of control. Daniel Rothenberg, With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today will also be used to show interviews with pickers to show their side of the story.

 Focus: Show a video clip of the show Border Wars which is on National Geographic. The clip I will use is of a man who lives on the border leaving out water bottles and canned food in the dessert and then the self-proclaimed Minute Men discovering it and pouring the water out and confiscating the canned food that was left there for anyone in need of it.

Presentation: Students will do a research paper with materials I provided as well as their own sources and artifacts.

Closure: Ask the students if they can think of any stigmas that they have either heard, been victim to or have participated in the stereotyping of immigrants in any way.

Esperanza Rising: A Mexican-American perspective of the Great Depression

By: Varely Cantú and Elizabeth Villegas

This post is written by students in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

College made us classmates; a book made us great friends. Seven months ago, I met my friend Elizabeth Villegas. As class work intensified, so did the amount of time we spent together. Elizabeth’s major was history as was my minor. Yet, we would find that history would be more than just a commonality. As we talked about our adolescent experiences, we learned we came from very different backgrounds. Elizabeth grew up in the Valley, while I came from Mesquite; a town east of Dallas. Our school experiences seemed so opposite to each other a similarity was unlikely. As we spoke of our favorite things, I mentioned a book I had read as a 6th grader. I began by describing the book cover when suddenly Elizabeth yelled, “Esperanza Rising!” I had not even mentioned the book title which my friend had correctly declared. As it turned out, this book was also my friends’ favorite book. Too many were our differences that we found this similarity hysterically amusing.  Esperanza Rising was a book we both read as adolescents; a book that made us cry and that definitely, left an impression on us.

 Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is the story of a Mexican girl and her mother forced to make their way to the United States during the Great Depression. This novel provides a Mexican-American perspective of the 1930’s; illustrative of the struggles faced by Mexicans as they adapted to American way of life.  I remember that when I read this book, I was amazed by the similarities between “Esperanza” and me. My father had crossed into the United States illegally, just a few decades after “Esperanza.” He has told me stories of his first jobs and his living conditions as a “mojado.”  In the early 1970s, he left Texas and made his way to Bakersfield, California to pick grapes. He remembers ending his shifts with an aching back and hands black as the dirt under his feet. Elizabeth’s parents and ancestors had also been workers of the field. For Elizabeth’s parents, life in the United States consisted of picking pickles, apples, tomatoes and strawberries. By the time Elizabeth was born, her family had already changed life styles. For one summer though, Elizabeth’s parents decided to give their children a taste of the migrant life. Elizabeth was only 9 years old when she traveled with her family to Freemont, Ohio. There, she experienced the difficulties that came with working in the fields, and the emotions that are felt when being culturally isolated.

While many of our resources and activities regarding the Great Depression include the traditional “Okie” experience, we often fail to acknowledge the lives of other individuals whom also lived through this hardship. As a History or Spanish teacher, we can use this book (or the translated version) as a form of engaging our students in literacy.  Students will be more interested in reading about the Great Depression if the material is meaningful to them. Being that the majority of the students in the Rio Grande Valley are of Hispanic descent, they have probably experienced or heard of a similar situation as migrant working.  The students will be more attentive to the subject since many of our parents and grandparents once migrated to this country. Just like Elizabeth and myself, I know that students will feel a strong connection to the book, and will be drawn to literacy.