Plastic Ahoy: Pollution in the Pacific

True or false: A trash detective studies garbage in the Pacific Ocean.

Guest post by Patricia Newman

True! In 2009 a team of graduate student scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography set sail to collect and study plastic trash floating in the North Pacific. How could I pass up this opportunity? There was so much to write about:

  • Tons of plastic trash 1,000 miles off shore encroaching on marine life in the open ocean—a remote place where humans are only visitors
  • Female student explorers—environmental heroes and role models for young readers
  • The scientific method in action (great stuff for STEM and NextGen lovers)
  • Life science and a smattering of chemistry rolled into one
  • A professional photographer on board to provide images

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch follows three SEAPLEX (Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition) scientists: Miriam Goldstein, Darcy Taniguchi, and Chelsea Rochman—young women whose interest in the ocean started when they were children. They board the New Horizon armed with computers, sunscreen, and plenty of questions. How much plastic is in the Garbage Patch? Are fish eating it? Are they dying because of it? Are the chemicals used to make plastic poisoning the water? Are animals living on the plastic?

If you can’t see this video, click here.

First, readers (grades 3-6) weigh anchor with a crash course in life aboard a research vessel and what to expect in the North Pacific Central Gyre. Then, it’s time to gather data with the scientists. Three chapters are devoted to their specialties:

  1. “Miriam’s Hitchhikers” focuses on the rafting community, or the organisms that live on bits of plastic.
  2. In “Darcy Follows Phytoplankton,” readers dive into the world of the microscopic organisms that produce the oxygen for one out of every three breaths we take.
  3. “Chelsea’s Plastic Puzzle” uncovers how plastic breaks down when it simmers in the sunlit ocean.

“Charting the Answers” explains the current research in terms students can understand, and introduces them to other groups working on the plastic problem. There are many, many questions still to be answered (perhaps by your students when they reach college), but Plastic, Ahoy! shows students how to be good stewards of the ocean now and how to give the ocean a voice in the fight to save it.

A complete teacher’s guide is available for Plastic, Ahoy! The guide includes seven activities appropriate for students in grades 3-6. Each activity is aligned with Common Core and NextGen Science Standards.

The Academic Standards Alignment reference tables (beginning on page 22) list every activity and the standards it addresses in an easy-to-use format that helps teachers quickly find activities for the standards they want to emphasize. Activities include:

  • Discussion questions
  • Understanding Gyres Crossword Puzzle
  • Ocean Food Web Dropped Phrase Puzzle
  • The Food Web Matrix
  • Summary of the Scientific Method
  • What do you think?–Hypothesis Formulation (shared below for this blog)
  • Waste Audit Analysis

Common Core/NextGen Lesson Plan Activity for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

What do you think? – Hypothesis Formulation (pp. 16-17)

Classroom Tie-Ins: Earth Day (April 22) and World Ocean Day (June 8)

Overview: Students will read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Millbrook Press, 2014/ISBN: 978-1-4677-1283-5) – a Junior Library Guild Selection. After reading the text, students will be able to construct a hypothesis based on the text and inductive reasoning.

Materials: pencil; Hypothesis Formulation Worksheet (below; printer-friendly version on page 17); Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Common Core Anchor Standards addressed (individual standards listed below by grade level):

  • CCSS Reading: R.1, R.2, R.3, R.7, R.10
  • CCSS Writing: W.1, W.8, W.9
  • CCSS Speaking and Listening: SL.1, SL.2, SL.4

NextGen Science Disciplinary Core Ideas addressed:

    li>LS1: From Molecules to Organisms-Structures and Processes
  • LS2: Ecosystems-Interactions, Energy and Dynamics
  • LS4: Biological Evolution-Unity and Diversity
  • ESS2: Earth’s Systems
  • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
  • PS3: Energy


(students may work in groups or independently):

  1. Discuss the definition of the word hypothesis as being a proposed answer to a question, an educated guess, and/or an explanation made on the basis of limited evidence. Point out that a hypothesis is a statement, rather than a question. The statement is the foundation for research to prove the validity of one’s hypothesis.
  2. In the chapter entitled “Braving the Gyre” (12-15), Miriam spots a huge, rotting squid floating in the water. She states, “It’s unlikely its death was related to plastic (14).” Ask the students to question this comment. Based on the information gleaned from reading Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and working through the Discussion and Activity Guide, encourage the students to think about the squid as a scientific specimen by asking the question “Is it possible that the rotted squid’s death could have been caused by the plastic contaminated gyres, the ocean’s Garbage Patch?”
  3. Ask students to defend their position on the above question by using the Hypothesis Formulation Worksheet as a guide. Read through Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage to find three places in the book that support the student’s position. Cite the page numbers where the information is located and paraphrase information.
  4. Draw correlating conclusions based on the citations in the space provided by interpreting the citation on the basis of one’s own experience or observation.
  5. A hypothesis is a statement that can scientifically be proven. In this case, students are to suggest ways that the squid’s death could/could not be related to the effects of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by creating a hypothesis and suggesting methods of experimentation they would use to support it.
  6. Students present findings to the class either orally, or in a video/audio format.

CCSS Standards addressed by grade

Grade 3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 2–3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1 Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Grade 4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.10 By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4–5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1 Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

Grade 5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 4–5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.1 Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.4 Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

Grade 6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.7 Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.4 Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

(NextGen Science and Common Core State Standards-Aligned Discussion and Activity for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch created by Debbie Gonzales]

PNewman Patricia Newman

Pure Grit: How American WWII Nurses Survived Battle & Prison Camp in the Pacific

Guest post by Mary Cronk Farrell

World War II American forces on Corregidor Island of the Phillipines surrendered under a hot sun at noon, May 6, 1942. After five months of brutal combat nursing, 68 American Army Nurses became Japanese prisoners of war. The horrors of prison camp awaited them–disease, starvation, and humiliation by their guards.

They had deployed to the Philippine Islands to enjoy a life of ease in a tropical paradise. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor plunging the United States into World War II. The bombing of American bases in the Philippines quickly followed the strike on Hawaii. Filipino and American soldiers withstood the Japanese onslaught until they ran out of food and ammunition. Tens of thousand of men were forced to surrender, many shipped to slave labor camps in Japan.



The Army women and eleven U.S. Navy nurses also captured spent three years in prison camps before being liberated by General MacArthur’s men in 1945. PURE GRIT tells the story of these brave women’s survival through diaries, documents and rare historical photos. With ingenuity and dedication to duty, the women set up a hospital and cared for other prisoners as long as they had the strength to rise from their pallets. The woman turned suffering into humor, hope and the will to survive.

American civilians prepare lunch in a courtyard on the Santo Tomas University campus,

American civilians prepare lunch in a courtyard on the Santo Tomas University campus,

The following lesson plan and fun power point quiz will draw students into the story of World War II in the Pacific and help classes meet Common Core requirements.
PG cover #3

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Ask students to study the two photographs of scenes at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in the Philippines during World War II and make a short list of what inferences they can draw from the photos about conditions in the prison camp. Have students turn to a partner and compare their lists about what they see in the photos and what it might mean.

Read aloud several paragraphs from pages 76 and 90 in PURE GRIT. Ask students how the information and inferences they drew from the photos compares to the textual information.

Do this Online Quiz about Mapping during World War II.

For more, download the full Teacher’s Guide. Teacher’s Guide-Pure Grit with Hyperlinks to Online Resources

If you can’t see this video, click here.

Mary Cronk Farrell is an award-winning author of Children’s/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Writing such stories has shown her that in our darkest moments we have the opportunity to discover our true identity and follow an inner compass toward the greater good. For more, see

The Power of the Picture Book: Amazing Professional Development Opportunity

Dear Educators:
In a recent survey, you overwhelmingly said one of the biggest challenges was finding appropriate professional development to help you plan for and teach the Common Core State Standards. Today, I’m excited to tell you about an amazing workshop to be held at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA. Home of the Highlights Magazine for Kids, the Foundation hosts retreats for writers and educators on topics related to children’s books, literature and reading.

Add the Highlights Foundation to Eric Carle’s THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR and, Wow! You’re in for a treat.

Alison and Rosemary, what’s your favorite children’s picture book and why is it your favorite?

Allison: I often use this question during workshops as an ice breaker and can see the look of fear cross every educator’s face. WE LOVE PICTURE BOOKS, so narrowing down to just one is quite a task. For me, my all time favorite is The Man WHo Walked Between the Towers by Mordaci Gerstein. The book is smart in every sense- movement, framing, interaction. I’ve used this book in every classroom from pre-K through college-level because of the open-ended possibilities– its irresistible illustrations and its emotional resonance are just the surface. And if I could just sneak in a few more…Bone Dog and Rosa and Meet Danitra Brown and The Spider and the Fly and First the Egg and Extra Yarn and John, Paul, George, and Ben and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and The Lion and the Mouse and Henry’s Freedom Box and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and No, David! and Tuesday and Smoky Night and Yo!Yes? and Balloons Over Broadway and Z is for Moose and The Year I Didn’t Go to School…Okay, now I feel a little better.

Rosemary: For one so passionate about picture books, this question is tantamount to asking a parent to choose their favorite child! That said there are many ways I fall in love with books. I’m often smitten with those books whose art and design come together to create an amazing whole…Where the Wild Things Are, Extra Yarn, Flora and The Flamingo, Locomotive, The Wave, just to name a few. Then there are those books, which when shared with a child, produce a magic all their own like …Papa, Please Get he Moon Fo Me, Blueberries for Sal, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Snowy Day, Z is for Moose. Lastly are the books, that like a familiar smell or taste recall fond memories…some of mine being The Color Kittens, Goodnight Moon, and The Little House. Of course I could add many other books to each of those categories, but better yet, you should think of your own.

Talk about putting the right children’s book in the hands of a kid.

Allison: There are two steps to getting good books into children’s hands.
Step One: Make Books Accessible (libraries, schools, museums, spectacular programs like First Book and Project Night-Night).

Step Two: READ! One hat I wear is as a Pre-Primary Montessori teacher. I select books for my read-alouds and group work that I hope will interest my children, or teach, or reach them in a positive way. But the best way to assess a good book according to my observations: stock the library and get out of their way! Children, like adults, have very personal reasons for selecting their favorite picture books. I can’t keep No, David! on the shelf- a little boy runs naked in the street in that book. Likewise The Very Hungry Caterpillar spends his days in a corner sprawled on the laps of children who flip immediately to the:

1 apple
2 pears
3 plums
4 strawberries
5 oranges
1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle, 1 slice of Swiss cheese, 1 slice of salami, 1 lollipop, 1 piece of cherry pie, 1 sausage, 1 cupcake, 1 slice of watermelon, 1 green leaf

I repeat: Step One: Make Books Accessible. Step Two: READ!

Rosemary: I totally agree with Alison. It not so much putting the right books in the the hands of children as having them experience the pleasures of reading. Whether it’s the intimate human connection of sharing a book, seeing oneself on the pages of a wonderful story, nurturing an interest (trucks or T-rex being the current ones in my house given 2 grandsons) , expanding the world of possibilities, or exciting one’s imagination; having books be the conduit for such moments can’t help but lead to a love of books and all they have to offer.

Eric Carle’s books and careers are amazing. What is his connection to this workshop?

Rosemary: Needless to say, without Eric’s success as a author and illustrator of picture books, this collaboration with Highlights Foundation would have never come to pass.. Eric’s founding of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a museum dedicated to inspiring a love of art and reading and underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of the picture book, has enable those of us who work there to develop programs that explore the full potential of the picture book as an art form and as a foundation for arts integration and literacy. It is therefore no surprise that two such like-minded organizations should find great satisfaction in collaborating and sharing their passion for children’s literature.

WHO will be teaching this workshop?

Allison: Ro takes center stage at this workshop. She and I do a few songs and dances together, but for the most part she delivers the meat of the presentation. At the Highlights Foundation we invite some special guests to the workshop–Ro would say so that I have an excuse to give away more books–but actually these stars of the Children’s Picture Book World bring our lectures to life with real illustrations and life stories from the book making process. We’ve had award winning authors and illustrators like Eric Rohmann, Floyd Cooper, Pat Cummings, Denise Flemming, Lindsay Barrett George, Suzanne Bloom, and Neil Waldman. In every case the illustrators get so wrapped up in the workshop that they stick around during our work time to contribute and soak in every drop of goodness that the Visual Thinking Strategies and Whole Book Approach have to offer. At the end of the weekend I step in to help mold lesson plans, make connections to the common core, and set teachers up with graduate credits- if they are interested.

Rosemary: Having just stepped down from leading the educational team at The Carle, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sharing the programs and pedagogy we’ve developed with educators and working with Alison.

WHAT will teachers take away from the workshop? Will they have practical information that they can immediately put into use in their classrooms?

Rosemary: It has been a pleasure to read and bear witness to what educators say they take from this workshop. The beautiful location, the care and attention of the wonderful Highlights staff, and the great camaraderie are all balm for the often weary souls of educators. Each day they strive to excite and inspire their students while engaging them in learning. With such a great emphasis on skill-building, this workshop provides educators with the opportunity to present books as an approachable means to lifelong learning, the pursuit of critical and creative thought, and the joy that comes with being immersed in quality literature.

Allison: Darcy, so many of the evaluations state that very phrase “this is practical information that I can immediately put into use”. And they do. I work with those interested in acquiring graduate credits from the course. My favorite piece of the coursework to review is actual student examples. I pull as many of these examples as I can into the following workshop so that teachers can take lessons home to modify and use immediately.

WHEN and WHERE is the Workshop?

Our workshop: The Power of the Picture Book- Links to Literacy and Learning takes place multiple times throughout the year. In 2014 we will offer the workshop August 8-10 and October 10-12. The workshop is held at the Highlights Foundation retreat center located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. The property is the former home of the Founders of Highlights for Children, and is located near the Highlights office in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. You can earn up to 3 hours of graduate credit for this workshop.

Get more information on the October, 2014 workshop.
Get more information on the August, 2014 workshop.

The workshop takes place at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA.

The workshop takes place at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA.

WHY should a teacher attend this professional development, instead of something else?

R: After reading this interview I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to attend this workshop…having taught for 27 years I know that anything that offers inspiration, immediate and standards- aligned implementation, and great conversation is a win/win. In addition, there’s the opportunity to meet wonderful artists and illustrators, access to an unlimited supply of chocolate, and the taking home of an amazing selection of picture books!

A: If an educator is looking for professional development that meets the Common Core, we’ve got that. More importantly though, if an educator is looking for a workshop that ignites the love of reading through highly engaging, researched based activities, than follow the link below to register now!

Color Headshot Alison MyersAlison Green Myers is a National Writing Fellow and Literacy Specialist. She specializes in connecting curriculum-driven instruction to creative writing and language work. As a former Literacy Coach and Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator, she sees picture books as motivating tools for instruction. However, she knows that the best picture books are much more than tools for instruction–they become treasures in the hands of little explorers full of breath-taking art work which turn storybook characters into best friends.

Rosemary Agoglia

Rosemary Agoglia

Rosemary Agoglia is the former Senior Educator at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Trained in Visual Thinking Strategies and the Whole Book Approach, she helped many museum goers gain confidence in viewing the museum’s collections. Rosemary continues to present these programs in collaboration with the Eric Carle Museum’s mission to to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.

Primary Sources: Use this Mentor Text

Mentor Text: The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon

Guest post by Carla McClafferty
I write complex nonfiction books, which are the type of book the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require. The whole book—or just a section—can be used as a mentor text in the classroom. I’ve chosen one short section, pages 28-30, of The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon to use as an example of how the book could be used to teach CCSS anchor standards in Reading and Writing.

I’ve chosen to concentrate on this brief section of the book for three reasons. First it can be read quickly, which will allow time to read it repeatedly—looking at different details each time. Second, I chose this section of the book is because it relates a little known event in the life of George Washington that shows him as a strong, athletic young man. Third, the information found in this section is taken exclusively from two primary source documents that are easily accessible to you and your students.

When using this section to teach READING, it is my hope that through close reading students will dissect the text in order to consider why I used the information the way I did, why I made specific word choices, and compare the text to the two primary sources from which this information comes.

When you use this section to teach WRITING, it is my hope that students will understand that what they see in the published book is only one way to use the primary source documents. It does not represent the only way, nor does it necessarily represent the right way. It is simply my way. There are countless ways to use primary source documents. Each student can use the same research material and each student will use them in a different way.

For your convenience, I have included these items in the downloadable lesson plans:
1. Background for historical context
2. The text from pages 28-30, of The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon
3. The text from the journal of George Washington
4. The text from the journal of Christopher Gist
5. Suggestions on how this section could be used


USING PAGES 28-30 OF The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon
Closely read the text. It may be helpful to read the text section and discuss one Anchor Standard in READING at a time. I suggest reading the same section of the book several times, looking at the text for different information each time.
For example, I’ll take one standard from each READING Anchor Standard section:

Key Ideas and Details

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Discuss using questions like “Why was Washington in a hurry?” “Why did the author mention specifically mention Washington had a hatchet?” (I mentioned it as a nod to the MYTH of Washington using a hatchet to chop down the cherry tree.)
Does the text tell us anything about Washington’s physical abilities? Where in the text can you find evidence of this? (“step by step, the two men crunched through the frozen wilderness” “cut down trees and lashed them together to make a raft” “He kicked his muscular legs”)

Craft and Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Discuss specific words and phrases I used in the text, using questions like “Why do you think the author included the detail that George Washington “changed into his Indian clothing”? (I wanted a reader to see Washington as a strong young man making his way through the wilderness dressed as an Indian. I wanted to give readers an image of George Washington that contrasts significantly with his image on the dollar bill.)
Does this image change the way you think of Washington?
Do word choices in a text determine the tone of it? Why do you think the author wrote “water rushed against the pole with such force that it jerked him off the raft.” (I used these active words that accurately convey the emergency situation.) Would the text carry the same meaning if she wrote: “so much water passed by the pole that he fell off the raft.” Can anyone think of an alternate way the author may have written this while keeping it exciting and accurate?

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Look up the primary source documents from which this section of the book is based. See above for the online locations of the journals of Washington and Gist. Compare the journal entries to the text to see where and how I integrated information found in these documents.
Find the quote from Washington’s journal where he says the horses were “less able to travel every day” and see how I used this quote in my text. Discuss why the author may have quoted directly here (I wanted to use as many direct quotes from Washington as possible to show authenticity and that these events were written down by Washington at the time they happened.)

Compare the way Washington and Gist wrote about the events to the way I wrote about them. Both Washington and Gist were writing in what they thought were private journals, never imagining that anyone would ever read them. They wrote about this harrowing experience in a matter of fact way, with little emotion. (When I wrote about this event, my purpose was to tell what happened in the most interesting and exciting way possible.) Discuss how the purpose of a writing project influences how it is written.

By reading three pages—or the whole book—you can cover each standard for READING with your students as they:
1. Do close reading for explicit/inferred meanings
2. Determine central ideas/themes
3. Analyze development of events etc.
4. Interpret meanings of word choices
5. Study structure of text
6. Determine Point of View and style
7. Evaluate content of text/images
8. Evaluate claims and evidence
9. Compare this text with other books on GW
10. Read and comprehend text
* Often one classroom discussion or activity covers more than one standard simultaneously.

The downloadable lesson plans also include activities for writing using this nonfiction book.

McClaffertyCarla Killough McClafferty is a popular speaker and award winning author of nonfiction books. She has been a speaker at ALA, ASLA, NSTA and other national teacher conferences. She presents workshops for teachers on how to use nonfiction books in the classroom to satisfy Common Core State Standards, using her book, The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon as a mentor text. In addition to live author visits in schools, McClafferty, provides interactive video conferences with students all over the nation. As a member of iNK Think Tank, a group of nonfiction authors, she is available to participate in an innovative new program called Class ACTS that allows nonfiction authors, teachers and students to collaborate by using videoconferencing and ongoing wiki support.
Visit Carla Killough McClafferty on her web site:

K–1 Science + Math + ELA = Ocean Counting

Guest post by Janet Lawler
My first non-fiction picture book, Ocean Counting (National Geographic, 2013) combines breathtaking color photographs of ocean animals with simple, informative text to teach children to count and better understand sea life. Each page provides an additional (Did You Know?) interesting fact. Additional back matter offers a myriad of teaching opportunities.

The Ocean Counting lesson plans are organized with multiple headings and short paragraphs, so a teacher can scan and decide to follow the guide or pick and choose sections that fit his or her classroom objectives. CCSS references are cited throughout the text, and a key to abbreviations is included. Here are brief samples of sub-topics included in the lesson plans. Download the full guide for OCEAN COUNTING here

New Words and Glossary

OceanCounting-2ELA.RI.K.4 “With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.”
ELA.RI.1.5 “Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text.”

For each spread, discuss any unfamiliar words, introducing use of glossary, where appropriate; for example: 3 parrot fish.
Did You Know? information includes the word “mucus.”
Ask child/students if they know what mucus is. Discuss. Turn to glossary on final page. Explain what a glossary is. Read definition of mucus.

CCSS Writing for Ocean Counting

ELA.W.K.5 “With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed.”
ELA.W.K.6 “With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including collaboration with peers.”
ELA.W.K.7 “Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of books by a favorite author and express opinions about them).
ELA.W.K.8 “With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.”
ELA.W.1.2 “Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.”

The Ocean Counting guide supports several English Language Arts writing strands for K–1st grade. Here’s one activity about writing after More Fact-Finding/Utilizing Additional Resources.

Have student (or class together) read another book, or online source, about one of the animals in Ocean Counting. Provide each student with assignment sheet:

Animal Name _________
Did You Know? _________

Ask students to write something new that they learned about the animal (or do together as a class). Adults can guide additional reading and use of the More Information section on final page.

Repeat the assignment for a different ocean animal that interests each child.
Ask students to revise with supervision.

Math CCSS for Ocean Counting

Math.K.MD.B.3 “Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.”
[related footnote states: “Limit category counts to be less than or equal to 10.”]

Math.1.MD.C.4 “Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.”

For Math standards, this guide also includes a template for fish cards that children can cut out and use, and several suggestions for simple Ocean Counting card games. Specific standards are targeted in other suggested activities.
Example:Ocean Math Graphing.
Create (or have children create) a bar graph with three or more of animals in the book (write name/draw picture for each on graph). Ask students to go back to text, find the number that corresponds with each animal, and graph the data.
Use graphs for follow up discussion comparing quantities, such as, “how many more?”, “the most,” “the least,” etc.

Download the full guide for OCEAN COUNTING

JanetLawlerJanet Lawler’s first non-fiction book, Ocean Counting (National Geographic, 2013) was named a 2014 Outstanding Science Trade Book by the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association). Her tenth picture book, Love Is Real, has just been published by HarperCollins, and Rain Forest Colors (National Geographic) will be published in fall 2014. Janet’s love of family, nature, and “all things silly” inspires much of her writing. Her family shares its home in Connecticut with a dog, a lizard, and assorted wildlife visiting the backyard.

7 CCSS Views of Teachers: Teachers are you blushing?

You, as a professional teacher, know more about your students and your community than anyone writing standards could ever know. And the authors of the Common Core State Standards know this. In fact, they acknowledge it specifically in seven places in the ELA Standards. Let me quote the places where the standards encourage you to use your expertise.

Teacher descriptions from the CCSS-ELA Standards

  • Experts. p. 2 “Literacy standards are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, wiring, speaking, listening and language in their respective areas.”
  • Professional and Experienced. p. 4. “Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the standards.”
  • Self-Directed. p. 6 “The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”
  • Trustworthy. p. 6 “A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers.”
  • Teacher descriptions from the ELA Appendix A

    Scheuer Blick

  • Professional, experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. p. 4. Talking about selecting texts based on “reader and task considerations”: “Such assessments are best made by teachers employing their professional judgment, experience, and knowledge of their students and the subject.”
  • Independent and Trustworthy. p. 9. Elaborating on the Reader and Task Considerations: “Conversely, teachers who have had success using particular texts that are easier than those required for a given grade band should feel free to continue to use them so long as the general movement during a given school year is toward texts of higher levels of complexity.”
  • Trustworthy. p. 23. Talking about creative writing in the CCSS curriculum:
    “The narrative category does not include all of the possible forms of creative writing, such as many types of poetry. The Standards leave the inclusion and evaluation of other such forms to teacher discretion.”
  • 5 Five-Minute CCSS Tips That Yield Big Results: I LOVE #1!


    • 1. Use science fiction and fantasy. I once heard Chinese-American author Laurence Yep, winner of the Newbery Honor medal for Dragonwings and Dragon’s Gate, talk about growing up as a first-generation immigrant. He read science fiction and fantasy because he said it mirrored his life: he always felt like he lived in an alien world. From both sides–the immigrant and the general culture–science fiction and fantasy speaks about those who are different.

      An important characteristic of the College and Career Ready student is the ability to understand other perspectives and cultures (ELA Standards, p. 7). Of course, we understand that this means a need for multicultural materials. But speculative fiction—science fiction and fantasy—can take a reader into a fictional world that demonstrates the extremes of culture. It helps a student “vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different from their own.”

      If nonfiction is the new darling of the Common Core State Standards, science fiction and fantasy should be a close second.

      Though a fan of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), Yep also wrote historical fiction.

      Though a fan of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), Yep also wrote historical fiction.

      Historical fiction by Laurence Yep.

      Historical fiction by Laurence Yep.

      Yep is also the master of sff stories and this is my favorite. Because it's out of print, it's very inexpensive, but a great read!

      Yep is also the master of sff stories and this is my favorite. Because it’s out of print, it’s very inexpensive, but a great read!

      Need help in figuring out what books are appropriate for your grade level? Sign up for our news letter to received this FREEBIE: The one-page, at-a-glance Text Complexity Tool.

    • 2. Define words. The CCSS spends much time talking about the need for rigorous nonfiction texts and it recognizes that understanding those texts relies on the acquisition of vocabulary. Appendix A, pp. 32-35 discusses three levels of vocabulary words.
      • Tier One: Common words found in everyday speech.
      • Tier Two: General academic words that are likely to appear in print. Examples from Appendix A include words from “informational texts (relative, vary, formulate, specificity, and accumulate), technical texts (calibrate, itemize, periphery), and literary texts (misfortune, dignified, faltered, unabashedly.)” (p. 33)
      • Tier Three: vocabulary specific to a domain or field of study.

      The Appendix A of the ELA standards (p. 33) says: “Teachers thus need to be alert to the presence of Tier Two words and determine which ones need careful attention.”
      Bottom line: define words that kids don’t know and help them to understand the origins and subtleties of the definitions.

    • 3. Encourage questions. Teach students to ask questions about everything in a text. Students who are “college and career ready” should “comprehend as well as critique.” To quote from the Standards, p. 7, “Students are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.” This skill is taught best by encouraging a wide range of questions. Teach the who, what, when, where, why and how words and use them often.
    • 4. Use these 3 reading questions. The CCSS Anchor standards for reading are divided into three sections (see p. 35)
      • WHAT. The first three standards deal with key ideas and details and ask the What question: what does the text say?
      • HOW. The next three standards deal with craft and structure and ask the How question: how does the text say what it says?
      • COMPARE. Standards 7, 8 and 9 are about the integration of knowledge and ideas and ask this question: how does this text compare to similar texts?

      You can never go wrong by asking What, How and Compare.

    • 5. Read aloud. (especially in younger grades) “Because, as indicated above, children’s listening comprehension likely outpaces reading comprehension until the middle school years, it is particularly important that students in the earliest grades build knowledge through being read to as well as through reading, with the balance gradually shifting to reading independently. By reading a story
or nonfiction selection aloud, teachers allow children to experience written language without the burden of decoding, granting them access to content that they may not be able to read and understand by themselves.” (p. 27, Appendix A of ELA Standards.)

      Always choose a read-aloud text to go with independent reading texts. Choosing something challenging is appropriate because listening comprehension is above reading comprehension.

    Bombs Over Bikini: NonFiction Settings

    Guest post by Connie Goldsmith

    Setting in Nonfiction: Common Core Literacy

    Setting plays a major role in nonfiction and fiction for young people. It can be as important as plot and character, and as intricately drawn. In a good story (true or fictional), setting can drive both plot and characters.

    Consider the book, Blizzard of Glass: the Halifax Explosion of 1917, by Sally M. Walker (Henry Holt and Co., 2011). Ms. Walker introduces this little-known event to young readers through a well-crafted combination of riveting storytelling using primary documents, and a setting so detailed that one almost shivers from the cold with each page turn. As settings, Halifax Harbor and the blizzard that followed are as vital to her story as are the people affected by this tragedy. The massive explosion might not have been as deadly had it occurred in another harbor. And had the blizzard not delayed rescue efforts, more lives could have been saved.

    Bombs Over Bikini: the World’s First Nuclear Disaster, by Connie Goldsmith, (Lerner Publishing, 2014) similarly occurs in a setting that shaped events. In this case, the setting is the Marshall Islands, and the events were the sixty-seven nuclear bombs detonated by the U.S. military between 1946 and 1958.

    BOB_Cover-330Bombs Over Bikini
    ISBN-10: 146771612X
    ISBN-13: 978-1467716123
    Released January 1, 2014 by Twenty-First Century Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing

    The U.S. nuclear testing program was intended to keep the U.S. ahead of the Russians, and to advance scientific knowledge about nuclear bombs and radiation. These objectives were met, although not without serious consequences. Some islanders suffered burns, cancer, birth defects, and other medical conditions resulting from radiation poisoning. Many of the Marshallese people were resettled on other Pacific islands or in the United States. They and their descendants cannot yet return to Bikini, which remains contaminated by radiation.

    President Harry S. Truman and U.S. military leaders searched the world for the right setting for the nuclear testing. They considered the Galapagos Islands, and other sites in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific. They chose the Marshall Islands because they believed the islands were, “a good place for a bomb.” The elements leading to that decision were the nature of the Bikini Atoll and its large sheltered lagoon, a mild predictable climate, a small compliant population amenable to relocation, and a site under U.S. control and within 1000 miles of a B-29 base. The testing site also had to be far away from the U.S. to protect Americans from radioactive fallout. Perhaps no other setting in the world than the Marshall Islands met all those requirements.

    Common Core State Standards Lesson plan

    Learning Objective – Students will articulate the reasons related to setting that led to the U.S. selecting the Marshall Islands for the nuclear testing program.

    Pre-reading activities

    • Activate prior knowledge. Ask students what they know about nuclear bombs and to share that information with a partner. Each team will share one or two items with the class. Record answers on a poster or board.
    • Vocabulary. Many words in “Bombs Over Bikini” will be new to students. Assign two words to each team. The team will research their words and present them to the class along with a definition and a sentence using the vocabulary word. Use the book’s glossary for this purpose. Select enough words so the teams do not duplicate each other’s work.

    Post-reading activities
    Students will develop written answers including details relevant to setting to the following questions:

    • How did the Marshall Islands form?
    • Why were the Marshall Islands chosen as an ideal place for nuclear testing?
    • Where else might the military have tested the bombs?
    • President Truman said that the nuclear testing site had to “permit accomplishment of the tests with acceptable risk and minimum hazard.” Did the Marshall Islands fit this requirement? Was this an acceptable requirement?
    • Why were the Bikinians so compliant about the move? What would you have done based on the knowledge they had at the time?

    Common Core Standards addressed:

    • CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RL.7.3. Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

    Nonfiction/fiction pairing

    Pairing fiction and nonfiction allows students to analyze, and contrast/ compare two or more texts that address similar themes or topics. This can result in a well-rounded reading experience that bridges the gap between students who prefer fiction, and those who prefer nonfiction. This benefits both groups by exposing them to a variety of different types of text.

    Pair “Bombs Over Bikini” with Theodore Taylor’s, The Bomb. As a young man, Taylor served aboard the USS Sumner as the Navy prepared Bikini for the nuclear testing. The wrenching reality of Taylor’s novel and the likewise poignant quotes of affected people in “Bombs Over Bikini,” combine to tell a haunting story about a time, a place and a people unfamiliar to most young readers.

    • Have groups of students find three examples of setting in both books; compare and contrast the descriptions.
    • Discuss how the people of Bikini reacted to the evacuation from their homeland in each book.
    • Is the relationship between the people of Bikini and the U.S. portrayed as similar or different in each book?

    Common Core Standard addressed:
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

    Connie Goldsmith specializes in books for young readers about science, health and history. Bombs Over Bikini: the World’s First Nuclear Disaster, is her 14th book. An article in the Sacramento Bee newspaper about a reunion of Marshallese People inspired her to begin this research and write this book – the first nonfiction title about this event for young readers. She is also a recently-retired registered nurse who writes continuing education articles for nurses and other health care professionals. She writes a pediatric health column for California Kids, a Sacramento regional parenting publication, and reviews juvenile books for The New York Journal of Books and California Kids. She holds a B.S.N. and an M.P.A. in Health Care). Connie is a member of the Authors Guild and SCBWI’s California North/Central Region, where she serves as Conference Coordinator. Currently she is working on several nonfiction and fiction projects. She lives near Sacramento, California where she hikes along the American River, sweats out the miles on her treadmill, and visits with family and friends between bouts of frenzied research and writing.

    Sparkle, Shirley! A Biography of Shirley Temple

    The world was saddened to hear that Shirley Temple Black died last night. She was an amazing child actress, a great U.S. Ambassador and a sparkling personality. I have studied her life and offer here an original story, a short biography. This 1000-word story is a 900L, that is suitable for 4-5th grade readers or as a read aloud for younger readers. A filmography and bibliography are included.

    Speaking about Shirley Temple’s films, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served during the Depression years, said: “When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just a fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”


    Download: SPARKLE, SHIRLEY! SPARKLE!: How Shirley Temple Brought Hope to the Great Depression.