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Reading with Meaning

The Best Books for Teaching Mental Images

Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

I love to use picture books for teaching mental images in my elementary classroom. Creating a mental image or visualizing is an important comprehension skill for all readers. We want students to be able to picture what’s happening or make a movie in their mind to help increase their understanding of what they are reading.  

I use mentor texts when I am teaching mental image skills. When we are working on visualizing – I do not show the illustrations to my students when I read the book. I often hide the cover of a book by putting it in a file folder and then don’t show the pictures as I’m reading. While I’m reading students are closing their eyes and creating their own images. I will often have them stop and sketch their image on a sticky note to see how it changes throughout the story.  

They do love to see the pictures so I will often re-read the story at a later time and let them see the illustrations. It’s fun for them to see if their mental images match with the book’s pictures.

Here is a list of 3 of my favorite books for teaching mental images…

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The Napping House

Photo of the cover of the book - The Napping House

The Napping House by Audrey Wood is a one of the books for teaching mental images that I use when we start our visualizing unit.  This is a great book to use to stop at various points to have kids share or sketch their mental images because they will change throughout the book.

The book starts with a house where everyone is sleeping.  The granny is sleeping in her bed and as the story goes on a child joins her and then a dog and so on until the bed breaks at the end!

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I give students four sticky notes and then pick four points to stop in the book. I then send them to sketch their current image and at the end we do a gallery walk and see how their mental image has changed over time.

The Salamander Room

Photo of the cover of the book The Salamander Room for teaching mental images

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is another one of my favorite books for teaching mental images.  This book is also great to use and stop at various points for students to see how their image changes over time.

In The Salamander Room, a boy named Brian finds a salamander and decides to bring him home with him. Brian’s mom then inquires about where this salamander is going to sleep. Brian tells a very detailed description of all of the things he’ll bring into his room for the salamander – tree stumps for him to climb, wet leaves for him to play with, etc.  He then adds in other animals to keep the salamander company/feed him and his room turns into a forest oasis! 

I use this book like I do The Napping House. Students again will stop at a few specific points and sketch or share their mental image.  We then discuss how and why their mental image changes throughout the story and how it helps them understand the story.


Photo of cover of Mental Images book - Pigsty with photo of kid and 2 pigs.

Pigsty by Mark Teague is a hilarious and fun book to use for teaching mental images. When we read this book in class, we do come up with mental images throughout the book, but we aren’t sketching as we go. For this one, I ask students to come up with their most vivid mental image to record at the end.

In the story Pigsty, Wendell’s room is a big mess and his mother is after him to clean it. She told him it was turning into a “pigsty.” When Wendell went up to his room to clean, he found an actual pig on his bed. As the story continues, more pigs join and also help him create more of a mess.  Wendell then becomes upset when they start to ruin some of his things and decides it’s time to finally clean. The pigs helped him clean, but then decided they were on their way because his room was too clean for their liking. 

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I again do not show the pictures.  Students are coming up with their own visualizations.  At the very end, I ask students to draw their strongest, most vivid mental image and write a sentence describing it.  We then do a gallery walk so the students can see what mental image the other students picked.


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More Schema…Independent Practice Time

Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

Wow…have the last few weeks gotten away from me. I’ve taken pictures while at school, but the whole blogging thing when I got home hasn’t been happening. So, now it’s time to play catch up!

After practicing schema and text to self connections a few times whole group and through guided instruction, it was now time for independent practice.  I picked the story Ira Sleeps Over. First of all, it’s just a great story, but there are also a lot of great connection possibilities in there. Most kids have been to a sleep over, have a special stuffed animal, mean sister, or are scared of ghost stories.  Love the book and the kids loved it too (surprisingly a lot of my students hadn’t heard this one).  So, I read the story aloud and shared my connections via think aloud. Then, students pair shared their connections with each other. After sharing with each other, they wrote their own connections out still following the “When I heard the part about… it reminded me of…”  They did a great job! See an a few examples below.

“When I heard the part about Ira sleeps over, it reminded me of sleeping over at my cousins.”

“When I heard the part about Ira and Reggie were having a sleep over, it reminded me of when I went to my BFF house.” I love how she put my BFF’s house! How cute!

Schema – Text to Text Connections

Anchor Charts, Debbie Miller, Reading with Meaning, Thinking Maps

So this post has taken me way too long to write.  Things got super busy at school with data week and open house so unfortunately posting for the last week or two has gone by the wayside.

Anyways…here is the schema post I mentioned about two weeks ago.  We’ve been focusing a lot on schema in my second grade classroom.  I use Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning for ideas.  My last post/recent post was about Oliver Button is a Sissy and coming up with text to self connections.  The day following Oliver Button, we read the story Amazing Grace.  We then made text to text connections between the two stories.  To show our text to text connections we used a double bubble map. 

The kids did a great job with coming up with similarities and differences between the two books.  The double bubble map also showed it perfectly and I love being able to color coordinate things :-)!
Happy almost Friday!

More Schema…

Anchor Charts, Reading, Reading with Meaning

Here is another schema chart that we completed yesterday. This idea and chart set-up comes from Debbie Miller’s book, Reading with Meaning, which you hear me praise a lot on my blog. 

Yesterday, we read the story Oliver Button is a Sissy.


 This book touches on a bunch of issues, but is a great one to use because at some point in these kids lives they will either be teased or have already been teased and this book definitely touches on that subject.  As I read the book, I shared my connections to the story – text to self.  When I finished reading, I had students pair share to share out their connections sitting eye-to-eye and knee-to-knee. They had a lot of great connections to this book. Then, we completed the chart seen below.  To help kids get used to providing part of the text along with their connection we use the frame “When I heard the part about _____. (which is from the text)  It reminded me of _____.(their own personal connection)”  The kids are really starting to get the hang of sharing out their connections like this.

On Monday, you’ll see this story again, but paired with Amazing Grace.  Then, we’ll be working on text-to-text connections using a double bubble thinking map.

Anchor Charts Galore

Anchor Charts, Phonics, Reading, Reading with Meaning, Thinking Maps

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to blog more – and yay – this is two days in a row. I also said I’d write a post about my introductory math stations.  That was the goal, but monthly benchmark testing got in the way today. So…instead of math stations – I have anchor charts galore for you to show you a few things we’ve been working on.

Anchor Chart #1 – All week we have been doing a review of short vowels in addition to working on words with consonant blends. Below you’ll see a tree map used to categorize different words depending on their short vowel.

Anchor Chart #2 – Schema Chart. Today we read the story, Super Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst. First of all, super cute story! The kids really identify with the messy character, which is what makes this story perfect for teaching schema – text to self.  My schema set-up comes from Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning.  I shared my schema during a think aloud while reading. The kids then pair shared and shared their connections. Then, they shared out and we charted it.  Soon they’ll be ready to start writing connections on their own.

Anchor Chart #3 – In writing today, we started to review nouns. I asked the class at the beginning who had heard of nouns back in first grade.  Well, that response was scary. I got a lot of 2nd graders shaking their heads no, some with confused looks, and a lot of kids with their thumb down.  So, we moved on and watched a little clip on Brainpop Jr to either introduce it or review it. We then came up with our own list of nouns (which all happened to be common) and used a tree map to organize our thinking.  By the end, we had a basic understanding of nouns and/or a quick review to get us back up to speed. 

Happy Wednesday! Only two more days til the weekend!

First Week

Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

Wow….what a crazy, busy first week. It’s been a long time since I’ve been brand new at a school and let me tell you the first week when you’re new…isn’t easy.  I didn’t know where classrooms were, we had rainy day schedule two days (and we’re an outside school and I’m in a portable), I had new kids every day…it was an adventure to say the least. But, good news, I survived and have lived to tell about it lol. 

I didn’t get a chance to document with pictures too many activities this week, but I did want to show off our reading bulletin, which we started filling in this week.  It’s titled “Slam Dunk Into Reading” to go along with my basketball theme. The first week of school I love to use Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning beginning activities.  We made 3 anchor charts this week –

  • What do good readers do?
  • Where can readers read?
  • What do readers read?

I was impressed at the answers my kiddos came up with. I work at a high ELL school so their educational backgrounds are quite varied, but we’re working on getting them to where they need to be. 

See the bulletin below…

Making Inferences – Part 2

Anchor Charts, Comprehension Connections, Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

We spent a total of three weeks of making inferences so that the kids really had an opportunity to master the skill.  The first blog post part 1, shows some of the introduction ideas we used. As I mentioned in that post, we started by teaching concrete examples and later moved to making inferences about text.

Day #4 – From Tanny McGregor’s, Comprehension Connections – Shoe Inference Lesson
For this lesson, you bring in a shoe and the kids have to infer who’s shoe they think it is and why.  Now, I live by myself so I knew if I brought in one of my shoes they’d easily guess it, so I asked my dad if I could borrow one of his sandals.  The kids had so much fun trying to come up with ideas of the owner of the sandal and using the evidence from the sandal and their schema. See chart below…

Day #5 – The Mystery Box – idea from Inspired Apple’s Blog 

For this lesson, I pretty much followed Abby’s example on her blog and even used the valentine as my mystery item (the timing worked out well with Valentine’s Day a week or two away). We made guesses about what was in the box, then I gave the kids clues, and they filled out the mystery box sheet that Abby has in her TPT store. Great lesson and the kids had fun trying to guess the mystery item.

Day #6 – Making inferences with pictures
Today we used pictures as our evidence for our inferences. I found this great pinboard on Pinterest that has a ton of pictures that are perfect for making inferences. I put some of the photos into a Smart Board file and I was all ready to go for this lesson.  For the first few slides, we made group inferences.  We talked about what some of the different clues or evidence in the picture were that led to our inference.  Then, after multiple group inferences, I showed them two more pictures. The kiddos had to pick one picture to make an inference about. Then, I showed them their inference paper to fill out. They needed to write their inference using one of the inference phrases (see chart below) and then also explain how they go their inference.  Most students sentence frame looked like this…”I infer _______ because ______.  The kids did a great job with this activity!

Day #7 – Inferences with Short Pixar Videos
Our school literacy coach told me about this great idea – using Pixar short films for inferencing. I found a number of them on Youtube and chose the bird one that if I remember correctly was in one of the Toy Story movies.  The kids thought it was so funny and we watched the video a few times.  The last time we watched it (it’s only like 3 minutes long) I stopped it a few times and asked some questions to get the kids thinking about inferences they could make.  Then, I gave them the same inference form they used with the pictures and they had to write down one of the inferences they made from the video.
This student wrote “I infer the big bird wanted to be their friends because he waved at them.”
Day #8 – Mystery Box again
The kids had so much fun with the mystery box that I decided to do it again. This time I put green sprinkles in the box and used the following clues:
1. It is green.
2. It can be eaten.
3. It is small.
4. It goes on dessert.
See our chart below of our guesses before and after the clues.
Day # 9 – Making Inferences with a Poem
Day 9’s lesson came from Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning chapter on making inferences.  I wanted the kids to start exploring inferences with text and thought a poem would be a great way to start.  I used the poem from her book, which is about an animal, but the kids don’t know what animal it is. They have to infer from the clues in the poem what possible animals it could be. The kids love animals and this was a great way for them to start inferring with text since poems are a little shorter.
Day #10 and 11 – Where Are You Going, Manyoni?
For day 10 and 11, I again used Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning. We read the story, Where Are You Going, Manyoni? and inferred what some of the different words meant. See our chart below…
Days #12 and 13 – The Royal Bee
Day 12 and 13’s lessons are also from Debbie Miller’s, Reading with Meaning.  On the first day, we read a few pages of the story, The Royal Bee and inferred what a few of the vocabulary words meant – yangmin, Royal Bee, etc.  Then, we stopped at the part where the kids had to infer what would happen next for the main character Song-ho. I charted their inferences on the first day. Then, on day 2, they got to see if their inferences were correct.  Then, I read to the part where it came down to the winner of the Royal Bee and the kids had to predict/infer whether Song-ho or the yangmin student would win.  The kids had great answers and great evidence. See a few examples below…
I predict Song-ho will win the Royal Bee because Song-ho is smart and his whole class picked him to go to the Royal Bee.
I predict Song-ho will win the Royal Bee because he stand at the door and listened to the master’s lessons.
That about covers it for our 3 weeks of making inferences. This was probably one of my favorite units to teach this year.


Asking Questions Lesson

Asking Questions, Reading with Meaning

One of my favorite professional teacher books is Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller.  She has changed the way I view teaching comprehension with first graders. When I first moved to first grade a few years ago, I kept thinking they were so little and we needed to stick with the basics and simple comprehension questions. Boy, was I wrong!  My first grade team along with our fantastic literacy coach read Reading with Meaning as a book study and I loved it.  Debbie Miller does a great job showing how to teach deeper thinking skills (that are in the new Common Core standards) like schema, mental images, questioning, making inferences, etc.  I fell in love with this book and am glad it will tie in with the Reading Common Core standards that we’ll be fully following in August. 

One of my favorite lessons is a questioning lesson using the book, An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant.  This wonderfully written book is about a man who lives in a hotel for men and feels very lonely after leaving his town in Indiana. He eventually ends up at this restaurant that reminds him of home. On the first day, the kids listen to the story and write one burning question they have about the story on a post-it note. The next day, I take the similar questions and put those kids into a group.  We read the story again with the kids focusing on coming up with answers to their burning question. After reading, the kids get into their groups, discuss their question, and come up with possible answers to their questions.  I did this lesson the last 2 years and both times it went better than I could have imagined.  I love how independent they are at this point in first grade and how Debbie Miller’s prior lessons have set them up to not only read, but think while they’re reading.  As I was walking around the room, listening to their discussions and checking in on groups, I was so proud of the in-depth, fantastic answers they were coming up with! Check out my student’s charts below….