♥ Books that Encourage Children to Be Themselves! ♥

Rachael, from Literacy with the Littles, is here to share some of her favorite books that encourage children to be comfortable with their true selves. Rachael is a first grade teacher who is now enjoying some time at home with her twin daughters and her son. These are books she would recommend both for parents and for primary teachers. Thanks, Rachael!


From Rachael: My oldest starts Kindergarten this year. I am so excited for him to learn, grow, and make new friends. He has the sweetest heart and I want more than anything for him to stay true to himself and not change who he is because of others around him. I don’t want him to change based on what his classmates think is “cool.” So that is the inspiration behind why I chose to share some of my absolute favorite books that encourage children to be themselves. So that we, as teachers and parents, can use these stories to show children that they are special, exactly as they are.


I read this to my class EVERY year, and for good reason. This book always leads to wonderful discussions about the importance of being yourself. Here is a little snip-it about this must have book. Camila Cream loved lima beans. But she didn’t want to eat them because the other kids didn’t seem to like them. She was very concerned about what everyone else thought of her. On the first day of school she breaks out in a case of the stripes and throughout the book they seem to just get worse. By the end she learns that being herself might just be the cure that she was looking for.


Elmer is an elephant, but not an ordinary elephant. Elmer is a patchwork of rainbow colors, but he longs to be a normal elephant color. But when he gets the chance to look ordinary, he finds out it may not be all that it was cracked up to be. So with the help of his friends along the way, he learns to love being exactly the way he is.

After reading this story to my class, I loved to discuss how Elmer felt and what he learned. After our discussion it was so much fun to let the students create their own elephants that represented them. I loved the variety of patterns, colors, and designs the kids chose. You can extend on the craft by having them write about what makes them each unique and special.


This book teaches a few messages. To be true to yourself, and not to do something just because others are doing it. Stephanie tries throughout the story to be unique by having her mom do a different style of ponytail each day. When she goes to school the other kids tease her, but she states with confidence that “she likes it!”  But the next day, they all copy her style. Stephanie tries to tell them to stop copying her, but it doesn't work. By the end she finds a way to show them all that it is pretty silly to just do something that another is doing without thinking about it. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it is sure to bring a few laughs.



Every time I have read this book to a class, they have been still, silent, and completely captivated by the story. Ferdinand is a bull, but he is different from the other bulls in Madrid. He doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to sit and smell the flowers. The story gets intense when Ferdinand gets stung by a bee and the bull fighters choose him to go against the Matador. Will he fight? Or will he remain true to himself?


This book is the perfect way to reach the hearts of all of the little unicorn lovers in your class. Thelma was not a unicorn. But after a little mishap with paint and glitter, others start to believe that she is. At first she loved the attention and fame, but as time went on, she realized she missed her true friend. By the end she realizes that she just wants to be herself.


The Wemmicks were wooden people carved by Eli. Every day the Wemmicks went around putting stickers on each other. The talented and pretty Wemmicks got gold stars. But Punchinello kept getting gray dots despite his efforts to try to get stars. One day he met a Wemmick that the stickers just fell off of. He was curious how she was able to keep them from sticking and he learns just how special he is as he searched for that answer. I love reading this one to my own little ones. Such a wonderful way to remind them how truly special they are and to not let others label or define them.



If you have seen the movie, or read the novel, then you know how easy it is to love Auggie. This picture book is a wonderful way to share the same amazing message with younger audiences. Auggie is a an ordinary boy, but looks different than ordinary. He deals with bullies and people treating him differently. I love that the book sends the message that if people would change the way they see, they would see that we are all wonders.


This story is about Kelp. Kelp was quite different from the other narwhals. But he didn’t seem to mind, and neither did they. But he later discovers that he is actually a unicorn. He loves fitting in with all of the unicorns, but misses his friends under the sea. He finds a way to celebrate who he is and doesn’t leave anyone out. This story has darling illustrations and all of the creatures are kind, positive, and welcoming.


Kevin Henkes writes so many wonderful children’s books. But this one may just be my favorite. Chrysanthemum grows and has wonderful confidence. Her parents remind her often how perfect she is. Chrysanthemum loved her name. Then when it was time for her to start school, the other children tease her about her name. Suddenly, she didn’t like her name anymore and her confidence dwindled. But one amazing teacher helps change how she and the other kids view her unique name. You will love reading this story and finding out how Chrysanthemum feels about herself and her name by the end of this sweet story. I love that this book teaches children to love themselves and the things that make them unique. It also shows them the impact they can have on others if they say unkind things.


This is a book that really shows how you can find your strengths by embracing your differences. Gerald the Giraffe feels sad at the jungle dance. He feels like everyone else can dance, and he dances bad. The other animals didn’t help, by confirming his fears and teasing him for being clumsy. But as Gerald left the dance, he met a cricket that told him he may just need to dance to a different song. You will have to read to see how that new song helped Gerald turn his differences into a strength the other animals soon admired.


This book uses a sweet, nerdy bird to show the effects of being too cool, leaving others out, and treating others badly. Nerdy Birdy is different from the other birds. He feels alone, and left out from the “cool birds” until he meets another nerdy bird. They bond and he makes a flock of nerdy friends. But in the end, a vulture tries to join the crowd. His nerdy flock doesn’t welcome her with open arms. How will Nerdy Birdy treat the new bird? Check this one out to find out how Nerdy Birdy acted when the tables turned at the end of the book.


“I Like Myself” has a very straightforward message with a silly spin that is great for younger audiences. I love how it shows that you should love all of the things that make you, you!
Okay, I know… I said 12 books.  But I had to add this cute book. Let’s just consider it a bonus. . .


We recently got a copy of this book from the author, Lori Orlinsky, and my kids love it! This sweet book is a wonderful reminder to look at the positives in all of your differences. It is about a young girl who doesn’t want to go to school because she is smaller than the other kids. Her mother comforts her by pointing out all of the perks of being on the shorter side. This is a great book for any little one that is feeling “too small” to do what their peers are doing. It is also a great conversation starter for any child to discuss focusing on the positive and embracing our wonderful differences. 
Let’s help our little ones embrace all of their unique qualities. Let’s show them to embrace differences, feel confident, and show empathy. Let’s show them that kindness is truly powerful, and that they are absolutely amazing just the way they are!
Do you have another favorite picture book that helps encourage children to be themselves?  Please share in the comments.  I would love to check them out.
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Guided Reading Group Host or Hostess - The Ideal Intervention?

As a classroom teacher, do you have a child who is reading a couple levels below the expectation? Do they work hard, but never quite seem to catch up? 

Would you like to implement a 1:1 (or even small group) intervention for him or her - but find there just aren't enough minutes in the day?  Or are you already implementing this intervention, but finding that it is still not enough? 

Here's something to try. . . 

1) Keep that student in his/her own guided reading group. Continue to carefully select text at just the right level and provide solid instruction, as you do for each of your little sweeties. 

2) Look carefully at what this child is doing during the time he or she is not in your guided reading group. Consider an alternative to one of the reading rotations:

Invite that child to be your Guided Reading Host or Hostess! 

Have your Host or Hostess join a group one or two levels above his/her instructional reading level (as a helper and a guest). 

The Guided Reading Host can hand out the books and supplies for you. He/she will hear your book introduction and experience any word work activities you share with the group. The Host or Hostess gains exposure to any vocabulary you discuss with the group. Then the Host or Hostess simply chooses a partner to sit with. As the group member reads, the Guided Reading Host (or Hostess) silently follows along.

Surprisingly, they often offer help or pop in with the correct word when their partner is stuck! 

What is happening?  They are experiencing on-level instruction, free of stress. Many students learn best when they can relax and enjoy. They take pride in their genuine role as your helper. Participating as a Host or Hostess helps this reader build confidence and develop a special relationship with you. 

From my experience, it's both a joy and a huge academic boost for the child involved. In all honesty, my students sometimes gained more from simply helping me host another group than they did from the quick interventions I could fit into the day.  

As the group wraps up, the Host or Hostess can collect materials and put them away, helping prepare the area for the next group. 

** Note - This is never in place of their own leveled group.  It is in addition to it! **

If you try this idea, would you be so kind as to share your experience?  Just choose a student to help you host groups.  Record his/her reading level prior to becoming a host or hostess and after a period of time. Compare the growth with the average growth of the readers in your room. Help teachers take back research by sharing your results!  (To do so, just email me at Annegardner4@gmail.com.) 

P.S. - This routine works as well for students with impulse control/behavior issues as it does for students who need a little extra boost with reading. In this case, have your Host or Hostess go and gently give reminders to other students to stay on task and/or to keep the noise level down. You might even consider having him/her observe and take notes regarding students who are staying on task. What we teach, we learn. It's likely that your slightly behavior-challenged student(s) will internalize the behaviors they have the opportunity to help others learn. 

Thanks so much for stopping by!  

:) Anne Gardner (NBCT, Literacy)


Graphics by Tiny Graphics Shack


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Growth Mindset and Daily News

Recognize Positive Character Traits and Teach Growth Mindset with Daily News

Would you like a powerful no-prep way to start the day? What if it supported multiple ELA standards and also encouraged positive character traits as well as growth mindset?

What kid doesn't want to be a super hero? Help them see positive character traits and growth mindset as superpowers!

Here's a really simple way to start. . . Introduce one of these posters designed to encourage positive character traits and growth mindset. Give students a moment to turn and talk about what this means to them. Some days, challenge them to think of a way they can display the trait. Other times, ask them to think of a time they noticed a classmate displaying the trait. 

Write, using Interactive Writing, with the class about ways students can show these traits. As you write, reinforce the concept of using complete sentences, with a capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. Take time to model stretching words to hear the sounds. Chant the spelling of sight words the group is learning.

There are many ways to manage this. I always like the craft sticks with kids' names. After kids have had a chance to turn and talk, you could pull a couple sticks. Or - if you hear something during turn and talk that you'd really like to highlight, call on that child to share!  

When you're done, you'll have some authentic text to use for shared reading with the group. Some kids will read along throughout the text. Others may just be excited to recognize their own name in print.

Want to help parents understand some of your social-emotional goals?  Print this sheet out, perhaps at the end of the week - and send it home!  In doing this, the entire class grows to see themselves as collective authors.  

Here's a sample of what a page of daily news might look like:

The posters, which are available in my TpT shop, include 18 topics to get started. You can find the Kindness Counts posters here and the Growth Mindset version here

In writing this daily news, there are so many ELA standards that can be addressed.  Here are just a few examples: 
  • Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.K.2)
  • Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.K.1) 
  • Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.K.6)
Want to carry the learning a bit further?  These daily news charts can be the foundation of an amazing class memory book! As you create these with your class, add them to a simple 3 ring binder. I'm guessing this will quickly become a favorite.

If you ask for supplies, consider asking for a 1 inch binder with a clear pocket on the front. As you approach the end of the year, three hole punch these and place them in the binder. Give kids blank sheets as well, and have them add more examples of ways they display these traits and/or see their classmates display these traits. These can easily become an amazing memory book!

Wishing you a wonderful year!

Anne Gardner (NBCT, Literacy)

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Helping Kids Make Connections while Learning the First 100 Fry Words

I think we'd all agree, learning high frequency words is essential for beginning readers. I think we'd also agree, developing decoding skills is a very high priority. 

I'm here to say. . .  I really believe that it's best for kids if they are not kept separate! 

The Fry words are commonly used as high frequency words. I'm thankful to have this list. It's great to know which words occur most frequently in print. But, these word lists were not designed as an instructional sequence. When these words are introduced in order (by frequency within text), it takes away our opportunity to show kids the connections among words. Reading is all about making connections - and there are so many connections that can be made as kids learn these important words! 

I've been playing with various ways to organize these words in a way which can help kids develop phonics skills - and understand the relationships among these words - while also focusing on high frequency words.  

Do you have a moment to take a look?   

The first page of this file includes only short vowel words which are on the 1st 100 Fry word list. I'd recommend starting with these basic short vowel words. (There are digraphs included and a few consonant blends. Those are words to provide a bit more support with.) 

The second page is a bit unique.  It includes all the short vowel words with phonetic spellings - and also irregularly spelled words with the vowel sound. I recommend introducing this page after kids have become comfortable reading the first set, which included only short vowel words with standard spelling. 

  • Under short a, I've added the word have (even though there's a silent e.) 
  • Under short e, I've included words with the short e sound: been, said and many. This a great time to introduce the idea that letter sounds are very helpful for reading words, but there are some exceptions to every rule.   
  • Under short i, the words which, into and little are added.  
  • The short o words remain the same!
  • Under short u, I've added another column - words with the schwa sound. Once kids learn to use the short u sound (with the umbrella at the top as a key), it's much easier for them to remember the vowel sound and read these words. 
The third page, with long vowel sounds, includes just a few words that need some extra explanation.  They, there and their are included under long a - according to their vowel sound. You and your are included under long u. (This could be debated, but I find that kids pick up on it quickly!)

The fourth, and final page, was a lot of fun to create. My goal was to give kids supports that would help them read these words (once they have been introduced). So - I went with sets of rhyming words whenever possible - with a key word at the top. The few words left are grouped by vowel sound (first, her and were) or by concept (number words: one, two). 

There are definitely other ways these words could be arranged.  To me, the important thing is that we arrange them in a way (any way) which helps kids make connections. 

These word charts are available, for free, at my Teachers pay Teachers shop.  Click here or on any of the pictures to download the set.  

Thanks so much for stopping by and taking a look!   I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. 

:) Anne Gardner (NBCT, Literacy)

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Guided Reading (RtI) Lesson - Level C

One thing I've always enjoyed, but didn't often get to do, was to watch other teachers present lessons. I just came across this guided reading video. So - I decided to share it in hopes that it might be a conversation starter. 

I think these kids are just great and I hope you enjoy watching them read, build words and talk about books! (Sorry the resolution isn't better.  I had to compress it three times to get it small enough to load here.)

This is a 20 minute guided reading lesson. Watching the video, I thought of ten questions (below) that I'd consider while evaluating this lesson. If you'd like a copy of these questions, click here.

If you have other ideas for questions to ask ourselves as we complete lessons, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

If anyone else wants to join in and share a lesson, just let me know. I would be happy to add your video here! (Imagine having a collection of videos to watch? As much as I have an aversion to seeing myself on film, it seems worth sharing a lesson with all my cyberfriends.) 

 Thanks for stopping by and taking a look!    :) Anne Gardner
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Dots and Boxes!

Do you remember using dot paper as a kid?  It was always one of my favorite things! My grandmother used to carefully draw the dots by hand. Times sure have changed, but I find my primary students are just as enamored with activities using dot paper as I was.   

Dot paper and a die are great tools to help kids develop number sense.  A student can roll a die, draw a shape around that many dots and write the number in the shape.  (Kids can play with a partner or on their own.  A wipe-off plastic sleeve is handy for this activity.) 

The next step ~ Offer either a ten-sided die or two dice to roll.  When using two dice, it's easy to differentiate by deciding whether each student is best served by writing just the number or an equation inside the shape. 

My kids always love this simple counting and number writing game.  The first person circles one dot and writes the number one.  The second person draws a shape around two dots and writes the number two, . . .   The only rule is that a player may not cross a line.  

Early in the year, I like to show kids how to play the classic Dots and Boxes game. Kids take turns connecting two dots, either vertically or horizontally. Players write their initial in each box they complete.   

Later in the year, I put sight words inside the boxes. When a student completes a box, he/she reads, traces and writes the sight word. You can add your own words to dot paper. (To try a sample of this game and also download simple dot paper, click here.)  

I always felt like I was missing a piece - kids just love these games so much that there must be a way to add more . . .   

Then I met Linda Nelson of Primary Inspiration.  Linda shared her Spring into Summer math games with me.  I was AMAZED! This set includes 30 unique games and every one involves a creative twist that makes it especially engaging. These are games that students beg to play, even during inside recess. As they play, they practice essential math skills while also learning to plan ahead and use a variety of strategies. What a combination! 

Since I just love Dots and Boxes games, Linda's Fireflies game really jumped out at me! Linda had put numbers inside the dots. Brilliant! It was the exact twist I had been looking for.  

My son, Keith, was studying Computer Science in college and had just written a variation of a Dots and Boxes app. When we saw Fireflies, our eyes grew oh so big! We touched base with Linda, and she said go ahead and use the idea in an app. THANKS, LINDA!

Here's the app on iTunes.  It's called Addition and Subtraction Boxes. The following levels are included: 
  • Counting within Five (Free)
  • Counting within Ten
  • Addition within Five (Free)
  • Subtraction within Five
  • Addition within Ten 
  • Subtraction within Ten
  • Addition within Twenty
  • Adding with Three Addends
  • Subtraction within Twenty (Free)
The game can be played either with a partner or in one player mode. (In single player mode, an image is uncovered as the player completes the boxes.)

We've had fun creating this game and would love to hear your feedback if you have a chance to take a look. 


If you're looking for fun and engaging games and activities, I highly recommend exploring Primary Inspiration by Linda Nelson. She puts such a fun twist on rock-solid content!

Here are just a few of her fabulous free games and activities: 

I played these games just for fun (repeatedly) 

as soon as I downloaded the file! 

Another fun twist on a Dots and Boxes game!

So versatile and kids love them!

Thanks so much for stopping by!  I'd love to hear about your experiences with any of these activities or other variations on dots activities.  

:)  Anne Gardner 

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Pick Up Sticks with Straws ~ How fun!

I'd like to share a game my kids have always loved - Pick Up Sticks with Straws. 

To play, just pick up a box of straws. These were 99 cents at Price Chopper. Cut the straws into sections. I used a ruler and cut pieces of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 inches long. 

Then, play just like the traditional game of Pick Up Sticks. One player holds the sticks vertically in his or hand with the bottom of each straw touching the table (or floor). The straws scatter as they are released.  Players take turns trying to pick up a straw without moving any other straw.  If any other straw moves, that straw is returned to the pile. 

I love to use this game for measurement and estimation! Players can be challenged to pick a straw and then estimate its length. Either nonstandard units (such as paper clips) or standard units (such as inches can be used). If the player estimates within one unit of the actual length, he/she keeps the straw. If not, the straw is put back into the pile and play continues. Variations include playing until all straws have been picked, or playing until a player's straws can form a straight line from one end of the table to the other.  

Looking for a quicker game? One player can hold a collection of straws of a variety of lengths. Straws up to five inches long generally work best for this. The player conceals the bottom of the straws within their hands and let's the top show. The other players take turns picking a straw. Options include:
  • Pick one straw each. Player with the longest straw wins, if he/she can tell how long the straw is. 
  • Pick several straws each. Players measure their straws and add the length. Player with the greatest length wins. 
  • Pick two straws each.Player with total length closest to 5 units wins. 
  • Pick two straws each. Find the difference between the lengths of the two straws. The player with the greatest difference wins.
Kids often have so much fun with these games that they don't even realize they are practicing important math skills.  

Do you have favorite, easy to make, inexpensive math games?  If so, I'd love to hear about them!

Thanks for stopping by!   :) Anne Gardner

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