Give the Gift of Books with a Birthday Bookshelf!

A book is a gift you can open again and again. —Garrison Keillor

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift. —Kate DiCamillo

Books are very relationship driven. There are opportunities for educators and students to connect over titles, topics, and genres of books. As a leader, you have the power to be the hub of reading in your building.


Let’s be real, pencils, erasers, crowns, or stickers can acknowledge a student on their birthday and make them feel special, but not too long after that token is given to them, are they discarded or lost. To build a culture of readers in your building, match your rewards, incentives, and gifts to your goals, vision and philosophy.


A birthday bookshelf is an opportunity for students to come into the principal’s office on their birthday, select a new book, and have it signed by the principal. During these interactions, the principal learns about the child’s preferences in reading, is able to have a short conversation to build relationships, and provides a copy of a book to the child No Strings Attached! I have also used this time to take a #birthdayselfie with the students and send a picture to their family or post on our school social media pages.


Logistics are simple. Students that are celebrating birthdays (or half birthdays for summer birthdays), are given a birthday bookmark with their name on it from the office. These are printed inexpensively at print shops or can be done on cardstock on your own. The bookmarks serve as a reminder of students to come to the office to claim their birthday book and also as a pass to indicate to office staff why the child is in the office. As the student gets their book, the book mark goes in, and voila! If I am not in the office to sign a book, they can be left with the bookmark for me to sign and I personally deliver them when I am available.

Every child receives a bookmark as their reminder to redeem it for a birthday book!

Funding for these books is made possible by our Parent’s Organization. They use funds from our book fair revenue to purchase books in a variety of levels, genres, topics, and interests for students. This is done twice a year to build inventory on the bookshelf and maintain current and popular titles. A birthday bookshelf could also be done at a classroom level with book order dollars.


Giving the gift of books sends a clear message that you value reading and that you are intentional about developing a culture of readers through your gifts and tokens. In what ways could you apply or extend this practice in your school or classroom?

DGS Royal Playscape and Science Learning Center

After being inspired by the beautiful Outdoor Nature Explore Classroom at Northminster Learning Center, I wanted to bring elements of a nature based play area at Dunlap Grade School. We’ve started phase one of our project by adding the Royal River Bed Playscape. This area allows students to jump, crawl, and hop from stump to stump through a stream of wooden stumps. The project started out with a donation of time from our wonderful Village Maintenance staff and included a weekend of work time by myself and my evening custodian.








Additions to the playscape include three nature explore tables that will allow students to create, investigate and observe materials in their natural world.


The fifth graders also built and are using a microinverebrate manor to observe the world of insects and plant life around them. They carefully monitor the variables that sustain life and make scientific hypotheses about the impact the environment has on the species in the manor. This is correlated to the Next Generation Science Standards and provides meaningful opportunities for observation, investigation, and writing.


Our third graders wrote a grant and planted a beautiful native plant butterfly garden. Our 2nd grade classes use it annually to release their butterflies. It is a gorgeous addition to the play scape that continually changes throughout the season.


Tires were placed around a mature tree in the play scape. Seemingly unimportant at first glance, they serve as “Little World” play areas for our younger students. Our children that prefer quiet or independent play activities can use the materials in the tires to immerse themselves in imaginative play. Each tire is filled with different materials and supplies for children to play with: trucks, dinosaurs, insects, shells, and people.


Finally, we installed a Free Little Library in the front of the school this summer. We are adding a second library to the rear of the building to provide students the opportunity to read during their independent play time. Benches and seating areas are embedded around the area for students to access.


These materials do not replace the typical playground equipment that our students also have access to, rather they supplement it and provide students additional outlets for play and exploration.

Literacy PD: Book Bingo

A key goal of any school should be to promote an environment that promotes lifelong literacy. I am not talking about just on paper or in an SIP plan and not just through the delivery of the reading curriculum to meet the standards, but in a way that deepens a love of reading and enhances a child’s life as a reader. I firmly believe that educational leaders must be readers. Readers are leaders. This models the importance of literacy for staff, students and parents. Continuous reading (writing and reflecting) refines practices, provides a basis for continuous improvements, and fosters lifelong learning habits that can be instilled in staff and students. Not only do I talk books, but I share them in my weekly memos to staff, as recommendations to parents and staff, and with our students. Rewards and incentives for reading are… you guessed it… books! Books are available readily to students in the hallways, classrooms and library. If students come into the office when they aren’t feeling well, are waiting for a parent, or need to make a phone call, there is a basket of books just waiting to be picked up and read. As students wait in the foyer to be picked up after school, there are shelves of books filled and available to students. No strings attached!

But having books accessible to students is just one part of the greater picture. Teachers need to have the professional knowledge and capacity in addition to the relationships and rapport with students to match the correct text with the right reader. “There are no such things as students that don’t like to read. There are just kids that haven’t found a book that is right for them.” Knowing a child’s reading level, personal interests, stamina for reading, and preferred genres can help teachers create a love of reading. That being said, there are so many books available, that it takes time and energy to sift through all the options to find that one right fit book for each child.

A key school goal of Dunlap Grade is “To create a culture of readers.” If you are at DGS, you hear and see this often. This is quantified like any SIP plan with data and statistics, but it is also woven into the fabric of our school composite. We monitor our progress through assessment, charts, graphs, and in PLC meetings, but we also do something simple. We talk about books. We share our reading lives with our students. We share book recommendations with each other. We put books in the hands of our students in numerous ways.

So, when our regularly scheduled staff meeting approached, it came as no surprise that the focus would be on literacy (although it does rotate with other key curricular areas). Knowing that the staff is versed in reviewing data and making instructional decisions about that data, I wanted to build their capacity as reading teachers in the simplest and purest form: to build their knowledge of books that have touched the lives and hearts of their colleagues and in the classrooms in our school. Born was “Book Bingo.”


Staff was asked to bring a title, series or author to share with their colleagues at the staff meeting. They came prepared with the book and a short 1-2 minute summary of the book and why they chose it. In a short period of time, staff built their repertoire of book titles to add to their classroom libraries as resources or read alouds. As staff shared their books, they were recorded on a white board and individual teachers wrote the titles at random on a blank bingo board. As teachers talked about their books they asked questions, made text-to-text connections, and grew their knowledge of titles and genres that they could refer to to recommend to another child, teacher or parent. Books that were discussed included graphic novels, series, award-winning picture books, humorous read-alouds, books that promote empathy, titles that dug into deeper emotional concepts, and more. Several times I heard, “That reminds of another great title…” or “You should read this book…” or “Can I borrow that in my classroom…” and “I need to add that to my personal reading list.”
As titles were discussed and teachers filled their bingo boards, we then finished with a quick game of bingo, calling the names of books that had been discussed. The beauty was that all teachers were winners and were able to select new titles of books for their classroom libraries as they left the meeting thanks to donations from individual parents and our Parent’s Club Organization. There’s no happier words a principal can hear than “I love getting new books for my classroom!” from a teacher.




book bingo

book bingo

Professional development does not need to be overthought, but it does need to be strategic and meaningful. A balanced approach to the emotional and academic domains of teaching and learning reading need to be considered and attended to. Teachers need to have the time to share effective and meaningful books in order to truly promote a love of reading in their classrooms and among students.

You can read more about promoting a love of literacy at:

Reading Resolutions 2016

At this time last year, I set out some 2015 Reading Resolutions. My resolutions last year included:

  1. Read a professional book (or journal/article) monthly and share reflections with you.  I ended up reading nearly 4o professional books last year and loved the knowledge of best practices in teaching, learning, and leading I gleaned from them. I also enjoyed sharing these with you through blog posts, conversations, and emails!
  2. Have family “read to self” time
  3. Read at least once a week to students at lunch time
  4. Continue on the Newberry Challenge

As part of the twitter #oneword challenge, I set my focus word for the year to “PROGRESSIVE.” I wanted this word to support the fact that we already have a lot of wonderful strategies, plans, and goals in place, but our focus should be on constant renewal, improvement, and progress on the things we are good at and want to make better in all areas of our school community. I want to ensure that my practices reflect that word and reading is one way to continuously learn and grow as an educator. Being progressive and making progress in all areas in rejuvenating, rewarding, and reinvigorating. The New Year is a time for Renewal.

Whereas the word “Progressive” applies to all areas, my blog today is focused on reading. Readers are Leaders. Leaders are Readers.

I successfully kept my resolutions and am happy to set new or continue them from last year. This year, my resolutions include:

  1. Read a professional book monthly and blog my reflections as well as update the sign outside the office with the current titles.
  2. Continue to develop a culture of readers in my own home
  3. Read weekly to students at lunch or in the classrooms
  4. Continue the Newberry Challenge (and update that on my door outside the office)
  5. Create a “Reading Flood Zone”
  6. Consider other environments in the building to share professional reading materials with staff. New articles will be displayed in the bathroom and lounge for reading at leisure.

I encourage you to set and share your reading resolutions with your students and colleagues. You may also choose to have students make resolutions as we develop a culture of readers!

Some resources to get you started can be found at:


DGS Literacy Harvest

Dunlap Grade School teachers hosted the first Literacy Harvest to provide parents relevant resources and book titles to support the development of a culture of readers in the home. As part of this evening program, teachers reviewed current and beneficial technological applications or websites and current book titles or authors for parents. Parents accessed available technological devices to browse each resource and analyze potential uses for their child.

The following applications we reviewed and serve as recommended resources for parents to access at home with their child


News-o-Matic: features daily news stories and current events and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts.

Starfall: offers early reading activities, texts, and resources for developing readers in K-2. Vivid images and animated text makes it engaging for young learners. The navigation is simple for little learners.

Goodreads: allows readers to document their reading life, connect with other readers, write reviews, and develop a reading plans. Students could benefit from authentic reading and writing audiences.

Kids Learn to Blog: provides the structure and information for children to learn to blog. Blogging provides an authentic audience and purpose for writing that can enrich students’ writing experiences or allow them to share with an audience experiences.

Read.Write.Think.: provides several resources for home and school that includes writing templates and generators that are easy to use.

Wonderopolis: Is a favorite at DGS for students to search ‘wonders’ and find answers to questions like “What is a Hot Dog” or “How is a Telescope Made.” Students can search particular topics or ask their own ‘wonders.’ Answers provide kid-friendly responses with multi-media pictures or videos.

Word Salad: This app is available in iTunes at A word cloud generator that can support the development of a reader’s ability to determine importance, synthesize or text, or expand their knowledge of vocabulary.

Newsela features engaging non-fiction texts and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts that allows the teacher or parent to differentiate text by lexile level.

AR Home Book Finder: search to determine a particular book is an AR book, determine book level, or find related books to a particular keyword.

In addition to reviewing the applications, staff reviewed ways parents could assist their child in choosing relevant and meaningful book titles. Parents “Bobbed for Books” as we provided parents complimentary copies of a few of our favorite titles and spoke to our decision for including them in why they were chosen. Of the book titles shared, we focused on the variety of ways to choose appropriate and engaging books:


  1. Balance your reading diet with a combination of fiction and non-fiction texts across genres
  2. Picture books may require higher levels of critical thinking and are appropriate to use across grade levels to engage learners in inferences of pictures, plot, and character development.
  3. Texts that tell a strong story can also be great examples for other literacy elements.
  4. Graphic Novels are popular, engaging, and appealing to readers. It is ok to encourage these.
  5. The “Who Am I” series provides students access to biographies at a grade and age-appropriate level.
  6. Accessing the Newberry or Caldecott honor lists can provide an instant list of books that are award winning for their contribution to children’s literature or illustrations.
  7. Books written by the same author or included in the same series can provide students structure in character development or plot structure; however, some authors write texts that are very different in theme, level, or content.



Thanks to Stefanie Pitzer and Samantha Mahrt for their planning, preparation, and delivery of the important content that was shared with families!

Sight Words in Kindergarten

Sight words are so vital at the kindergarten level.  It is so important for beginning readers to learn their sight words. Sight word recognition improves reading fluency.  It allows the student to focus on reading comprehension rather than sounding out words.  This allows students to focus their efforts on “reading to learn” rather than “learning to read.”  We work on sight words in many different ways in our classroom.  We do have flash cards that the students can work on during our Daily 5 literacy centers.  We also work on sight words in more active ways.  For example, we take sidewalk chalk outside and the students practice writing the sight words on the blacktop.  This is a fun and engaging way for the students to recall their sight words.   When we do read a loud books, the students pick out the sight words in the story.

Many of these activities can be done at home as well!  It is getting a little colder outside, but there is still plenty of time to enjoy some sidewalk chalk!  Students would also love reading stories with you at home!  When you get done reading a page, have your child pick out the sight words.  They really love finding their sight words in stories.   There are also many different sight word songs on YouTube that we play in our classroom.  The kids love to sing and dance and don’t even notice they are learning the sight words!  In the Resources Page of our blog is the list of our sight words for the entire year.  We are currently working on theme 5.  Keep up all the hard work you are doing with your child!  We definitely notice all the work you do at home.  We greatly appreciate all the support!

Some Resources for you to use at home:


2nd Grade Poetry Cafe

District Strategic Goal #2:

Create a Satisfying and Productive Classroom Learning Environment

April is National Poetry Month. DGS has celebrated by having teachers and staff members read poetry each morning during announcements. 2nd Grade also hosted their annual Poetry Cafe. Poetry Cafe is a day filled with poetry experiences. Students reading, write, and perform poetry in a variety of ways. Enjoy the video below created by Mrs. Pitzer and the links listed below to extend the love of poetry in your own home or classroom.