When I Finally Stopped Speaking



It struck me as hard as a hammer.  6th period Friday.  The fourth time I was teaching this lesson.  The fourth time I had students go through the discussion questions, do the turn and talk, and then come back together.  It hit me so hard that I instantly cringed a little bit, because why in the world I hadn’t thought of this sooner?  If only I had listened to that little nagging voice we all have inside, if only I had tuned in as it screamed,  “Stop talking, Pernille.  Stop interrupting their conversations.  Stop rushing them through what you think they need to get through and let them speak to each other.”

And yet, after only a minute of talking, I felt the ticking time.  I saw the hands moving as class slowly trailed away and so I kept interrupting them.  Guiding them to the next thing that we had to do.  Telling them to finish up So that we had the entire foundation laid.  So that I could place a check mark in my planner and move on to the next thing, knowing that we had done everything we were supposed to and gotten to the end of the text.   Yet, this is exactly what we should not be doing in our classrooms.

Too often, we rush.  Too often, we hurry so that we can cover things.  Too often we get through a lesson rather than realize that what we are doing in that moment is the lesson; is the point of school.  We say we want students who speak up and exhibit deep thinking, yet then limit this very thing as we teach.  We must slow down.  We must stop our incessant teacher talk, our incessant interruptions as we guide and mold and let students think, then let them speak.  And when they are done speaking let them sit in the silence for just a moment so they can be sure they are completely done speaking.

Teaching is not about getting through.  Teaching is not about getting things done.  Teaching is not about completing every single lesson we had planned so we can say that we did it, we followed the path and now we have taught.  Now our students have learned.  It is about the path we take to get there.  The exploration we have along the way.  The time we give to our students to speak so that we may listen.

So in that 6th hour on Friday, I finally stopped speaking. I finally stopped interrupting them and just let them speak.  Those who ran out of words looked at me expectantly waiting for me to start again, but then saw how others were still going in their conversations and that spurred them on to keep speaking.  I bounced from group to group, not interjecting, but listening instead.  Nodding and smiling as I saw them start to become what I hope they will be; kids that have an opinion, kids that have a voice.  After a few more minutes, a child asked a question so good that I knew we could discuss this as a class.  And so we did.  And I didn’t interrupt.  I didn’t shape the conversation.  I let them speak and they loved it.  Because it was about them and not me.  Their learning and not just my teaching.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Win A Signed Copy of My Book!

I am packing right now, on my way to the Mt. Lebanon school district in Pennsylvania, where I get to have the immense honor of working with their elementary staff for a whole day.  My focus for the day is, of course, all about creating passionate learners – everything I have written about in my book, and I cannot wait to see the thinking, discussion, and ideas that will happen.  I always get so inspired working with other teachers as well, what a great way to spend a Monday.

In the spirit of learning from others, I thought it would be great to give away a physical copy of my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I will even sign the winning copy!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment and tell me why you would like to read the book.  (Your email does not need to be included as long as you put it in the comment box).  I will pull a winner this Friday night, October 9th and will then send you the book.

So what is my book about?  Here is the excerpt from the back.

Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? In Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students, author Pernille Ripp challenges both novice and seasoned teachers to create a positive, interactive learning environment where students drive their own academic achievement. You’ll discover how to make fundamental changes to your classroom so learning becomes an exciting challenge rather than a frustrating ordeal. Based on the author’s personal experience of transforming her approach to teaching, this book outlines how to:

• Build a working relationship with your students based on mutual trust, respect, and appreciation.

• Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.

• Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behaviour.

• Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.

• Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

And what are people saying about the book?

Amazon.com- Passionate Learners- How to Engage and Empower Your Students (9781138916920)- Pernille Ripp- Books.clipular

I hope you love the book!

Great Picture Books to Teach Theme

I need to apologize.  This post will be the longest one yet with the most suggestions of which picture books to use for something.  But it makes sense; theme is one of those things that is present in so many great picture books, so when I started going through my classroom library, I ended up with a huge stack.

Some of these books I use in guided groups with the students, meaning that their theme may need a little more thinking to find, others I hand to the students for them to use in their discussions and reflection.  Which ones depend on the class and the conversations we are having.  I love how many of these picture books can be found on my other lists, this truly shows just how many times a picture book can be used in a classroom.  These are investment books, not “just” for fun, and give us a shared experience that will shape our community and conversations all year.

Note:  While I am writing a blurb on what the them of the book is, many of these books have multiple themes, so my blurb is not the the only one.

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, our picture book author study for Global Read Aloud is about finding your place in the world and having courage to try new things.

Also by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, The Ok Book is a great one for why you should keep trying things until you discover what you are great at.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein is all about following your dreams and doing the impossible.  It is also my chosen read aloud every September 11th.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown where Mr. Tiger just will not conform.  When he tries to change his ways, he loses his real identity.

This Is A Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld is a great example of the what happens when others try to make you into something you are not.

What I love about Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is that most of my students can relate to its message about being expected to fit in in a certain way.

Any day I can use Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed is a good day in our room. The universal theme of friendship and change is easy to spot here.

While Oscar’s Spots by Janet Robertson is more than 20 years old, I still love the copy we have in our classroom.  The theme of staying true to yourself and self worth is great one.

I am pretty sure I can teach almost anything with the help of Peter H. Reynolds.  His beautiful book Ish is a fantastic book for theme and what it means to discover your own talents and not let self doubt ruin it for you.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is one of those picture books you can use for so many things; memoir, aha moment, words of the wiser, teaching empathy and such.  The theme of forgiveness, the impact of decisions, and how kindness gets passed on is a great lesson for all kids.

A Perfectly Messed Up Story by Patrick McDonnell is one of many amazing picture books from this author.  I love the simple aha moment of realizing that it can be good enough even if it is not perfect.  This is a great read for many of our students who push toward perfect every time to the detriment of their own sanity.

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum is not only a great book to discuss friendship and how we must stay true to ourselves, but is great reminder to students.

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang is about how we judge others and what it all really means.

I have long been a loud fan of Bob Shea’s for a long time.  After all, he is the genius that wrote Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great so I had to get Ballet Cat The Totally Secret Secret.  It is laugh out loud funny.  And the best part is that I can completely relate to the story and so will my students.

Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen is one I think many of my students will gravitate toward with its quiet message.  I know I will be using it to facilitate deeper conversations about finding our own path in the world.

Wild About Us by Karen Beaumont is a beautiful book in many ways.  The illustrations done by Janet Stevens pop off the page and catch your eye, but the message of the book is what really got me.  We all have things that we can pick apart, but what we do with those things is what matters.

Thea, my kindergartner, came home and told me that I had to get this book about a big red crayon.  Okay…. I thought.  But she was right, Red – A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall was one that I had to read aloud to my 7th graders.  And then we had to discuss what it meant staying true to one’s own nature as well as facing the pressures of others.  I swear this book was written for middle schoolers and not young children secretly.

It is a celebration in my life whenever the talented Ame Dyckman comes out with a new picture book and Wolfie the Bunny was definitely a cause for celebration.  This book about assumptions and what they can lead to has not only made my students laugh out loud, but more importantly, has led us to question our own assumptions about others.

I have Bluebird by Bob Staake on many favorite picture book lists, and there is a reason for that.  The shock on my students faces when we get to that page.  The questions, the discussion when I step out of the way are priceless.  This is a wordless picture book which also means that my students love interpreting the ending and allows them to find confidence when they are discovering what theme means.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes once again teaches students what it means to be proud of yourself and not try to change for others.

The Day I Lost My Super Powers by Michael Escoffier is a book that tells a familiar tale of childhood imagination.  I hope to use this to bring my students back to when they thought anything was possible and to reignite their passion for thinking they have the ability to make a difference in the world.

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett is stunning. The story about a boy who is afraid of the dark is sure to elicit conversations about our fears and what we can do to conquer them.  I cannot wait for my students to discover all the details of this book.

Language surrounds us all but by middle school certain words seem to lose their off limit-ness.  That’s why I love Little Bird’s Bad Word by Jacob Grant.  This book will give us a way to discuss what our language says about us as people and how our casual conversations can harm others.  What a great conversation to have.

An amazing wordless picture book by Jon Arne Lawson and Sydney Smith that tells the tale of Sidewalk Flowers and what happens when we are too busy to notice the world around us.

Ben Clanton’s Something Extraordinary is just that – extraordinary.  Once again a simple story unfolds leading us to rich conversations about imagination and how it can color our world.

The beautiful story of Last Stop On Market Street by Matt De La Pena is one meant to spur conversation about our lives, our assumptions, and how we view the world.  But the illustrations?  They tell an even richer story, one that I cannot wait to discuss with my students, many of whom have never ridden a bus or even been in an urban neighborhood.

I am always in favor of a picture book that allows us to discuss how we treat others, particularly when teaching middle schoolers.  I love the story in Henry Hyena, Why Won’t You Laugh by Doug Jantzen and think it will resonate with many of my students with a fairly easy theme for them to discover and discuss.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires continues to be a crowd favorite in my classroom with its theme of not giving up and seeing the usefulness in things we otherwise may discard.  I love when students pick out the details that are in the illustration and we refer to it often when we create ourselves.

On my daughter’s 6th birthday she was gifted Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg.  I took one look at it and then bought a copy for my classroom.  Students are so quick to dismiss their own mistakes, but this book with its simple show of what you can do with those “oops” is sure to inspire a moment to re-think and re-draw before a supposed mistake is discarded.

I am sure I was not the only one jumping up and down when the Caldecott award was announced this year and The Adventures of Beekle – The Unimaginary Friendwas the big winner.  I have cherished this book in the classroom for its simple message about imagination and taking control of ones own destiny.  The illustrations are divine in the book and have inspired many students to draw their own imaginary friends.

I love the giggles that students, yes even 7th graders, get whenever I read aloud Froodle by Antoinette Portis.  The message to embrace their uniqueness and let their true personality shine is not one that is lost on them.

Another book by Mac Barnett on the list is Extra Yarn.  I have loved using this book to discuss theme with students but I also love how it shows that you can take something simple that you can do and turn it into something extraordinary.  Often this is the biggest aha moment that students get from this book.


The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds, I told you he is a genius.  This is the final book I read to my students every year as I hope it inspires them to take a risk and find their own path in life.

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea is one of the best tales for discussing the theme of how often we misjudge others.

From the title to the illustrations, think of the discussion My Teacher is a Monster – No, I Am Not by Peter Brown  will elicit.  I loved the message, but also the nuance with which it is presented, and let’s face it; many students think their teachers are not quite human and this is a great book to discuss just that.

We love Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  This sweet story of a spoon trying to fit in and finding his place in the world was one that made us laugh and think about our own place in the world.

What can I say about The Dot that countless others have not said already?  The simple message of making your mark on the world and being good enough is one that left its mark on us.

Journey by Aaron Becker was used as the culmination of our first reading unit, which happened to be a lesson I was observed during.  I asked the students why I picked this book to share with them as our celebration book and their reasons blew me away.  “We are on a journey in reading like the girl.”  “We also can create what we want 5th grade to be like she does with her world” were among some of the things said.  Again a wordless picture book brought some of our deepest conversations.

I pulled this book out after a recess incident that had really rattled my team.  Whenever I send my students out to play and be with their friends, I never think that they may not be friends outside, that they may say mean things about each other, that they may exclude, and yet that day they proved me wrong.  I knew we had to discuss what had happened but instead of another lecture from me about the power of our community, the sanctity of what we have built, and how we should all fit in, I let this picture book, Zero by Kathryn Otoshi do the talking for me.

The Big Box by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison is a great picture book for more advanced thinking, the students will get it with prompting though and it leads to some pretty amazing conversations.

Patricia Polacco is a master storyteller, Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece is great for discovering courage and sharing experiences where we had to overcome our fears.

I love Billy’s Booger – A Memoir by William Joyce for discussing great ideas and how they can be interpreted.

I know there are more, but thought this was a good start.  So many of these books are incredible, so many of them can be used for many teaching points, so many of these books will become favorites in your classroom.  Happy reading and please do share your favorites!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Reading Forms I Use

There are certain forms and surveys that I use to prompt conversations, as well as do managerial things with my students.  Why not share them?  So feel free to modify and make them your own, just make a copy and you can edit them.

Mature Books Permission Slips for Elementary.  I used this to get parent approval for students to read YA in my class.

Classroom Library Letter for Parents.  This letter is adapted from letters that Kate Messner and Jillian Heise shared and is a letter I send home at the beginning of the year to explain the variety of books in our classroom letters.

Reader Survey.  This survey is for my students at the beginning of the year as I try to learn their reading truths.

Reader Identity Profile.  This is a vital part of my recordkeeping and helps me get all information straight that my students give me at the beginning of the year. This is a work in progress.

If My Classroom Library Was For Me

image from icanread
image from icanread

If my classroom library was for me there would be no dog books.  Well, almost no dog books because Rain Reign deserves to be there.  There would be no sports books, except for maybe Stupid Fast.  There would be no books with mermaids, unicorns, or any kind of princess, except for the feisty ones.  If my classroom library was for me, I would have only books that I know would fit all of my readers, that no one would ever object to or question.  I would take the easy way, after all, who needs more worries in their life?

There would be shelves and shelves of dystopian science fiction mixed with a little bit of love.  There would be historical fiction but mostly the more recent stuff.  Realistic fiction would be a major section, but fantasy would be reserved for the stuff that makes sense, after all, who needs books about dragons?

But it is not.

Our classroom library is filled with dog books.  With books about kings and queens, footballs, and dragons.  It is filled with books about men who went to war and never came back, and women who conquered the world.  It is filled with science, with history, and even with joke books because who doesn’t need a good laugh now and then.

Our classroom library is not just for me.  It serves more than 120 students and some may have similar tastes as me, but  most of them don’t.  So when I choose whether a book deserves a spot in our library, I cannot just think of myself.  I cannot be afraid to place books in it that scare me.  I cannot be afraid of what others may think if I know that a book is needed.  I cannot use myself as a measuring stick.  If I did, our library would not be for the students.

So when we purchase books.  When we decide what to display.  What to book talk.  What to remove, keep this in mind; our classroom libraries are meant to be homes to all readers.  Not just the ones that are like ourselves.  Not just the ones who have seemingly quiet lives filled with normal things like family dinner and soccer.  Not just the ones who love to read.  Not just the ones who tell us which books to buy and raise their hand when we ask who wants to read it next.

Our classroom libraries are for all kids that enter our classroom.  Especially for the ones who are lost, who have not found that book, or that story that made them believe that they are a reader, that their life matters.  We must have books that allow all children to feel that way.  To feel like there is not something wrong with them.  It is no longer a matter of just having diverse book, it is about having the right books for all those kids that come to us and wonder whether they are ok and then displaying them.  Whether they are normal.  The books speak for us, so make sure they speak loudly.  Make sure that in your classroom children can find that book that will make the biggest difference.  Make sure you do not stand in the way.  Make sure fear of what others may think does not stop you from helping a child.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Great Picture Books to Teach Tough Questions

One of the main texts we use to guide our reading instruction is the amazing Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  This book provides us with the foundation for having deeper reading conversations and a common language as we develop our thoughts.  While the book has excellent text ideas to use as mentor texts, I thought it would be nice for my students  to use picture books on the very first day of a new strategy before we delve into the longer text excerpts.  I have therefore looked for picture books I could use with the different strategies and will publish posts as I have them for the 6 different strategies since I cannot be the only one looking for ideas.

The first post was on Contrast & Contradictions, then followed Aha Moments, so this week it is Tough Questions.  Apparently, this is a harder one to find picture books for so I found a few, but then turned to the awesome Notice and Note Facebook group I am a part of to crowd source more ideas.

My Ideas

White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein has several tough questions in it and also doubles as an amazing book to discuss a really powerful topic with students; racial segregation.  This is the book I used to introduce the strategy to my students with the bonus of having aha moments and a contrast and contradiction in it as well.

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth starts out with three obvious tough questions and then explores them the rest of the book.

A book near and dear to my heart The Yellow Star By Carmen Agra Deedy.  Although the story is not true, it still speaks of my people’s fight against the Nazi occupation and opens up great conversations.  The tough question is when King Christian wonders what can be done to fight the yellow stars.

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada is a book I use a lot in the classroom as it is great for inferencing, and inspiring creativity, but it also works well for this strategy as it starts out with tough questions and then has several more further in.

The Numberlys By William Joyce and Christina Ellis has several tough questions and is definitely a great way to highlight conflict.

The tough question is not posed as a question in Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine but instead as a desire to be free.  I would use this later in the strategy to teach students that tough questions are not always in a question format.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley only has one question int it but it will lead to great questions and will also be a great inference exercise.

Crowd Sourced Ideas

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting

The Gold Coin by Alma Flor Ada

Riding the Tiger by Eve Bunting

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

Bully by Patricia Polacco

Wanda’s First Day by Mark Sperring

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionnei

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Which ones did we miss?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!