Be the change, being a teacher, books, inspiration

Need Some Inspiration? Enter to Win a Bundle of Books.

Congratulations to Jessie Krefting, who was picked by the random number generator.  Thank you so much to the more than 800 of you who participated in the contest!

With the days hurriedly passing by, it is hard to believe that in the northern hemisphere school is almost done for many.  I am going to miss my students so much.  Days of eating ice cream, sitting by the pool, and yes, traveling to speak and learn from others are ahead and my stack of amazing professional development books awaits.  I love summer for the renewal and recharge it gives us.

So why not share the love a little?  I thought it would be fun to give away a bundle – yes, all four books to one person – of professional development books that can hopefully spark some conversation and help you shape your teaching different.  This contest is open to the world and all you have to do is enter on the form.  It will close on May 10th.

What are the books?

I am so happy that so many are finding inspiration within the pages of my latest book, Passionate Readers.  The lessons from my students in it have truly changed the way I teach and think about reading instruction.  Hopefully, it will help you do the same as we discuss independent reading, reading identity, libraries, and how to help students actually like reading.

The very first book I wrote, Passionate Learners, is all about how we change our school system from within.  Once again, pushed by my students’ lessons and advice, this book is meant to reshape our entire school experience in order to help students find more reason to be engaged in school.  From small ideas to big pushes, this book is meant for every teacher, everywhere, that feels school can be better for all of our kids.

If you follow this blog, you know that I am obsessed with Sara K. Ahmed’s book, Being the Change.  This book is reshaping my classroom and should be a must for any educator, no matter their grade level.

And finally, but not least, Kate Roberts’ newest book, A Novel Approach, is the book we all have waited for.  A practical inspiration for how to incorporate a whole class novel into reader’s workshop.  Trust me, the ideas in here are not to be missed.

I hope you are as excited about this bundle as I am, after all, any of these books by themselves should help an educator grow and also feel affirmed in the work they are already doing.  But together, that is a powerhouse of change.  To enter, please fill out the form, please enter only one.  Good luck and happy reading!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a student, being a teacher, inspiration, Student dreams

What Drives Your Instruction? in awhile I have the honor of having other educators visit our classroom, room 235D.  While it is always nerve-wracking to have strangers watch you teach and ask your students questions, it always leaves me feeling so very grateful for the district I teach in, for the colleagues I have, for the students I teach.   Yesterday was no different as I heard the students explain why we start with reading, why books matter to them, and what learning in this classroom looks like.

Later in conversation, I was asked what drives our instruction?  Having only 45 minutes to teach all of English, what is our ultimate goal?  How do we possibly fit it all in and feel like we are not just getting things done? Before I talked about the standards that shape our choices.  Before I talked about how our quarters are split up on their focus.  Before I talked about the power of choice when it comes to what we teach, before I talked about how we listen to the kids in order to make it about them again, I knew what the answer was.

What drives our instruction?  Helping kids fall in love with reading and writing (again).

Not the Common Core.  Not the standards.  Not covering content or getting-things-done.  Not checklists, nor grades.  Not comprehension or skills.  Not things, nor projects.


And not just love for reading, for writing, for speaking, but for being immersed in an environment that focuses on learning for human development.  Not for test scores, next year, grades, or honor rolls.  Not for rankings or best of lists.  No.  What drives our instruction is much more simple, yet so much bigger.

Being a teacher isn’t just about teaching things, it is about teaching human beings, and those human beings need to know that what we do is bigger than a skill.  Bigger than a subject.  Bigger than getting through 7th grade.

So what drives your instruction?  What would the students say?

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, books, community, inspiration, Literacy, Passion

How I Select A Picture Book For Our Classroom

Yesterday a new student wandered into our classroom with his parent and younger siblings; locker drop off was happening in preparation for the first day of school.  As I looked up something for him, I heard them excitedly talk about the books in our room.  “Here’s that one that you wanted to read…Oh, do you remember this series….”  And then they saw the picture books.  After all, they are hard to miss.  Right away the comments came, “Oh, I loved this one…”  “Have you seen this one, that looks fun…”  And so forth and I smiled ever so wide, because picture books once again have proven to be a way to connect in our classroom.

But how do you pick the right ones for your classroom?  How do you know which ones to get?  I make lists, as do many others, but how do I even know which to put on the list?  I thought a few helpful tips may be in order.

I am connected.  I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter  I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there.  I follow hashtags like #Titletalk, #pb10for10 and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know.  And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.

I keep a written list handy.  I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag.  I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject.  This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.

I read them beforehand, most of the time.  Many times we will wander to the nearest book store so that I can  browse the books before purchasing them.  How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…

Do I react to it in any way?  A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions?  All of these are things that I look for.

Is it easy to follow?  Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly.  At least most of them.  However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.

Is the language accessible?  Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels ranges from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?

What purpose does it have?  I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self connections, or conversation starters.  We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year.  But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood.  I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.

Will we read it more than once?  Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again.  Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story.  Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.

Do we have other works by the author?  My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible.  Some of our favorites are Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Sometimes I just take a chance on a book.  Sometimes I have no rhyme or reason for  what I bring in other than a small feeling that some kid at some point will connect with it.  I never know which picture book my students will love, so sometimes I just sit back and let them explore and then pay closely attention.  Then I go out and get more of those.

And, of course, I cannot write a post discussing picture books without sharing a few of my new favorites or ones that I cannot wait to get.

Laugh out loud funny, The Pretty, Pretty Bunny by Dave Horowitz is in my first day pile for kids to choose from.

The Promise by Nicola Davies is a beautiful tale of making a difference.  This would also be great for a science classroom.

I cannot wait to get Finding Winnie – The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  I wonder how many students will love this tale of the real Winnie the Pooh.

Why do I have a feeling that Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum will become a favorite of my students?

Picture books are a part of our tapestry and something that I am proud we use in our middle school.  I hope being vocal about the benefit of using picture books with older students will help others take the jump.  I got to discuss more of this in this article here.  

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!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being me, books, inspiration, Passion, Reading, students

10 + 1 Picture Books that Spark Creativity

It is well-known that picture books are my favorite secret weapon when it comes to teaching pretty much anything.  Within the pages of these incredible books we can find the courage to be better, to be friends, and to be creative.  While there are many to choose from, here are my 10 favorite picture books to inspire more creativity for us and for students.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires continues to be a crowd favorite in my classroom.  I love when students pick out the details that are in the illustration and we refer to it often when we create ourselves.  Leave this book and watch conversations unfold.

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton arrived in my mailbox today and is actually the book that inspired this post.  As I read it with Thea, my oldest daughter, I saw her eagerly turn the pages to see what would happen and then declared that she wished for many things as well.  What a marvelous book to inspire a more creative world.

Peter H. Reynolds is a creative genius and his books provide me with that needed starting point to have many conversations with my students.  While his more famous book The Dot is more often the one highlighted and read to students, I have found that Sky Color should have its rightful place next to The Dot.

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-thing 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 Friend was 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.

Oh Chalk by Bill Thomson, I adore thee.  This inspiring wordless picture book has been inspiring my students to let their imagination run wild.  It is a great book to inspire realistic fantasy stories (I may have just made up that term) where students base a fantasy story in their own world.

I have used Meanwhile by Jules Feiffer for a few years to inspire creative writing in my classroom. Students love the fast+paced action and the way it reads like a graphic novel.  It may technically not be a picture book, but it is a book with pictures and it deserves to be on this list.

What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada has been a great read aloud in our classroom, but more importantly, I have seen kids reach for it when they are stuck and not quite sure what to do.  I think sometimes simply being able to find yourself within the pages of a book is a powerful thing for a person.  And especially if you are not quite sure to ask someone else fpr help just yet.

Thea and I were lucky enough to attend an author reading of Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and that afternoon Thea asked me to make her a little book for her writing.  The simple ingenuity of the story within the story has inspired many of my students to create, bith in writing but also in what they read,

My plus one has to be Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.  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.

So there you have it, a few picture books to spark creativity in the classroom.  Which would you add?

PS:  Some times great minds think alike, check out John T. Spencer’s post on his Favorite Fifty Books on Creativity.

I have loved seeing the suggestions roll in from Twitter as well, so I have added them as they come in:

Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis – yes, the same author that brought us Froodle.

Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, being me, inspiration, review

A Must Read Book for Educators

Several years ago, I read the book Awakened by Angela Watson and her words changed who I was as a teacher (and person).  I did not know Angela much at that time, I admired her from afar, but was so profoundly moved by how her book helped me move away from negative thoughts, that I contacted  her to express my deep gratitude.  A few years later, I am lucky to call Angela a mentor and inspiration.  I still keep my Awakened mindset and recommend the book to any teachers I meet.  Well, Angela has done it again with her new book Unshakeable – 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day…No Matter What.

Even as a somewhat veteran teacher, I found so many great ideas within the pages of this book.  Angela is a no nonsense writer who crams inspiration into every single page.  She isn’t just trying to inspire us to change, she is giving us ideas of how to do it, and the best part is that many of the ideas are so ingeniously simple, yet powerful, that I implemented some on the very first day of reading.  From redefining my vision to many minor changes I can do to re-energize myself and my classroom, I am so grateful I got to read this book.  So while I do not use this blog to recommend many books, I typically do that on another blog, I knew that I had to highlight this book to all of you who follow on here.

So if you know a new teacher who needs some inspiration.  If you know a fellow teacher who could use some great new ideas.  If you know that this is the summer you need to be inspired and re-energized; read this book.  And then recommend it to others.  You will be glad you did.

From Amazon:

Don’t wait for teaching to become fun again: plan for it! Unshakeable is a collection of inspiring mindset shifts and practical, teacher-tested ideas for getting more satisfaction from your job. It’s an approach that guides you to find your inner drive and intrinsic motivation which no one can take away.  Unshakeable will help you incorporate a love of life into your teaching, and a love of teaching into your life. Learn how to tap into what makes your work inherently rewarding and enjoy teaching every day…no matter what.

aha moment, choices, inspiration, lessons learned, student voice

Teaching Students How to Speak Well – A Unit to Explore

It had never occurred to me that I haven’t taught my students how to speak well.  After all, for the past 7+ years my students have spoken in front of their peers.  I have told them to stand up straight, to speak clear and loud and to establish eye contact.  That should be enough, right?  Except for the last 7+ years I have also sat through one terrible presentation after another.  Yes, most have spoken loudly, yes, most have had some stilted eye contact, and yes, most have stood up fairly straight.  Yet, most have also been terrible presenters.  No passion, no enthusiasm, no special something that have made them enjoyable to listen to. I figured it was because I taught elementary school and perhaps better speaking skills would develop naturally.

As a 7th grade teacher, now I can see that they don’t.  My 7th graders still present fairly poorly and I realized, with the help of Erik Palmer, that we need to teach how to speak well.  Not just assume that students will figure it out over the years.  We need to teach it early, we need to teach it often, and we need to teach it every year.  So I have snagged ideas from Erik’s article and adapted them to fit our purpose.  Feel free to use and make your own and check out his other resources as well, it has been easy and fun to use.

The main idea I have borrowed from Erik is his 6 points of what a great speaker does.  These have been the framework for this week and as we go forward.  It has been essential for my students to have common language and a framework to develop them as speakers and this is what Erik discusses quite well.

These have been the guiding points for our lessons and have also been the base points of our rubric.

While we will be doing speeches all quarter, our first assignment was given on the very first day of the quarter to give the students a goal to work toward.  Assignment:  Create a one minute speech answering “How do you want to be remembered at the end of 7th grade?” (Thank you Josh Stumpenhorst for the inspiration).  To see the entire assignment, see here.

I have tweaked their first speak to be given in a circle format.  Our school uses counseling circles/restorative justice circles throughout the year and every Tuesday all of our students do circles with their homeroom teacher.  This format for delivering a speech means that my students are automatically more comfortable, which is a huge barrier in 7th grade.  They are so worried about what their peers are thinking about them.  And that is something I have faced head on when I have been teaching them how to speak.  My biggest tool has been my own enthusiasm and tendency to screw up and laugh about it.  I have no problem making mistakes in front of them to take the pressure off of them.

So what have we been doing?  Note: these lessons are about 10 minutes long, maybe 15 depending on the discussions.

Big talking points every single day:

  • What have they been taught in the past and why they need to learn better skills.
  • The need to trust others when we speak or at the very least assume that others mean us well when they watch.
  • The need to step a little out of their comfort zone.
  • That speaking well is a life skill, something that will help them be more successful in life.


Student definition:  Your swag, or how you use your body to match your message.

  • Discuss what is poise, have the students get up and move showing you poise.  They started off very hesitantly, which is ok, I have been taking baby steps.
  • Every student gets a Shell Silverstein poem and are told to practice speaking it aloud.  I then fishbowl the next activity – perform the poem just worrying about poise, none of the other things, and have their mirror (partner) critique them kindly.
  • I then partnered them up randomly and had them perform the poems in front of just their partner.  I helped them coach each other and we talked about how to give kind criticism that allows others to grow.


Student definition:  Controlling how you speak to match the message.

  • Discuss what is voice, why it is important to take control of your voice and how it is not just all about being loud and clear at all times.
  • Video clips of powerful speakers.  After giving them background knowledge about Hitler and his powers of persuasion, I showed them a one minute clip with no subtitles just so they could see how he used his speaking skills to incite people.  This really caused a reaction in my students because they saw how powerful being a great speaker can be and how that power can be used for good or evil.
  • I then juxtaposed that with clips of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who used their voices in much different manners and yet still had people follow them.
  • The students then worked on what type of voice would be needed for their speech assignment.


Student definition:  The passion you bring to your speech has to match your message.

  • We faced our demons head on this day as we discussed why most 7th graders have a hard time speaking in front of people.  This was excellent because the kids offered very honest answers about their fear of being judged by others or screwing up.
  • I then told them about major screw ups I have had as a teacher such as substituting words in read alouds for the wrong very bad words, clean underwear falling out of my pant leg while teaching thanks to static, and other fun things that happen when you are a teacher.
  • I read aloud Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems and did the emotions and voices.  I actually made them laugh out loud because I went there, something that is hard to get 7th graders to do.  This was important because they needed to see me let down my barriers.  Then we talked about allowing us to be silly when we need to be such as when we read picture books aloud and I promised them that I would be the craziest person that day.
  • We discussed why it can be extra hard to read aloud in front of others because we worry about screwing up the words.
  • They then each got one line or two from Jabberwocky, a phenomenal nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll.  Why this poem?  Because students can’t mess up the pronunciation of the words, who knows how they are supposed to be pronounced?  They got one minute to practice how they were going to perform their line with as much life in their voice as they could.
  • I lined them up in order and each student performed their line.  Some classes we did it twice to allow the kids to build up their courage.
  • This was awesome, the kids laughed – laughed!  And not at each other but with each other.  This was a huge break through for my kids.

Eye Contact

Student definition:  How we look at our audience and how they look at us

  • We did different things in different classes based on their unique mix of personalities:
    • Most classes I did an eye contact experiment: Two students sat in front of the class while two other students came up.  The two seated students shut their eyes and then had to report whether the other two students were looking at them or not.  Most of the time they were wrong.  We did it a few times.  Mission: To prove that not everyone is looking when we think they are.
    • I had note-cards with different emotions on and we used them in different ways.  Some classes stood in a circle and acted out the emotions.  Others found a partner to do it.
    • Some classes I did an emotion charade scavenger hunt competition.  All students got an emotion but was not allowed to say it or tell others about it.  Four kids each got the same emotion (anger, sadness, excitement etc) and when I said go the students had to try to find their group partners without talking and gesturing, they could only use their emotion charades.  First team to correctly assemble got a prize.
    • All of these things may not seem like they have a lot to do with eye contact but they do; students had to pay attention and use their facial expressions to express their feelings.  This is all part of doing eye contact well and definitely helped students push themselves out of their comfort zone a little.


Student definition:  How our hand/body movements tell our message.

  • I have note-cards with different statements on them (“Yes, we won!, No….., What happened?” and such) and students will be acting them out using gestures, with no voice.
  • We also acted out different versions of the same words, such as “no, ok, and I’m sorry…”
  • Students will have to give directions of how to do something to their partner using only gestures, such as how to tie a shoe, how to mail a letter, how to make spaghetti.  Their partner will have to try to guess what they are doing.
  • We will also try to make emotions with our hands, so what do our hands do if we are sad, if we are confused, if we are happy and such.  The key is building awareness of our own bodies so we can control them when we speak.


Student definition:  How fast or slow we speak.

  • We will watch clips of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Speech paying attention to the way Martin Luther King Jr. changes his pacing to emphasize his message.   I also have various other clips of speakers to show up, just snippets so they can see speakers speak well.  It is important that students get a sense of many types of speakers; male and female, present and past.
  • Each student will decide which picture book to act out by themselves or with a partner, I have grabbed a stack of Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss for them to work on all of the elements.  They will work on all elements that we have been working on.
  • They will not perform in front of the class but instead in small groups and then kindly critique each other.

And that’s how we are starting.

As we move forward this quarter, I am excited to give them continued opportunities to speak and speak well.  Next year, this will be starting off the year.  Not only are we becoming better communicators, we are also building community.  The students are slightly kinder, slightly more relaxed, and having a bit more fun in English because they are all acting a little bit silly, getting into something a little bit more, and yet developing essential skills at the same time.  I am sad that I hadn’t taught this before but at least I can correct my ways starting now.  All students deserve to have the opportunity to become great speakers and their practice starts with us.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.