Find out where in the world the Skyping Reading Tutor is. The skyping reading tutor volunteers in classrooms by reading books and motivating them to read. The Skyping Reading Tutor also has her own online reading tutoring company

Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

How to Ask Questions to Increase Reading Comprehension

Snakes (M. C. Escher)

Image via Wikipedia

Why? Why? Why? Why? I watch a 4 year old in the afternoons and this is his absolute favorite question.  This isn’t the kind of question that I am referring to when asking questions to increase reading comprehension.

At the end of a story we are asked to answer some questions about what we just read.  But what if, instead of waiting till to end to find out if we understood what we read we used a self monitoring technique that helped us understand what we just read.

Yesterday, an amazing teacher with impeccable technology skills, Ms. Irene Kistler in San Antonio, Texas invited me into her classroom to enhance the students knowledge about snakes and incorporate the skill of asking questions when reading.  Her class was very knowledgeable about snakes and overall we all had a blast.

When teaching the strategy of asking questions, I always start with the first bit of information that I am given.  That is, the title.  The title is the best place to ask a question when I am reading non-fiction text.  Why you may ask?  Well, the whole book is about it so it gets us thinking about what might learn.  The title of our book yeasterday was Snakes, Long, Longer, Longest by Jerry Pallotta.  So I modeled  asking questions and came up with

  1. Which snake is the shortest?
  2. Which snake is the longest?

From that question the students made a prediction.  They were not sure about the shortest snake, but they thought possibly anacondas or the reticular pythons might be the longest.  The students that answered reticular pythons were correct.  Anacondas, by the way, are the fattest.  So our student that answered anacondas was not too far off.

As you continue reading your brain may automatically think of questions.  If this is you, then you are on your way to understanding what you are reading.  However, this may not be the case for you and you may need some guidance.  Before you begin reading check to see if your book has three pieces of information.

  1. Table of contents
  2. Glossary
  3. Index

These are the most natural places to build additional questions.  Turn each chapter in the table of contents into a question and write it down.  Next flip to the index and see the topics that will be taught in the book and turn some of these into questions.  Lastly, find the words in the glossary that you have never heard of before and turn that into a question.  What does ______ mean?  This will guide you as you are reading and make sure that you tune into the things that you do not know the answer to.  If you think you do know the answer, then when you are reading you get the joy of confirming whether what you thought you was correct is actually or learning new information that helps you understand something a little deeper.

It is amazing how many students I run into in the tutoring business that do not have enough exposure to non-fiction text.  I often hear that my child seems to read just fine, but has difficulty with reading comprehension.  The parents do not understand what to do.  Many times a student is reading on grade level with fiction text, but that is not the case with non-fiction text.  By teaching some of these simple strategies and putting them into action, you will be able to increase a student’s non-fiction reading comprehension level.  He/she needs to be taught how to think in a new way to retain the information that he/she is learning.

Thank you to Ms. Irene Kistler and her students in San Antonio, Texas for allowing me to come visit them in their classroom and do some learning with them.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time.

Books Boys Love

Cover of "Everyone Poops (My Body Science...

Cover of Everyone Poops (My Body Science)

Parents often wonder how they can engage their boys in enjoying reading.  They are looking for books that aren’t too girly and that their sons will enjoy.  Therefore, it is no surprise that one of the biggest questions that I get is, “What books do you suggest for a __year old boy?”  This question has inspired me to make a list of books from my favorite book publishing company, Usborne Books and More.  Below you will find a list of books that tend to be boys favorites along with the age that they are appropriate for.

Boys tend to like books that fit into 6 different categories. Of course this is just a brief list of the most popular and not all inclusive.

  • humor
  • non-fiction
  • Suspense
  • Hands on
  • Sports
  • How to

Baby Boys 0-4

Animal Board Books

Noisy Touch Feely

That’s Not my Monster

Glug, Glug, Glug Bath Book

Lift and Look Board books – Books include topics about construction sites, tractors, trains, and dinosaurs

Boys Ages 4-6

Everyone Poops

Engaging phonics Readers

How Big is a Million

The Gingerbread Man

There’s a Mouse About the House

Very First Reading Program

Boys 7-10

Beginning Non-fiction Readers

Illustrated Stories for Boys – includes the following

The Masked Pirate
Robot Racers
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Jon and the Green Troll
The Tale of the Haunted TV
The Band of Robbers
Sinbad the Sailor
Victor Saves the Village
The Terrible Tidybot
The Story of Shiverham Hall
The Pesky Parrot
Sam and the Giants
The Tale of the Kitchen Knight
Attack of the Swamp Monster
Robot Robbery
Treasure Island

Jack Russell Dog Detective

The Team Series

Boys 10-15

Moby Dick

Tom Sawyer

David Copperfield

Conspiracy 365

These are some suggestions for boys to engage them and get them excited about reading.  Usborne Books has many many titles that boys love.  You can check them all out at

This topic was discussed tonight as well on the Totoal Education Network, where I was a guest.  Check it out and learn what some of Neil’s favorite books for boys are as well.

Total Education Network Radio 08/18 by Total Tutor | Blog Talk Radio.

Meet Baby Chicks in Lockport, New York


Image via Wikipedia

Today was a super exciting day for me.  I got to meet not only some amazing first graders and their teacher Ms. Bitka, but also their newly hatched baby chicks.  These wonderful first graders in Lockport, New York were given 24 eggs from a local farmer that also is a teacher and shares her farm with the local schools.

The students were very excited to show me their baby chicks and I am not sure which was cuter, the baby chick, or the little girl holding the chick.  One of the chicks was a typical yellow chick and the other chick was black.  No matter what their color, they were super duper cute.  It makes you want to keep them forever, but after you learn that they only stay a baby chick for five weeks, you quickly realize that probably isn’t a good idea.  On top of that, their peeps are going nonstop.  I absolutely loved the sound in the classroom, but wouldn’t want to hear it all the time in my home.

I read the book A Chick Grows Up by Pam Zollman.  This is a fantastic non-fiction book written for a younger audience that goes through the life cycle of a baby chick from egg to hen or rooster.  We also learned that there are other birds that go through this same process.  Some other birds include geese, peacocks, turkeys, and ducks.

I absolutely loved the excitement in Ms. Bitka’s classroom.  These kids were excited about learning, excited about their chicks, and excited about having the Skyping Reading Tutor in their classroom.  I love that I was able to share in this excitement with them and I can’t wait to see them again.

Spring in North Carolina and Wisconsin

Map of North Carolina

Image via Wikipedia

It is officially Spring.  The calendar recognizes it, but Wisconsin doesn’t really observe it until May.

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to find out what Spring is like in North Carolina.  I heard Kindergarten students in Ms. Kidds class talk about dandelions, flowers, mowing the grass, and buds on trees.  These are visions that will have to be on hold for me until next month.

I had mentioned that it was 40 degrees outside and that is really warm for us compared to what it has been.  Ms. Kidd had said that they don’t even go outside if it is 40 degrees because that is way too cold.

So, what was the temperature in North Carolina?  Well, it was a wonderful 75 degrees.  A temperature that I can only dream about in the summer.  We actually may have 70 degrees this weekend, but it is not the normal temperature for this time of year.

Today I read a non-fiction book called Spring is Here by Shaun Taylor.  In this book there is a caterpillar that is eating a leaf.  I asked the students why the caterpillar was eating a leaf and he said because it was hungry.  I just love kids responses.  They are great.  I responded that that made me think of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle because the caterpillar in that story is very hungry.  How cool that in a Kindergarten class we were able to make a text to text connection.  I think all of the students in that class were familiar with that book and could relate to that connection.

When I read books to kids I love to ask questions and hear their responses.  I love to get them thinking about what they are listening to.  Listening comprehension is a skill that needs to be developed just as much as reading comprehension.  In fact, it is important to develop this skill before and while kids learn to read.  Kids need to understand that reading is about making meaning and if making meaning is not happening, then there is no point.

Ms. Kidd had her wonderful students all where tie dyed t-shirts with there names on them.  It was so wonderful.  I love being to call on kids by their name.  She also had her students come up to the front of the room when they wanted to share information with me.  It was absolutely wonderful.  It is amazing that these kindergarten students are learning such important communication skills.  What a great tool Skype is.  Thank you Ms. Kidd for allowing me to share time with your class and do what I love to do best.  Read books to kids.

You may be wondering how you can have the Skyping Reading Tutor come to your class.  It is pretty simple.  It is free and all you have to do is fill out a registration form.  From there I will let you know when I have an opening and you will let me know if you are available.  Until then, keep skyping.

Vocabulary Building Strategies Walled Lake Michigan

A picture about the spring.

Image via Wikipedia

I was back in Walled Lake, Michigan again today.  I don’t know about you, but I am ready for Spring.  I can hear the birds and I am ready for the warmth.  I asked the kids in Walled Lake, MI today what they like best about the Spring.  Their answers included taking walks, riding bikes, and longer days.  I even had a little boy who goes fishing.  Some of the students live right on a lake.

The reason why we were talking about Spring was because we read the book Everything Spring by Jill Esbaum.  This is a National Geographic book that has some pretty amazing pictures in it.  It describes the weather, the outdoors, and baby animals.  What really brings my attention to this book is the ability to increase tier 2 vocabulary.  Beck and McKeown described three tiers of vocabulary back in 1988.  They described tier 1 words as words that everyone knows.  Tier two words are words that are what I like to call, juicy words.  Tier 3 words are content specific.

Some of the words in this book that I love are slumbering, tiptoes, nudges, unfurl, silken, and rippling.  These are what I like to call juicy words.  They are not words that we use in our everyday language and they are often the kinds of words that trip us up when we are reading.  They can confuse or they can clarify.

One of the strategies that I use when I am reading a book to a group of kids is to provide them with additional information about the words when I am reading them.  I finish the sentence and then I talk about the word to make it come alive.  In essence I am giving them more background information for them to understand the word.

Just by talking about words you can increase a child’s vocabulary.  However, a child needs to actually use a word 7 to 11 times on their own before it becomes a part of their vocabulary.  Therefore, it is important to get a child to use the word in their own contexts.

Currently I am tutoring a boy in Seattle whose main focus is on increasing his receptive and expressive vocabulary.  When we come across words that he does not know the meaning of we learn more about that word.  We go to for the definition, the synonym, and the antonym.  Then, we think of an example of when it would be appropriate to use this word.   We save these words on a PowerPoint and review them.  Then, I try to embed the vocabulary words into our conversations.  When a character is acting like one of the vocabulary words, I use complete sentences to explain that.

Take a listen to my skyping session with Ms. Bonds class to hear how I expanded on the vocabulary in the book.

Happy Birthday Kansas!!

Happy Birthday!

Image via Wikipedia

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday dear Kansas,

Happy Birthday to you!

Kansas turned 150 years old today and the only way that I could find out that wonderful bit of information was by skyping with Mrs. Atkinson’s Kindergarten class in Louisburg, Kansas.  They were such a wonderful group of students that have been learning all about penguins.  I had the opportunity to share a fiction and a non-fiction story about Penguins.  The fiction book was called Five Little Penguins Slipping on the Ice and the non-fiction book was called Penguins.  These kids are so smart, they knew that real penguins do not actually wear ice skates.  That is one of the reasons that makes this book a fiction book.  When I explain fiction and non-fiction to kids I explain that fiction is false and non-fiction is not false (that means true).  This tends to help them remember which kind of book it is.

After reading both of these books the children shared some other wonderful information that they knew about penguins.  They told me that the daddy takes care of the baby and that the mama does the hunting.  They also told me that when the mama comes back she shares her food with her beak.  That was a nice way of saying she regurgitates the food into their mouths.

Penguins only live at the zoo in Wisconsin and I bet the same is true for Kansas.  One thing that I learned is that there is snow in Kansas this time of year.  These kids are used to sledding and having a great time, just like the kids here in Wisconsin.  However, in the summer they have much warmer weather than we have.  It can get to over 100 degrees.  Typical Wisconsin weather for the summer is between 70 degrees and 89 degrees.  It is not too often that we have weather in the 90’s, but it does happen a couple of times throughout the summer.  It is the end of January and the days are getting longer, which means that the weather will be getting warmer soon.  Till then, stay warm!

All I Want for Christmas are my Two Front Teeth and Non-fiction Books

Cover of "Going to the Dentist (First Exp...

Cover via Amazon

If you can tell me what is cuter than a student who is missing their two front teeth singing, “All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth,” then you win a prize.  I was reading a non-fiction book about going to the dentist with Christa Anderson’s 1st grade class in Montana and they surprised me with a fantastic song.  The song that this teacher chose was absolutely fitting since we had just talked about the dentist.

When most people think about reading books to kids, the first thing that comes to mind are our favorite fiction books.  That is fantastic.  Kids need to hear really good stories, but did you know that most boys typically enjoy non-fiction books.  If all of the books that we introduce students to are fiction, then we are doing our students a grave disservice.

Christa Anderson absolutely knows the importance of introducing her 1st graders to non-fiction text.  In fact, she even teaches them the different elements of non-fiction text.  See, we don’t actually read non-fiction text the same way as we read fiction text.  There are many features in non-fiction text which are never seen in fiction books.  The following features of non-fiction text make great mini lessons

  • Table of Contents
  • Headings
  • Bold Print
  • Captions
  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Real Pictures
  • Labels
  • italics
  • Bullets
  • Zoom in pictures
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • Lists
  • Appendix
  • Sidebars
  • Preface
  • Subheadings
  • Diagram
  • Cross-section
  • Time line
  • Color Fonts

Students need to be taught about these features, since most homes in the early years are comprised of fiction text.  I often see that when struggling readers are reading, they will completely skip nonfiction features like bold headings and captions and go right to where the paragraphs are to read.  This deeply impacts their comprehension because these are details that add so much to the understanding of what we are reading.

Christa Anderson was a great teacher to work with because she totally valued the importance of non-fiction text.  In the book that I was sharing there was a list in a chart form and she wanted to make sure that her students saw the list and recognized it as a feature of non-fiction text rather than glancing over it.

I love having the opportunity to work with such amazing teachers and see the wonderful things that are going on in their classrooms.  Take a look at part of our experience together.

Tag Cloud