For this month's Hidden Gem, I discovered Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer.  This is a novel written in verse, which I found to be a fresh writing style that many students may not have experienced.  It would be a great choice for poetry month in April!  (This is a companion to her previous book, Little Dog, Lost, so if your class loves dogs that may be a better choice.)

This poetry book, Little Cat's Luck, is a Hidden gem for all ages. It is unique in that the entire story is told in verses. Post discusses how to use the book in an elementary classroom.
This story is about Patches, a cat that is owned by a nice family with a big house.  However, Patches has searched and searched for a special place all her own, but she just can't find it.  One day, she finds a way out of the house and wanders the neighborhood looking for her special place.  On her journey, she encounters the meanest dog in town, but she shows him who's boss!  She isn't scared of any old dog and continues searching.

As the day goes on, Patches realizes that she is lost.  She can't figure out how to get home nor has she found her special place.  Just in the nick of time, she spots the perfect spot - but it happens to be in the meanest dog's house.  However, that doesn't stop Patches.

How does the dog react to finding a cat in his house?  And not just any cat, that annoying know-it-all cat!  Let's just say that this book has a surprise ending. Students will learn that sometimes a person's bark is worse than his bite.

If you have a student that is mean in order to push people away, this story would be a great way to talk about why some people are mean without pointing fingers.  The happy ending may also give your students some ideas.
Over the past year, I read a few articles that discussed making classrooms less visually stimulating for learners.  They discuss how walls cluttered with posters actually distract learners rather than helping them.  However, I think these studies miss the mark.
Make Your Classroom Sensory Friendly - Posts discusses four things teachers can do to make their classroom decor and layout sensory friendly for students.
Let me explain.  I am very sensory sensitive, and visual stimulation is just one part of this.  A number of things might make someone sensitive to sensory input, including autism, ADHD, allergies, and even introversion.  For me, it is in part fibromyalgia.  I always wondered why no one else could smell something when I could.  My teacher friends were always amazed when they didn’t smell it at first, but a few minutes later they could.

What causes sensory overload?

Sensory overload is when a person simply can’t stand any more sensory input.  I think a good analogy for this is a mall during the summer versus a mall during the Christmas holiday.  I try to avoid shopping after November 1st because after about 30 minutes I want to run out of the building!  It isn’t just the never-ending music on a loop, but the lights, the decorations, the huge crush of people, and the heat.  One of them would be okay, but put them all together and it is overwhelming.

Honestly, I think a lot of teachers have a huge amount of sensory things in their classroom and don’t realize it.  If you aren’t sensitive to it, you probably wouldn’t notice.  And, in all honesty, most students probably don’t either.

How can you make your classroom sensory friendly?

1.  Consider your visuals.  

Please understand, I am not saying that your classroom needs to be cold and uninviting.  No one wants to be that classroom that looks like a hospital room.  However, the decor should not overpower everything else in your room.  (I affectionately call this throwing up a rainbow.)  Every square inch of wall space does not need to be covered, truly.  When I first began teaching, I also felt the need to cram as many educational posters on the wall as possible.  However, it is a lot of work for the teacher, and it isn’t really necessary.

2.  Cut back on scents.

Don’t stop with your visuals, consider the odors.  Your kids with really bad allergies will thank you. 

Yes, it is so nice to have a really nice smelling room (especially if you teach 5th and 6th grades!)  However, when you have a fragrance, plus hand sanitizer, plus perfume that you wear, plus all the girls in your class that need their own hand sanitizer and perfume… becomes overwhelming.  (Don’t even get me started on the current favorite spray for boys.  If I could ban that, I would.)

In a classroom, everyone is so packed in that each individual smell mixes with the others.  Every year I kindly ask that students bring hand sanitizer only in the normal version or a citrus version.  That helps to cut down on the smells, and most students really will comply.

3.  Reduce the classroom noise.

Another issue can be noise.  Sadly, this is really hard to fix in most schools.  I haven’t worked in many places where you couldn’t hear noise in the hallway or the teacher in the room next door.  Just be aware of how much sound is coming in your room and try to monitor it.  I know a lot of teachers play music, and that really isn’t an issue unless all the other sounds play over it. 

4.  Declutter the classroom layout.

Finally, think about your classroom layout and space.  Again, some teachers are really limited by the size of their room, but try to space your tables and desks so that everyone can at least get in and out of their desk with ease.  I also try to establish pathways through the room, so students aren’t squeezing through a ridiculously small space.  (You know some students will always squeeze through a microscopic space no matter what you do….) 

What is your best tip for keeping students focused?
For this week's Hidden Gems selection, I picked  Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt.  I found this when I was looking at our library's new book shelf, and the title just grabbed me.  This historical fiction novel is set in Louisiana after World War II.  Tate lives with her great-aunt and -uncle, and is often picked on by classmates or is the object of pity.

Dear Hank Williams is a Hidden Gem of a book set during the 1940s. Post discusses how to teach the novel in an upper elementary class. Students (and teachers!) will be shocked by the stories surprise twist!
Tate's teacher arranges for her class to have pen pals with Japanese students - which is not a popular idea with her students' families.  (Poor teacher!)  Instead, most students select their own pen pal - and Tate choses to write to her hero, Hank Williams.

As Tate writes letters to Hank, you learn a lot about her and her family.  The reader needs to infer information from her letters in order to figure out what really happened to Tate.  The surprise ending will have students in shock and - spoiler - grabbing a tissue box.

Dear Hank Williams is a wonderful novel for teaching students about overcoming tragedy and coping with grief.  Reading skills such as inference and close reading can be taught using passages from the story.  In addition, this novel would be a great addition to a letter writing unit or an American  history unit on post-World War II.

Last week Caitlin from The Room Mom discussed The Bread Winner.  I have also featured other read aloud ideas on my blog.  Watch for a new book next week!

What books do you use to supplement history units in your class?
Back to Top