Complexities of Paired Texts

When teaching students to approach paired texts, part of the challenge is actually finding paired texts to work with. I have some books from the 80’s with outdated topics and illustrations but finding current, engaging topics can prove both challenging and time consuming. Not to mention, it is hard to know how to pair texts – should it be a fiction and a non-fiction paired by topic? Should it be a poem and a narrative non-fiction paired by topic? Should it be paired by genre? It is important to expose students to a variety of paired text types so they can begin making connections.

In an effort to save you some time, I’ve compiled a short list of paired texts I’ve been using with students reading at various levels in grades 4-8.


Out of the Tornado (Lexile 995)
Surviving the Storm (Comes in 400, 550, 830) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)


Homeless to Harvard (Comes in 380, 590, 880) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)
Homelessness: A poem


Surviving a Tsunami (Lexiles: 480, 680, 950) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)
Earthquake, Tsunami Strike Japan
Tsunami Poem


Should College Football Players be Paid?
Do Athletes Deserve Millions? 
Hoop Dreams (380, 690, 920) (Click the blue icon (bottom right) to change Lexile levels)

Can you add to the list? Leave a comment with links to any texts you use – or feel free to email me so I can post them. Thanks!


Some sites I use all the time are Scholastic Action Magazine, Storyworks Magazine, Scope Magazine, ReadWorks

Some sites I use sometimes are: GoKicker, TeenInk

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Guest Blog for SmartBlog on Education

Special thanks to SmartBlog on Education for the guest blogging opportunity! Check out EdGeeks featured on SmartBlog on Education today!

Supporting Struggling Readers as the Level of Text Complexity Rises

The Common Core State Standards brings about an increase in the level of text complexity. What impact does this increase have on our struggling readers and how can we best meet their needs?

Click here to read more on Tips and Resources to support struggling readers.

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Where to Find Free Texts

Finding texts that are high interest at an appropriate reading level is time consuming and let’s be honest, we don’t have a lot of time! I started pulling together a list of the resources I have been using to find texts. Then I began compiling a list of paired texts, which I’ll share with you shortly. Hope this saves someone out there some time!

Scholastic Magazines Digital Resources

We all love Scholastic Magazines but they can be expensive! The one I love most is $8.49 per student, which would be possible if there weren’t 25-32 kids in each class. Some teachers ask administration for money, others ask families to pitch in, and others dig into their own pockets to order school magazines. What most teachers don’t realize is that many of Scholastic Magazines’ Digital Resources are free…at least for the time being. Each magazine has its own website and most either say, “Subscribers Only” or “No login needed for a limited time.” I’ve been using these for over a year and they are FREE! Just click where it says either “Click here for digital resources,” “Subscribers click here,” or “Click for your digital issue.” The best part is, it’s not just Scholastic News. There are a ton of magazines that are appropriate and engaging for a diverse range of readers. Many resources are SMARTBoard ready and there are often PDFs available for download.

Checkout Scholastic Magazines and find the one that is right for your students. Find my personal favorites below.

I would also like to point out that Action magazine offers a growing library of differentiated articles. Yes you heard me! That means each article comes at three lexile levels, making it possible for you to incorporate differentiation into your classroom with ease. All students can read the same content at their level. The articles are high interest too! Here they are.


ReadWorks is a free site, but you do need to create a login and password. The good thing is that since I signed up, I have not gotten one email from them so it’s not one of those sites where you wish you hadn’t signed up!

There are a ton of resources on ReadWorks but I only use it for the vast collection of non-fiction texts that it offers. If you click Non-Fiction Passages on the blue bar at the top of the page, it will take you to a library of texts. You can search by Grade, Skill/Strategy or Keyword. Every text has the lexile level listed for you.

Once you decide on a text, click it’s title. You can then choose to download a PDF of the passage as well as a PDF of questions designed to match the text. I create my own questions because I don’t feel that the questions always meet my target objective, but the questions are there if you want them. This site makes it easy to differentiate and to set up centers. Just click and print!

Sports Illustrated Kids

I recently stumbled across this article Do Athlete’s Deserve Millions? and I traced it back to its source, Sports Illustrated Kids. That particular article was from the Kid Reporter Blog but if you click on the News and Blogs section, you will find texts that might be helpful. I find it particularly useful when I am trying to peak the interest of a hesitant reader who LOVES sports. I usually just browse the sport categories on the right sidebar and choose a sport my students are interested in and browse.

Schoolwide Fundamentals

This is the most recent of my resources. It is free to create an account and you get access to a variety of resources. What I find particularly useful is the text collection. If you click on Reading Fundamentals, you are taken to a page where you choose a grade level. Once you click into your grade level, click “Shared Texts” to download free texts. The texts are organized by grade level and genre. I am still getting to know the site, but it seems like a solid find. If you try it out, leave a comment and share about the quality of the texts!

I also often find myself pulling texts from:

National Geographic Kids


DoGo News

If you have other resources to share, please feel free to add to the list. I’ll publish a list of paired texts soon. Hope this helps someone out there.

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The Non-Fiction Craze

With the Common Core State Standards comes an urgency for reading non-fiction in the classroom, which is great…right? Yes, of course we want our students to read non-fiction! Many teachers, however are struggling to find strong non-fiction resources. Many of the classroom libraries I see throughout the week are stocked with fiction, fantasy, classics and old favorites. They have scattered non-fiction texts at best, with selections that pale in comparison to the wide variety of fiction that is available. What is a teacher to do when standards say students must read an increasing amount of non-fiction but resources are lacking? Or worse, when the school budget has no extra money for more non-fiction resources? Fret no more, there are options!

Non-fiction magazines are a great way to incorporate high-engagement non-fiction into your classroom. Click for my picks on classroom magazines. The problem is that many magazines are costly, and it is challenging to know which to choose! One piece of advice: At the moment, Scholastic Magazines offer some free digital resources that are so helpful! It can be tricky to navigate the sites. I’d recommend finding the magazine you like best and going to that magazine’s homepage. From there you should be able to navigate to any free resources. My top picks are: Scope Magazine, Scholastic Storyworks, Art Magazine and best of all Action Magazine (see below!)

Action Magazine: This is an intervention magazine that is high-interest/low level. It is a  wonderful resource for struggling readers in middle/high school. The best part is that they have a section of differentiated articles that come at 3 Lexile levels, allowing a teacher to provide one article at multiple levels, yet engage students in one conversation about the text. This is INCREDIBLE! In my dreams, there is an entire magazine that caters to differentiation…perhaps soon.

ReadWorks is another great free resource (you just have to create a login.) If you click on Non-Fiction Passages you can search texts by grade level, skill or strategy or keyword. The passages come with questions. To be honest, I usually create my own questions that align with the standard, skill or strategy I am teaching, but the questions are available if you wish to use them.

Time for Kids is a magazine that I have seen in quite a few classrooms. It’s a great way to fuse social studies and science with literacy. Though the magazine is pay for, full articles are available on the site.

PenPal News is a platform that allows way to pair your classroom with another classroom to read about real-world issues in the news. All texts are hand-picked non-fiction and the curriculum offers standards-aligned questions that peak critical thinking. To get involved sign up here.

*Full disclosure: I work with Michael Bernstein at PenPal News, so I obviously think it’s great:)

If you try out any of these resources and have questions, make sure to email me or leave a comment and I’d be glad to offer any support I can.



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Fifth Grader Creates and Implements Original Study Strategy

I work with an incredibly intelligent and talented fifth grader who recently amazed me by creating her own study strategy and implementing it independently.We have been working on improving her spelling for about two months. In addition to working on spelling, we are also working on building accountability for independent work between our sessions. A small portion of our work together includes spelling quizzes so when we first started working together, I asked her to study for our quizzes as her homework. She asked me how to study and I responded, “Study in a way that works for YOU.” I usually work with students to identify learning patterns that work for them and explicitly teach study strategies that will work, but I was curious to see what she would come up with.

Three weeks later, I noticed that she had scored 100% on all of her quizzes. I knew the words were quite challenging for her so I asked her to share her study secrets with me. She brought over her iPod and played me her recordings. She devised an entire study strategy independently. Listen below to hear one of her recordings:


Study Strategy

Step 1: Write a list of words with correct spellings in spelling notebook.

Step 2: Use a voice recording device. This student used her an app on her iPod – I believe it was iTalk Recorder.

Step 3: Record your voice saying the word, a sentence and then a 3-6 second break.

Step 4: Test yourself by playing back the recording and spelling the words on a fresh page in your notebook. Check your work by referring back to your correct word list.

What I am most inspired by is the initiative she took not only to study but to self-test to see if she had mastered the material. She said she would sometimes self-test 2 or 3 times to make sure she really knew her words. I am over the moon that she took the time to do this and that her parents gave me permission to share it with the world.

On a different note, here is another reason she is so awesome! On Halloween, when many kids were simply eating their candy, Little Miss Creative was graphing her candy!

Sugar High


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Are Children the Forgotten Audience in Education?

About a week ago I was walking in my neighborhood and bumped into one of my old students. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call him Flat Stanley. I taught Flat Stanley in first and second grade. He was one of my most memorable students…a child from whom I have drawn inspiration in multiple areas of my life over the years.

I was so excited to see him and to spend some time catching up. The first thing he asked me is: “How is EdGeeks?” I thought it was so strange that he knew about it. He said that he heard from someone that I had a blog and so he comes to read my work. Then he said:

“I love to read your blog because I love to read what you think, but I never understand what you are talking about because its not for kids. Can I give you some advice to make EdGeeks cooler? Write for kids sometimes…maybe like, interview them or something.” 

This really made me think about the conversations that are happening in education right now. We are at a potentially pivotal point in education and I fear we are not incorporating children into our conversations nearly enough. Personally, I have been so consumed with dissecting problems, exploring possible solutions and reading endless research that I must admit I have alienated the one audience who is at the core: Children!

I started looking around online to learn about some of the sites out there that actually appeal to students and frankly I’m disappointed. There are some news sites for kids and some game sites for kids, but there isn’t much out there that is for kids by teachers. I’m not sure if EdGeeks is the best outlet to share information for kids, but I’m definitely thinking about it. Anyone out there have any sites that their students love? I’m particularly interested in sites written for students by teachers about how to use technology to grow as learners. Thoughts anyone?

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5 Ways to Keep the Learning Flowing Throughout the Summer

Summer is already in motion for many students around the country. For us New Yorkers, it’s so close we can smell it. Teachers have started cleaning up their classrooms and students have handed in their last homework assignments of the year. But what happens after the last day of school?

Summer planning is an issue that requires quite a bit of thought for many parents. Should we continue some form of academic learning for our children over the summer? Should we send our kids to camp? Do our kids need a break from all of the pressures of school. Summer plans are a tough decision and just like in everything else education, I will advise a balanced approach.

It has been a challenging year in education to say the least. All of the hubbub surrounding high stakes standardized testing has finally come to a boiling point. Stress took over the lives of so many of our young learners this year, and the truth is: YES, THEY NEED SOME DOWN TIME! That being said, they don’t need an 8-week break completely devoid of learning. There are ways that parents can promote learning over the summer for their kids, without sacrificing fun or forcing them to read the dictionary. Depending on your schedule, here are some ways to keep the learning flowing over the next few months.

  1. Scheduling some cultural experiences with your kids can help you make learning FUN! Visit a museum, a public library, or cultural institution…something that makes you think. See a concert or a explore a park. Make sure to do something that leads to rich conversations with your kids. Learning does NOT always have to be academic or inside a classroom, and the summer is a great time to engage in other modes of learning.
  2. Find a few new tech tools you’re dying to try and learn how to use them with your kids! Some of my personal faves are: Mentormob, Mixel, ShowMeWallWisher, ThingLink. If you have a younger child, it might be a great time to work on keyboarding skills in which case you might want to get a set of keyboard stickers.
  3. Join the Figment community and publish some of your writing!
  4. Sign up for a Skillshare class with your tween or teen.
  5. Participate in Barnes and Noble’s Summer Reading Program and get a FREE BOOK from the Reading Journal list at the store!

Have other great ideas for continuing to learn throughout the summer? Share them by leaving a comment!

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Google Search Education Lesson Plans

It’s pretty upsetting that so many teachers don’t realize that Google is more than just Gmail. Honestly, I was a latecomer to Google tools for education and I am mostly self-taught but I am learning more each day. I recently found out that Google has a series of Lesson Plans and Live Training videos for teaching students to use the Internet effectively for research. Each lesson plan comes at three levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.

So many companies come out with curricular tools that don’t feel like they have been thought out or test run by a teacher but these lesson plans are actually quite helpful! They cover:

  • Picking the right search terms
  • Understanding search results
  • Narrowing a search to get the best results
  • Searching for evidence for research tasks
  • Evaluating credibility of sources

Screenshot of Lesson Plan Topics and Levels

Depending on your position and in-class setup, you may be able to use these as whole-class lesson plans. For teachers who want to teach all of the lessons as a unit, be sure to check out the Lesson Plan Map. The classroom is a great space for these discussions but I must admit, If I were a parent I would definitely be making use of these resources at home. While these lesson plans are designed to teach students about using the Internet for research, parents can use them to teach their children, tweens and teens about safety and maintaining an appropriate digital identity.

If this helped, make sure to check out: How to Teach Students About Digital Identity

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One Teacher’s Concern Regarding Common Core State Standards

I am writing to you from Chicago…gearing up for the Flipped Conference. I am so excited to be surrounded by so many innovative teachers. These are teachers who are asking questions, thinking outside the box and challenging the system. Perhaps the best part is getting to hang out with the Mentormob team! They are super cool on Twitter – and even more awesome in person!

I love when teachers write to EdGeeks asking really important questions! Today I want to share about a teacher who recently wrote to me with a concern regarding the Common Core State Standards. Here is what she wrote:

I got your email on EdVoices and hope you don’t mind my seeing if you can help me. I am a first grade teacher and our state (WI), along with 43 others,  is incorporating the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  One of the standards has my first graders using technology to publish their writing, beginning in the first quarter – yikes!  I am at a loss as to how that should look. 

Some background:  I have been teaching for many years, and am not afraid of technology, but really struggle with using it with my little ones.  I have a SMARTBoard, which I just love.  I piloted a keyboarding program last year with my class last quarter.  The kids were excited, however, I had some students whose little hands couldn’t reach the keys – so for them to type anything, not happening.  I have a recordable microphone that I use for fluency and could maybe have them record their writing, but I would like to have some more ideas to try.  Thank you so much for any suggestions you may have.

I was really impressed with this teacher for two reasons. Firstly, she is already planning ahead for changes that will come with the CCSS and secondly, she is reaching out to learn more about how to support her students. Finding ways to incorporate technology for early elementary schoolers can be challenging, especially if you do not have a ton of resources at your disposal. Now that it is included as a requirement in the CCSS, teachers need to get creative and think outside the box! Here is my response:

Great question! I assume you’re talking about this standard: 
W.1.6. With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital
tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
I think the key thing to remember is “With guidance and support from adults” – so you don’t have to expect your little ones to be typing and publishing completely on their own. 

For typing with little ones I recommend a few things that will depend on budget and what kind of tech you have. I’m not sure if you have ipads, laptops, desktops but here is what I would do:

  1. Get sets of keyboard stickersThey differ for desktop, laptop etc but they are great. I started using them for students with visual impairments because they come in a variety of colors and sizes. Then I realized they’re great for all little ones beginning to type. The colored ones are fun because you can say “I’ll give you a hint…it’s in red!” There are also sticker sets that include picture icons (ie: C=Cat to remind students who are just learning.) Inline image 1
  2. Clicker 6: Depending on your school’s budget…I also really like Clicker 6 for teaching literacy to little ones. This software has a lot of capabilities – it ties pictures to words, has text to voice functions, allows you to go in and personalize a vocabulary bank for students, and has word prediction software to take the pressure of spelling off of a student during writing. You can check out Clicker 6 here. I used Clicker 5 at one school for awhile…that version may be available at a cheaper cost. Our school bought one version and all of us shared it and that worked, so at least when you’re making a case to your administration for budgeting you can say it will benefit everyone!
  3. Digital Portfolios Including Video/Audio Recordings: It can be fun to create digital portfolios with your first graders. You can include your audio recordings of fluency. You can also use video to document student growth. With typing, you can catch growth very well. I recently kept a video log of a fourth grader who was learning to type. I took footage on my iPhone once a week for 5 weeks and had her watch her own progress. Kids also love when you video tape them reading their own stories so that you can view progress at the end of the year and they can see how much more fluently they read and how many more words they have in their story.
  4. ShowMe is a really fun app. It is an interactive whiteboard where the user can create their own writing and audio to match it. This could be super engaging for younger ones.
  5. I also have found that kids LOVE Mixel, a digital collage app. Most people see it as an art tool, but I see academic qualities in it as well. I like to ask kids to create a collage that is like a mindmap for a story they’re going to write. In essence, Mixel can act like a pre-cursor to planning and outlining for younger students by allowing them to brainstorm images that help them plan out their piece of writing. 
  6. Get on EdModo if you aren’t already. Its a great way to connect with other teachers so that you don’t feel so alone. There are great forums and opportunities for community building. 

I posted this today because it is important that teachers voice their concerns about the shift to the CCSS. We need to support each other however we can as these standards make their way into our classrooms.

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Guest Blog: IEP Q&A for Parents by, Emma Savino

I am pleased to welcome back School Psychologist, Emma Savino to EdGeeks. She really has become our resident guest blogger. Today, Savino de-mystifies the IEP process for parents. Thanks for sharing Emma!

IEP Q&A for Parents

Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S. – School Psychologist

Starting the process for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can be daunting for parents.  Legal terms and IEP jargon can be overwhelming, resulting in many unanswered questions for parents. Here are some basic IEP Q&A’s that will help you on your journey.

  1. What is an IEP, anyway?
  • An IEP is a legal, binding document that is exactly what it states. Once your child is found eligible for special education services, the Committee on Special Education Team (CSE) will meet to devise an education plan for your child.
  1. Who are all of these people sitting at the table?! A typical CSE team includes the following people:
  • CSE Chairperson
  • General Education Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher
  • School Psychologist
  • Parent
  • Possible additions: translator, parent/family advocate, related service providers

Note: Parents also have a right to have a community member present at their meeting.  This team member is someone in your school district who also has a child with a disability. They can help guide you and provide insight on the process. You can also invite anyone who knows your child well. Students may attend meetings when old enough, between middle and high school.

  1. When do CSE meetings take place? CSE meetings take place depending on what will be discussed.
  • Annual reviews take place every year and plan for the following school year.  Changes may be made depending on your child’s needs and progress. Parent
  • Reevaluation meetings occur every 3 years.  This is when updated psychoeducational testing is completed to determine if your child still meets criteria.
  • A program review is held anytime a change needs to be made to your child’s IEP.
  • As a parent, you also have the right to call a meeting at anytime.
  1. Will my child have an IEP forever?
  • Maybe. Depending on your child’s needs, they may require an IEP for their entire school career (available through age 21).  However, some students, if intervention is started early, make exceptional gains with special education support.  If this is found, the child may be declassified.  An alternative to declassification is to gradually reduce services to promote independence.
  1. What is my role as a parent in this whole process?
  • Be supportive and open-minded.  The Committee may make recommendations that you do not agree with.  Be sure to hear them out and gather as much information as you can before making any decisions. Remember that you have the final say, but also remember to keep your child’s best interest in mind.
  1. What will my child receive on their IEP?
  • This varies from student to student depending on their needs. Some may only require testing accommodations, while others may need special programs or related services (i.e. speech, OT, PT).  Services also tend to change with age.
  1. What happens if my child does not qualify?
  • If your child does not qualify, this means that their learning profile does not fit under any of the 13 classifications.  This means that although your child may struggle, their skill deficits do not necessary warrant special education services.  Providing them with AIS supports and building level remediation may be all they need.  Also, be sure to rule out any medical issues that may impact learning.
  1. How does an IEP help my child in the classroom?
  • School staff is legally obligated to follow an IEP.  This ensures that specific services/accommodations for your child.  More importantly, an IEP meeting allows the team of student advocates to come together and design specific goals for the year. It supports teachers to provide differentiated instruction and allows students to be exposed to grade level material that is presented on their level.  The goal of an IEP is to promote maximal independence in the classroom and provide the least restrictive environment for a child.

Still have questions? Feel free to submit via email and Emma and I will do our best to help!

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