RECOMMENDED READING: Engaging Students in U.S. History and Science

If you are a U.S. history teacher looking for a textbook series that provides engaging narratives about key historical figures and events, check out A HISTORY OF US, a 10-book series by Joy Hakim. There are also accompanying resources and teacher guides.

David McCullough, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, offers high praise:

I hear strong praise for your books in lots of places all over the country–all exactly right!… Best of all is Joy Hakim’s way with the story. Never dull, never the least plodding, she brings refreshing spirit and common sense to the telling of every episode. The historic personages, great and small, are all alive, real people, and the idea that history might ever be thought of as a chore has clearly never crossed her mind.”

Hakim is also developing a series on science called THE STORY OF SCIENCE, with three books already completed. I lent one to a middle school science teacher a few weeks ago, and when I saw her again, she gushed so much that I told her to keep the book.


See what you think….

Posted in Curriculum, Nonfiction, Resources, Text Selection | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Online Curriculum Resources: UPDATE

In case you missed it, Stig Leschly, CEO of Match Education, posted a thoughtful, informative blog the other day about FREE online curriculum. Match Education is among a growing number of organizations sharing their PreK-12 curriculum units and lessons. Stig provides a handy overview and links to these helpful resources.

Here’s the link:

***PS: In case you haven’t seen it yet, my book Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action delves into strategies for building effective Common Core-aligned curriculum units and lesson plans.

Posted in Curriculum, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How to Navigate THE LITERACY COOKBOOK Website

As many readers know, in addition to this blog and my two books (The Literacy Cookbook and Literacy and the Common Core), you can find more support for effective literacy instruction on The Literacy Cookbook Website, which features hundreds and hundreds of files—all practical tools that have been tested in the field.

The Literacy Cookbook Website is designed like a house with rooms upstairs (visible to everyone) and corresponding rooms in the basement (in the Download Zone).

To access ALL of the hundreds and hundreds of files in the Download Zone, you need an annual subscription to The Literacy Cookbook. Individual membership is normally $50/year, but TLC Blog followers can take advantage of a 50%-off discount code to sign up (so it’s only $25!). Click HERE and use the code “TLCBOOK50.” Note: The code is case-sensitive.

I recently designed a user-friendly overview map (PS, this is not a complete site map, just some highlights!) to help you find what you might be looking for:

If you’re looking for ideas about… Check out this TLC page:
Guided Reading
Independent Reading
Public Speaking, Skits, Debates
Critical Thinking
Test Prep

If you have any questions or suggestions, please Email me at:

Thank you so much for your support, which enables me to keep sharing these helpful materials!

Posted in ELA Common Core Standards, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Professional Development, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for Essential Literacy Work PD? SIGN UP NOW!

If you are looking for professional development support on Essential Literacy Work, I encourage you to attend my full-day training session at NJPSA/FEA on Oct. 2 from 9am-3pm!

Here’s the link for more information:

Here’s the blurb:

PARCC ELA Prep: Essential Literacy Work (PSEL Standard 4)
Oct. 2, 2017; 9 am – 3 pm at FEA

Presenter: Sarah Tantillo, Ed.D., Author of The Literacy Cookbook and Literacy and the Common Core

Fee: $149

This session will lay out fundamental literacy work your students need to engage in — addressing the comprehension process; how to teach paraphrasing; how to teach close reading; etc. Participants will also identify and practice six specific argument and evidence steps that effective writers use ending with how to write an effective question-driven research paper from scratch. Instead of cramming for PARCC, you can prepare your students throughout the year with methods that do not feel like test prep. Participants will also use a comprehensive set of tools and field-tested lesson cycles to design a PARCC ELA preparation plan that sets students up for success. Participants will also view resources to support literacy instruction, curriculum development, and PARCC preparation.

(PS–Here’s the address: Foundation for Educational Administration (FEA) 12 Centre Drive, Monroe Township, NJ 08831)

I also, of course, deliver training and provide coaching at schools. For more information, please contact me at

Hope to see you soon!



Posted in Argument, Close Reading, Evidence, Paraphrasing, PARCC, Professional Development, Test Prep, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aligning Lessons with the Common Core Standards: NEW TLC RESOURCE!!!

As we design lessons to meet and exceed the ELA Common Core State Standards, it would be great to have a tool that matches resources up with those standards, right?

That’s what Anibal Garcia (of Queen City Academy CS) said to me a few weeks ago, and I wholeheartedly agreed. So we sat down and put this together. For grades 2-12. Yes.

You’re welcome.

Here’s a very brief snippet of what this looks like:


Reading Standards for Literature
Key Idea and Details
1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly
supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly
as well as inferences drawn from the text.


RL.8.1 –Argument vs. Evidence: TLC Blog (“argument”)
–How to Find the Topic Sentence: TLC “Effective Topic Sentences”
–Evaluating Topic Sentences: TLC “Effective Topic Sentences”
–Selecting and Explaining Evidence: TLC Blog (“argument”)
–Paragraph Responses: TLC “Analyzing Literature”
–PARAGRAPH RESPONSE Scoring Checklist: TLC “Analyzing Literature”
–Chapter Notes organizer: TLC “Analyzing Literature” (Works best when scholars create and reference a reader’s notebook consisting of literary techniques, poetic techniques, and figurative language.)
–QIEE organizer: TLC “Analyzing Literature”
–DDAT organizer: TLC “Analyzing Literature”
–Story Detectives organizer: TLC “Analyzing Literature” (This organizer, at this grade level, can be used for scholars below grade level who are still developing reading skills. They should eventually transition into the QIEE Organizer.)

Want to see the whole thing (in a much more readable format)? Here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD of the Gr 8 ELA CCSS with RESOURCES – 8-9-17 file.

For Grades 2-12, go to the TLC “Standards” page to download the rest. I will update them periodically. If you have suggestions for revision or useful links to add, please Email me directly at

*As a reminder, followers of this TLC Blog are eligible for a 50%-off discount subscription to the TLC Website, which provides access to more than 1,200 files supporting literacy instruction. (PS: That’s less than 2 cents per file.) Click HERE and use the secret discount code, TLCBOOK50. Please note: The code is case-sensitive. If you would like to register friends at this rate, please Email me for a group registration form at


Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, ELA Common Core Standards, Evidence, Lesson-planning, Reading Literature, Resources, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Essential Vocabulary Resource: ACHIEVE THE CORE’s ACADEMIC WORD FINDER

In the realm of vocabulary instruction, we are always on the hunt for helpful tools. As I’ve previously noted, Verbal Workout is a great resource for selecting and teaching vocabulary words in commonly used texts.

Now we also have Achieve the Core’s Academic Word Finder, which enables users to paste in up to 20,000 words (about 5 pages) of ANY text to find vocabulary words within that text that are on a certain grade level. It’s free and super-easy to use. Just paste in the text, select a grade, and see the results. In addition to identifying the grade levels of various words, it gives you multiple definitions and sample sentences for those words.

And here’s another benefit: If you’re trying to determine if a text is “on grade-level,” this tool will give you some indication of that.

Very cool. Check it out!


PS: Many thanks to Meghan Lowney at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School for bringing this resource to my attention!

Posted in ELA Common Core Standards, Resources, Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Essential Curriculum Resource: SUCCESS ACADEMY ED INSTITUTE

As we enter summer—or as I like to call it, Curriculum Development Season—teachers will want to check out these two great resources:

First, Match Fishtank, which I previously blogged about here.

Second, hot off the presses:

Success Academy Ed Institute, which features detailed information on this high-performing charter network’s K-4 Literacy Instruction, plus videos of virtual tours which reveal other important aspects of their work. Success Academy won the 2017 Broad Prize, which is awarded annually to a charter school operator who demonstrates “outstanding academic outcomes among low-income students and students of color.” PS–Previous winners include YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, KIPP Schools, Noble Network, and IDEA Public Schools.

Here’s what Success Academy’s Website says about this new set of resources:

Over the past decade, Success Academy has reimagined public education, building a bold new approach to K–12 schooling. Our teaching and learning model, now tested and scaled across nearly 50 campuses, has proved extraordinarily effective. With scholars admitted by random lottery from many of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, our schools have achieved the highest standing in our state.

Now, through our Education Institute, we are providing open access to the broad architecture and singular components of the Success Academy model. We are sharing best practices, resources, and training with educators across the nation to help many more children gain access to great schools.

The K-4 teachers I worked with on curriculum this past week gave it numerous thumbs up. Check it out!

PS–As a reminder, if you’re looking for guidance on curriculum development, check out my book Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014), which will make your life easier!

Posted in Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Lesson-planning, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Professional Development, Resources, Text Selection, Unit-planning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Essential Curriculum Resource: MATCH FISHTANK

If you’re writing curriculum plans, here’s a tremendous new FREE resource: Match Fishtank.

Here’s the blurb that explains what this is:

Welcome to Match Fishtank, where you can view, share, and download the curriculum we use every day at Match Charter School, the PreK-12 public school that we opened 15 years ago in Boston.

These materials have been developed and curated by our teachers and curriculum experts over many years.

At Match, we think teachers should spend more time planning how to teach — with the unique learning needs of their students in mind—and less time worrying about the basics of what to teach. Good baseline curriculum and assessments free teachers to do just that.

Match Fishtank is our effort to share our curriculum with teachers everywhere to lessen their load and help them on the road to amazing classroom learning.

Match is determined to share great materials widely. If you haven’t already seen them, check out MATCH MINIS, “our effort to share what we’ve learned—about classroom teaching, teacher training, and more—in bite-sized, entertaining 3-to-5-minute videos.” These videos are super-practical!

Posted in Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Essential Questions, Instruction, Lesson-planning, Professional Development, Resources, Unit-planning | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Independent Reading and Summer Reading RESOURCES

As summer draws near, you might be thinking about assigning summer reading or planning for a more rigorous independent reading program at your school next year, or you might be looking forward to YOUR OWN summer reading. Here are some resources to explore:

On the TLC Website’s “Independent Reading” page, you can find lots of suggestions about how to run both independent and summer reading programs in your school. For example, if you want to design a more robust independent reading program for your students next year, consider the SRT (Strategic Reading Time) approach, which is described in detail in my book Literacy and the Common Core. You can find a complete SRT User’s Manual, which explains how to implement a school-wide program (or a more tailored pilot, if you prefer), on that TLC Website page.*

Regarding summer reading assignments, you might want to revisit this TLC Blog post, which offers free materials and advice. As it notes, “Whether assigning particular books or giving students a range of choices (or some combination of the two), you will undoubtedly want students to demonstrate that they have completed the reading in a way that doesn’t torture them or you.” This post advocates the Character Analysis approach, which is useful for follow-up work in the fall.

What about books for YOU?

  • I know I’m biased, but I hope my other blog, Only Good Books (which is hopefully self-explanatory), will be of use to you.
  • Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, the New York Times recently launched a new column called “Match Book” featuring book recommendations. The latest post, on sports-related books, has a gigantic list of great stuff. The comments section is super-helpful, too.

*As a reminder, followers of this TLC Blog are eligible for a 50%-off discount subscription to the TLC Website, which provides access to more than 1,200 files supporting literacy instruction. (PS: That’s less than 2 cents per file.) Click HERE and use the secret discount code, TLCBOOK50. Please note: The code is case-sensitive. If you would like to register friends at this rate, please Email me for a group registration form at

Posted in Character Analysis, Independent Reading, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Reading, Recommended Reading, Resources, Summer Reading, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Students How to Set a Purpose for Reading

[This post originally appeared in slightly different form on MiddleWeb on April 23, 2017.]

I think we can all agree that annotating texts helps students comprehend them more deeply. But not all forms of annotating are helpful. How you annotate matters. I’ve seen this problem quite often: students cover their texts with so many notes that it seems to have taken them an hour to read one page. While it’s great that students can annotate with generic strategies such as underlining topic sentences and starring supporting details, the truth is that they need to learn how to analyze texts more effectively and efficiently. It’s not efficient to notice everything. If you notice everything, that might be a sign that you can’t figure out what is most important.

How can we teach students to determine what is most important?

Students must learn to set a purpose for reading. Too often, teachers set the purpose (with assignments such as “Read Chapter 7 and answer these three questions” or “Read this article and write a summary”) and students do not actually learn how to set a purpose on their own. Some might not even realize that they can.

A helpful first step is to identify the GENRE of the text. If you’re reading a book review, the most obvious guiding question is “Why should we read this book?” Students would then take notes on that, not on every single thing that might be interesting about the text. After discussing the notion of genre, I would invite students to infer how they would approach different genres. For example: “Here’s an editorial from the New York Times. What should our purpose be?” And here’s an important follow-up question: “How could you tell?” Once students recognize the clues and characteristics of different genres, they can not only identify the genre but also explain its purpose (in this case, to persuade) and our purpose for reading it (to recognize the writer’s arguments and evaluate his/her support for those arguments).

When I was in high school, our chemistry teacher gave us an amazing assignment at the end of the year; he called it “Unknowns.” We received samples of different-colored chemicals/compounds and had to run experiments to figure out what each “unknown” consisted of. This assessment required us to demonstrate lab skills and content knowledge of the properties of elements we’d studied all year. English teachers could take a similar approach with random texts: students would need to use clues to identify the genre and decide what purpose(s) they would set for reading.

Beyond using genre to set purpose, students can use other clues, as well. When it comes to nonfiction/informational texts, it helps to look at the title of the text (no matter what size that text is—book, chapter, article, sub-section) and ask questions about that title. These questions—preferably “How” and “Why” questions—should guide our reading. For example, an article titled “Lifting School Cell Phone Bans” would suggest questions such as, “Why should schools lift their cell phone bans?” and “Why do schools ban cell phones in the first place?” Presumably these questions would be answered in the text.

When it comes to fiction/narratives, we can of course analyze text for a variety of purposes. For instance, we might ask students to focus on character development or the use of symbolism to convey meaning. But often when reading novels, we want students to read a chapter and figure out what’s important on their own.

I’ve actually designed an organizer for this called—wait for it—the “What’s Important Organizer.”[1] [Here’s a FREE download of What Is Important ORGANIZER. For a completed model, check out the TLC “Analyzing Literature” page.***]


What’s Important ORGANIZER

DIRECTIONS: Use COMPLETE SENTENCES to answer all five questions. You may either PARAPHRASE or PROVIDE QUOTES to support your assertions, but either way, you MUST GIVE PAGE NUMBERS to indicate where the evidence can be found. Refer to the model to ensure that you are doing this properly. Give AT LEAST TWO PIECES OF EVIDENCE PER QUESTION.

1. DECISIONS WITH PURPOSE: What major decisions do the characters make, and why?


2. CONFLICTS/OBSTACLES/CHALLENGES: What conflicts, obstacles, or challenges do the characters face, and how do they deal with them?


3. LESSONS/INSIGHTS/MESSAGES: What lessons do any of the characters learn? What do WE learn?


4. CAUSES AND EFFECTS: What events/actions have major effects on characters? How do the characters react?


5. PATTERNS: What patterns from either this passage or the rest of the book do you notice in this passage?



In addition to training students in what to look for when reading any narrative, this organizer supports them in the practice of summarizing. Perhaps more importantly, it reminds them that there are specific things you should look for when reading a narrative in order to grasp its most fundamental ideas.

You don’t have to underline everything.

***PS: Followers of this TLC Blog are eligible for a 50%-off discount subscription to the TLC Website, which provides access to more than 1,200 files supporting literacy instruction. (PS: That’s less than 2 cents per file.) Click HERE and use the secret discount code, TLCBOOK50. Please note: The code is case-sensitive. If you would like to register friends at this rate, please Email me for a group registration form at

[1] I’ve previously blogged about it HERE, and that original blog was adapted from The Literacy Cookbook.

Posted in Annotation, Close Reading, Comprehension, ELA Common Core Standards, Genre, MiddleWeb, Questioning, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment