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Growing Readers and Writers by Teaching with Mentor Texts


Thanks for joining my friends from The Reading Crew this weekend for a celebration of spring!

I am so glad you are here, and hope that you are ready to "get down and dirty" as we step inside one of my favorite seasonal picture books!  Get ready to boost vocabulary and build alliterative writing skills!

Grab your  gloves, galoshes, and trusty trowel, fellow gardeners and join me now as we do some spring planting along with Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal.  Prepare to share the magic of Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt with your primary grade students!

Kate Messner's rich language and Christopher Silas Neal's vibrant, point-of-view illustrations draw the reader right into a garden where a grandmother and her granddaughter are preparing to plant.  The story's patterned structure and pictures go from what is happening above the ground "up in the garden" to what is going on underground "down in the dirt."  This "seesaw" rhythm of text makes for a wonderful spring read aloud!

When I read it to my second graders last year, they loved chiming in at the beginning of each new page with the repetitive refrain of "up in the garden" and then "down in the dirt."  As true "city kids," they were fascinated by the variety of  plants, animals, insects we met in our walk through "Nana's garden," and were delighted that the story followed the changes each season--spring, summer, fall, and winter-- brought to it.

They also exclaimed with glee when they recognized the familiar cover illustrations of Messner and Neal's Over and Under the Snow on the final page!  After we enjoyed the story together, student pairs loved taking turns looking through the illustrated "About the Animals" glossary in the back of the book, learning that although they are smelly, skunks help gardens because "they gobble garden pests after dark." They were also surprised to learn that pillbugs or "roly-poly bugs" aren't insects, but are land-based crustaceans!

Before you read Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt  to your class, head out to your own garden shed or garage and round up what Tanny McGregor calls "authentic artifacts."  Use them to spark a discussion with your students about what they already know or have experienced about planting a garden.  

Next, share just the end pages of the book with your students, along with some packets of seeds, and ask your young gardeners what they might want to plant in their own backyards.  Vegetables or flowers?  Why or why not?   Then have them draw and label pictures of what they might see, hear, and smell both above and below the ground in their gardens.  You can have them do this either on large pieces of chart paper in a cooperative group or on the pages I've created in my FREEBIE.

After making text-to-self, text-to-world, and text-to-text connections, introduce the key story vocabulary and discuss each word's meaning.  Build student understanding by using chart paper to create a list of synonyms and antonyms for each one.  Ask them to "show that they know the definition" by generating sentences for each word.  

After you've led your group through an intense study of the key words they are going to meet in the text, it is time to read it aloud, sharing the rich language and images, and stopping to check predictions, marvel at the beautiful illustrations, and  repeat the alliterative tongue-twisters you meet on every page.

After reading the story, it's time to check student comprehension and understanding by displaying excerpts you've "dug up and out" of the text on sentence strips in a pocket chart, and then have  students discuss the context clues or hints they find that help them determine the meaning of the underlined word. 

Up in the garden, it's time to plant.  I trail a furrow
with my finger and sprinkle seeds in a careful row.

Nana turns the hose on me. I shiver and laugh,

drenched in Nana's rain.

Giving students the opportunity to respond creatively and in writing to what they've read is a key component of solid literacy instruction.  They'll be poets before you know it while composing their own alliterative tongue twisters based on delightful examples from the story!

The FREEBIE that I created for you is in booklet format.  I hope that your students
enjoy using it before, during, and after reading Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.
It includes all of the blackline printables and the color vocabulary cards featured above.   I plan to use it for my whole group guided reading lessons, but it will work as a literacy center
activity as well.

to download this FREEBIE!

The thematic color comprehension posters that I used as headers throughout this
post have been uploaded to my
TpT store along with some writing and reading comprehension pages!
You can see this $2.00 literacy pack

I hope they'll help you provide important visual cues for any book study you are planning
for an upcoming Science unit on seeds and plants!

I hope that you find this FREEBIE useful, and take the time to leave thoughtful feedback!  Have fun growing great readers by focusing on vibrant vocabulary and awesome alliteration!

As always, thanks for stopping by to share my story. May the garden song of buzzing bees, tweeting birds, and croaking frogs warm your heart and make your days happy.  Continue to teach your children well, and share the wonders of nature all around us...

Before you move on to collect more marvelous mentor text freebies from my literacy loving blogger buddies, be sure to enter our giveaway.  You'll need this sheet to collect all of our MYSTERY WORDS along the way.  Click {HERE} to download and start recording!  My word is DIRT!

Jennifer Reynolds
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  1. Your posts are SO THOROUGH lady! Thanks so much for the great lesson plan idea!

    1. Thanks for your kind compliment, Carla! My Grandma Molly was quite a gardener, and we loved helping her during our summer visits! Up in the Garden is most certainly a mentor text I can make "text-to-self" connections with!
      Warm Regards,

  2. Wow! Thanks for such a great blog post! I love all of your ideas. :)

    1. So glad you liked the post, Sarah! I was introduced to Kate Messner's books just last year, and I LOVE them!

  3. I've never heard of this book! Thank you so much for sharing all of your amazing ideas and your freebie! :)

    1. Kate Messner is one of my favorite authors! Thanks so much for stopping by! Your kind comments made my day!

  4. This is so CUTE!!! I bet students would be so engaged from beginning to end with your activity. Thank you for sharing :)
    The Techie Teacher

    1. You are most welcome, Julie! Thanks for your kind comments!

  5. Jennifer-You work so hard on your posts, and this is great! I too am unfamiliar with this book, but I love your ideas. Thanks so much for joining in at such a busy time.

  6. Such a great always! There are so many ideas here. I look forward to reading this book (especially with the girls). Thanks so much.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful ideas! I too have never heard of this book - but will certainly check for it at our local library! Kids love to plant, and this could lend itself to so many activities! Thanks again!

    1. The story is just a gem, and can most certainly serve as a springboard read aloud for any planting activity for children! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. Thanks for sharing and for the freebie- it's just in time for planting season.

    1. I can't wait to put some new flowers and rose bushes in my garden beds, Josie! Enjoy Spring!

  9. very nice work for improving reading and writing .


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