Pencil Talk and Other School Poems

By Anastasia Suen
Illustrations by Susie Lee Jin


  • understanding the author’s message
  • connecting personal experiences with poetry
  • reading with expression, emphasizing rhythm and rhyme
  • understanding poetic language and forms
  • using a contents page

Supportive Text Features:

  • familiar words and concepts
  • repetitive phrases and verses
  • rhyming text

Essential Components of Reading Instruction:

Phonemic awareness: rhyming
Phonics: initial /wh/ consonant digraph
Vocabulary: do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do, kiln; familiar words used in different and new ways and phrases; verb ending: “-ing”
Fluency: reread poetry independently or with a partner
Comprehension: determine what is important, make connections, ask questions

High-frequency Words: we, on, the, up, and, down, all, way, to, what, do, in, who, is, not, their, your, so, I, can, see, one, two, a, word, but, call, my, then, by, or, you, comes, of, will, it, then, no, was, with, my

Getting Ready to Read

  1. Introduce the concept and vocabulary by asking open-ended questions:
    • If an author wants to write about being in school, what kinds of things might he or she write about?
    • What are your favorite things to do in school?
    • Think about some of the poems we know. What are the differences between a story and a poem?
  2. Connect children’s past experiences with the book vocabulary:
    • Call children’s attention to the title. Read: “Pencil Talk and Other School Poems.” Make sure they understand that this is a book of poems about school.
    • Ask children to use the title and picture on the cover to predict what they would expect to see happen in the book.
    • Show the back cover and read the copy. Ask children to think about how a book of poetry might look different than other books.
    • Have children suggest some words they might read in the book.
    • Give children the book and have them look through it. Ask them to tell what they notice. You may wish to point out that each page contains a poem that tells a little story, so the book has more than one story.
  3. Remind children of the strategies they know and can use with unfamiliar words:
    • Ask them, “What will you do if you come to a word you don’t know?”
    • Encourage children to look for chunks of words they know and to blend the sounds quickly.
    • Suggest that children read on past an unfamiliar word in order to use the context of the poem to unlock the word.
    • Tell children also to think about the things they do in school. Then encourage them to choose a word that makes sense in the sentence.
  4. Be aware of the following book and text features:
    • The book contains numerous high-frequency words and many other familiar words.
    • The book is a collection of poems about school.
    • There is a contents page (page 3) listing all the poems in the book.
    • Some facing pages contain just one poem. Others contain two poems, one on each page.
    • Some poems rhyme. Some do not. Some contain repetition of phrases or verses. Some have standard capitalization and/or punctuation. Some do not.
    • Familiar words and phrases are used poetically, sometimes in unfamiliar or different ways, to create the message.
    • The pictures support the poems, but most of the meaning is contained in the text.

Reading the Book

  1. Set a purpose by telling children to read the poems about some familiar school activities.

  2. Have children read the first poem silently. Each child should be reading at his or her own pace. Check for understanding with a simple comment such as: “Tell me what the poem is about.” Then direct children to continue reading. As they read, watch for indications of comprehension: changes in facial expressions, giggles, audible comments, rereading, turning back to a page.

  3. Look for these reading behaviors during children’s first reading:
    • Do they rely on the print while reading?
    • Do they have a strong sight vocabulary?
    • Do they use known sound chunks to read unknown words?
    • Are they showing signs of understanding the poems?
    • Are they monitoring meaning and rereading when they lose meaning?
    • Do they easily move from page to page?
    • How are they dealing with the different formats of the poems?
    • Are they using punctuation and phrasing to help gain meaning?
    • Do they make accurate predictions?
    • Are they connecting the text to their own experiences?
    • Do they react to the text even though they are reading silently?
  4. As children read, note what they are doing. Help them build independence by being available, but not intervening too quickly. Watch for changes in children’s facial expressions and use these as signals to ask questions such as: “What made you smile?” or “Do you need some help?” Also encourage children’s attempts by making comments such as: “I like how you are reading,” or “That was a good strategy.”

  5. Possible teaching points to address based on your observations:
    • Review how to find a known part or sound chunk in an unknown word.
    • Show children how to use analogies to move from the known to the unknown when encountering new words.
    • Review using grammar (syntax) to unlock words by considering the sentence structure or parts of speech in the sentence.
    • Model asking questions or making “I wonder . . .” statements to extend comprehension.
    • Explore the message and feeling the author was trying to convey. Talk about how to determine what is important in a poem.
    • Review using the contents page as a guide to the poems in the book and to find the page on which a specific poem is located.
    • Review using punctuation marks to guide the meaning-making process and reading with expression. Talk about how punctuation and capitalization are used, or not used, to create meaning in the poems.
    • Compare rhyming poems with non-rhyming poems.
    • Explore how line breaks, phrasing, rhythm, rhyme, and new uses of familiar words all help make the poems interesting, yet easy to understand.
    • Work with words from the story with initial /wh/consonant digraph: what, why. Explore other words with these sounds.
    • Work with the verb ending “-ing” in the poems “Munching” and “Art Class.” Explore how the ending gives information about when an action occurred.
    • Model how to revisit the text to find specific examples or ideas in the poems. Revisit PENCIL TALK to choose children’s favorite poems and talk about why they like them best.

After the First Reading

  1. Have children compare their predictions with what they actually read about in the book.

  2. Connect children’s own experiences in school to those described in the poems. Explore similarities and differences.

  3. Have volunteers read their favorite poems aloud. Encourage them to compliment one another after the readings.

  4. Choose two poems written in different formats, such as “My Hand Is Up” and “Lunch Lines.” Have children note and talk about the differences. Compare other pairs of poems to call children’s attention to the variety of poetic forms used in the book.

  5. Compare the language and format of the poems in PENCIL TALK to JAZZ BABY, which also contains rhythm and rhyme.

  6. Elicit children’s ideas about topics for other poems to add to the collection. You may want to record these ideas for a later activity.

Second Reading

  1. Have children reread the poems silently or to a partner.

  2. This is a time for assessment. While they are reading, watch what children do and what they use from the teaching time. Alternatively, you might take a running record on one child as an assessment of the child’s reading behavior.

Cross-Curricular Activities

Art: Read “Art Class” aloud. Talk about working with clay and help the students generate a list of verbs that describe what they do to model or mold it. The poem includes: squeeze, warm, roll, press, smooth, shape, paint, fire.
Give each child a lump of clay to work with. When they are finished, have them describe what they made and how they made it. Encourage them to use words from the poem or other descriptive terms.

Music: Read “Do-Re-Mi” aloud. Then teach children to sing a scale: do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. You may want to use the song “Do Re Mi” to help children master the sequence. The words and music for the song can be found at this website. After learning the song, you may wish to extend the activity by focusing on the homophones used in the song: do/doe, re/ray, mi/me, etc.

Science: Read “Sink or Float?” aloud. Give children a variety of classroom objects: a pencil, an eraser, a block, an apple, a piece of wadded paper, and so on. Make a chart and have children record their predictions regarding whether the objects will sink or float when placed in a tub of water. Then test each object and compare the results with the predictions. Ask children to draw some conclusions about why some objects sink and some objects float.

Math: Read “Morning Count” aloud. Then distribute jars filled with dried beans or marbles and have children work in small groups to count the contents. Before beginning have each group record a guess about how many items the jar contains and then decide how they will count: by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Have children compare their final counts with their predictions. You may also want to graph the groups’ predictions and final counts and compare the results.

Social Studies: Read “Recess” aloud and talk about the activities children like to take part in during recess. Then read the poem “Recess Rules” from LUNCH MONEY AND OTHER POEMS ABOUT SCHOOL by Carol Diggery Shields. Discuss the rules your school has regarding recess and record them on a poster or chart paper. Talk about why rules are necessary.

Writing: Refer to children’s list of topics for other poems to add to the collection. Choose one or more topics and write a class poem or poems, or let children work independently to write their own poems. They may model their poems on one of the formats used in PENCIL TALK, or come up with their own formats. Make sure children understand that poems do not have to rhyme.

Guided Reading with

Guided Reading™: I        EDL/DRA: 16        Intervention: 16
24 pages, 292 words, plus Contents page

Guided reading level I is the benchmark for the end of first grade. Children reading at this level are in an early fluent stage. All the directions given for the introduction, first reading, and second reading of the English edition can be used with the Spanish edition of the book. The focus of the teacher’s support should be on building comprehension, fluency, confidence, and independence. To read the book successfully, children need the same kinds of support as their English-speaking classmates. Second language learners often benefit from acting out new words, seeing pictures, and talking about them using concrete examples.

The Spanish edition has many familiar words. If children do not know some of the words, present them with synonyms to help deepen their comprehension of the new words and the poems. You may also use real objects to support children’s learning of new vocabulary.

Help children find a way to read the text with expression, emphasizing that poems are read differently that stories. Hand movements or props could be added to increase the students’ comprehension of the poems.

The book language used may differ from children’s oral language. Comparing any differences will help children read and understand the poems. Also help children understand that we often speak differently than we write, and that both ways of using language are important.


About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 1 - 1

Reading Level:

Grades 1 - 1


Comparing/Classifying/Measuring, Counting Money/Everyday Math, Classroom Activities, Similarities and Differences, Responsibility, Poetry, Multiethnic interest, Games/Toys, Friendship, Education, Cultural Diversity, Childhood Experiences and Memories, Art, Optimism/Enthusiasm, Realistic Fiction, Respect/Citizenship, Pride


Emergent English, Emergent Dual Language, Bebop English Guided Reading Level H, Bebop Realistic Fiction Collection Grades PreK-2, Dual Language Levels D-I Collection, Diverse Backgrounds Collection English 6PK, Multicultural Collection 9 , Multicultural Collection 10, Multicultural Collection 12, Multicultural Collection 13, Multicultural Collection 14, Multicultural Collection 15, Multicultural Collection 11, Multicultural Collection 16, Bebop English Fiction

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