Monthly Archives: January 2009

Pictures Paint a Thousand Words


Today is inauguration day, and sometimes it seems that it’s only historical for adults, and that students can’t feel the full weight of the importance. We should try to convey the importance anyway. That’s what teachers do. Using pictures and video may be an easier way to do this for our students.

News websites with Inauguration photos:

Obama’s inaugural speech.

Use the photos for journal prompts, discussion, comments, etc.


Spelling website

This week our three spelling bee grade level champs (one per grade level) will face off or spell off to come up with two representatives for Kamehameha Hawaii in the district spelling bee.

Even if your child did not make it to the spelling bee finals, spelling is still a very important skill. The precise word can bring voice and clarity to an essay, and spelling correctly confuse readers who have to work harder to understand what you’re trying to say in your writing.

 Spell It!, the Scripps National Spelling Bee study site was created in cooperation with Merriam-Webster. Although it was created to help our students study for the spelling bee, our other students can use this site to improve their spelling skills. Spell It! focuses on about 1150 words, divided into sections by language of origin. Studying language of origin will enable you to learn and remember several important rules, tips, and guidelines for successfully spelling words in English—the most challenging language of all for spellers!

Each section contains one or more “challenge words” in addition to its basic study list. Also included is our list of “Words You Need to Know.” These words appear frequently in student essays, and every writer should become familiar with them. You should also study these words to prepare for classroom bees.

All of the words listed are linked to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary with audio pronunciations. If a list word has a dialog bubble next to it, click on the bubble to see a spelling tip for that word. And don’t miss the general tips available under the Tips tab in most sections.

New books reveal Lincoln’s remarkable life

When I was at the NCTE this past November, I noticed a lot of new children’s books on Lincoln. With the upcoming inauguration of our first African American president, interest in Lincoln’s life will continue to be pertinent material for history classes. The new publications also coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth next month.

Lincoln is revered for his intelligence, honesty, compassion, and eloquence, and these new titles highlight these attributes, among others.

lincoln-crosses.jpg Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall Thin Tale (Random, 2008), written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by John Hendrix. Based on a firshand account, this is the story of seven year old Abe and his friend Austin Gollaher, three years his senior. Abe convinces Austin to cross a creek, but Abe falls and almost drowns. Austin fishes him out. Almost a half century later, President Lincoln is quoted as saying that he would rather see his old friend (Gollaher) “than any other man in Kentucky.”

lincolns-boys.png Mr. Lincoln’s Boys (Viking, 2008) by Staton Rabin shows Lincoln as a loving and indulgent father to two rambunctious boys – Tad and Willie. Bagram Ibatoulline’s realistic paintings capture the tale’s humor, as well as the realities of the war as the tired Union soldiers – injured, maimed, exhausted – trudge home from battle.

Abe’s Honest Words (Hyperion, 2008) abes-honest-words.png by Doreen Rappaport pairs Lincoln’s powerful words with her own to reveal her subject’s character and demonstrate how he overcame obstacles with unyielding determination to unite our country and free the slaves.

abe-lincoln-comes-home.png Abraham Lincoln Comes Home (Holt, 2008) by Robert Burleigh describes a nation mourning the loss of its beloved and revered 16th president through the story of a young boy and his father who journey by horse-drawn buggy to get a glimpse of the funeral train. Over 13 days and 1600 miles, the train traveled to reach the president’s burial site in Springfield, Illinois. Along the route, 30 million Americans paid tribute in the “mightiest outporing of national grief the world hat yet seen.”

lincoln-through-the-lens.pngLincoln Through the Lens (Walker, 2008) by Martin W. Sandler shows older readers “How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life.” Each page of text features a highlighted Lincoln quotation facing a full-page archival photograph or image. It focuses on the role that photography (a fairly new media) played in his career.

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary (Random, 2008) by Candace Fleming the-lincolns.jpg offers readers a wealth of facts and stories about the Lincolns through short articles, archival photos, letters, engravings, lithographs, obituaries and even family recipes. It also shows Mary Todd Lincoln as a colorful character: tomboy, scholar, spiritualist, and compulsive shopper, as well as a grief-stricken mother – three of the four Lincoln boys did not live to adulthood.

Image Detective

Photographs are great primary resources, but students don’t always know how to get information from photos. Image Detective is a free educational site that takes students through the same method that historians use to interpret photos for historical evidence. The photos are US history photos, but students can use them to practice, and then teachers can bring in their own photos that pertain to the unit.


Students are asked to choose a photo. I was a little disappointed that there’s just one photo per topic, but when you see the depth and breadth of each photo task, then it’s still a marvelous tool.


Once students choose a topic (I chose industrialization), then they are prompted to start by posing a question. Just like historians, students will pose questions, but there are actually several questions available as samples. The first is simple and descriptive, while the others call for more interpretation; you may want to direct younger children to the first, and older children to the second or third. Students can also pose their own question – and can change their questions as they dig deeper.


Students choose an option above to get to the next stage: gathering clues.


Next, students will scan the picture, looking for details that intrigue them. The yellow boxes highlight areas that might be of interest – students can choose whichever they want. In the pop-up box, encourage students first to describe what they observe, without making any judgement. Then encourage them to speculate about what the detail might mean — to make intelligent guesses just like historians do. Clues are saved and the students must title or categorize each clue. They continue to observe and create clues.


Historians filter what they see through a vast amount of background knowledge — of the period, of similar documents, and of arguments about the past. Children’s prior knowledge is far less – but they can use what they DO know very effectively. Ask students “What do you know about this?” “How is this different than what you’d expect?” Students can also read a little background about the picture and the time period by clicking the button.


Students draw their conclusions on this page — really, their speculations or intelligent guesses. Encourage them to cite reasons or evidence for their ideas, as well as new questions they have.


Finally, students can see their conclusion and compare it to different write ups from historians, middle school students, high school student, and teachers. Students are encouraged to note similarities and differences between their thinking and others’, and use these insights as they tackle more interpretations.