Author Archive for Alisa D.

Classification of Living Things

Scientist have tried to classify living organisms into groups since Aristotle’s time.  Over time this classification system has changed and evolved as we have learned more about organisms.  Advances in technology have fueled many of these changes.  Scientist are now studying the genetic makeup of organisms.  With this new information, scientist believed that the long held system of 5 kingdoms needed to be reevaluated.  In 1990, it was suggested that the name “domain” be used to describe a rank higher than kingdom. The proposed three domain system includes the kingdoms, Protista, Plantae, Fungi, and Animalia under the Domain Eukarya.  The Kingdom Monera was separated into the two domains, Domain Bacteria and Domain Archaea.

This blog is intended to address the needs of educators teaching the classification of organisms using physical characteristics, body structures, and behavior of the organism (Virginia Standards of Learning 5.5).  With over one million different species on earth there is an abundance of books available.  I have tried to find a few excellent examples of books and other resources to get you started.

Book Reviews:

Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth,
By Rochelle Strauss and illustrated by Margot Thompson

This book is a great introduction to classification.  In a short 39 pages this book covers the traditional 5 kingdoms.  On a two page spread the book gives a colorful overview of each kingdom.  There is a brief description of the kingdom along with examples and a graphic that depicts the size of that kingdom compared to the remaining kingdoms.  The book breaks down the animal kingdom into invertebrates and vertebrates and the five classes of vertebrates.

The Animal Kingdom: A Guide to Vertebrate Classification and Biodiversity
By Kate Whyman

This book is 45 pages full of great information.  But don’t let the size deter you.  The introduction to each class of vertebrates contains a bulleted box that lists the characteristics of that vertebrate.  You can quickly cover the basics by looking at the pictures and bulleted boxes.  This book also contains a great introduction to what is a living thing and classification.  Herbivores, carnivores and the human impact on the animal kingdom are also briefly covered.
bug Bugs Up Close
By Diane Swanson and Photographed by Paul Davidson

Of all the different kinds of invertebrates, insects are the class we are all familiar with.  This book quickly describes the characteristics of insects and then devotes a page to each characteristic.  Photographer Paul Davidson provides amazing close-up photos of different types of insects.
book Amphibians: Water-t0-Land Animals
By Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Kristin Kest

Just like the cover, this book is filled with rich, colorful illustrations of amphibians.  The text is easy to read and brief.  Throughout the book are inserts with additional information and trivia facts.  At the end of the book is a scientific classification chart and glossary.  If you like this book, then you may like one of the other five that is in the series.

crab  Crab Moon
By Ruth Horowitz and illustrated by Kate Kiesler

In this fictional story, a young boy and his mother go to the beach in the middle of the night to see horseshoe crabs spawning.  This book would be a great way to introduce invertebrates to students.  After reading the story, students can discuss the characteristics of invertebrates and arachnids and how they are mentioned in the story.  The book also contains a fact sheet about horseshoe crabs.

Web sites for kids:

Animal Classification.  This site offers a brief description of the characteristics of mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and birds.  The descriptions are four to six bulleted points that are done colorfully and with pictures.  There is a Classification Game that is an excellent review of the different characteristics of the animals discussed.

Classifying Critters.   At this web site, there is a brief explanation of how scientists classify living things and an interactive quiz on vertebrates.  The quiz shows you a picture of one animal and asks that you identify an animal that would be in the same category as the first.  After you identify the correct animal, you are then given a multiple choice question.  The question is, what characteristics do these animals have in common?

Plant and Animal Differences.  To play this game you must quickly sort and drag the items to the correct box.  As the items go by on a conveyor belt you must sort them by bird, mammal, insect, or plant.

A Touch of Class game.  In this game you are given a grid with 16 shadow pictures of living things. You are asked to click the pictures that correspond with the statement at the top of the page.  Some examples of statements are: “things that have a tail” or “things that have a backbone.”

Video. Select the video titled “Form and Function.”  This video discusses how scientists look at animal’s structure and behavior when comparing them.  After watching this video, viewers should have a better understanding of how animals that look similar can be classified differently.

Teacher Resources:

Lesson plan.  Science NetLinks offers a two-part lesson plan on classification.  In addition to the lesson plans, the site also discusses the misconceptions and the difficultly that most students have in understanding classification. This site also offers assessment and extension activities.

Introducing Classification.  This site offers a brief explanation and history of classification along with descriptions of the 5 kingdoms and examples.  There is also a section that compares the kingdoms and an activity for students that can be printed.

Teacher overview.  At this site educators can review the characteristics of the main kingdoms.  The kingdoms are then broken down into further subgroups and examples of each are given.   Click on “Printable Worksheets” and you will find a 10 question assessment based on the information found on this site. This link takes you to a slide show about classification and discusses the three domains.  Look around the site and you will find great pictures and quizzes that can be used.

Economics: Needs and Wants

Everyone has wants.  However, students need to realize that people can not have everything they want.   Choices have to be made.  Some choices are made based on our basic needs, which include food, clothing, and shelter.  The following books are intended to be used in a kindergarten or first grade classroom. (SOL K.7a, 1.8)

Text annotation:

The Bag I'm Taking to Grandma's

The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s written by Shirley Neitzel and illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker is one of the best books I read that illustrates the difference between needs and wants.  In this story a young boy is packing his bag to spend the night with his grandmother.  He packs so many of his favorite toys that the bag breaks when his mother picks it up.  While trying to sort through all the items the boy has packed the mother asks “Is this flashlight something you really need?”  She also tells him that he needs to “choose one car. You can’t take them all.”  Students should easily relate to this story as most have probably had to pack a bag for a vacation or sleepover.  The story is written and illustrated so that while reading the text a picture is inserted to represent the word, allowing non readers to follow along and participate.

A Chair for my mother

The book A Chair for My Mother written by Vera B. Williams is full of economic lessons.  The story is told by a young girl that lives with her mother and grandmother.  After a fire destroyed everything they had, neighbors donated many items to help refurbish their new apartment.  Even after the generosity of the neighbors, the family still lacked a comfortable chair to sit in and the money to buy one.  The family works together to collect and save their change in a jar until it is full enough to go buy a new chair.

How much is that doggie in the window?

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?, based on the words and music of Bob Merrill, is a story retold and illustrated by Iza Trapani.  The story starts with a young boy who hopes to buy a dog.  Unfortunately, he does not have enough money.  He decides to sell lemonade to earn enough money for the dog.  However, it rains and he does not sell any.  Then his younger sister gets hurt and to help her feel better he buys her a frozen yogurt.  He then proceeds to buy something for his mother and father that he thinks they need.  That is why a week later he has even less money than he started with.  He is saddened when he goes to the pet shop to visit the dog only to find that it has been sold.  When he gets home there is a surprise waiting for him.

if you give a pig a pancake

The story If You Give a Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond is more about wants then needs.  In this cleverly written story “If you give a pig a pancake, she’ll want some syrup to go with it,” is just the start of many things the pig will want. This story circles around from the beginning of wanting syrup, a bath with bubbles, and many other things to building a tree house and finally wanting pancakes with syrup at the end. The pictures are colorful and depict the chaos that follows the pig and all her wants.

jam & jelly by holly & nellie

Jam & Jelly by Holly & Nellie is a heartwarming story written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen.  Holly and her family live in northern Michigan “where the winter wind lays hold of you and the snow falls until everything is like a sheet of white paper.”  Holly’s mother, Nellie, realizes that Holly will need a new winter coat.  If Holly does not get a coat, then she will have to stay inside all winter and miss school.  Holly and her mother work hard all summer picking wild strawberries, Juneberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries to make jams and jellies to sell on the side of the road.  Winter comes and Holly gets a coat, but what keeps her the warmest is all the pleasant memories from the summer.  The illustrations are wonderfully done with vibrant colors and realistic people and countryside scenes.

Web sites:

The Council for Economic Education has a few lessons and interactive tools for k-3.  At the bottom of the lesson titled “Toys for Me: A Lesson in Choice, in the Resources section, is an interactive game called Health Wants vs. Fun Wants.  The student will determine if items such as water, a bike, medicine, a kite, a house, and a doll are health wants or fun wants by clicking and dragging the items to the appropriate box. (SOL K.7a)

Most schools have a subscription to Kidspiration, if not then there is a 30 day free trial period.  Within the Social Studies section, there is a graphic organizer where students can click and drag different pictures to put in the “needs” and “wants” boxes. (SOL K.7a)Kidspiration Wants and Needs activity.

Students that have a  Webkinz account may not realize it but they are making decisions based on needs and wants when they play.  Once you adopt your pet, you are given a room (shelter) for them.  You are then responsible for earning KinzCash to buy items for your pet.  If you do not feed it and take it to the vet occasionally, then it gets very sick.  With your KinzCash you may purchase clothes, toys and items for the house. (SOL K.7)

Suffolk Teaching Activities & Resources (STAR) website has two interactive games for students.  The first one is the “Wants and Needs Sort,” a game created in Excel.  The second game is “Wants and Needs,” an interactive Power Point activity.  This second game may be best done as a class.

Teacher resources:

The Council for Economic Education has a few lessons and interactive tools for teaching economics in the k-3 classroom.   In the lesson “Toys for Me: A Lesson in Choice”  there is a story poem that can be read to the class and discussion questions to go along with it.  The poem is about a girl named Scarcity who wants many things.  Her mother tells her that she must choose one because it is “this OR that” not “this AND that.”  If Scarcity can not choose one or the other then she will get nothing.  The lessons on this site cover SOL’s K.7, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, and 2.9.

Suffolk Teaching Activities & Resources (STAR) website has several lessons and activities for SOL K.7.  It is also a great resource for just about any SOL.

Putting lesson content to song is a good way to reach many students.  The Kid’s Econ Poster site has two songs about wants (SOL k.7a).  The first one is called Be Careful of what you want and the other is the Wanting Song.”  These songs are sung to the tune of familiar children songs.  There are many other songs on this site that tackle other economic lessons.

The Junior Achievement organization has a fantastic program designed for first graders that covers several economic concepts and map skills (K.5, K. 6, K.7, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9).  A business professional would come into the classroom for 30 minutes for five weeks to cover the content.

  • Books

To find books that correlate to the lesson topic there are two sites that are helpful.  The first is from Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences and it will list the top five books for your economic topic.  The other site is called Connections: Connecting books to the Virginia SOLs.  

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Our White House


Our White House: Looking In Looking Out, is an anthology that is a beautiful compilation of 108 renowned authors and illustrators. It was created in association with the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA) and the Office of First Lady Laura Bush.  This book offers its readers stories, poetry and artwork that spans Amerian history from within the walls of The White House and its many residents, who, of course, were Persidents!  This is truly a very special book, with the literary and art works donated, and all royalties going to support the NCBLA as it promotes literacy, libraries and the arts.

Curriculum Connections:  Our White House: Looking In Looking Out is a wonderful book for teaching various civics and history lessons. Civics SOLs K.9, 2.11, 3.11. History SOLs K.1. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3.

Additional Resources:
This website allows children to read about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in a hands-on, child-friendly manner.  It offers basic information about both Presidents, and has additional resources that could be used on lesson about these specific Presidents.

This website provides instruction and information on how to write a letter to the President of the United States.  This would be a fun and interesting activity associated with this book and/or President’s Day activities.

This website offers several printable booklets for various ages from easy reader levels to a bit more advanced.  There are booklets for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  They include basic information about each President and allow for coloring in the pictures on each page.

General Information:
: Our White House: Looking In Looking Out
Author: 108 Authors and Illustrators
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages:  256
Grade Range: K – 6
ISBN:  978-0-7636-2067-7

Teaching Civics With Children’s Literature: As Good As Anybody


Martin Luther King Jr. played a significant role in United States history.  In As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Towards Freedom, written by Richard Michelson, young readers will learn about his battles to change our history and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s reasons join in that fight.

This child friendly book does a superb job presenting complicated events.  Students will learn how Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel became leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The time has come for action,” Martin told his congregation.  “Don’t ride the buses until we can sit wherever we please.”

Curriculum Connections
Use this book to discuss the Civil Rights movement, the Holocaust, civics, biographies, and diversity.  Themes in this book correlate with Virginia SOLs 2.11, 3.11, VS.9c, USII.7, USII.8d and USII.9a.

Additional Resources .

Book: As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Towards Freedom
Richard Michelson
Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grade Range: K-5
ISBN:   0375933352

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: How To Bake an American Pie


How do you bake an American Pie? Step 1: “Preheat the world until fiery hot with a hunger and thirst to be free.”

So begins the book How to Bake an American Pie, by Karma Wilson, and it continues to lay out the perfect recipe for a perfect American Pie.  Throughout the book, Wilson blends into the recipe to geographical features of the United States as well as the values our country was built on.  Wilson added the “purple mountain majesties,” the “spacious skies,” and of course, “sweet freedom for all.” As more ingredients are added, the larger the American Pie grows and just when the reader thinks it can’t grow any higher, another important ingredient is added and the pie grows ever larger.

The recipe closes with an explanation of how many the pie will serve, “just as many who wish to stop by.”  The recipe describes, in a very unique way, so many things to be proud of about our country.

It would be fun to try and figure out a way to recreate the recipe in the classroom and allow the student’s to bake their own American Pie; or instead they could brainstorm what ingredient’s they think belongs in a “Classroom Pie” and bake that instead.

Curriculum Connections
This book would work well when studying SOLs 1.11 which focuses on developing an appreciation for our country through an understanding of symbols, values, traditional/historic locations, etc…

Additional Resources

  • Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher provides a few ideas on their website about good activities to pair with the book.
  • HUD has a interactive website where kids can explore different areas of being a good citizen.
  • has lesson ideas centered around the 5 themes of citizenship, honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage.

Book: How to Bake an American Pie
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Raul Colon
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: May 2007
Pages: 40
Grade Range: 2-5
ISBN: 978-0689865060

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: So You Want to Be President?


So You Want to Be President? is a humorous look at the responsibilities of the President of the United States.  This story can be used to describe what the President does, along with some information on some of our past presidents.

“One thing is certain, if you want to be President – and stay President – be honest.  Harry Truman paid for his own postage stamps.  Grover Cleveland was famous for his motto:  ‘Tell the truth’.  Other Presidents weren’t so honest.  Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath.”

This story also talks about some everyday activities that Presidents do, or don’t do, that would relate to student’s every day lives.

“Some Presidents knew how to dance and some didn’t.  Our first President did a mean minuet.  At his inaugural ball George Washington danced with every lady but his wife.  (Mrs. W had stayed home!)”

This story should be used with an extension about President Obama as it mentions that:

“Every President was different from every other and yet no woman has been president.  No person of color has been President.  No person who wasn’t a Protestant or a Roman Catholic has been President.  But if you care enough, anything is possible.”

Curriculum Connections:

This story aligns with VA Civics SOL K.9, expressing that Kindergarteners should understand that the President is the leader of the United States.  This story however can easily be used with older students to introduce learning about biographies of individual presidents.

Additional Resources:

Scholastic’s website has an audio recording of the story along with expansion questions about the story, and a connection to President Obama.

Eduscape’s website has a plethora of resources relating to Presidents, connecting them to the story for older students. provides activities for President’s Day for a wide age range of students.

General Information:
Book:  So You Want to Be President?
Author:  Judith St. George
Illustrator:  David Small
Publisher:  Philomel
Publication Date:  August 21, 2000
ISBN-13: 978-0399234071

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse


Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, is a story about a little mouse who loves going to school and always follows the rules. She even wants to be a teacher when she grows up! One day, Lilly comes to school with a purple purse, cute sunglasses, and shiny quarters, and when she is unable to hold in her enthusiasm a few consequences follow her actions.

"Throughout the rest of the day, Lilly’s purse and quarters and sunglasses were tucked safely inside her desk. She peeked at them often but did not disturb a soul.”

Curriculum Connections
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse would be a great book to introduce the importance for having and following rules. Teachers can also emphasize other English concepts such as oral and writing skills by having students write or speak about a time when they did something that resulted in a bad consequence, or something which they regretted. Students should recognize that breaking these rules will have consequences. Teachers can also integrate math skills such as coin recognition into a lesson using this story.

Additional Resources

  • Story recall activity: Students must color and cut out the items that Lilly had in her purse and glue them on the purse template.
  • Students should write about a time when they did something that they regretted. What were the consequences of their actions?
  • Read the story with your students the first week of school. Then, hand out the assignment for your students to create their own “purse” (bookbags for boys). Inside the purse should be a few selected items that reflect their uniqueness. Have students present their purses and bookbags to the class.
  • Counting worksheet using items found in the book
  • Coin recognition and value worksheet (also includes story recall)

Book: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
Author: Kevin Henkes
Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books; 1st edition
Publication Date: 1996
Grade Range: K-3
ISBN: 0688128971

Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Big George


     Most children know that George Washington was the first President of the United States. But can they tell you how he got there? Anne Rockwell’s new book, Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington, takes readers on a journey throughout Washington’s life; from childhood to the battle fields to President. Beautifully illustrated by Matt Phelan, your students will learn not only of Big George’s personal life, but of his contributions to the beginnings of America.

     Instead of beginning the book with what Washington was most known for, Rockwel’s opening page states: “George Washington wasn’t afraid of anything, except making conversation. He was shy.” From there, we learn of George’s early and difficult childhood, his studies, and his brave contributions in battles in fighting for America’s independence. He begins his military career fighting under the English general Edward Braddock, but is eventually elected to General of the American troops against England, for whom he had pledged his allegiance to for his whole life. Students will also learn of his contributions to fight for an independent America, with his signing of the Declaration of Independence, his pleads for help from the French, and his contributions in declaring America an independent state. Only the last page mentions Washington as President. Many students will be surprised to know that the shy George had no interest in being President, but felt he felt it was his duty to do so. Rockwell’s book concludes with this: “As history shows, President George Washington…proved to be as good a leader in peace as in war–and his leadership shaped the nation America was to become.”

Curriculum Connections
This would be a great book to use when beginning a unit on Washington or the American Revolutionary War. It can be introduced in second grade for SOL 2.11, where students identify George Washington in American civics. Additionally, SOL 3.11 focuses on identifying Washington’s contributions to the foundations of our government. Big George may also be used with the United States History SOL USI.6, where students must describe the roles of key individuals such as Washington in the American revolution.

Additional Resources

  • Brandon Marie Miller’s book George Washington for Kids is not only a book with a wealth of kid-friendly information on Washington, but provides directions for 21 activities related to the First President. For example, your students can make a quill pen just like Washington used!
  • This website provides a wealth of lesson plans, activities and kid-friendly articles on Washington.
  • This webquest will challenge your students to learn about some other important people during the American Revolution.

General Information:
Book: Big George
Author: Anne Rockwell
Illustrator: Matt Phelan
Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 48
Grade Range: 2-5

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States


My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is a collection of 50 poems combined with beautiful art that together create a portrait of the United States. The states are broken down according to their specific region, and a map and facts about each state precede the poems that describe them. The beautiful illustrations and fun poems are sure to keep the attention of students!

It’s here our U.S. Presidents
are sworn into command;
where the courtly U.S. Capitol
and the stately White House stand.”
(excerpt from Washington D.C. by Rebecca Kai Dotlich)

Curriculum Connections
My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States is a great book for teaching the different states and regions of the United States. It covers the Virginia Social Studies SOL 1.4d, which involves the identification of the United States and Virginia on maps and globes. Teachers can also integrate English into a geography lesson plan by asking students to create their own poems about where they live.

Additional Resources

  • This is an excellent 10-day unit map skills lesson plan. Essential knowledge includes:
    Symbols and cardinal directions are used to show where objects and places are located on maps and globes.
    The United States and Virginia can be identified by their physical shapes on maps and globes.
    The locations of the capital cities of Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia are identified by specific symbols.
  • Using this worksheet, students can practice their map-making skills as well as the identification and usage of the cardinal directions.
  • ThisPowerPoint is a great teaching resource for identifying the United States and Virginia on maps and globes.
  • Watch the My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States Reading Rainbow episode, and have students compare and contrast the girl from rural Montana and the boy from New York City. As a class, complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the lives of the two children.

Book: My America
Author: Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrator: Stephen Alcorn
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: 2000
Grade Range: 1-5
ISBN: 0-689-81247-7

Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Dinosaurs Travel



Dinosaurs Travel: A guide for families on the go“, written by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, is a wonderful book for young students exploring the many different aspects of traveling. The book is a great resource for young children to learn many important facts and tips about traveling. Each page is filled with important information as well as crammed with interesting, helpful pictures, covering a wide variety of topics.


 This story is a compact guide for families when they are getting ready to travel, as well as while they are traveling. The story covers important topics such as getting ready for a trip, getting from place to place and all different modes of transportation, as well as eating and sleeping away from home. Important tips are given throughout the books on things to do and not to do when traveling. For example, when visiting a new place:

“No matter where you travel, it will be different from home. Here’s your chance to try all kinds of new things!”

“Bring maps and guidebooks with you and ask for directions if you get lost.”

 “Some places you visit will give you a chance to speak a new language.”

 The story covers many different ways of traveling, such as on foot, using wheels, by car, riding the bus or subways, as well as by planes and boats. These different modes of transportation discussed help children learn about different geographical characteristics of a specific place. The language of the story is very simple and pictures are very descriptive, yet the information given on each page of the story is extremely important and helpful for young students to learn.

Curriculum Connections:

This story is important to be read by students who are beginning to learn about travel, or who are preparing to take a trip.The book also helps students understand basic uses and skills of maps, including basic references to land, water, cities, and roads (VA SOL1.4 (a)).  Students begin to also understand differences between their home and other places, specifically referring to food, clothing, language, shelter, and transportation (VA SOL 1.6) from reading this book.

Additional Resources:

1. This website provides a song from an education music player. The song provides an interesting way to learn detailed information about planet Earth, including Earth’s composition and other geographic information. The song begins “Our Earth is like a giant Grapefruit..” and tells a lot about the make up of our planet.

2. National Geographic’s website for kids, “Amazing Animals,” explores many different geographic concepts , equipped with intense photos and information about all different animals, including bats, tigers, spiders, etc.

3. This website provides 101 car travel games and tips for kids to use while they are traveling. Some examples listed are creating a travel journal, car sick trips, and games such as “Pirates of the the Caravan.”

General Information:

Book: Dinosaurs Travel

 Author: Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: January 1988

Pages: 32

Grade Range: 1-2 grade

ISBN: 978-0316112536