November 01
3 - 12
Holiday & School Celebration

After nearly a century of advocacy, National American Indian Heritage Month was first recognized through joint resolution by Congress in 1990. Now recognized annually, November is a time to learn more about the history and heritage of Native American peoples.

Engage your students in an exploration of Native American heritage through a study of Native American pourquoi tales. Pourquoi tales explain why something or someone, usually in nature, is the way it is. Have your students read a variety of Native American pourquoi tales, explore the cultural origins and signficance of these stories, and share similar stories from their own cultures.


This First People website includes a selection of tales, including many pourquoi tales. After reading these tales and identifying pourquoi story elements, brainstorm with the class a list of animals with distinctive features or a list of natural events such as lightning, rain, or snow, and then have students write original pourquoi tales for how they came to be. When students finish, they can publish their tales using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press. The "booklet" option allows students to add additional pages to accommodate longer stories. After printing the finished product, students can add illustrations to their stories.


November is National American Indian Heritage Month.

This website offers an extensive list of resources related to Native American heritage and culture. Teachers and students can find links to Internet resources, selected Smithsonian online exhibits, and recommended reading.

This radio series, available in audio and text, features elders, historians, storytellers, artists, and leaders from thirteen American Indian Nations along the Lewis and Clark trail. These elders share their history, stories, culture, and music in a series of hour-long radio broadcasts.

February 16
1 - 4
Author & Text

LeVar Burton was born in 1957 in West Germany, while his father was in the military. He hosted 155 episodes of Reading Rainbow since its premiere in 1983 until 2006. Burton's first television appearance, though, was as Kunta Kinte, in the miniseries Roots (1977), based on the novel by Alex Haley.

Burton also appeared as a member of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation television series; portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Ali; and produced and hosted the documentary The Science of Peace.

Choose complementary Reading Rainbow selections to explore a topic using fiction and nonfiction.

For example, Ruth Heller's Chickens Aren't the Only Ones and Patricia Polacco's Rechenka's Eggs both explore the subject of animals that lay eggs. On the topic of dinosaurs, you'll find William Joyce's Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo and Aliki's Digging up Dinosaurs. After reading both books, your students can compare the selections using the interactive Venn Diagram.

Have students work individually or in small groups to write a poem, song, article, journal entry, or comic strip about the same topic. When all the pieces are completed, compile them in a book or create a bulletin board display.

LeVar Burton, longtime host of Reading Rainbow, was born in 1957.

The home of Reading Rainbow, with the mission to instill the love of reading & learning in children.


PBS offers a variety of resources for parents to promote literacy in young children. Resources are offered in both Spanish and English.


LeVar Burton to Educators: ‘I See You’


An interview on literacy with LeVar Burton

June 06
K - 8
Author & Text

Cynthia Rylant has authored dozens of books for children of all ages. Writing in multiple genres, she has earned the Newbery Medal for her book Missing May, the Newbery Honor award for A Fine White Dust, and Caldecott Honors for The Relatives Came and When I Was Young in the Mountains.

Explore the element of plot using the work of Cynthia Rylant. First, select a title appropriate to the grade level of your class. Ask your school librarian for a list of Rylant's titles from which you or your students may choose.

Have students work as a class on one book, or in small groups or individually on selected titles. Students can then use the ReadWriteThink Plot Diagram to map the plot of the selected story. Finally, invite students to create original literary works using the plot diagrams.

  • Younger students can adapt the story into a picture book by creating illustrations depicting the elements of plot.

  • Older students can rewrite the story by changing a plot element, such as the climax or resolution.
Celebrate Cynthia Rylant's birthday!

This biography of Cynthia Rylant includes quotes from her about her writing and her childhood.


This page offers a summary and classroom activities for teaching Missing May, Rylant's 1993 Newbery Medal winner.


This article, found on Houghton-Mifflin's Education Place website, introduces author Rylant and lists selected books she has written.


West Virginia Wesleyan College offers this page on Rylant, which includes brief biographical information, critical responses to Rylant's literature, a works published list, and a selected bibliography of articles about Rylant.

August 07
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

In 1959, the U.S. satellite Explorer VI took the first photographic image of the planet Earth from space while passing over the Central Pacific Ocean. The black-and-white image shows a portion of the ocean and the cloud cover in the area.


The first picture of Earth taken by Explorer VI probably does not look like what your students will imagine. Share the first picture from the Explorer VI Satellite with students, making sure to click on the image for an enlarged view. Discuss the differences between the images of the Earth that we typically see today (as shown on this date) and this first image. Use the opportunity to explore the changes in technology that have made photos today more sophisticated than the images taken in 1959.


The first picture of Earth was taken by the U.S. satellite Explorer VI in 1959.

Explore a variety of images of Earth taken from space. This database of images, published by the NASA-Johnson Space Center, includes photographs of cities, weather features, landscapes, and other specific geographic regions.


This site discusses the Earth Observing System, a set of 14 satellites observing the oceans, continents, and atmosphere to determine the pace and future of global warming and other trends.


This website, produced by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, provides real-time images of Earth and a summary of what the images tell us about the planet.


May 16
5 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Since 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with over 6,000 members, has given awards for the best in film. The first ceremony, with 250 people in attendance, took place during a banquet held in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Tickets cost $10 and the entire ceremony is said to have taken less than an hour-a far cry from the four-hour, star-studded extravaganzas of today.

Students love to watch and talk about movies. With persuasion, they can even be convinced to write about movies. For younger and middle-grade students, you can ask them to make lists of their favorite and their least favorite movies. Looking over these lists, students can then brainstorm qualities that make a film good or bad. Examples might include acting, special effects, and humor. Ask them to rank these qualities from the most to least important and then to explain why the top three are the most important elements to look at in a film.

Next, have students apply these criteria to a film they have seen by writing a movie review that makes their critical stance clear. Older students can take this activity one step further by comparing their review to that of another critic. After reading through one or more reviews, students should write an answer to one of the critics, defending their own reviews and critical stance.

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929.

The official website of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this site includes lists of the current year's nominees and winners. There is also information on previous years' ceremonies.

In 1998, the American Film Institute announced their list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, and this updated version was created ten years later. This list can be compared to a list of past Oscar winners.

The British equivalent to the website, the BAFTA website includes information on categories, nominees, and winners.

This page from Lincoln City Libraries features a list of past winners of the Best Picture Oscar which are based upon novels, plays, and short stories.

December 21
K - 6
Holiday & School Celebration

The onset of winter weather varies from year to year and from place to place, but December 21, the winter solstice, is considered the first official day of winter. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. The days get longer as winter progresses. In the Northern Hemisphere, it also marks the day when the sun is furthest to the south.

Winter has long been immortalized in art, poetry, and song. For many of us, winter makes us think of frolicking on snowy days and reading by the fire on cold nights-even if we live in a warm place where it never snows! Brainstorm with your students about the words and images that come to mind when they think of winter. How do these words and images compare to their own experiences with winter weather? Have students select and read a picture book about winter. How do the words and images in the book compare to the list they brainstormed and to their own experiences? Students can use the interactive Venn Diagram to make the comparison.

As students read, ask them to look for examples of winter activities that the characters do with their families or friends. Were there any winter traditions on the list students brainstormed? Challenge your students to celebrate what winter means to them by starting their own tradition on the first day of winter. Students can use the interactive Postcard Creator to write to family and friends, inviting them to participate in the new tradition.

It's Winter in the Northern Hemisphere!

This page from American Memory at the Library of Congress celebrates the winter solstice through images and anecdotes of winters past, drawn from American literature and folk history.


This National Geographic News article discusses the winter solstice and ancient celebrations associated with it.


Reading Rockets provides this annotated list of books about winter for children.


While snowy weather can be fun, severe winter storms can be dangerous. Scholastic offers this resource featuring information about winter storms, eyewitness accounts of winter storms, and associated vocabulary.


June 01
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner introduced the Cable News Network (CNN), the first all-news television network. CNN has since provided news coverage and features 24 hours a day. News seekers can now find up-to-date coverage on and CNNRADIO, or sign up for e-mail alerts of breaking news stories.

New technologies have made it easier than ever for people to get the news. This is in stark contrast to previous centuries, when there were fewer news sources and it could take days or even months for important news to travel long distances. Have students brainstorm a list of modern news sources, such as newspapers, radio, the Internet, television, e-mail, or text messaging. Next, have students brainstorm a list of news sources from previous centuries, such as telegrams or the town crier.

Arrange the class in small groups and assign each group one of these news sources to research. Students should find out when and where the method was first used, when people stopped using it, and so on. Then have students work together using the ReadWriteThink Interactive Timeline to create a visual timeline showing the evolution of the news over time. See also the Timeline Tool page for information and activity ideas.

CNN debuted as the first television news network in 1980.

CNN offers teachers a variety of tools for the classroom, including a calendar of programming events, reference tools, Web links, teaching tips, and lesson plans.


Published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, this website offers teachers a variety of resources, including lesson plans, teaching tips, and a database of high school newspapers.


The Newseum offers online exhibits about a variety of news and journalism topics, as well as brief descriptions of some of their physical exhibits.


This site from the Journalism Education Association offers information on publishing articles and podcasts online. Included also are tips on how to promote high school newspaper websites.

August 04
7 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Americans made history in 2008 by electing Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American President. In addition to his work as a community organizer and Senator, Obama also wrote two books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, before being elected President of the United States.


In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama describes an incident in which he, as a young boy, "came across the picture in Life magazine of the black man who had tried to peel off his skin" (51). Seeing the devastating effect negative messages about being African-American had on this man, Obama "began to notice that [Bill] Cosby never got the girl on I Spy, that the black man on Mission Impossible spent all his time underground. [He] noticed that there was nobody like [him] in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog ... and that Santa was a white man" (52).

Share this passage expressing Obama's experiences with media messages and his understanding of his identity. Then encourage students to engage in an examination of the ways they are portrayed in the media. Point them toward print, online, and television portrayals of people who share their age bracket, race, gender, and any other relevant aspects of their identity.

Adapt activities from the lesson plans below to supplement their research and organize their findings.


President Barack Obama was born today in 1961.

Information and resources from the National Association for Media Literacy Education.


These resources promote media literacy education as a framework for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating, and participating with media content. Visitors will find readings, lesson plans, and samples of student-produced media.


This online article presents a summary of recommendations from a study that links young people's understanding of their identity to ways they are portrayed in the media. Included is a link to the full research report.


Nationally recognized as a leader in media literacy education, the Media Literacy Project provides resources that promote critical thinking and activism to build healthy and just communities. In addition to teaching and learning resources, visitors will also find information about media-based contests for students.


January 08
3 - 12
Historical Figure & Event

Elvis is known throughout the world as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll." Over one billion of his records have been sold. Elvis starred in 31 feature films as an actor, gave over 1,100 concert performances, and received numerous awards. Graceland, Elvis Presley's home, is the most famous home in America after the White House, attracting over 600,000 visitors every year. In 1970, Elvis went to the White House to offer his assistance to then-President Nixon in the nation's war on drugs.

Invite your students to tour the National Archives exhibit When Elvis Met Nixon, where they can read the five-page letter that Presley personally delivered to the White House, the story of the famous meeting (with accompanying photos), the agenda for the meeting, and the thank-you letter Elvis wrote to the President after the visit. 

After reading these primary documents, younger students can discuss the reasons Elvis wanted to meet the President; then, they can explore what would happen if a contemporary recording artist were to meet with the President today. Referring to the agenda for Elvis's meeting, have students work collaboratively to create an agenda for a contemporary artist. Have them use the interactive ReadWriteThink Letter Generator to write a letter to the artist suggesting a meeting with the President to discuss the problem of drugs, racism, violence, or another contemporary issue. More tips are available for use with the Letter Generator. 

Older students might explore the various ironies of the meeting in a discussion of Nixon's political motivations for agreeing to the meeting and Elvis's interest in being made a "Federal Agent at Large" who would fight drug abuse and the Communist threat.

On this day in 1935, Elvis Presley was born.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, you and your students can browse over 600 pages of information that the federal government collected in relation to Elvis Presley. Pair this site with exploration of the Fensch book in the Texts section to introduce students to the process by which primary documents become fodder for research!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's online Elvis exhibit describes his career and the artifacts included in the original exhibit. Be sure to see the biographical page on this 1986 inductee.

This PBS Culture Shock resource offers information about the controversy over Elvis's early television appearances on the Milton Berle Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Tonight Show.

July 05
3 - 8
Author & Text

Each year, the Hannibal Jaycees sponsor National Tom Sawyer Days during the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the town's most well-known citizen, Mark Twain. The highlight of the event is the fence-painting contest, which begins on July 4 with local competition and advances to state and national contests over the next three days.

Mark Twain uses great detail to capture the locations of his tales. Readers feel as if they have actually traveled with Twain to the settings of his stories and novels. Choose a particular scene in one of Twain's works and do a close examination of the setting. First, have students map the story setting, using the interactive Story Map. Then discuss the setting using these prompts:

  • How does Twain use extended description, background information, and specific detail to make the setting come alive for readers?
  • How do the main characters fit into the setting-do they seem at home or out of place?
  • How do their reactions and interactions with the setting affect the realism of the location?

Discuss the techniques that Twain uses to make the settings in his stories vivid and real to the readers and the extent to which these techniques are effective.

Annual fence-painting contests take place in Hannibal, Missouri.

Visit this PBS site to learn about Twain through his writing and view his scrapbook.

Visit Hannibal, Missouri, where Sam Clemens and other children who influenced characters in Tom Sawyer grew up.

Visit this archive, produced by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia, to find pictures, transcriptions, and analysis of Twain's writing, and information about the marketing of his books.