About St. Louis Suburban Council of IRA

a professional organization of educators and individuals actively engaged
in the development of literacy throughout the Greater St. Louis Area.

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Content Area Reading and Writing Strategies: February 2015


Content Area Reading and Writing Strategies

By Tamara Jo Rhomberg

“To be literate in content classrooms, students must learn how to use language processes to explore and construct meaning with texts. When students put language to work for them in content classrooms, it helps them to discover, organize, retrieve, and elaborate on what they are learning.” (Richard T. Vacca, Taking the Mystery Out of Content-Area Literacy)

As a result of studies such as that by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, (Thompson, et al., 2012) there has been a focus on the essential role of informational literacy. Hence the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for an increase in the amount of informational text read by students at all grade levels. Traditionally, informational text may have referred to textbooks or expository writing, but today informational text is defined as literary nonfiction, including biographies, autobiographies, historical, scientific, and technical texts such as textbooks, news or feature article book reviews, and informational trade books. The challenge of reading and writing in the content area is a daunting task for both students and teachers.

I offer just a few reading and writing strategies that can be readily implemented at any grade level, at any point in the reading/writing process, and adapted to any content area. Key to any of these strategies being successful for students is to actively engage students in the process of learning and using the information in some way which allows the new learning to connect to what the student already knows and understands about the topic.



A brainstorming activity used to activate background knowledge but could also be used as a review strategy. Independently students brainstorm any and all words/concepts related to a concept or topic. (10-12 is a suggested number of entries.) Small groups discuss their word choices and then combine their lists to create categories by sorting their words and providing labels. Through this process, students activate their background knowledge for the concept as well as establish areas of study within the content. As the content is read, it is important to revisit the categories and make additional connections, clarify thinking, and use the words/categories for review.

Alpha Boxes

As a concept/topic is read or discussed, students collect key words relevant to the topic and record them in the appropriate letter box. The alpha boxes can be as simple as the letters of the alphabet listed on paper. Teachers pause at key points to record key words/concepts and have students make connections from what they have read using the listed words. Through the process of connecting a variety of words or phrases, students deepen their understanding of how the words are interrelated.  There have been a number of studies (French, 2004; Leung, 2008) supporting the integration of content area learning and vocabulary as it builds connections between words and concepts resulting in deeper comprehension.

RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic)

RAFT writing provides an opportunity for students to think critically, synthesize information, and to produce a creative form of their analysis. It is used after students have read and studied a topic.  Each student takes on a ROLE or a perspective from the content, identifies a specific AUDIENCE to address in the writing, chooses a FORMAT (a letter, an editorial, an obituary) by which to express the content, and decides on a TOPIC to be covered in the writing project which demonstrates the depth of the student understanding.

I encourage you to try one of these strategies and share your work with St. Louis Suburban members via our website – www.stlsuburbanreading.org.



Check out the Changes at the International Literacy Association: February 2015


New Name for IRA!

“Email Sent to IRA Members”

by Marcie Craig Post (Executive Director of the ILA)

The International Reading Association (IRA) is officially the International Literacy Association (ILA). Over the next few months, you will begin to see and feel the positive changes that come with this evolution, and our dedication to transforming lives through the power of Literacy.

Here are just some of the changes you’ll see right away:
Reading Today Online is now Literacy Daily! The blog features even more practical resources, research, and thought-provoking articles to support the literacy efforts of our global network.
Our website has been updated to reflect our new name, logo, and design. The site will be further enhanced to fully reflect our mission in the first half of 2015.
Registration for the ILA 2015 Conference—themed “Transforming Lives Through Literacy”—is open at ilaconference.org.

And we’re just getting started! We are busy at work on several new initiatives and announcements for the coming months and we look forward to sharing them with you. We’re excited for the road ahead, and we are proud of this significant step we are taking to build upon IRA’s legacy and forge our future as advocates for literacy in the classroom and beyond. We hope you’re excited, too.
From all of us, we want to thank you again for your commitment to literacy and education. We welcome you to the new ILA!

Shared by Mary Eileen Rufkahr, President of St. Louis Suburban Council


IRA Has a New Name: International Literacy Association ( ILA) February 2015


IRA Becomes The International Literacy Association (ILA)

ILA Comes to St. Louis July 2015

Dr. Betty Porter Walls

Educators, particularly members of the International Reading Association (IRA), are excited to welcome the 60th Anniversary of the IRA Convention to St. Louis this summer, July 18-20. One big change! St. Louis will welcome the International Literacy Association (ILA). Marcie Craig Post, Executive Director, announced that as of January 26, 2015, the IRA will officially be known as the ILA. She stated, “We are adding literacy to our name to become the International Literacy Association because literacy is our cause, our passion, and our reason for being. On January 26, we will flip the switch and begin to share our new vision and member experience”.

A few changes will soon be seen:
1. Reading Today Online is now Literacy Daily. The blog features even more practical resources, research and thought provoking articles.

2.  The website has been updated to reflect the new name, logo, and design

3.  Registration for the ILA 2015 Conference – themed “Transforming Lives through Literacy” – is open at ilaconference.org.

Three St. Louis area IRA members are very involved in preparing for the ILA Conference. Dr. Betty Porter Walls, former president and current board member of the St Louis Suburban Council is the chairperson of the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC). Dr. Glenda Nugent, former State President of the Arkansas Council and current member of the Mid-Rivers Council, is the co-chairperson to coordinate activities in surrounding states. Jody Rozbicki, former president and Membership Chairperson of St. Louis Suburban Council, is the co-chairperson of the Legacy Committee. The three co-chairpersons have made several personal service announcements (PSAs) with St. Louis area educators from several districts. These PSAs will hopefully encourage everyone to come to ILA in St. Louis in July.

Volunteers will be needed! Betty, Glenda, and Jody will have volunteer information soon. You must be an IRA member to be eligible to volunteer; that’s one definite qualification

Teachers and administrators from the St. Louis Public Schools will be joining us also as hosts for the conference.

If you’ve always wanted to attend one of the best international professional conferences, this July conference will offer a wonderful opportunity. We definitely want our members to register and attend the International Literacy Association. Registration information can be found at ilaconference.org.


Voices from the Library: February 2015



by Lucy Crown

Title: Cold Snap

Author: Eileen Spinelli

Illustrator: Marjorie Priceman

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf-Random House Children’s Books

Copyright: 2012

Age Range: K-3

ISBN: 978-0-375-85700-3

The first thing I noticed about this book was the cover. You can’t see it in the picture, but the cover sparkles and shimmers from glitter and has a raised feeling when you touch it. It is one of those books that says, “Pick me up and read me!” Being the lover of all things cold and snowy, I knew I had to have this book. The story takes place in Toby Hills, where there is already snow on the ground and a large icicle hanging from the nose of General Toby’s statue, the town’s founder. The newspaper reports that there is a cold snap coming as the book tells the story of the townspeople and the ways that they deal with the cold weather throughout the week. The ending brings the whole town together for a winter surprise of a bonfire, doughnuts, hot cider and maple candy made from snow at the top of T-Bone Hill. The illustrations in the book are so colorful and fun. I am reading this to my Kindergarten students next week and I know that they will love it!

Call for Member Participation! February 2015


Calling all Members!

A great chapter such as the St. Louis Council becomes so much stronger when all of our members are involved in its growth and success. The board of directors of our council is asking all of our members to consider stepping up and volunteering your time and effort in one of the following ways:

Consider being a building representative. All that is required is that you talk up the council’s upcoming meetings and events to your colleagues.

If someone is interested in becoming a member,

  • Provide them with Jody Rozbicki’s contact information (jrozbicki@ladueschools.net), or print a membership application off of our web site.
  • Serve on one of our committees. We have openings on many of our committees, and would welcome your help in some way. Our committees include: awards, nominating, community and family literacy (service projects), membership, communications (newsletter and web-based), poster contest and spring banquet. Each committee is headed by one of our board members, so leadership and guidance will be provided to new committee members.

If you would like to become more actively involved in the St. Louis Suburban Council, please contact Mary Eileen Rufkahr at Merufkahr@aol.com or talk to one of our board members at our next meeting.

President’s Message: Nov. 2014


Recipient of the Honor Council & Show Me Awards
Message from the President


I recently ran across a quote from a Spanish author by the name of Carlos Ruiz Zafon which said, “I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.” As often happens, sometimes words of wisdom seem to speak directly to you and about your own life.

Literally every book I have ever read in my life, whether one of the “great novels,” a homey cookbook, an instructional manual or a “beach read” has left some type of impression on me that I still carry to this day.

And that’s what good books are supposed to do!

One of the parents at my school and I are both huge fans of author Beverly Cleary. Even though her sons are no longer in my classroom, we still pass each other at dismissal time and various school events. Somehow in the course of our conversation, we always seem to bring up some type of Beverly Cleary reference. I remember the mom saying once, she never eats French fries that she doesn’t think of the passage from Ramona and Her Father that says “Maybe Daddy will take us to the Whopperburger for supper for payday,” she (Ramona) said. A soft, juicy hamburger spiced with relish, French fries crisp on the outside and mealy inside, a little paper cup of cole slaw at the Whopperburger Restaurant were Ramona’s favorite payday treat.” Every fast food restaurant this parent eats at has to pass the “Ramona test” for French fries.

While I am a reader for all seasons, I especially enjoy the fall and winter months. My gardening and outdoor chores are pretty much completed until spring, the days are getting shorter and colder temperatures make staying at home much more preferable. What a perfect opportunity to really make a dent in that stack of new and old, favorite books I have stacked here and there!

With that being said, I do encourage you to put down that great book for one evening in order to join the St. Louis Council for our November meeting featuring Dr. Melia Franklin, Director of English Language Arts at MO DESE. Dr. Franklin is an engaging speaker who interacts with her audience, providing pertinent information for educators teaching at all grade levels. I promise that all those in attendance will come away with new ideas and a feeling of being recharged after hearing Dr. Franklin speak. This meeting would also be the perfect opportunity to bring along a colleague who has yet to attend one of our events.

Until I see you on November 18th at our upcoming meeting, happy reading!

Mary Eileen Rufkahr


Remaining Calendar for St. Louis Suburban IRA: 2014-2015



November 18, 2014: Tuesday:       General Meeting

Where: Ladue Middle School           When: 5:00-7:30             Presenter: Melia Franklin

November 20-21, 2014   Missouri Early Learning Conference  Tan-Tar-A Resort, Osage, Beach, MO

February 18, 2015, Wednesday           General Meeting         Annual Poster Contest

Where: Ladue Middle School               Presenters: Members “Show Case of Mini Workshops”

February 26-28, 2015, Thursday-Saturday

 Write to Learn Conference:               Tan-Tar-A Resort                                Osage Beach, Missouri

April 2015                      General Meeting: Spring Banquet          Presenter: Dr. Karen Burke (Scholastic)

July 17-20, 2015, Friday-Monday

International Reading Association: 60th Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri

From the Words of Snoopy: “Good Writing is Hard Work”


 From the Words of Snoopy:

“Good Writing is Hard Work!”

by Beth Knoedelseder,

Silver Strong & Associates Thoughtful Classroom Trainer/UMSL Adjunct Instructor

 There is a Peanuts comic where Snoopy is sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter. He types one word, stops, and paces back and forth on top of his doghouse. He types one more word, repeats the sequence until he has typed: “It was a dark and stormy night.” In the last frame, Snoopy stops typing and thinks to himself Good writing is hard work! Snoopy makes a good point about “good writing,” and most students and teachers would strongly agree with this thought. Writing is not only important to have in lessons-it is a necessity. But teachers often wonder how it all can be completed and graded along with all the other requirements they have to get through in a day’s work. What would you think if I told you that you can move your students’ thinking from “Good writing is hard work,” to “Good writing is what I do?”

Like anything that is “hard work,” the more one does it, the easier and better it becomes. I am a trainer for Silver Strong & Associates The Thoughtful Classroom. We train teachers how to use a variety of tools and strategies to enhance learning and create deep thinkers. One of the most effective strategies the Thoughtful Classroom teaches is called Write to Learn. Making writing a daily event in your classroom will not only improve the thinking of your students considerably; it will help deepen their comprehension and help them to organize their thoughts in a productive and efficient way. By using this research-based strategy, you can help your students in more ways than you could ever imagine.

Picture this classroom: The teacher poses a question. After a little bit of wait time, the teacher scans the room for raised hands and calls on the students who are always the first to answer the question. For those students who tend to be on the shy side or just need a little more time for processing their thoughts, they are left out of an important part of the lesson. Some might even think to themselves, Why should I think of an answer when the kids who sits next to me always comes up with one first? What tends to happen is the same students are the ones participating in the discussions. Only their thoughts, opinions, and comments are being heard.

Now, go next door to this classroom: The teacher poses the same question. She then asks the students to write their responses/thoughts in their learning logs. After an orchestrated amount of time, she instructs the students to turn to their neighbor and share their thoughts they wrote. Then there is an opportunity for the students to share with the entire class either what they wrote or someone else’s ideas. Let’s think about the differences between these two scenarios.

In the first classroom, not everyone had the opportunity to share, nor were they held accountable for his or her thinking. When the same students are answering, and participating in the discussion, then there is little variety of thoughts to expand upon. Students who are shy might have a unique thought or idea that takes the discussion to a new level. This opportunity will be missed when the teacher calls on the same students who are the first to raise their hands. In the second classroom, the pace of the lesson has slowed down, therefore giving all the students time to think and process the question. Time was given to think more thoroughly and then shared in a small setting. The children who are shy, are more likely to share in a small group rather than to the whole class. Also, everyone was held accountable for his or her thinking. Often times, a student will have a great thought, but by the time he or she is called upon to answer, the thoughts are gone. When writing down their thinking, they now have it in front of them to respond thoroughly.

There is a video I show in my UMSL class of Suli, a spoken word artist, who performs, “I Hate School, but Love Education.” It is a thought-provoking piece about education. In the past, I would show the video, and then pose a couple of questions for a discussion. The discussions were satisfactory. This year, I had the students write their answers, share them in small groups, and then share with the whole class. The difference between the quality of the discussion from years past to this year was amazing. My students’ thoughts were deeper which caused the discussion to be richer, and more students were willing participants. The major difference was this- I took time to stop, have the students write their thoughts and opinions, share with each other and then share with the whole group. Allowing time for the students to thoroughly process the questions and formulate their opinions on paper, made all of the difference.

Every teacher understands the importance of establishing procedures and routines starting on the first day of school. Just as determining these daily habits at the beginning of the year so too should writing be part of a daily routine. In doing so, students will develop higher order thinking skills, and as a result, test scores will rise. (NASSP Bulletin, Dec. 2000)

Writing is a highly complex act that demands the analysis and synthesis of many levels of thinking. (Center for Performance Assessment, 2006). Harvey Silver (The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core) breaks the Write to Learn Strategy into three different levels. The first being provisional. This is a quick, impromptu writing designed by the teacher that can be completed throughout a lesson. It helps students to think through key concepts and ideas. Students are given the opportunity to write for two to five minutes. The teacher does not grade these spontaneous writing tasks. The focus is on the students’ thoughts and opinions rather than grammar or spelling. This does not mean that the teacher does not collect them to read. It would be his or her prerogative to collect these when he or she feels it is necessary.

For many students, writing can be overwhelming and cumbersome. It’s a challenge that can create panic and cause a student to shut down before even attempting to write the first word. However, if students are required to write short, impromptu informal writing tasks stating their thoughts, opinions, questions, and interpretations on a regular basis, writing becomes more natural and not so overwhelming. When they are not required to complete this type of writing on a regular basis, but then are assigned writing assignment encompassing all the writing skills necessary to formulate a strong writing piece, students become lost and don’t know where to start. It is like expecting a football team to skip practice on a regular basis, but be expected to win the championship game. It is well known that the more students work on a task and practice it in small chunks, not only will results be stronger, but they will be more comfortable in completing the task. I found this to be true when I taught poetry in grade levels from first through six. Instead of just assigning various poems to write, we spent a great deal of time reading poetry for pure enjoyment. During this reading time, students were exposed to rich vocabulary, rhythms and rhymes that made listening to poetry fun. When my students went to write their own poetry, they were not intimidated by this genre of writing. They experienced the poems through listening, acting out, and through a relaxed time of the day. Results were amazing. I found students diving right in with brainstorming, using visual organizers, and reworking their pieces of writing with positive attitudes. This can be the same for all writing in the classroom. The more writing is required in small, impromptu chunks, the more the teacher will be able to move students to the next level of writing.

Provisional writing can look many different ways in various grade levels. Any time students use journals, learning logs, entrance and exit slips, KWL charts and respond to questions, they are doing provisional writing. The main difference in using these formats is when the teacher uses them during a lesson and not just for homework. Stopping the instruction to have them write down their thoughts, and share them with one another, creates an environment of thinkers. More students have the opportunity to be part of the class discussion and share their thinking. This type of engagement will increase their understanding of the content and help them become stronger writers on the longer writing assignments.

In conclusion, Write to Learn is nothing new to education. Throughout the years, we have learned through research how important daily writing is for our instruction. Now with the Common Core State Standards, teachers are being required to rethink how writing can become more integrated into daily lessons. Give provisional writing a try. See how it impacts your discussions and the engagement of your students. Whether is a first grader using inventive spelling to write down his or her thoughts or a teenager writing short passages in response to a question, writing can look different depending on the grade level. The most important thing to remember is to make writing a daily habit. Snoopy reminds us that “good writing is hard work.” This goes without saying, but let’s help students work hard to create “good writing” and at the same time create deep thinkers. It’s a win-win situation.

Resources used:

Silver, Harvey R., Dewing, Thomas R., Perini, Mathew J. The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core. Alexandria: ASCD, 2012

Center for Performance Assessment. “Writing to Learn: Instructional Strategies for Nonfiction Writing”. Center for Performance Assessment. Static.dpsk12.org/gems/leadership/NFwritinghandouts103106.pdf

Michigan Department of Education. “Writing Across the Curriculum”. Michigan Department of Education. www.michigan.gov/document/mde/SSWAC_225020_7.pdf








Web Wonders for Nov. 2014



Climbing Back from the Summer Slide

Mary-Eileen Rufkahr

With a few months of school behind us, most of us are definitely feeling the “crunch” of time. So many things we want to do for our students, but often we lack the time to go out and search for the resources we need. The following sites provide a “one stop shopping experience” for teachers, as they allow multi-tasking with one click of the mouse.

Teacher Kristin Hokanson developed The Connected Classroom to assist teachers in creating a technology-friendly classroom for their students. The site has many features including collaboration tools, how to use i-pads for educational purposes, taking virtual field trips, utilizing digital media, social bookmarking, online graphic organizers and issues of copyright and fair use. Click onto: http://theconnectedclassroom.wikispaces.com/.

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the resources of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them available for free. Within the site, students can access the written word, works of art, historical records and scientific research. Over 8 million entries are catalogued, searchable by place, date or exhibition. A handy tool is a page for educational apps to search and download. Go to: http://dp.la/.

Edselect.com is an online resource for teachers, students and parents. The site has annotated websites, which have been sorted into curriculum areas for Kindergarten to grade 12. Reference sites include biographies, books on line, atlases, quotes, world agencies, newspapers and e-zines (to name a few). Another section highlights educational themes ranging from holidays to the Olympics to oceans to puppets! Other sections focus on curriculum topics, literacy sites and lesson plans. Check out http://edselect.com/.

Information on the many life-forms on Earth is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere.  The Encyclopedia of Life is an ongoing site bringing as many of these resources together, as possible, into one place. Search here for images to use in the classroom, allow students to explore museum collections and teachers can join on-line communities to share ideas and information with fellow educators. Educators can also download podcasts to listen to and search for educational apps to utilize in the classroom. The EOL can be found at: http://eol.org/

NBC Learn has digitized more than 12,000 stories from the NBC News archives, dating back to the 1920s. One of the standouts of the site is the video series Writers Speak to Kids. This series brings the insights and advice of award-winning authors directly to your students. The site is at: http://www.nbclearn.com/portal/site/learn.

Voices from the Library: Nov. 2014



Lucy Crown

Title: The Ugly Pumpkin

Author/Illustrator: Dave Horowitz

Publisher: Penguin Group: Copyright: 2005: ISBN: 978-0-14-241145-2

Reading Level: K-2

With fall in the air, recently I was searching for books about pumpkins so that I could order some new ones for my library. I came across this book called The Ugly Pumpkin and decided to take a look at it. I researched the reviews about it from other people and librarians. It sounded like a good purchase and it surely was. The cover will draw you in which features this sad looking character whom you think is a pumpkin. As you read along with the rhyming text, you find out that he is in distress because he doesn’t think he fits in with the other pumpkins because he is tall and skinny in the middle. Other pumpkins are being picked for Halloween but he is being overlooked. Then the month changes from October to November. In his continued sadness, he stumbles into a garden growing squash. He realizes that the reason he looks different from the other pumpkins is because he is really a squash! He finally finds his place where he fits in as the story ends with Happy Thanksgiving. This book is a fun twist on The Ugly Duckling and would lend itself well to a lesson comparing/contrasting the two stories and characters. The illustrations are interesting, fun and colorful and are done with cut paper, charcoal and colored pencils.