Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem


  • Written by: Rosalyn Schanzer (Author)
  • Grade level: 4-8
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Children’s Books; 1 edition (September 13, 2011)

Summary: This is a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials. The story focuses on many of the victims who were accused rather than those that accused them, as this is sometimes portrayed more. There is a big emphasis on the legal proceedings of these trials, which slyly points out basic legal errors, while not undermining the people who made these decisions, as witchcraft was entirely believable at the time. This book will help students of all ages make sense of what happened in Salem all those years ago.

5 keywords: Historical Non-Fiction, Women’s History, New England History, Colonial History, Controversial History, Witch History. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

Suggested Delivery: For younger grades, read-a-loud, so words and challenging passages can be clarified, for older students this can be done alone.

Electronic Resources: This book trailer narrated by the author, is a great pre-reading activity to peak interest to read this story, as the illustrations and the suspense of this trailer make it a must read! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fzo3SOR6u5A&feature=channel_video_title

Teaching guide – The author provides many lesson plans on her website. The pre and post witch activity would be great to use obviously prior and the latter part after the story is read. My personal favorite is the pre-reading activity which has true and false statements about witches. This is a great way to see how children view witches, and what their schema consists of.  http://www.rosalynschanzer.com/pdfDocuments/CCSSWitchesActivities.pdf

Website: This website has a ton of resources on the Salem Witch Trials. I especially love the video because it really illustrates what life was like in 160os. http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/salemwitchtrials/story/story.html

Key Vocabulary:

Afflicted – To cause pain

Bewitched – To put someone under a spell

Earnest – serious

Incrimination – When someone appears to have committed a crime

False accusation – To accuse someone of something they did not do

Cantankerous – Angry and annoyed

Piene Forte et Dure – Hard and forceful punishment

Opposition – Disagreeing with someone through thoughts or actions

Gallows – Structure used to hang someone

Testify – Promising that the answers to the questions you are asked are true

Tangible evidence – Easily seen proof

Before: Administer the pre-assessment to see what students know about witches. They may know a thing or two about the witch trials, but they may have modern socially portrayed assumptions of witches riding on broom sticks.

Depending on the grade and maturity level of students, vocabulary should also be reviewed. A word list of definitions can be given to students with cognitive disabilities or for younger grade levels to use as a resource as they read.

Invite local author and historian Cynthia Wolfe Boynton to give a lesson on the Connecticut Witch Trials, (these happened almost 40 years before Salem)! She gives an amazing lecture on the CT Trials and how there are many gender implications to accusations of witches. Many of the accused in CT were women who had inherited money and were single, as at this time this was rare and frowned upon. The author can answer many questions that students have about witches in general as well. This can also open a compare and contrast discussion on the CT Trials and the Salem Trials. Furthermore, tying these trials to something much more local gives the students a better understanding of the trials.

During: While reading the story have students reflect on their pre assessments. Have their views of witches changed? How do witches show their magical powers? In Salem are witches good or are they all evil? As they reflect on what they previously answered to questions such as these, they will build more of a schema of the story and be able to comprehend more as they read, or you can intervene and clarify if they are not comprehending.

After: Once reading has ended students should complete the post reading activity. There should also be a class discussion about the trials and thoughts and feelings about the trials themselves and the book should be shared.

Writing Activity: Have students work in groups of 5-8 on writing a play about the trials. This can be done one of two ways, have each group assigned a different part of the book, or have all of the groups chose an accused person and make their trial into a play. This will build upon inferential and literal comprehension, as students will have to understand the basics of the scenes to write about them (literal), and they will have to use intonation, emotion and body language as they act out and write character lines, which were not included in the story (inferential).


The Right Word – Roget and His Thesaurus


  • Written by: Jen Bryant 
  • Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet 
  • Age Range: 7 – 18 years
  • Grade Level: 2 – 5
  • Lexile Measure: 590
  • Hardcover: 42 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (September 15, 2014)

Summary: Roget and His Thesaurus is the story about Peter Roget and his invention of the thesaurus. The story describes his life growing up, constantly making lists. As Peter becomes a man he studies to be a doctor, but he never gives up on making his lists. He publishes his book, and it becomes wildly popular, as Roget did not want his book to be only for scholars, but for everyone’s use. Roget changed literature forever, by creating word categories and synonyms for everyone to use as they write.

Keywords: Splendid, informational, cheery, organized, quirky.

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.

Suggested Delivery: Read-A-Loud

Electronic Resources: Pre: Here is a copy of Roget’s original thesaurus’s!: http://www.rain.org/~karpeles/rogfrm.html.

Post: This link shows how Melissa Sweet illustrated the story. This is a really great resource to show how book illustrations are made, and is just a fun thing to show your class! http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=3452

Website: Use this video before reading the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z8VGJ0s3RY 

Teaching Guide – I love Jen Bryant’s teaching guide! It is organized by discussion questions and activities, so while you have to choose which activity belongs where, you get the freedom to decide and interpret. http://www.jenbryant.com/pdfs/The%20Right%20Word_Discussion%20Guide.pdf

Key Vocabulary: Clattered

Tutor – Teacher who works with one student

Peppered – To put something in many places

Dandy – Very good/fine

Splendid – Great/wonderful

Wander – To move around to different places

Fret – Worry

Intrude – To go to a place you are not welcome

Despair – Losing hope

Badger – To bother someone with questions

Annoy – Making someone slightly angry

Plague – Large number of harmful things

Provoke – To make something happen

Harass – To constantly bother someone

Drive one mad – Annoy someone

Orderly – Very organized in a specific way

Lecture – A talk about a subject that teaches people about it

Concisely – Using as little words as possible

Clarity – To make something clear

Conviction – Proving someone guilty of a crime

Kindred – Alike or similar

Maiden – Young woman who is not married

Smitten – In love with someone

Before: Before showing students the youtube video, and the picture of Roget’s original thesaurus, describe to students what a thesaurus is. Concisely show students how to use a thesaurus, by modeling. Have students give you some word suggestions and you can flip to that word and read the synonyms. Teaching students to use a thesaurus is imperative to their writing. Strong writers use a variety of words that fit what they are trying to express in their writing. 

During: During the reading, ask students to think of other words that they can think of at the parts in the story where the synonyms are used for wedding, family, bother, and fine. This will enforce literal comprehension of the text, by enforcing students understanding of different words having similar meaning and tone.

After: Using word webs with different synonyms and definitions will help build schema of word sorting and literal comprehension and how to use a thesaurus. http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson282/WordWebs.pdf 

Writing Activity: Have students write a summary about the story. When they have completed this, have them circle ten words, that they must then use a thesaurus to find an alternative “right” word that would best fit. After this they should write why it is important to use a thesaurus, and have a discussion about the reasons why. This builds on more literal comprehension of the text and how to use the tools presented, but inferential comprehension can also be built into this lesson.

Fish in A Tree


Summary: Ally has always felt like a fish out of water, especially in school. Aside from art and math (no word problems!) Ally’s school life has been one of frustration and turmoil. Until she gets a new teacher Mr. Daniels. When he enters her life, Ally finds friends in unusual places, and it seems her life is finally coming together. However, popular Shay seeks to destroy Ally and her newfound glory. Ally might just lose the little piece of respect she has always wished for, if she cannot learn to break through her challenges and accept herself. A story of a strong middle schooler, who has been misdiagnosed and misunderstood her whole life, might prove that sometimes imperfections can be the fantastico of a person.

5 keywords: Fiction, Middle grade reader, Local author, Narrative, Diversity 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.1
Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

Suggested Delivery: Individual read

Electronic Resources:  A book trailer, this should obviously be used before the students begin reading, as the https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVhWzVsVVIY

This website can be used after the book gets to the part where Ally learns she has dyslexia. This simulator can help students grasp what Ally dealt with while in school. http://webaim.org/simulations/dyslexia-sim.html

Website: The authors website, which provides the answers to many general questions. Students can go to this website and can help prepare to write letters to the author.


Teaching Guide – This is Penguin’s reading guide. It is so wonderfully arranged! They set it up based on page numbers, so the questions correspond to the different parts of the book. This is supper effective when it comes to dividing the book up into sections to discuss. http://www.penguin.com/static/images/yr/pdf/FishInATree_lessonplans_Final_LR.pdf

Key Vocabulary:

Illogical – Not thinking in a regular way

Psychologist – A scientist who studies the human brain and behavior

Invertebrates – Animal with no backbone

Within my nature – Something that fits a persons personality and normal behavior

Grudges – Anger towards someone that lasts a long time

Uncouth – Being rude

Murex brandaris – Sea snail

Unfortunate stroke of luck – Something that would normally be lucky, but ends up worsening a situation

Lonely – Sad when being away from people

Alone – Being without people

Visionary – Having clear ideas about what the future looks like

Scoundrel – A Person who is cruel and dishonest

Razz – To make playful but mean comments about someone

Dyslexia – Reading disorder

Limelight – Public attention

Homonym – A word that is spelled the same as another word but different in meaning (bear and bear)

Pachyderm – An animal with hooves and thick skin (elephant)

Grit – Mental toughness and courage

Catalyst – Person that quickly causes action and change

Before: Discuss a brief overview of the story, do not tell students that Ally has dyslexia. Have students do the dyslexia activity without knowing what they are doing. Ask them what they think is happening and why. Ask students to think about different reading disabilities and brainstorm how their symptoms appear. Leave the students to ponder with the thought that not every reading disorder gets detected.

During: Have students write questions about the book as they read. These can be questions about literal understanding, or they can be questions about something that confuses them, or something that seems to not make sense. This will help them reflect on the book and also become a self-aware reader.

When the part of Mr. Danielson telling Ally he thinks she has dyslexia happens, invite the reading specialist to come in and answer any questions about dyslexia. Have them show examples of what it is like to have dyslexia, (see electronic resources), and how dyslexia is remedied. Showing students these examples will further their understanding, and their acceptance of students with reading disabilities. They can also understand more of Ally’s struggle as a student and as a person. (For something even more intense change the classroom to fit what Ally would see. Have posters with backwards letters, switched letters and use simulators to show moving letters).

After: Have students write a letter with questions to send to author Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Asking the author about the character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions is a great way to assess for comprehension, as their questions should be based on what they have read, and will reflect if they are comprehending at a literal or inferential comprehension level.

Writing Activity: Have students paint a picture of what having dyslexia made Ally feel. This is an example of inferential comprehension, as many of Ally’s emotions were read between the lines. Have students write a paragraph or two about their painting and how it represents what Ally felt. Students should include an example from the text about how their painting depicts her emotions towards her reading disability.