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A Delightful Back to School Story with a Positive Message for Students

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Read to the end to find out about a special Back to School raffle giveaway for a bundle of books!

Let me tell you about my back-to-school story of when I was eight years old. My family had recently moved to an entirely new city during the summer. In the first few weeks, I made some friends with the neighborhood kids, including one who would become my best friend then. It’s back to school time. But because I lived east of a particular street, I had to go to a completely different school than my new best friend! I knew NOBODY at this new school. I was miserable. At the time, I felt I didn’t belong, I didn’t make any friends, and then something worse happened.

My back-to-school story sounds truly depressing. But you’ll see it has a happy ending if you read to the end. But think about all the children attending new schools or starting a new grade who don’t know anyone in their new class. As a kid, you immediately feel left out. Back in the day, when I was in school, teachers left it up to the students to help the new students in class. So if nobody smiled or took you under their wing, you ended up alone at recess and lunch. That was me!

A Back to School Smile

The back-to-school story I like to share with my class during the first few days of school is Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann. Ruby enters her new classroom. But the illustration shows her as looking nervous. Or is she anxious? Worried? Or terrified! But luckily, a girl named Angela smiles at her, and Ruby smiles back.

Two girls dressed alike and wearing their hair the same.

Though Ruby tries to be a friend to Angela, she ends up with a reputation of being a copycat. Lots of kids relate to the situation. To little kids, a copycat is a frustrating thing. That’s when I bring up the question of WHY was she copying Angela? We discuss how Ruby felt when she first arrived – was she nervous? Or was it more – like anxious? Even worried? What do most people feel when returning to school or entering a new school?

Some students will share they did feel nervous, while others say they were worried. And it’s ok. Students find out many others feel the same way, eliciting sympathy and empathy among the other students. This is a path to building relationships and community.

Boy looks nervous, worried or anxious.

But what’s the difference between nervous and worried? Students will usually describe how you might fidget or shake when you’re nervous. But when you’re worried, it’s thinking about how everyone will treat you. Though the words are similar, they have shades of meaning.

Shades of Meaning

As an elementary teacher, developing vocabulary is one of my priorities, especially with English Language Learners. Even children with a well-developed vocabulary need instruction when comparing nuances or shades of meaning in words. As adults, we have the skills to detect those nuanced terms. Authors and writers do, too. So it’s why it’s critical to talk about word choice when helping young writers develop.

cover of free shades of meaning download for back to school

One of the best ways to teach shades of meaning is within the context of passages or stories. Using a read-aloud such as Ruby the Copycat, students can use the familiar context to understand why the author chose certain words. I’m offering a FREE TEACHING RESOURCE (see below) to download. You can use it with Ruby the Copycat to introduce the concept of shades of meaning.

Hop, Jump, or Leap Back to School?

Ruby loves to hop. She hops home to have lunch and hops back to school. But what if she instead jumped? Or leaped? Would it have changed the story? What is the difference between a hop, a jump, and a leap? When I ask my students, they immediately want to act it out and show me. Soon we’re all hoping, jumping, and leaping, which makes for a fun indoor P.E.

Students hoping, jumping and leaping.

But it is a serious question. Why did the author choose hop instead of jump or leap? I’ve created a FREE download consisting of three posters referring to a passage from the story or an illustration.

3 posters in a free download

One poster includes verbs (hop, jump, leap). Another poster consists of states of mind (somber, sad, heartbroken). The third poster is adjectives (fancy, elegant, luxurious). Each poster includes a picture and sentence for word context and meaning. These posters can help students understand word meanings, word choice, and shades of meaning.

Teaching Shades of Meaning

When the Common Core Standards for Literacy were introduced, the standard for shades of meaning was new to me because it was not in our previous state standards. I thought at the time it was a tough standard to teach! I didn’t want to hand students dictionaries and ask them to look up meanings. Instead, I started to create resources which would help me teach the standard. Over the years of teaching this standard, I’ve learned we need to teach it in the context of stories or passages. I created original stories which would show a progression of shades of meaning (upset, mad, angry, furious, livid, etc.).

Using visuals such as an up arrow, a staircase, a paint strip, or even a thermometer also help students understand how words can intensify in meaning though they are all synonyms. I would also meet with groups of students for mini-lessons on word choice during Writer’s Workshop. These lessons gave purpose to understanding shades of meaning. I used all these resources and strategies throughout the year, not only during back-to-school but revisiting this standard frequently through read-alouds, vocabulary, and writing lessons. I even developed some seasonal or holiday craftivities around shades of meaning!

As part of an EBook and Back to School Raffle giveaway, I have a featured resource that I’m adding an additional discount for savings up to 50% BUT only until August 18th. It’s a starter bundle for teaching shades of meaning. Click on the link and view the previews for each resource. The bundle includes

  • a mini-book for teaching or practicing synonyms
  • an animated PowerPoint to teach synonyms and shades of meaning
  • a guided practice resource featuring and original story, Little Red Riding Hood’s Very Dad Day
  • a resource with visuals to help students practice shades of meaning

I always want to make sure students understand the term synonym. So the synonym’s practice book is a fun way to cement the term. The animated PowerPoint includes printables which are used with some of the slides. The PowerPoint teaches students to understand how word choice in writing matters.

I wrote an original story called Little Red’s Bad Day in which Little Red goes from being annoyed to indignant and various other synonyms while having a bad day! It includes many other additional activities as well. Finally, the guided practice resource contains visuals to show how words can intensify in meaning though they are synonyms. The visuals include a paint strip, an ascending staircase, and an up arrow. Students practice with the visuals and order words based on shades of meaning.

Back to School Raffle and Ebook!

Several bloggers and I have banded together to create an E-Book of free back-to-school resources. Download the Ebook HERE with the links. You can download the free resources by visiting their blogs.

20 books for the back to school raffle

We are holding an amazing raffle for a huge bundle of 20 read-aloud books! I’m donating Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann to the raffle. You can enter the raffle HERE. Check below for direct links to the other bloggers.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Check out my Other Back to School Posts

Looking for more tips and ideas for Back to School? Click on these links to my other back-to-school posts.

How Did My Story End?

As I mentioned earlier, my sad back-to-school story does have a happier ending. I was so miserable at this new school to the point of making myself sick! The piercing pain was on my lower right side. You know, where your appendix is. BUT that wasn’t it. This went on for about 2 weeks. It turns out….it was all psychosomatic! Yep, the doctors could find nothing wrong with me.

4 school friends enjoying back to school

Once my doctor told my parents it was all in my head, they changed my school to the school where my best friend was going. Problem solved! The pain disappeared, and I made many new friends in my new class and school. I even got assigned to sit next to the mayor’s daughter in class!

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and receive the FREE Ruby the Copycat Shades of Meaning FREEBIE.

A Delightful Back to School Story with a Positive Message for Students
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