My First Official (Published) Educator’s Guide! – A Teacher’s Guide to Novels by Lisa Graff

The Lisa Graff educator’s guide that I created for Penguin is out! Over the summer, I was excited to be contacted by Penguin to write an educator’s guide to 5 novels by Lisa Graff. I was told that the guide will be printed and distributed by Lisa Graff when she visits schools or attends conferences.

I’ve already been creating and sharing guides and other work on this blog just because I feel it further validates the time I put into my work. I figure if I’m working hard to create it, others mine as well be able to benefit from it too—it’s been great to see that the guides on my website have been viewed and downloaded (and hopefully used) several hundred times. The opportunity to create a guide for Penguin excited me because I’d be able to create something that could reach and help a wider audience. Considering that I also enjoy doing this sort of thing, I readily agreed.

I submitted my work to Penguin a couple months ago, and just received the finalized PDF. Since it took a little while, I’d gotten nervous that maybe something was wrong with what I submitted. BUT, I’m thrilled to see that they kept it exactly as I submitted it…guess that means they were pleased. 🙂

Lisa Graff Teacher Guide

Click HERE to view and print the entire guide. 5 guides, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, are included to the following novels: A Tangle of Knots, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wildflower, Double Dog Dare, Lost in the Sun, and Absolutely almost. Each guide includes a short summary, theme listing, vocabulary, and breakdown of questions to ask before, during and after reading the novel. The questions in the “before” section would best be used in a discussion format and include information a child must know before reading the novel in order to best access the story. The “during” questions can be used to guide discussion groups and check grade level understanding throughout the novel. When relevant, page numbers are included to make it easier for you find answers to the discussions questions and enable you to ask questions at a suitable time. The “after” questions engage analysis and are appropriate to utilize after the completion of the novel.

I’ve posted other resources for Absolutely Almost to my blog in the past. Click the links below to access related material.

Absolutely Almost Read Aloud Guide – This guide is a bit more in depth than the one I submitted to Penguin. I completed this guide before reading the book as a read aloud with my class last year. The link to the guide is provided at the bottom of the post.

Resources to Use with Absolutely Almost – Within this post, you will find links to a few resources I created to be used with Absolutely Almost: a protagonist character web, “helpful hints” printable, and supporting character character web.

Students Write About Feeling “Absolutely Almost”

Absolutely Almost Writing Connections Printable

Absolutely Almost Author Skype with Lisa Graff – You can arrange a time and date for Lisa Graff to Skype with your class. My class had a memorable experience!

Student Poetry Activity after the Completion of the Novel

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Student Anaphora Poems Inspired By Absolutely Almost

My class finished Absolutely Almost over a month ago now, but as we cleaned up our Google Drive accounts today and organized our writing folder, we were able to revisit some of our previous work, and I realized how much I liked the anaphora poems they created after this read aloud. At the end of the novel, Albie recognizes all the things he can do, rather than those ANAPHORAhe cannot (as he did in the beginning of the novel). Inspired by this ending, my students were tasked with writing their own “Things I Know” poems.

This was a fun assignment that shows just how honest students are and allows them to celebrate what they know. At the end of the school year, I will put a book together of each students poems and stories from the year. This one is definitely going in there.

Below are a couple of examples.

Things I Know

By Student B

I know that I always have to put the cap on my pen when I’m done using it

I know that parents are sometimes scared, but don’t show it

I know that I don’t have to believe in what other people think, but what I think

I know that you can’t have friends when you’re not a friendI know that being proud of who you are (1)

I know that I’m not that good at math, but at least I try

I know that whenever I’m scared I’m not alone

I know that if you want a neat drawing you can’t draw outside of the lines

I know that if you want to accomplish something you have to work hard

I know that I can’t always get what I want

I know that being proud of who you are is important

There are a lot of things I know

Things I Know

By Student C

I know my way around town.

I know school is good for me, but I’m not ready to believe that yet.

I know that I struggle at some things.

I know that I’m not the best at baseball.

I know that I’m lactose intolerant.

I know that people will be mean.I know that being proud of who you are (2)

I know I’m not perfect.

I know nobody is perfect.

I know how to throw a nasty slider.

I know I’m sad 3 of my friends left California.

I know that Aroldis Chapman’s fastball can reach 106 mph.

I know that I take longer to do things.

I know a good baseball when I see one, Golden, with grass stains, and the seams are soft, but not so soft that I can’t get a grip.

I know how to say the rosary.

I know that the tree is Stanford’s mascot.

There are a lot of things I know.

Things I Know

By Student A

I know that God and my family will always love me and that I am blessed.

I know that Michelangelo’s Pieta is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy.

I know the first 22 elements in the Periodic Table by heart.

I know that people with Autism can do a lot of things really well and they have feelings too.

I know how to run 5 miles without getting tired or sore.

I know that there are 206 bones in the human body.

I know that when my dog Bella bats her hanging bells on the patio door she has to go outside.

I know how to make banana chocolate chip bread without a recipe.

I know a lot about golf but mostly I know that golf teaches me all about life itself.

I know that Ketchikan, Alaska is famous for its totem poles and bald eagles.

I know a lot of things but I know how much I DON’T know and still have to learn too!

Author Skype: Lisa Graff

unnamedMy class Skyped with author Lisa Graff on Thursday. The entire experience was, in the words of my students, “exciting”. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face throughout our 45 minute Skype meeting, because pure joy was emitting from each and every one of my students.

After the Skype session, my students wrote about their experience and what they learned. One student concluded, “I had so much fun and enjoyed every second of it! It was an amazing experience and I will never forget it! It’s amazing how much you can learn from a person in 35 min and especially when it was so interesting! It was a once in a lifetime experience and was awesome.”

I hope this is an experience I can provide for my students in future years. I learned that Skyping is a great way for students to connect with professionals. The benefits went beyond our 45 minutes on Skype. The preparation process and reflections afterwards were a learning experience as well. For my own personal reference and for anyone interested in setting up a Skype for your own class, I’ve highlighted our process along with the biggest takeaways in the eyes of my students below.


  1. Students wrote questions on post-its and placed them on a board in the back of the classroom.
  2. After completing the book, we read through the questions as a class, grouping like questions together. Students chose to add more post-it questions at this time also. We made a list of questions, making sure to omit repeats.
  3. We had a discussion about how to best organize the questions for the interview. This was 100% student-driven and run as a roundtable discussion. Students decided to group the questions into three categories: General Author Questions, Specific Book Questions, and Personal Questions.
  4. Students then debated the order of the categories. As a teacher, this was my favorite part of the preparation process. Students passionately shared and justified there views and rationales. “I don’t think we should start with personal questions. I think we should ask them at the end when she is more comfortable,” one said. I loved the thought they put into this, and I think they did a fabulous job. Students also had to show restraint and patience while being good active listeners during this process. I love the real-world skills students must apply and sharpen during roundtable discussions.
  5. I put the questions within each category in order and printed a copy for each student. I also emailed the questions to Lisa Graff ahead of time.
  6. The day before our author Skype, the class did a short practice Skype with a staff member. This didn’t take much time, and I believe it was hugely beneficial. We practiced where to stand, how to transition between questions so we could move things along and get all of our questions in, and how to speak clearly and loudly.

Before (1)

  1. I began by saying a quick hello and introducing the students, and we got right to it!
  2. Students asked their 29 planned questions. We finished in 30 minutes! Since we had a little bit of extra time, students asked some follow-up questions and shared some of their own comments.
  3. Students took notes during the interview. They just had a blank paper with which they could record anything interesting that they’d like to remember. I didn’t ask for anything special in the notes, just that they take some.
  4. We signed off in 45 minutes.


  1. We shared with one another. As a class, we discussed what we learned from Lisa Graff.
  2. I asked students to write a four paragraph essay about their experience.

Students churned these four paragraphs out like it was nothing; there was so much excitement, and they had so much to say. Biggest TakewaysLisa shared a number of things that stuck with my kiddos. Here are the top ten takeaways…in my students words.

  1. She has felt like an almost herself sometimes.
  2. Holes was the book that inspired her to be an author.
  3. The first book that she wrote, that was not published, was when she was 14 and the book was called A Speck of Dust.
  4. Lisa Graff said that a lot of her inspiration [for Absolutely Almost] was from living in New York and being a babysitter.
  5. She said that the revising process is always much longer than drafting and that she usually thinks it stinks and wants to quit in the middle. She said she’s never been disappointed once a book is published.
  6. When I hear Mr.Clifton’s jokes I wondered how Lisa Graff got those jokes and it turns out that she just looked up in the internet, “Bad math jokes”.
  7. I found it very interesting that Albie actually at first liked candy bars instead of donuts, but her editor wanted to change candy bars to donuts, which I think was a great idea.
  8. She shows how if you work long enough on the thing you love you will succeed.
  9. What I learned from this experience is that it’s really hard to be an author because it takes a long time to come up with an idea for a book and wait for that book to be published and making changes to your book. It’s a long and hard process.
  10. During the Skype, she told us some advice, “ Write, even if you think it stinks.”

In the words of Mr. Clifton, “You can’t get where you’re going without being where you’ve been.” Lisa Graff told my students to write. She recognized that – yes, it stinks sometimes (or as least you think it does), but you can’t get better without producing some pieces to learn from. Each piece students write advances them as writers. Nearly all of my students quoted the advice, “Write, even if you think it stinks.” This message resonated with my kiddos and gave them confidence. In their eyes, if even a famous author thinks her writing stinks as she’s writing sometimes, then it’s ok if they think their’s stinks too. They learned that it’s normal to feel that way, but they must push through and stick with it until the end. Lisa communicated that, in the end, it’s always worth it. See, this Skype went beyond learning a little more about the background of our read aloud. Students were given writing advice and were able to learn about the writing process directly from an author. I have to do more Skype meetings with my class!

A big, giant THANK YOU to Lisa Graff for offering the opportunity to Skype with classes. For more information on hosting a Skype session with Lisa Graff click HERE.

Absolutely Almost – Student Twitter Chat

Join my 5th grade class for a Twitter chat about Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.

Join my 5th grade class for a Twitter chat about Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.

I’m looking for 4th, 5th or 6th grade teachers to participate in a Twitter chat with my class. The topic will be the novel Absolutely Almost. It doesn’t matter where you are in the novel, we can make it work. You can even start the book this week. My class can host (unless you’d like to split the hosting which I’m open to), and we will make sure to include questions that are relevant to your place in the novel. I’m currently reading this book aloud and we’re about a third of the way through. It’d be ideal if we could schedule a couple chats, but I’d be happy with setting up a single, one-and-done chat if that suits your needs better. I’m ready to start as soon as possible, but again, I’m flexible.

Goal: Students will use writing, reading, collaborative, and technological skills to communicate with other classes on a global network. Students will conclude that they can connect with others about books and reading and that they are a part of a global community of learners. Discussing books is cool!

Here’s how it will work:

  1. We will choose a date, time and tag to use for the chat.
  2. Our students will craft a number of questions.
  3. We will meet to discuss questions generated by our students.
  4. Students will discuss each question on Twitter. This is basically a Twitter lit circle, allowing students to connect with each other around the country/world about books and reading.

My ideal schedule (just throwing it out there…it can and will most likely change based on what works for other participants):

Tuesday 12/9 @ 1pm PT

Tuesday 12/16 @ 1pm PT

I hope you see value in a project such as this. Please complete the form below if you’re interested. Fingers crossed! I’m 100% open to your suggestions to make this a success for our students. If you prefer, you may also click here to expand the form and complete it on a full screen.

Check out my Absolutely Almost tag for Absolutely Almost resources (free read aloud or lit circle guide and various other ideas and printables). Click here if you’d just like the guide.

Day 1: Absolutely Almost SUCCESS

Absolutely Almost Read Aloud GuideToday, my class began our realistic fiction read aloud:Absolutely Almost. I decided to read the first 39 pages aloud on the first day, and I’m happy I did so. While this read aloud was a little longer than usual, I’m certain it was worth it. By reading through to the 39th page, kids were able to lose themselves in the novel and get engulfed in the character. I think the first 39 pages hooked them!

Afterwards, students went on their Google Drive accounts and responded to the following prompt:

Write about a time you felt “absolutely almost”. Use everything you know about writing to write with detail and description. Use your words to paint a picture of your experience in the mind of the reader. Remember to include sensory words and adverbs to help the reader understand your feelings. (p. 39)

This was a fun activity that allowed my students to exercise their writing skills as they made a text-to-self connection. There responses were a lot of fun. Here are a few sample responses from my students.

1)  I felt “always almost” when I didn’t make it on the wall for the best homework in second grade. I never quite got there, and when I asked Mrs. A why I wasn’t on there, she said “be neater” and then I did that for about a week, and then she said “add more color” so I did that, and then she said “Be neater and more creative”. Then she showed me Clarence’s paper. For coming up with words in alphabetical order, he did names of different fruits, and I came up with random words like apple, balloons, cat, and duck. Then I was as creative as I could be, but I forgot to be as neat and colorful as Tommy or Rosa.

2)  I was an “almost” when I was in Karate and I was trying to do the butterfly-kick. I had the whole getting-prepared-for-the-jumping-upside-down kicking-in-midair part, but I kept on forgetting to do the bob-and-weave to really pick my feet from the ground. All I heard was “almost!” from the black belt that was teaching me. I felt as if my legs were so excited they just had to jump first!

3)  I have been an almost when I almost wrote my name correctly in cursive, Jakob, until I messed up on the K.  I thought it looked FINE, but my mom said something different.

“Jakob, you did a great job. You were so close, but you need less of a loop on your K like this: Jakob. Do you get it buddie?” I didn’t get it at first because I’ve been writing my name in cursive for 2 years, and I’ve gotten into a habit of writing my name like that, but I still said OK. I tried to write my name again, same mistake.

“Okay Jakob, I think we should just work on your Ks now, is that okay with you?”  I wasn’t okay with it, but I said I was, and there I was, working on a “worksheet” on Ks.  That’s how you end up writing Ks like that.

The students really enjoyed this one. If I use this book again next year, I will definitely use this prompt again.  Success!

Absolutely Almost Class Resources

Yesterday, I posted a guide to use with the novel Absolutely Almost. I’m starting this read aloud with my 5th grade class tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see how my kiddos receive this novel. I loved it, but I’m curious to see if this novel is actually better received by adults than children. Kids are so used to action-packed, plot driven novels like this one. Which makes me want to use this book even more! Students need to hear Albie’s story, and I think delivering it as a read aloud is the perfect way to present it. Without constant action, I speculate that many of my students would want to put this book down if they were reading it independently.  However, as a read aloud, I think they’ll be able to get engrossed in Albie’s character. This novel allows the reader to hear Albie’s internal story, reflect with him and go along with him as he discovers who he is. Hopefully, this will also teach students to appreciate character-driven books. I hope this book is as big a hit in my classroom as I believe it can be. We’ll see! 

I’ve created a few more resources to use as I read this book aloud. Feel free to use them.

Protagonist Character Web


I plan to use the Protagonist Character Web throughout the novel. We’ll identify traits, important actions and sayings as we read the novel. I have a jumbo web that hands on the wall; I complete it along with my students.

Albie’s “Helpful Hints” Fun Printable for Students

prettykind copy

Albie’s last helpful hint to Betsy put a huge smile on my face. This was probably my favorite event in the novel. I think all my students are pretty great they way they are too, so to have a little fun, I plan to cut these out and sneak them in their desks after we read that chapter.

Supporting Character Character Web

supportingweb copy

The character web above would be best used for Albie’s father or Calista. Throughout the novel, students identify traits and provide evidence.

If you’d like to use any of the above resources, click HERE to download the document through GoogleDocs. The formatting looks off in the preview (this happens frequently with uploads to Drive), but everything will look good after downloading.

Absolutely Almost Read Aloud Guide


I just finished reading Absolutely Almost. And. It. Was. Good. This is a must-read for upper elementary school teachers, parents and students.

This is a character-driven realistic fiction novel with an unlikely protagonist, Albie. Albie is a fifth grader who is “absolutely almost”; he struggles doing well in school, being “cool”, or finding something he is a good at. Throughout his life, he’s always been an almost — almost good enough, almost ready. This is a book about being average. To Albie, nothing comes easily.

I follow a reading blog by Katherine Sokolowski who sums Albie up perfectly — “School is hard for Albie. He tries, and tries, but nothing comes easy. Not reading, not writing, not math. He’s not an artist, not a jock, he’s just Albie. He’s good, and kind, and loyal, but he does not stand out. For the most part, he’s ok with that, but his parents aren’t. Albie struggles against their expectations and tries to figure out where he fits in. He is aided by a new babysitter, Calista, who sees Albie for the wonderful person he truly is.”

In this novel, Lisa Graff offers an honest portrayal of a low-average student in a school (and world) where honors is the expectation. This book allows the reader to see inside the mind of a student who is struggling academically, to see that learning doesn’t come easily to us all. Through this novel, students are able to hear the thoughts of an ordinary kid who struggles to meet his parents expectations and understand where he fits in. In the end, we learn that Albie does have a strength, just not the conventional academic kind.

This novel also has many ties to Wonder, so many connections can be drawn. My class read Wonder over the summer, and The Julian Chapter was our first class read aloud. I’m looking forward to keeping the theme of kindness going with this novel, as well as discussing the similarities and differences of the protagonists.

Currently, there aren’t any guides or read aloud resources to use with this novel. I put a guide together for myself. Please feel free to use it and adapt it as you see fit. I hope you find it helpful! Click here to view my guide.