Category: Reading Skills

Academic and Testing Vocabulary

What is an academic vocabulary?

Academic vocabulary consists of words that are not commonly used or frequently encountered in everyday conversation. These words include specialized content vocabulary for specific subjects such as reading/language art, science, social studies, or math. Academic vocabulary also includes terms found on standardized tests.  When students understand testing vocabulary, test scores go up. By teaching test vocabulary and how the words look in different forms on a test, students feel better prepared and more confident on test day.

When to Teach Words

When preparing units of study such as novel studies, add four to five academic vocabulary words in with the novel specific words. Select words based on the skills taught during the unit of study.  Continue reading

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Inverted Pyramid Story

Inverted Pyramid Story

What is an Inverted Pyramid Story?

News reporters use Inverted Pyramid Stories to relay information quickly to readers. Both newspapers and web writers use this approach. News is written in order of importance. The most essential information is placed in the lead paragraph. The purpose for writing using this method is to give the reader the most important information first. The reader will understand the story even if he stops reading after a few lines.


Many feel this method of writing was invented shortly after the telegraph. Reporters tried to condense their stories into as few words as possible to keep the cost of sending a story over telegraph wires low. Also if the connection was lost, the most important details would be received.


Today this method of writing has several benefits.

  • Readers can quickly decide it they wish to read the entire article.

  • Editors who must cut down articles due to space can cut away the bottom leaving the most essential information intact.

  • Readers can stop at any point and come away with the main points.

  • Readers can skim through the article more quickly.

The Inverted Pyramid Story Structure

  • The writer begins the story by listing the most important details. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

  • The next part of the story gives important details.

 Practice using Pyramid Stories.

This download contains the beginnings of real articles from the New York Times. Students highlight ‘The 5 W’s + H’ using six different colors to determine if it is a pyramid story.

Free Pyramid Story Practice - Students highlight ‘The 5 W’s + H’ using six different colors to determine if actual New York Times articles are pyramid stories.


Gay Miller

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Wish by Barbara O’Connor Teaching Activities

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

After seeing a cardinal, close your eyes, spit three times, and make a wish. — You can make a wish if you clap three times before crossing a state line. — You can make a wish if you see a camel-shaped cloud.

The Story

These are just a few of the unusual things Charlie uses to make her daily wish; the same wish she has made every day since fourth grade. 

When Charlie’s family ‘becomes broken,’ Charlie moves to the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina to live with her aunt and uncle. She becomes friends with Howard who lives next door. The two are complete opposites — Howard’s calm easygoing personality compared to Charlie’s fiery temper. Throw in a stray dog who Charlie names Wishbone, and you have a heartwarming story that will make you tear up as you watch Charlie struggle with where she belongs. 


Wish by Barbara O'ConnorAll versions of this book are now available.

FREE Teaching Idea for
Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Activity – Comparing Dog Novels 

Literally thousands of great books about dogs can be found. This project centers on six novels including Pax which is the story of a fox. Students read the summaries of the six books. They then complete a chart to make comparisons. A Venn Diagram is also included for student to go into detail when comparing and contrasting two dog-themed books.

The Books 

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds NaylorShiloh  by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

As Marty walks the hills of Friendly, West Virginia, he runs across a shy beagle pup. The pup follows him home. The two form an immediate friendship. Marty names the pup Shiloh after the place he finds him. He soon learns he must return the dog to its rightful owner, Judd Travers, who is unkind to his dogs. After doing so, Shiloh turns up at Marty’s home for a second time. Marty decides to hide him on the hill behind his house. This leads to all kinds of trouble for Marty. 

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson RawlsWhere the Red Fern Grows

Set in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression, Billy Coleman works for two years to save enough money to buy two coon hounds. The book follows Billy and his hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, as they confront challenges of both nature and man. Some of these include mountain lions, bullies, and a winter storm.






Stone Fox by John Reynolds GardinerStone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Grandfather will not get out of bed although Doc Smith says nothing is wrong with him. Little Willy takes over Grandfather’s duties and harvests the potato crop. He thinks everything will be fine, until Clifford Snyder comes to collect $500 in back taxes. In his desperation, little Willy decides to enter the adult dog sled race. Will he be able to win the prize money he needs to save the farm? 




Pax by Sara PennypackerPax by Sara Pennypacker

Peter and his much loved pet fox named Pax are separated because of war. The book contains chapters alternating between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives as they make their way back to each other. 









Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCammilo

Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie tells the story of ten-year old Opal. She has just moved to Naomi, Florida with her preacher father. On an errand to the grocery store, Opal finds a large, ugly, homeless dog. Opal is immediately attached to the dog whom she names Winn-Dixie after the grocery store where she finds him. Together they make friends with Otis, an ex-convict who runs the local pet store; Miss Fanny, the librarian who has a desk full of “Litmus Lozenges” a type of candy which her great grandfather invented; and Gloria Dump, the lady the local children think of as a witch because of her jungle-like yard. This book will make you laugh as Opal and Winn-Dixie make friends with these very likable characters in this small southern town.

 Google Docs

Free Google Digital Activity - Compare Dog Themed Books (Great to use with Wish by Barbara O'Connor)

This activity may be downloading from Google Docs here. The file includes two activities and an answer key.  

Book Unit Samples 

Wish by Barbara O'Connor -- Free Book Unit Samples

If you would like to try out the Wish Book Unit before you buy it, this download contains free samples including:

  • Vocabulary Practice
  • Comprehension Questions for Chapters 1-2 
  • Constructive Response Question for Chapters 1-2
  • Photos to Show What the Rest of the Unit Looks Like


Wish Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook. Vocabulary, comprehension, constructive response writing, and skill practice are all included. Printable and Google Digital versions are available.

Gay Miller


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Silhouette Characterization – A Teaching Strategy

Silhouette Characterization


This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students. 


Click here to download the printable. 

  1. Option 1 – Print the silhouettes found on page 8 on heavyweight paper. Cut out the patterns. Students trace the character onto a piece of ordinary paper.
  2. Option 2 – Show students the ‘Bean Character Clipart.’ found on pages 9 and 10. Students then draw their own silhouette people in a similar fashion.
  3. Option 3 – Print the sample organizers found on pages 3-7.

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students. Activity #1 – Students draw a silhouette figure in the center of their page. Out from the silhouette, students draw rays. In each shape formed by the rays, students write facts about the character.

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students.

Activity #2 – Students choose one character from the book or story they are reading. They draw the character as a silhouette covering the entire piece of paper. On the body of the character, students describe the character. On the arms and legs, students list four actions.

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students. Activity #3 – Students copy the boy or the girl silhouette in the center of the page. Students then write a paragraph describing the character’s physical features. This includes coloring – hair, eyes, etc.; size – tall, short,  thin, muscular, etc.; and distinguishing features – mustache, curly hair, etc. on the left side of the figure. On the opposite side of the character, students describe inner character traits. This could be in the form of a paragraph or a list of adjectives such as absent-minded, disrespectful, humorous, immature, etc. 

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students. Activity #4 – Students create two overlapping character shapes to form a Venn Diagram. Students then compare and contrast the two characters by telling how they are different and alike.

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students. Activity #5 – Students draw a simple house structure. The house needs six windows. In each window, students answer Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? to explain how a specific character handled one situation in the story.

This post will illustrate how to teach character traits using silhouettes. This simple no prep method is both engaging and fun for students.

Gay Miller

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Prefix Teaching Activities and Ideas


The English Language

English is a mix of several languages including French, Italian, Greek and Latin, Vietnamese and so on. This makes the number of words linguists estimate the English language to have extremely large —- approximately one million words. About 170,000 of these words are in current use. The average adult English speaker has a vocabulary between 20,000 to 35,000 words. Ninety-five percent of everyday writing and speech in newspapers, most books, movies, etc. use only about 3,000 words. So…how do we prepare our students for college entrance exams when everyday life exposes them to so such a narrow list of vocabulary words? —- We teach students prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots.

This post includes several activities and ideas you might wish to try when teaching prefixes.

Activity #1 – Flip Books

Activities and Ideas for Teaching Prefixes - includes free printables

  1. Cut paper into approximately 1 by 5 inch strips.
  2. Cut an additional piece of paper 1 by 7 inches long.
  3. Stack the pages together with the 7 inch piece on the bottom.
  4. Line all the pages evenly at one end and staple them together to form a book with turning pages.
  5. Students write the prefix on the 7 inch piece of paper. On each page of the stack, they write an additional word  (base word) that can be used with the prefix.
  6. The book flips where each word can be read and discussed. Our books contained 8 pages; however, you can make them with more or fewer pages.

Activity #2 – Online Practice

Activities and Ideas to Teach Prefixes - includes free printables

Websites such as Scholastic, BBC, Hartcourt School, and Houghton Mifflin offer free online games for students to practice skills. This webpage contains links to fourteen online games which practice prefixes, suffixes, and/or root words.

Activity #3 – Interactive Anchor Charts

Ideas and Activities for Teaching Prefixes - Includes free printables

  1. Using large flip chart paper, draw three to four vertical lines to form columns.
  2. Label each column with one prefix.
  3. On sticky notes, write base or root words that form real words when added to one of the prefixes listed on top of the anchor chart. Note: When completing this activity for the first time, using base words that only form one real word works best. For example, turn only forms a real word when the prefix re- is added. Nonturn, unturn, and disturn are not real words.
  4. Students place the sticky notes onto the anchor chart in the column that forms a real word.

This activity may be completed in small groups, as part of a learning center, or as an early finisher project.

Activity #4 – Foldable Graphic Organizers

Ideas and Activities for Teaching Prefixes - includes free printablesIdeas and Activities for Teaching Prefixes - includes free printables
Three versions of this organizer are available from the links below.

Blank Prefix and Suffix Organizer

Containing Words Prefix and Suffix Organizer

Answer Key for Prefix and Suffix Organizer

Activity #5 – Prefixes that Express the Negative Booklet

Ideas and Activities for Teaching Prefixes - includes free printables


Students will enjoy creating this 12-page mini-booklet. Students practice with 10 prefixes that mean ‘not’ or ‘the opposite’  by completing charts.  On the charts, students list words beginning with the designated prefix, create a simple drawing of the word, and write the word’s definition.

 Activity #6 – Prefix Spinner Game

Free Prefix Spinner GameStudents play this free Prefix Spinner Game like BINGO. Students take turns spinning a spinner. (A collection of 5 spinners increasing in difficulty are provided.) After the spinner lands, the player must think of a word that contains the prefix s/he has landed upon. [Optional: Students must tell the meaning of the prefix, tell a word that begins with the prefix, and define the word named.] If the group feels the player has answered correctly, s/he may color in the box on his/her game board with the same prefix. The first player to have a vertical, horizontal or diagonal row colored is the winner. This game may easily be adapted for your grade level by using fewer spinners and cutting off unneeded columns on the game board.
Gay Miller

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The Secret Garden – Chapter 17 A Tantrum

Free Teaching Materials to use with The Secret Garden Chapter 17


The audio file for Chapter 17 “A Tantrum” is 13 minutes 09 seconds in length.




The Secret Garden

Chapter 17

A Tantrum

She had got up very early in the morning and had worked hard in the garden and she was tired and sleepy, so as soon as Martha had brought her supper and she had eaten it, she was glad to go to bed. As she laid her head on the pillow she murmured to herself:

“I’ll go out before breakfast and work with Dickon and then afterward—I believe—I’ll go to see him.”

She thought it was the middle of the night when she was awakened by such dreadful sounds that she jumped out of bed in an instant. What was it—what was it? The next minute she felt quite sure she knew. Doors were opened and shut and there were hurrying feet in the corridors and some one was crying and screaming at the same time, screaming and crying in a horrible way.

“It’s Colin,” she said. “He’s having one of those tantrums the nurse called hysterics. How awful it sounds.”

As she listened to the sobbing screams she did not wonder that people were so frightened that they gave him his own way in everything rather than hear them. She put her hands over her ears and felt sick and shivering.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do,” she kept saying. “I can’t bear it.”

Once she wondered if he would stop if she dared go to him and then she remembered how he had driven her out of the room and thought that perhaps the sight of her might make him worse. Even when she pressed her hands more tightly over her ears she could not keep the awful sounds out. She hated them so and was so terrified by them that suddenly they began to make her angry and she felt as if she should like to fly into a tantrum herself and frighten him as he was frightening her. She was not used to any one’s tempers but her own. She took her hands from her ears and sprang up and stamped her foot.

“He ought to be stopped! Somebody ought to make him stop! Somebody ought to beat him!” she cried out.

Just then she heard feet almost running down the corridor and her door opened and the nurse came in. She was not laughing now by any means. She even looked rather pale.

“He’s worked himself into hysterics,” she said in a great hurry. “He’ll do himself harm. No one can do anything with him. You come and try, like a good child. He likes you.”

“He turned me out of the room this morning,” said Mary, stamping her foot with excitement.

The stamp rather pleased the nurse. The truth was that she had been afraid she might find Mary crying and hiding her head under the bed-clothes.

“That’s right,” she said. “You’re in the right humor. You go and scold him. Give him something new to think of. Do go, child, as quick as ever you can.”

It was not until afterward that Mary realized that the thing had been funny as well as dreadful—that it was funny that all the grown-up people were so frightened that they came to a little girl just because they guessed she was almost as bad as Colin himself.

She flew along the corridor and the nearer she got to the screams the higher her temper mounted. She felt quite wicked by the time she reached the door. She slapped it open with her hand and ran across the room to the four-posted bed.

“You stop!” she almost shouted. “You stop! I hate you! Everybody hates you! I wish everybody would run out of the house and let you scream yourself to death! You will scream yourself to death in a minute, and I wish you would!” A nice sympathetic child could neither have thought nor said such things, but it just happened that the shock of hearing them was the best possible thing for this hysterical boy whom no one had ever dared to restrain or contradict.

He had been lying on his face beating his pillow with his hands and he actually almost jumped around, he turned so quickly at the sound of the furious little voice. His face looked dreadful, white and red and swollen, and he was gasping and choking; but savage little Mary did not care an atom.

“If you scream another scream,” she said, “I’ll scream too—and I can scream louder than you can and I’ll frighten you, I’ll frighten you!”

He actually had stopped screaming because she had startled him so. The scream which had been coming almost choked him. The tears were streaming down his face and he shook all over.

“I can’t stop!” he gasped and sobbed. “I can’t—I can’t!”

“You can!” shouted Mary. “Half that ails you is hysterics and temper—just hysterics—hysterics—hysterics!” and she stamped each time she said it.

“I felt the lump—I felt it,” choked out Colin. “I knew I should. I shall have a hunch on my back and then I shall die,” and he began to writhe again and turned on his face and sobbed and wailed but he didn’t scream.

“You didn’t feel a lump!” contradicted Mary fiercely. “If you did it was only a hysterical lump. Hysterics makes lumps. There’s nothing the matter with your horrid back—nothing but hysterics! Turn over and let me look at it!”

She liked the word “hysterics” and felt somehow as if it had an effect on him. He was probably like herself and had never heard it before.

“Nurse,” she commanded, “come here and show me his back this minute!”

The nurse, Mrs. Medlock and Martha had been standing huddled together near the door staring at her, their mouths half open. All three had gasped with fright more than once. The nurse came forward as if she were half afraid. Colin was heaving with great breathless sobs.

“Perhaps he—he won’t let me,” she hesitated in a low voice.

Colin heard her, however, and he gasped out between two sobs:

“Sh-show her! She-she’ll see then!”

It was a poor thin back to look at when it was bared. Every rib could be counted and every joint of the spine, though Mistress Mary did not count them as she bent over and examined them with a solemn savage little face. She looked so sour and old-fashioned that the nurse turned her head aside to hide the twitching of her mouth. There was just a minute’s silence, for even Colin tried to hold his breath while Mary looked up and down his spine, and down and up, as intently as if she had been the great doctor from London.

“There’s not a single lump there!” she said at last. “There’s not a lump as big as a pin—except backbone lumps, and you can only feel them because you’re thin. I’ve got backbone lumps myself, and they used to stick out as much as yours do, until I began to get fatter, and I am not fat enough yet to hide them. There’s not a lump as big as a pin! If you ever say there is again, I shall laugh!”

No one but Colin himself knew what effect those crossly spoken childish words had on him. If he had ever had any one to talk to about his secret terrors—if he had ever dared to let himself ask questions—if he had had childish companions and had not lain on his back in the huge closed house, breathing an atmosphere heavy with the fears of people who were most of them ignorant and tired of him, he would have found out that most of his fright and illness was created by himself. But he had lain and thought of himself and his aches and weariness for hours and days and months and years. And now that an angry unsympathetic little girl insisted obstinately that he was not as ill as he thought he was he actually felt as if she might be speaking the truth.

“I didn’t know,” ventured the nurse, “that he thought he had a lump on his spine. His back is weak because he won’t try to sit up. I could have told him there was no lump there.” Colin gulped and turned his face a little to look at her.

“C-could you?” he said pathetically.

“Yes, sir.”

“There!” said Mary, and she gulped too.

Colin turned on his face again and but for his long-drawn broken breaths, which were the dying down of his storm of sobbing, he lay still for a minute, though great tears streamed down his face and wet the pillow. Actually the tears meant that a curious great relief had come to him. Presently he turned and looked at the nurse again and strangely enough he was not like a Rajah at all as he spoke to her.

“Do you think—I could—live to grow up?” he said.

The nurse was neither clever nor soft-hearted but she could repeat some of the London doctor’s words.

“You probably will if you will do what you are told to do and not give way to your temper, and stay out a great deal in the fresh air.”

Colin’s tantrum had passed and he was weak and worn out with crying and this perhaps made him feel gentle. He put out his hand a little toward Mary, and I am glad to say that, her own tantum having passed, she was softened too and met him half-way with her hand, so that it was a sort of making up.

“I’ll—I’ll go out with you, Mary,” he said. “I shan’t hate fresh air if we can find—” He remembered just in time to stop himself from saying “if we can find the secret garden” and he ended, “I shall like to go out with you if Dickon will come and push my chair. I do so want to see Dickon and the fox and the crow.”

The nurse remade the tumbled bed and shook and straightened the pillows. Then she made Colin a cup of beef tea and gave a cup to Mary, who really was very glad to get it after her excitement. Mrs. Medlock and Martha gladly slipped away, and after everything was neat and calm and in order the nurse looked as if she would very gladly slip away also. She was a healthy young woman who resented being robbed of her sleep and she yawned quite openly as she looked at Mary, who had pushed her big footstool close to the four-posted bed and was holding Colin’s hand.

“You must go back and get your sleep out,” she said. “He’ll drop off after a while—if he’s not too upset. Then I’ll lie down myself in the next room.”

“Would you like me to sing you that song I learned from my Ayah?” Mary whispered to Colin.

His hand pulled hers gently and he turned his tired eyes on her appealingly.

“Oh, yes!” he answered. “It’s such a soft song. I shall go to sleep in a minute.”

“I will put him to sleep,” Mary said to the yawning nurse. “You can go if you like.”

“Well,” said the nurse, with an attempt at reluctance. “If he doesn’t go to sleep in half an hour you must call me.”

“Very well,” answered Mary.

The nurse was out of the room in a minute and as soon as she was gone Colin pulled Mary’s hand again.

“I almost told,” he said; “but I stopped myself in time. I won’t talk and I’ll go to sleep, but you said you had a whole lot of nice things to tell me. Have you—do you think you have found out anything at all about the way into the secret garden?”

Mary looked at his poor little tired face and swollen eyes and her heart relented.

“Ye-es,” she answered, “I think I have. And if you will go to sleep I will tell you tomorrow.” His hand quite trembled.

“Oh, Mary!” he said. “Oh, Mary! If I could get into it I think I should live to grow up! Do you suppose that instead of singing the Ayah song—you could just tell me softly as you did that first day what you imagine it looks like inside? I am sure it will make me go to sleep.”

“Yes,” answered Mary. “Shut your eyes.”

He closed his eyes and lay quite still and she held his hand and began to speak very slowly and in a very low voice.

“I think it has been left alone so long—that it has grown all into a lovely tangle. I think the roses have climbed and climbed and climbed until they hang from the branches and walls and creep over the ground—almost like a strange gray mist. Some of them have died but many—are alive and when the summer comes there will be curtains and fountains of roses. I think the ground is full of daffodils and snowdrops and lilies and iris working their way out of the dark. Now the spring has begun—perhaps—perhaps—”

The soft drone of her voice was making him stiller and stiller and she saw it and went on.

“Perhaps they are coming up through the grass—perhaps there are clusters of purple crocuses and gold ones—even now. Perhaps the leaves are beginning to break out and uncurl—and perhaps—the gray is changing and a green gauze veil is creeping—and creeping over—everything. And the birds are coming to look at it—because it is—so safe and still. And perhaps—perhaps—perhaps—” very softly and slowly indeed, “the robin has found a mate—and is building a nest.”

And Colin was asleep.

Gay Miller

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Semantic Maps – A Teaching Strategy

Semantic Maps – A Teaching Strategy

What are Semantic Maps?

Like concept webs, semantic webs are a visual organizer that help students structure information. Usually semantic maps are slightly more complex than concept webs. 

When to Use Semantic Maps

Semantic maps may be used for thousands of skills. Try these ideas:

  • character traits — Students list character traits. They can also list connections between characters.
  • vocabulary development — forms of the word, synonyms/antonyms, prefixes/suffixes, roots, shades of meaning
  • science and social studies topics
  • biographies

How to Create a Semantic Map

Often semantic maps branch from the center shape called a node to more specific concepts. From these secondary nodes, additional details may be added.

This is an example of a simple semantic map. Notice that it contains three levels of information. The first names the five types of vertebrates. The secondary level provides some basics that are unique to the classification. The third level provides examples. This map is included in the handout. See the link below.

Semantic Maps are a great way to have students organize complex information.

When to Use

Semantic maps work well at the beginning of a unit. Have learners brainstorm information. As the unit progresses, details may be added to the map.

Semantic maps are also a great summarizing tool.

Teaching Strategy

Using sticky notes is an effective way to teach students how to create a semantic map.

Here’s how it works…

  1.  Ask students to name information they learned after reading a specified text. [To simplify this explanation, I will use the example of Olympic sports.]
  2. Assign an article about the Olympic Games for students to read. Write ‘Olympic Sports’ on a sticky note and place in on the board. After reading, ask students to name an Olympic sport.  As students name each sport, write each sport on a sticky note. Stick these on the board around the title ‘Olympic Sports.’ Continue until you have approximately a dozen sports.
  3. Next write ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ on two sticky notes. Place these on opposite sides of the title. Ask students to categorize all the sticky notes that are on the board into games played in the summer or winter. Move the sticky notes with the individual sport next to the correct category ‘Summer’ or ‘Winter’.
  4. On the next level, break the summer sports into categories — types of swimming, types of cycling… Next break the winter sports into subcategories — types of skiing, types of skating…Just as before, organize the sticky notes on the board around the appropriate subcategory.
  5. Finally, have students name famous athletes for each sport.

By using sticky notes that can be manipulated, students really get a feel for how this method really helps organize the information.

Free Online Tools for Teachers and Students

Give Semantic Mapping a Try

This free handout includes two activities. The first is the ‘Vertebrate’ example from the post. The second is Marquette and Joliet’s trip down the Mississippi River. The handout includes “Marquett in Iowa” from Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans. Students map the information in the story using the map found in the resource. Answer keys are provided for both maps.

Give Semantic Mapping a try with these free handouts.Gay Miller

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