One of the best teaching decisions I have made was having a #bookaday picture book read-aloud goal with my seventh- and eighth-grade classes this past school year. You may be familiar with the #bookaday hashtag and challenge from Donalyn Miller. The basic concept: read one book per day, keep a list of titles, and share often. It’s intended to be done over school breaks with any type of book, and is something in which I’ve participated.
Last summer as I read stacks of picture books, I had a light-bulb moment. It was really a confluence of a few factors. I was reading hundreds of picture books and wanting to share them. A common theme in the feedback from my end-of-year survey was students’ desire for me to do more reading aloud of picture books. I thought I was not doing enough in my short language arts periods to have shared texts for my classes to reference and work with.
As I played with my weekly and daily class breakdown to figure out what I wanted to try this school year to maximize our learning time, I realized that the best use of five minutes could be reading aloud a picture book. Of course, knowing myself and how it often happens once a school year gets going that the best of intentions get put to the side when the pressures of fitting in lessons begins, I knew I needed to dedicate time to that purpose. I realized that I would need to share the goal, publicize it, and keep track of it visually to hold myself accountable for sticking to it.
I also knew that I would need to introduce the idea to my students and get them invested in it to help make it happen. I made #bookaday picture book read-alouds a goal that I introduced to them on the first day of school. I let them know we would be structuring our class time so that we started class with 15 minutes of independent daily reading. Then when I told them to get to a stopping point, we would transition to the floor in the front of the room for our daily read-aloud. (The movement was an important factor because I wanted this to also be a time we would build community. By coming together as a group, we had a shared experience.)
We talked about what picture books are. We chatted about what the #bookaday hashtag challenge is all about and why picture books are valuable. I asked when they had last had one read to them. I explained how I would read picture books to them and what student behaviors would be during read-aloud time. I wanted to cover some of the basics and management pieces at the start so we could have more seamless transitions the rest of the year. I also wanted students to hear from me at the start about why I thought it was beneficial for us to spend time reading picture books every day of the school year.
I did try the idea of having the read-aloud at the end of the class period for a few days, but found we were more likely to run out of time because sometimes the book or discussion took longer. I wanted to make the picture book read-aloud a priority and let my students see the value and importance of it, so it was crucial to give it a set time each day. I have tables set up in my room to still allow for floor space in the front for read-alouds and minilessons. I don’t require my students to sit on the floor if they’re more comfortable in a chair, but I do ask them to come close enough to see the pictures.
The number one thing I wanted my students to do was enjoy the experience of the read-aloud. I also wanted them to listen closely to the stories, so I asked them to keep comments in their own heads until the end of the book. (I learned the hard way that I needed to make that expectation explicit!) We would read the book and then have two post questions (related to thoughts/reactions and theme—more about that later), and then we would move on with class. Unexpectedly, a few times students asked if they could do the read-aloud. I did allow that, but required that they read the book first during independent reading time, so they would be more fluent when reading to the class. That came in really handy on the days when I had a sore throat, because they saved my voice.
Did we make it every single day? Well, not exactly. Did we read a picture book for every day we were in school? Yes. But the reality is that even with the best planning and intentions, there are times that things get in the way. Maybe testing goes longer than expected or there is a safety drill. Or maybe I take the students on a three-day trip and forget to grab the picture book stack from my classroom before boarding the bus. So if we ever didn’t get to do the read-aloud on a particular day, we would make it up another day.
The benefit of having this as a stated goal with students is that they helped keep me accountable for making sure we didn’t miss any. There were a few days throughout the year when we read two books in a class period. And after the first round of standardized testing days in the fall, I quickly realized that we wouldn’t have time for a read-aloud. For the next testing days I planned on wordless picture books and let the students flip through them independently after they finished their test. I also made sure to have a specific bin on my bookshelf where I would put the books after we read them, so if students were absent, they would know where to go to find the book they had missed and read it to themselves. Because we would so often refer to stories we had shared, it was important to make sure students still read them even if they missed them during class time.
The other aspect I wanted to have was the accountability factor. With the help of a talented aide, we created a grid display for a large bulletin board in the hallway with numbered spaces for each school day. This way we could visually track our #bookaday picture book read-alouds throughout the whole school year. I also wanted it to be displayed where other students and adults in our building would see it. It was a visual that would show the importance of read-alouds and picture books. With it being so big, it helped validate what we were doing. The display became a talking point for much of the school, and it was also a great reference for the students and myself when trying to think back on books we had read. Each day I would print out the cover of the picture book and staple it to the hallway display tracking board.
We had so much fun. Some moments this year were among my favorites as a teacher because we were sharing stories as a community. I’ll never forget when I got to the end of Pardon Me by Daniel Miyares, which has a bit of an unexpected ending (one reason I wanted to share it) and Michael yelled out, “You’ve ruined my childhood!” The entire class started laughing. It was eighth grader sarcasm at its finest. Without this book, without the shared experience, without the community we were building, we wouldn’t have had that moment of joy in the classroom. And, in fact, it demonstrated his critical analysis of that text. The community of readers in each class period, and through the whole grade level, was growing. I would overhear students leaving my class telling students entering that today’s picture book was a good one. They were talking about books, authors, stories, illustrations, and awards. They were sharing opinions about texts. They were gaining a new reading identity through their experiences with these picture books.
The community was growing not only within my classes, but outside also. In my 4-8 school, the “middle school” and special classes are upstairs. With the daily grid display in the hallway, even students in younger grades were having conversations about the picture books we were reading. They would see the covers and ask questions. One K4 class even stopped one day to sit in front of the display to compare and see which of the books they had read that the “big kids” had read also. And then Ms. Davis came over to my room to ask if it would be okay if they made requests. They wanted to borrow some of the books because they were talking so enthusiastically (as only four-year-olds can) about how fun some of the other book covers looked.
One day Savannah asked me if she could take the day’s read-aloud with her. I was hesitant, but when I asked why, she said she wanted to take it home and read to her little brother. For reading celebration days I would have my students pick a favorite picture book we had read from the shelves and we visited the K4 class to read aloud to them in groups. It wasn’t anything I formally planned, but these moments created a community of readers in our school that was invaluable. It helped create an identity for the little kids that they could do what the big kids can, and it helped the big kids see that they can be role models as readers for the little ones.
There is something about setting a goal and reaching it that creates a sense of accomplishment in our minds, and that was something I got to achieve this year with my students.
Don’t just take it from me, though. Here is what the kids had to say. On the final day of the school year I asked my students to take out a piece of paper and tell me one thing: Why picture books? Because . . .
. . . picture books can inspire us to do/write better things. (Romeo)
. . . it shows that not only little kids can have fun and read them. So can we. (Gio)
. . . picture books inspire us as older kids. You’re never too old for a picture book. (Taysha)
. . . it helps us get focused on the lesson we’re about to do. The book can be an example we can look back to. (Kimani)
. . . they helped me build an imagination and rethink possibilities of actions. (Nathaniel)
. . . every time I was in a bad mood there was always a picture book to calm me down. I always learned something from them and it was always a good thing to start my day. (Nate)
. . . it can help develop our reading and presenting skills. (Aalisiyah)
. . . it’s fun to lie down and have her read to us and feel like a little kid again before we do all the seventh-grade stuff. (Malik)
. . . they teach us about theme in a more simple way. (Bruce)
. . . it’s a good way to start off class and to feel like a kid again. (Maddie)
. . . they’re fun to read and teach me lessons I need to know. (Satien)
. . . older kids may still want a piece of their childhood with them and being read to is one way to bring back childhood. Because I never get read to anymore, so it’s nice to sit and relax while hearing a story. (Skyy)
. . . they connect you to your childhood self and make the class more enjoyable. (Kenny)
. . . they give us a chance to take a break from other longer books we read. (Alex)
. . . middle school kids can still have fun and read picture books. I also like that we all can read a lot, and can still be “kids.” (Asha)
. . . picture books gives us hardworking kids a break from all the serious stuff. (Larry)
. . . thanks to #bookaday, Mrs. Heise helped me see that it’s okay to still read a picture book and enjoy it. It’s good to just be able to relax and have a good laugh. (Kimi)
One school year later, would I do it again? Absolutely.