Many teachers use read alouds at the start of the year to launch specific components of their literacy curriculum. In this second of our two-part series on Read Alouds at the Start of the School Year, teachers share their favorite read alouds for building these curricular connections.
Jan Pardy of Ann Arbor, Michigan connects read alouds with student reading logs:
I teach third grade. At the beginning of the year, I give each child a reading log. Then I read aloud Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I stop at great places to ask questions to promote predicting and connecting:
“What would you do . . .?”
“What do you think the character will/should do . . .?”
“Why do you think the character did . . .?”
“Have you ever felt like or been in a situation like . . .?”
I ask the kids to write, and then ask them to share their writing. In the beginning I model how to answer with complete sentences. At first they are reluctant to write. However, by engaging in book clubs with give and take conversations, they soon become motivated to write and think deeply about the book. The follow-up questions are also important:
“Why do you think that?”
“What part of the story gave you that idea?”
“Tell me more about . . .”
This activity promotes listening, writing, higher-level thinking, and social skills involved in conversation. Sometimes I ask them to draw. This gives them a chance to share their visualization of the book’s characters, setting, or situations.
Gayle Ertel of Mason, Ohio uses read alouds to launch writer’s notebooks:
Only Opal: The Diary of a Young Girl by Barbara Cooney launches the creation of our second grade writers’ notebooks. Opal Whiteley, born in 1897, kept a diary of her “5th and 6th year” while living with foster parents in lumberjack communities. It was written on scraps of paper in colored pencil and hidden in a hollowed log until Opal’s stepsister discovered the diary and tore it into pieces. Opal saved the pieces in a box and pieced it back together. We discuss the title, and brainstorm why Cooney called this diary “Only Opal.” The children name their writers’ notebooks using adjectives that begin with the same letter as their first names. Parents send in pictures of their child’s first 7-8 years of life, which I scan and print. On the front of the composition notebooks they create photo collages. Children use small sentence strips to print their title with the subtitle, “writings from my 7th and 8th year.” These are preserved with clear contact paper. The children are inspired by the published work of another child their own age, and we discuss the treasures their own notebooks of writing will become this year.
Jessica Lynch of Dallas, Texas connects read alouds and poetry:
I share the book The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald with my fourth-grade students during one of our first read-alouds. After reading the book, I ask the students to select their “best part.” The book is a collection of poems written by school-age children, along with a picture of their best part. I ask the students to pose in a way that shows off their “best part” and I take a picture. Then they write a poem that expresses why it is their best part. The students make a list of reasons, and then we go through the writing process. They use the computer to type up their final copy, and we post them in the hallway. During Parent Night, students show off their poems to their parents. Many of the poems refer to the students’ parents. I’ve had great success with this. Parents and kids enjoy looking at the finished product together.
For Holly Rouelle of Williston, Vermont, a read aloud leads to discussions of the habits of readers:
In my kindergarten classroom, we begin the year in reading workshop establishing good reading habits and discovering who we are as readers. One of my favorite read alouds to help with this is The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom. As the boy in the book seeks out his favorite reading spot, this story lends itself to conversation about how to care for books, as well as what you need for a “just right” reading spot. After reading the story, the children try out different reading places in the classroom to find their own book nooks. For a writing component, children are encouraged to write about and share their favorite reading spots at home and school. It’s a great way to make home/school connections, and get children thinking about who they are as readers.
Deanna Herrmann of Orem, Utah uses the read aloud to get writing samples she returns to at the end of the year with her students:
On the very first day of school I read the picture book How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague to my fourth graders. Then I have them write a paragraph about something they did over their summer vacation. I keep this in their file. The last month of school, I have the students write a paragraph about something they want to do over summer vacation. Wow! The difference between the two paragraphs is amazing. They get to take both home to share with their parents. The students love seeing how far they have come in their writing, penmanship, spelling, paragraph structure, etc. I share the most dramatically changed paragraphs with the class. (I do cover up the names though.) They also love seeing how others have improved over the year.
Two teachers use the first read aloud to build a love of learning new words with students. Kim Girard of Chugiak, Alaska uses read alouds to build the role of “word collectors” among her students:
We start second grade by focusing on becoming collectors of fabulous words. We read Max’s Words along with a variety other great books about words. Each child chooses their personal favorite word of the day. We create glorious word posters to display, make word-collecting journals, and put words we want to remember on sticky notes to keep in our pockets to share with friends. All these words help us become the most amazing writers!
Amanda Ramos of Irving, Texas connects a read aloud and a physical object to build word learning:
We start the year reading Donavan’s Word Jar. As we read, we start a class word jar of words we want to remember to use in our own writing. Everyone is anxious to add words to it, and students begin to encourage each other to add harder and more unique words to our class jar.
Michelle Jenkins of Winchester, Virginia connects read alouds, art, and math at the start of the year:
During the first weeks of school, I have my students participate in a couple of literacy activities that incorporate first grade math and art. I read Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Students then create their own paintings on large white construction paper and paint something that represents the color of their choice. They write down the name of the color below their creation, and this is kept on the wall all year as a reference for writing color words. We read another one of Walsh’s books, Mouse Count with cotton balls (as mice) and use a large jar to act out the story at the same time. Students place a mouse in the jar as we count up, and then mice are taken out of the jar as we count down. We then dip our thumbs in black ink or paint and make little mice by making a thumbprint on a paper which is in the shape of a jar and has a number on it (0-20). The students make the corresponding number of mice and pencil in ears and a tail. These jars are laminated, and then displayed in the classroom next to a large paper snake.