I’m teaching first grade after a year in third grade. It was such a good learning year for me. I realized that lots of books that work in first grade also work in third grade, like The Adventures of Beekle, Chowder, and LuLu and the Brontosaurus. I found out that like in first grade, whatever I read aloud, my kids want to read again on their own. And, no matter what their grade level, our kids need good books with thoughtful themes. They need books they want to read. They need books they can read. They need exposure to different genres and opportunities to read digitally. So as I return to teaching lots of emergent and early readers in first grade, I am finding picture books that these new readers can practice reading independently after hearing them once or twice. I read many books aloud each day throughout the year because so many of them are picked up and in the hands of my students shortly afterward.
Wordless books, one-word stories, and books with repetition are a few of the baskets I have ready this fall. I like wordless books because they offer every reader opportunities to use pictures to find meaning. Using pictures to think about the story is one of the most important practices for students learning to read, because finding meaning builds comprehension. Reading wordless texts aloud to the whole class also levels the playing field for all our readers. All students can do thinking and sharing about a text when pictures tell the story.
One-word stories are also important because our youngest readers are learning to track and hold on to words in text. When emergent readers can rely on the same word throughout the story, they use more energy balancing their work for understanding the pictures and interpreting punctuation, which helps develop fluency. Books with repetition can help our kids on a variety of levels. They help draw our kids to participate and read with us when we read them aloud to our students. They also work as a familiar support for early readers who then practice reading independently.
I also want my students to be exposed to places where they can read and learn digitally. I know how important it is for my kids to see me model digital learning and reading. I want to expose them to these links and teach them how to come back to the text on their own later.
Devoting time to read (and reread) wordless books while kids notice and interpret the pictures aloud is a practice that helps all readers. It builds thinking and understanding for stories. Last year my third graders loved thinking about The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee as well as Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley. This year I am looking forward to introducing these books:
The Boy and the Book by David Michael Slater is unique because it brings to life the feelings of books and how it feels when they are handled with too much enthusiasm. The story is the perfect length for talking and noticing during a first read at the start of the year. It also will help us have a conversation about how to care for the books in our own classroom and library.
Float by Daniel Miyares will delight students as they follow the story of a boy and his small paper boat. They’ll anticipate what happens when the boat gets away from the boy, and smile at the ending.
After doing a little research, I found Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle and The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett online as e-books at my public library. We use an app called OverDrive on our iPads to log in and borrow books online from the Columbus Metropolitan Library. I’ll be checking out these e-books so that my kids can read them on the iPads after we read them digitally together.
I saw the value in what I’m calling “one-word stories” when a little boy moved into my room a few years back in late fall and struggled with matching words in text. He was shuffled right into testing for reading support and qualified easily. What I noticed was how little interest he had in his leveled text (and let’s face it, there is not much to Level A and 1) but that he did love stories told with one word throughout the text.
He loved Ball by Mary Sullivan. He laughed at the dog that tries playing ball with everyone at home after his little girl heads to school. Eventually the dog begins a one-sided game of ball that had the child giggling some more. Along with all that thinking, he was able to solidify the word ball and understand how to read and interpret it with different punctuation.
He also loved Moo! by David LaRochelle. This book uses one word (moo) to tell the story of a cow who gets hold of the farmer’s car and has an adventurous ride through the country. The story had my little reader thinking when he saw Mooooo and moo-moo throughout the text. It was great work understanding with a few opportunities to think about text. The author and illustrator of the book, David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka, have a great YouTube video called Creating Moo! I plan to use it in writing workshop to help students see the importance of ideas, practice, and perseverance as creators. You can also find a reading of the book on Once Upon a Reader through YouTube; it is called Moo! The Moo-vie.
Look! by Jeff Mack was published recently and is a great story of friendship between a boy, a gorilla, and a book. And though Jeff uses two words throughout the book instead of one, I’m still placing it in this basket, hoping someone notices so we can have a conversation about it. Jeff Mack also has some other great emergent texts (not necessarily one-word stories) like Ah Ha, Good News, Bad News, and Frog and Fly that my students love.
Books with Repeating Words or Lines
In the past I have had one basket with books that contain repetition, but I think letting kids know that a whole line or sentence of text is repeated is more supportive and specific. I’m going to make a point of having the kids help identify which line repeats and why it is helpful for us as readers after we enjoy these texts. In the past, kids have loved Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and Just Like Daddy by Frank Asch. Here are some new titles that I am adding this year:
Little White Fish by Guido van Genechten is the story of a little fish trying to find his mommy. As Little White Fish encounters many sea creatures who are not the same color as he is, the narrator repeats, “Is this Little White Fish’s mommy?” It feels a little like Brown Bear with the different creatures and their colors.
Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt is filled with many different kinds of books and pictures that match the names of the books . . . book big, book small, book wide, book tall. This text rhymes and was written to read aloud to babies and toddlers but fits easily into the hands of a new reader. It could also help us talk about what kinds of books we like and where we enjoy reading them.
Fly by Karl Newsom Edwards is a great new story about perseverance. A little fly tries to figure out his special talent. He begins by mimicking other insects—wiggle, wiggle (like a worm) or swing, swing (like a spider). He isn’t quite sure until he—you guessed it—tries to fly!
Fluff and Billy by Nicola Killen is one of my favorite stories because it is about friendship and forgiveness. Fluff, the bigger penguin, can do just about anything. He can climb, swim, splash, and slide. And Billy does everything Fluff does—most of the time. This sweet story is a great place for shared reading because each line that Fluff speaks, Billy repeats. It also will be great text for conversation about what happens when feelings get hurt.
Sniff! Sniff! by Ryan Sias is a book I am very excited to read because my students love any book about a dog. This book is about a dog who is led by his nose, which gets him into trouble! I also love this book because of the thinking work built into the pictures. After each sniff, sniff, the author/illustrator gives the reader clues to where or what the dog will sniff next, providing great practice for predicting.
Is It Big or Is It Little? by Claudia Rueda is a digital text and a book. I found it free on the site Epic Books for Kids. After I enrolled in Epic under the educator account, I downloaded the app to my iPad so that I could have students read the many free books on the device. Epic allows you to look back at which digital books your students read and how long they sat with each text. After joining, I also searched for titles that I thought were worthy of sharing with students. I liked this book because of the repetition but also because it is an opposites book as well. I know that when I share this with my students, most will be able to come back to it on their own to read independently. When I share it, I plan to show them how to access their own Epic username using the app on the iPad. I will also have a copy of the book available for my kids to read so they can pick up the paper copy if they choose.
My students need good books that engage them in thinking all year long. They need me to give them time to notice pictures, talk about what they see, and listen to what their classmates are thinking. Wordless books, one-word stories, and books with repetition are great books to help our littlest readers share lots of their big thinking.