Thoughtful planning, experience, and visualization were not enough to help me at the beginning of the school year two years ago in kindergarten. After spending five years with third graders, I forgot how much guidance and mentoring was needed for our youngest learners. One day I happened upon something by chance and it stayed with me for some time.
Early in the school year, I observed a couple of children having a hard time lining up. They were concerned about their placement in line even though we were all going to the same destination. I remembered a book I had in my collection, Me First by Helen Lester. I immediately had my next read aloud when we returned to the classroom. Me First is a book about Pinkerton, a plump and pushy pig who insisted on being first everywhere he went. When he goes to the beach with a group of friends he is very eager to answer the calls for, “Who would care for a sandwich?” After racing to be first, he finds out he is first to care for a sand witch! He must care for the sand witch: one task is to curl the hair on her toes evenly. I wasn’t sure if the kindergarten students would get the play on words, but they did because the picture clues are clever and helpful. Pinkerton learns quickly being first isn’t always necessary. He returns to his group of friends much more relaxed, carefully joins the group to go home on the bus. My students found this text a mentor text for getting in line. I would overhear them telling each other with kind words, “Remember Pinkerton, the me first pig?”
After this experience, I began thinking about other behaviors I had seen in the past two years. I wondered if I could find mentor texts to help students reflect upon and monitor decisions and actions as we formed our learning community early in the school year. It’s challenging for students to learn to be one of many within a classroom, especially when it comes to taking turns talking and negotiating over shared materials and space. To be successful conversation participants they need to be able to listen, think, wait, and not interrupt.
I also looked for mentor texts about physical space. Were there books to help my students think about sitting in a group meeting area, and also about the space needed between friends when trying to talk, work, or play next to each other? One more issue I was thinking about was working through disagreements. I felt if we could generate a common language and have conversations about these different issues we could build a stronger community.
Kindergarten is exciting and a big step in many children’s lives. For some, it could be their first school experience. For many, it’s a much larger building than their home or previous preschool buildings. The student/teacher ratios are less than in preschool and require students to become more independent. Here is the collection of mentor texts I’ve developed to help students monitor and reflect upon their role in the classroom community.
Mentor Texts for School Life Literature List
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow
Howard is a very curious bunny who just doesn’t listen — his excitement takes over. The reader will enjoy and laugh at Howard. Classroom teachers will know many Howards in their rooms. Howard doesn’t feel like he belongs, and with the guidance of his grandfather learns how to listen and be successful.
Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook
Louis is excited, and when he wants to show others things he knows about space he is physically all over the place. He has a teacher with a cranky voice who sends him to the principal’s Personal Space Camp. This isn’t quite what Louis thought it would be. It’s not facts about space, but tips and techniques for managing your body with other people near you. Louis is a character who will stay with you and your students.
My Mouth Is a Volcano! by Julia Cook
Louis from Personal Space Camp is back, and in this story he likes to talk a lot — often speaking over others. Erupt is the perfect word used in this text. Louis gives a great explanation of how this happens within his body — he blames his “volcano” each time he has an outburst. One day he meets two new children who he thinks are very rude. His mom helps him think through strategies he can use to change his behavior and understand the actions of others.
It Wasn’t My Fault by Helen Lester
Murdley Gurdson goes for a walk and meets different animals on his journey. The walk begins with a bird dropping an egg on Murdley’s head. The bird blames the dropped egg on the aardvark. Problems continue to arise and no one takes responsibility, until something happens and Murdley takes all the responsibility. The animals don’t like that he is upset and then they each take a bit of responsibility. Everyone works together to make Murdley feel better.
Listen, Buddy by Helen Lester
Buddy has beautiful big rabbit ears. With beautiful big ears the reader might assume Buddy is a great listener. Very soon the reader discovers that Buddy mixes up everything he hears. For example, he is suppose to get tomatoes and comes home with potatoes. The book is filled with many more examples of Buddy’s mix ups. After a mix up that takes him to visit the Scruffy Varmit, Buddy returns home with much better listening skills.
Me First by Helen Lester
A book about Pinkerton, a plump and pushy pig who insists on being first everywhere he goes.
Quiet, Wyatt by Bill Maynard
This story begins with Wyatt being told he is too little to try new things. Then Wyatt decides to make it known in various places he is Wyatt and someday he will be big enough to do great things. Wyatt talks in a very loud voice. This results in a lot of “Quiet, Wyatt” refrains from his audience. Then Wyatt doesn’t talk. Everyone is grateful when Wyatt does talk and saves a lost puppy.
It’s Not Fair! By Amy Krouse Roenthal
This book is full of different children asking tough and creative questions about fairness. For example, the pig asks “Why do birds get all the wings?”
The Conversation Club by Diane Stanley
Peter Fieldmouse moves and is settled in his new home when he meets Charlie, a new neighbor. Charlie invites Peter to a Conversation Club. Peter goes only to get frustrated by all the talking and no one taking turns. He decides to leave, inviting his friends to his Listening Club where he explains the “rules”.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
Papa Chicken is attempting to read a bedtime story to Little Red Chicken. Little Red Chicken gets worried when there is danger in a story and interrupts with his own happier ending. This occurs three times, and the reader can sense Papa Chicken’s frustration. The ending where Little Red Chicken tells Papa Chicken a story is delightful.
If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover
The question and answer format in this text provides a comfortable language pattern for students. The reader is presented with a question and a scenario is given on the right-hand side of the page. The left side of the page is an illustration showing what the scenario would look like if everybody did it. The black and white illustrations put a humorous spin on each scenario, making an important message easy to read about.
They Didn’t Use Their Heads by Jo Ann Stover
This text has a clever design. The right side of each two-page spread shows a child doing something normal. The readers discover on the left-hand side of the page how the “something normal” didn’t turn out quite right. This book requires the reader to use the illustrations to gather full understanding of the text. Each two-page spread also gives the reader a tip on how using your head could make things right.