Last month we surveyed readers of our weekly newsletter The Big Freshrequesting suggestions for literacy activities for the final days of school. Hundreds of teachers wrote back. This week we begin our month-long series of your literacy suggestions for closing out the school year with a focus on read alouds. After all the books read all year long for all sorts of reasons, the final text shared is often especially important.Â
For some teachers, ending the year with the same book used with previous students gives a special sense of closure, or coming full circle. Gayle Ertel of Mason, Ohio writes:
My 20-year tradition is anchored to the book When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. After my second graders experience this wonderful look back at the author’s memories of growing up in the mountains, we create our own memoirs called, “When I Was Young in the Second Grade.” The book archives where each child lived and a picture she or he drew of his or her house and family. The children recall second-grade favorites (television shows, songs, restaurants, sports, etc.), photos of the school year where the child writes his own captions, and their descriptions of friends, the teacher and what was popular this particular year. This is all preserved in a binder with sheet protector pages. When each child receives the binder on the last day of school, their report card and class DVD is tucked inside. At the back is a summer literacy activity calendar and their gift from me – a matted picture of the two of us personalized with a paragraph about each child called, “Ya Know What I Like About You?” What a blessing to watch each child read their paragraph, and to have grown students tell me that they still have their binders.
Celia Dunham of Steamboat Springs, Colorado found one book was the perfect send-off for helping students think about their impact on the world:
I’m a principal now, but as a classroom teacher I had a favorite way to end the year. I would read the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. The story is about Great-Aunt Alice Rumphius, who vowed as a young child to do three things in her life: to go to faraway places, to live by the sea when she grew old, and to do something to make the world more beautiful. Alice spreads lupine seeds that bloom long after she is gone. I would read the story to my students at the end of the last day and challenge them to consider what they could do to make the world “more beautiful.” I would send them off at the end of the day with a bundle of lupine seeds or a stalk of lupine to remind them of this challenge. Attached to the flowers or seeds was a note with the quote from the book, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” I got this idea from my teaching partner, who is one of those people who makes the world a more beautiful place every day of her life!
By far the most popular final read aloud noted by teachers in our survey Margaret Wise Brown’s enduring classic The Important Book, because it lends itself to such positive reflections about the value of everyone in the classroom community. Laura Gordon, who teaches in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,explained the connections she makes between the book, writing, and community building:
After I read The Important Book to my fourth-grade students, we discuss why the author picked the important things of each item. Then, each child puts a piece of paper on their desk and titles it “The Important Thing About (child’s name)”. Each student goes around to their classmates’ desks and write what they think is important about each person. They can only use qualities or gifts to describe their classmates, such as “you help on the playground,” “you are good at art,” “you are a great piano player,” etc. They may not write things like “I like your hair”, or “you are cool”. The compliments should be specific. After all the compliments are gathered, each student looks at their paper and chooses the most important one to them, and then three more they like. They create a page for the class “Important Book” using the pattern from Margaret Wise Brown’s book. We go to the computer lab and they add their picture and other pictures to show their importance. The books get sent home at the end of the year as a keepsake.
For some teachers, the final read aloud is also a chance for the teacher to get in the author’s chair and share special memories of the class. Karrie Hamilton of Decatur, Indiana enjoys this annual tradition:
I write a one-page story that includes each child in the class. As their names come up in the story they are bold and underlined. Each year, my story focuses on a book we have read, or field trip we went on, or some other experience that our class had. One year my story was, “Mrs. Hamilton’s Camp Adventure” and it followed the storyline of the book Holes which we read that year. Another year the story was, “Mrs. Hamilton’s April Fool’s Day Adventure” and the story went along with all the April Fool’s Day pranks my class pulled. Another time I wrote “Mrs. Hamilton’s Forest Adventure” because I had readHatchetÂ as a read-aloud. I always have a couple of mischievous kids “disappear,” as well as a couple of curious kids figuring out what happened to them. The principal usually makes an appearance, and there is always a happy ending. The story is really funny and personalized to our class and our experiences, with lots of private jokes that only we would understand. I read the story on the last day of school, and give each student a laminated copy to take home as a keepsake. Sometimes I begin the new school year by reading the last year’s story. I keep all the stories on a bulletin outside my classroom. Former students love to come back and read them.
Sometimes the last read aloud is a simple tool for sparking memories of the year, as Janine Arneberg of Homewood, Illinois notes:
I like to read the book The Little Pig in the Cupboard. It is about the last day of school, and how a little boy tells his teacher about an important thing he has learned this year. It leads to some great discussion about what we have learned this year that the teacher may not even know.
Jennie Munson in Shanghai, China likes to link “memory collections” to one of her closing read alouds:
I read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. Kids then collect five or more objects that represent their favorite “memories” of the school year and place them in a small bag or box. A photograph of close friends, a favorite piece of writing, and a picture of a treasured book are just some of the items the students might include. Once collected, they then write about each object in the form of a poem called “I’ll Never Forget.” It might sound something like this:
I’ll never forget how my friends Chloe and Lia always made me laugh and how we danced and sang at recess.
I’ll never forget how Elmer rescued the dragon from Wild Island and how we cheered when he gave the crocodiles lollipops in My Father’s Dragon.
I’ll never forget publishing my book called “Fairy Friends” and how all my friends wanted to read it when I was done.
I’ll never forget learning cursive for the first time.
I will never forget second grade and I will never forget you.
Sometimes the last read aloud is a catalyst for getting students to discuss their fears of moving on to new classrooms and adventures, as Kathy McKinzey of Lilburn, Georgia notes:
I like to read Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and discuss things we feel nervous or worried about. The discussion of a new grade level or school always comes up. We write about or connections to Scaredy Squirrel’s fears and share. This helps everyone tackle their fears of change or the unknown.
Barbara Bastian of Manchester Township, New Jersey connects memories and friendship with a read aloud in the closing days of the year:
I read I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe with illustrations by Ed Young. I type up a summary of each page on a large index card (laminated). I number each card in sequential order. My students choose partners and each partnership receives a card. The students share a reading of the card and plan together how to act out that part of the story. When everyone is ready to present their part, I ask the students to sit with partners on the edge of a large circle around the room in numerical order. One partnership at a time acts out their “part” of the story. This can be done in pantomime or spoken. As the beautiful story of the power of friendship unfolds, the children are engaged and inspired. After a discussion of the author’s message, I read the book aloud again. We end with each student writing a page about a special memory from the past year. These pages are compiled and bound for each child to take with them as a memory of second grade.
Carol Lauritzen of La Grande, Oregon finds a poem can also help students look forward to all the possibilities of summer:
I like to read “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity” by John Tobias and have the students create their own piece of writing about what from the summer they hope to capture and preserve.
Many teachers like to look back on read alouds with their students from the entire year. Kate Davis of East Millinocket, Maine finds an awards activity is a great way to get students excited about revisiting these texts:
At the end of the year, my students nominate books to honor with an award. A huge part of our community-building each year is through shared read alouds, so it’s fun to look back at some of our favorites. Students can fill out a nomination form for several categories: Best Fiction, Best Nonfiction, Best Poetry, Best Chapter Book, etc. They share the nominations with their classmates, then all the nominated books go on a ballot. The winning books are displayed with ribbons. The old favorites come back out into circulation again, and provide a welcome boost in reading engagement for the last days of school.
ForÂ Theresa HaarÂ ofÂ East Northport, New York,Â revisiting all the read alouds together is a powerful way to highlight growth in reading skills:
I am a librarian, and I teach the first graders text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections. In June, each class sits in a circle and all the books we have read for the year are in the middle. I start by taking two books and making a connection. Then each student chooses a book and makes a connection to one of those books. Ultimately, we end up with a circle of all the books, all connected in some way! Great review of all of the year’s books and great review of T-S, T-T, and T-W. Students are happy to reacquaint themselves with favorites from early in the year, and learn that there are connections everywhere, which enhances their memories and encourage them to find connections elsewhere!
Finally, many teachers choose an author study for their final read alouds. Alison Russo of Hamburg, New York integrates art and summer plans into her choice:
I always spend the last couple of weeks with my first graders delving into the works of my favorite author, Leo Lionni. He represents the best of everything in literature and art. We enjoy both the stories and the illustrations that he so painstakingly creates. He has such a love of nature in his topics and arts, and I feel it sends them off with an artistic eye when they are outdoors for the summer. We also take time to practice some of the techniques he uses (the water effect in Swimmy, the torn paper mice in Frederick, etc.), so that they can see ways to make their own books during the summer days off. It’s a joyous way to end the year!