“Have you seen my cat?” read Chloe, a kindergartner, purposefully pointing to each word as she read it.
“Wow!” said Bridget, Chloe’s surprised teacher. “How did you know what that says?”
“Because we read the book Have You Seen My Duckling?” announced Chloe. She reached into her book baggie, pulled out the book, and held it up high for emphasis. “This book has all the same words, except for cat. And I know how to read cat.”
Bridget doesn’t realize it yet, but Chloe has just made a strong case for using paired books with beginning readers. Chloe was able to build upon her experience from reading Have You Seen My Duckling? to confidently launch into Have You Seen My Cat? Her transition from one book to the other was an easy one because of the familiar sight words and similar structure.
Paired books are books that are linked by a common attribute or feature such as structure, theme, character, point of view, genre, or even the author. Teachers can leverage the experience of reading the first book to support, enhance, or extend the reading of the second book. Teaching with paired books has a strong pedagogical basis. Brain-based research tells us that when we are exposed to stimuli, the brain searches for a connection. When the connection is made, information about the task is received, and the learning becomes more efficient. Paired books open the door to instruction on comparing and contrasting. The practice of reading across texts lays the foundation for becoming a critical reader and getting information from multiple sources.
Here are some ways to pair texts to get beginning readers going and moving along.
Books Paired by Sight Words and Structure
As Chloe quickly figured out, reading one book might make it a whole lot easier to read another book. Ideally, her teacher, Bridget, will go through her classroom collection of beginning-level books to identify those pairs.
Bridget can use Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to scaffold Chloe’s reading of I Went Walking. These two books are almost identical in structure and have many words in common. Both books are at text level C, making the transition between them even smoother.
Bill Martin Jr. wrote several other books using the Brown Bear, Brown Bear pattern, including Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You See? Experiencing success reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? opens the door to reading five other books that share a common author as well as a common structure. Similarly, Sue Williams wrote a book, called Let’s Go Visiting, whose structure is very similar to that of I Went Walking (and hence also to that of Bill Martin’s “Bear” books), which provides an opportunity to pair together two other books that have both their structure and their author in common. Between the two authors, that makes eight books with almost identical structures. Wow: eight readable texts in the book baggie! More books means more reading, which means more growth as a reader.
Books Paired by Theme or Topic
Many kindergarten and first-grade teachers organize instruction around themes. During a theme study, the teacher reads aloud many books on the topic. The children engage in projects, watch videos, and have field experiences. The classroom walls are rich with print related to the theme—bulletin boards, anchor charts, and experience charts. All of these experiences contribute to and build up the children’s background knowledge on the topic.
With increased background knowledge, children are better prepared to read and comprehend texts on a theme topic. A common theme in K-1 classrooms is “Seasons and Weather.” Pairing books that share this theme can be as simple as having children read, for example, two books about winter. But to maximize the benefit of paired books, you’ll want to go a little deeper.
Rain is a highly patterned book suitable for children at the beginning stages of reading. It has weather vocabulary: sky, clouds, sun, rain, and rainbow. The “change” words in the book’s pattern are color words and object words, supported by the illustrations, such as rain on the red car and rain on the yellow flowers. Pair Rain with Raindrop, Plop. It, too, is a highly patterned book. It also uses weather vocabulary: sky, rain, raindrops, and clouds. But the “change” words in the pattern are numbers and an object, supported by an illustration, providing an opportunity to do some contrasting. Taking the time to put together a strong pair provides a stronger scaffold for the young reader.
Pairing Narrative and Informational Books
One of the most popular ways to pair books is to put a narrative book with an informational book. There are tons of journal articles, blog entries, and professional books about this type of pairing. Narrative books often open the door to “wonderings.” For example, after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children might wonder if caterpillars really eat chocolate cake. And after reading Caps for Sale, children might wonder whether monkeys really imitate others, i.e., whether there is any truth to the “monkey see, monkey do” adage. Naturally, a well-chosen informational book can provide the answers to these wonderings.
But it isn’t quite as simple as finding an informational book about caterpillars or monkeys. You’ll want to go a little deeper and pair up the book features so that the fledgling reader can feel supported and confident. In the narrative picture book We Hide, You Seek, animals from the African savanna decide to play hide-and-seek. The rhinoceros is “it” and must find the zebras, gazelles, giraffes, and other animals. The animals cleverly “hide in plain sight,” using camouflage to conceal themselves from the rhinoceros. This book will probably have kids wondering about camouflage, and there is an almost ideal and equally simple paired book available to address their questions. It is the informational book Can You See Me?, which uses photographs to help children actually experience looking for camouflaged animals. The child gets to play hide-and-seek with animals. Instead of the rhinoceros, the child becomes the “seeker.”
We want to give beginning readers every possible advantage as they negotiate their way into the world of print. Seek out book pairs for your beginning readers to give them an extra boost.