I’m going out on a limb with a message I feel is super important. Don’t read a novel to your upper elementary students the first week of school. Yes, really! Don’t do it!
Instead, read picture books! Read lots of them! Picture books are fun! They aren’t just for little kids. Picture books are for big kids and adults, too. Your school year together is going to be fun so shout it out by reading fun books (keep reading to find out my top 10 favorite picture books). Model it by doing it.
The real reason to read picture books is to encourage students to read independently at their reading level. Some of your students are not going to be good readers. Some of your new students are excited for the new year but scared because they’re not good readers. They know it, but they don’t want their friends to know it. By reading picture books you take the focus off individual reading skills by asking ALL of your students to read picture books the first few weeks of school. Silent reading can be silent torture for students who hold a novel of a much higher reading level than they are capable of reading. It helps them “look” like a reader. But silently, they are staring at pages of words without meaning. They are just waiting for the time to turn the page, timing it with their peers. Silent reading is torture for struggling readers trying to save face.
During the first week of school, take all of your students to the library to check out and read picture books. Tell them that’s their homework for the first week of school. Have students fill out a story elements planner (get yours free here). Picture books are a great way to teach and reinforce story elements. Have kids record reading minutes in a reading log. Back at school, don’t do “sharing”, do book reviews and let students tell their friends what their favorite picture books are, and why.Next, use picture books to teach literary story elements. As you read, have students identify the setting, plot, characters, theme, conflict, resolution. Discuss these when you’re finished. Finding story elements will become second nature in no time. (Click play to see inside the flip book.)
You can teach character traits through the use of picture books. Picture book authors describe their characters in a short time period, so as you read aloud, have students identify the character traits and point to them on your character traits word wall. This is a great way for you to point out the traits you expect for your year together.
As you read, connect the text and pictures, and ask students to relate the story to their lives (text to self). Relate the story with other texts (text to text), and with the world (text to world). Connecting deepens comprehension.
Save a spot on your bulletin board to post an, “Our Top Picks Books List.” Allow students to nominate, review and rate their books. Have students fill out a short book review which they sign and rate from 1-10. Students complete the information on the wall chart and add their rating sheet to the ring so others can flip through and find the written review. Students LOVE to add their name to the wall and you will find that students read each others’ reviews to get book suggestions. This gives struggling readers to great reason to read more books.
Keep reading to find out what books are my favorite and WHY!
Here’s my top picture books to read aloud to your third, fourth, and fifth graders the first few weeks of school. NOTE: I have links to Amazon. I am not an Amazon Affiliate and receive no compensation. I am offering the links to help.
1) Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Math lovers will enjoy this book. At the beginning of the year, I always poll my students on their feelings about math. I’m always discouraged to hear that many students either don’t like math or it is their least favorite subject. I accept that as a personal challenge to turn that attitude around. This book helps. Math Curse is a fun story where a boy wakes up and sees math problems in everything he does. Read it and point out real world math problems as you read it!
2) Bad Case of Stripes, by David Shannon. This book tells of a girl who worries what others think of her as she picks out her first day of school outfit and later develops a case of the stripes. This story has a great theme, and in the end, she learns to be herself and not worry what others think. You can talk about fitting in, being embarrassed, and trying to impress others.
While you’re reading, ask students to listen for the “great word choice”. There’s lots of it! Listen for similes and find the vivid verbs and awesome adjectives. Listen and watch a video of the book at Storyline Online (12:00)
3) The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith. This book is just plain fun. Students love the title. I love it! What kind of author says stuff like this? I think it’s important as a teacher to have fun with your students. You can accomplish a lot and gain trust with your students using laughter and by having fun. Point out the writer’s use of voice. If you’re teaching reading genres, read this when you’re studying fairy tales, folk takes, and fables. Read the traditional stories and then read the versions in Stinky Cheese Man for a fun comparison. See the book Amazon.
4) Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka. This book has very few words but the message is big; be a friend! After reading the book, have a community circle talk about the message and its importance to a developing a positive classroom climate and culture. Have students write a journal entry about what how to offer friendship to someone new. See the book on Amazon.
5) Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patrica Polacco. This book tells the story of the author as a struggling reader. At the height of the her struggle, the girl is a fifth grader and other kids are making fun of her. Mr. Falker, her fifth grade teacher, works with her and helps her become a good reader. The theme is never give up and hard work pays off. The book is written from the third person point of view, but the story is actually about the author herself (first person), Patricia Polacco. I love the message of this book. You will have many students who can relate to the girl’s struggle. Listen and Watch at Storyline Online (16:50):
6) One, by Kathryn Otoshi. This is a great book that highlights the importance of friends standing up to bullies. The characters in the book are colors, with blue being be main character and red being the bully. The colors stand up and count. This is a fun book with a great message. Listen to Kathryn Otoshi read her book, One, while students act it out.
7) That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems. This book is another simple, fun book that you will catch you off guard as it doesn’t end like you think! Will the fox catch the hen? It is great for making inferences. Be sure to have students predict how the book will end before reading it aloud. You can have thoughtful discussions about assumptions of book. Relate it to making assumptions about new classmates as well. Amazon link so you can see more of the book.
8) What Do You Do With An Idea? by Koki Yamada. I suggest this book for the important message it sends. You can change the world with an idea. It teaches students to listen to their inner self and believe in their own ideas. Our students have great ideas if we encourage them. We don’t know it all, and can learn a lot from the students we teach. See the book on Amazon.
9) Salt in His Shoes, Michael Jordon in Pursuit of a Dream, by Delores Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan. Michael Jordan’s mom and his sister tell this great story of Michael’s hard work, determination and courage to achieve his goal of being a great basketball player. Michael’s mom puts salt in his shoes and has faith that Michael will grow taller and be a great player. Definitely relate this book to the struggles students may encounter during your year together. Stress the importance of never giving up and continuing to work even though things may get difficult. Winners never quit! See more of the book on Amazon.
10) The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. Shel Silverstein is a great writer. I like the theme of this book. The tree loves the boy in the story unconditionally. The boy takes from the tree until the tree has nothing left to give. You can talk about the tree being generous and selfless and what it means to give to another in this manner. Talk about point of view from the boy’s perspective and how it is different from the tree’s point of view. Discuss the boy’s motives and discuss how he takes and takes from the tree and isn’t the best friend to the tree that he could be, yet the tree is truly happy in the end. Again, good discussion to be had with your students. Excerpt and short video from Shel Silverstein’s website.
~ What to Read Week Three and Beyond ~
After a few weeks of reading picture books, begin reading novels. I like to read novels that students won’t typically pick up and read. I like to assign novels that build background knowledge for science or social studies units. A favorite is Bound for Oregon, by Jane Van Leeuwen, teaching about westward expansion and the Oregon Trail. It teaches of life and difficulties along the trail and talks about trail landmarks so when we study the unit, students have a great foundation.
Periodically throughout the year, reintroduce picture books. As you read great picture books, make note of what you could teach using the book and repeat it next year, too. You will soon have a great read aloud program interspersed with picture books.
~ Accountability for Reading ~
Be sure to stress the importance of reading for fun and lifetime enjoyment. Ask students to read at home and fill out a monthly reading log. Students record the number of minutes they spent reading or the number of pages (your choice). You can incorporate math skills by having students graph their results. These reading logs also make great data collection tools!
What are your favorite picture books for reading to upper elementary students?