Back-to-School Read Alouds: Favorite Books and First Week Activities

By Michelle Sullenberger on August 18, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Reading aloud to children is one of my favorite activities of the day and it is a critical part of literacy instruction. In my classroom, I integrate children’s literature across the curriculum and read to the children throughout the day. The read-aloud books I choose for the first week of school help set the tone for the year and help begin to build our classroom community.

Reading aloud to children is one of my favorite activities of the day and it is a critical part of literacy instruction. In my classroom, I integrate children’s literature across the curriculum and read to the children throughout the day. The read-aloud books I choose for the first week of school help set the tone for the year and help begin to build our classroom community. These books feature characters about the same age as my students and allow us to discuss prior knowledge, build thinking skills, and make connections. Here are some of my favorite books and activities that engage my enthusiastic young readers.


Clifford’s First School Day by Norman Bridwell

Clifford's First School Day I read this book on the first day of first grade. The students identify with the big, lovable red dog and the need for helping one another. As we read the book, we discuss our school day and begin to problem solve the mishaps that may arise in our classroom.  After reading, we share our favorite parts of the book and we make our own Clifford puppets.  To make the puppet, each student will need a preprinted Clifford head on red paper and a lunch sized paper bag. Prior to cutting out Clifford’s head, I model how to use the extra space on the paper to draw the four paws and a tail.  Before allowing the students to complete the project, I model how to correctly cut and glue the pieces onto the bag.

                                     DSC00279    Clifford puppet

Students and their families are encouraged to use the puppet to talk about the first day of school. The Clifford Stationary Printable is perfect for this parent communication and to encourage older students to write about their day.  Here's the Clifford outline I used if you would to make this puppet with your students.

Download Clifford Puppet

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum cover In this story, Chrysanthemum believed her name was perfect, until she started school and her new friends giggled at hearing her long name read aloud.  Chrysanthemum learned that it is okay to be different. After reading this book, we discuss our names, graph how many letters are in our names, and design rainbow names. These rainbow names are added to our word wall for the first month of school. To make these rainbow names, you will need small squares of colored construction paper and preprinted student name cards. Students tear small pieces of the construction paper and glue these pieces onto their outlined named cards to complete their designs.


DSC00274   DSC00273  DSC00276

Here’s a Chrysanthemum Discussion Guide from Scholastic with additional ideas. Other great books by Kevin Henkes to read aloud include Lilly’s Plastic Purse, Wemberly Worried, and Owen

I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Screen shot 2011-07-30 at 5.14.45 PM The character in this story sets out for a walk and meets colorful farm animals along the way. The repetitive text of this book is familiar to many of the children and encourages them to read along. The book is perfect for reviewing concepts of print, modeling early prediction strategies, and building fluency.





As a class, we retell the story in the pocket chart.  Then the students sequence the characters in the story and retell the story with a partner.  This book becomes a classroom favorite and one we return to for further shared reading experiences.

I Like Me by Nancy L. Carlson

Screen shot 2011-07-29 at 2.10.41 PM In this book, a young pig takes care of herself.  When she makes a mistake, she tries and tries again. The positive messages in this book promote a healthy self-esteem. After reading this book, students make text–to-self connections by sharing what makes them special.  Using construction paper, each student designs a cut out of his or her own face. We display our work in the classroom for our families to enjoy on Back to School night. Be sure to check out the Scholastic Printable "What Makes Me Special?" as it includes a fun guessing game for students to discover likes and differences. 



First Grade Friends Bulletin Board

(Student name cards are stapled below each student's design to label the work.)

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

Screen shot 2011-07-30 at 4.58.57 PMIn this book, the character Wallace Bleff provides an imaginative report to his class about how he spent his summer vacation.  After discussing what could have really happened on his vacation, I ask my students to write about their summer vacations.  Each student illustrates his or her favorite summer memory on a large index card to share with one another and to add to a classroom display of Summer Fun.


This Is The Way We Go To School:  A Book About Children Around the World by Edith Baer

Screen shot 2011-07-30 at 5.00.18 PM

This book describes and illustrates many different modes of transportation children from all over the world use to get to school.  This book will be a new addition to my classroom collection. I plan to read and discuss this book with the students when we graph the ways we get to school. If you have a SMART board in your classroom, visit the SMART Exchange for this great Back-To-School Graphing file.  We will also create the Scholastic mini-book, School Bells Ring,to read with our families.



Additional titles I will be sure to read include: First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and Judith Dufour Love, Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoe by Eric Litwin, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Mary Wore Her Red Dress and Henry Wore His Green Sneakers by Mere Peek and My Teacher’s My Friend by P. K. Hallinan.

Read-alouds are a shared literacy event and an active part of my literacy instruction. I engage the students in conversations about the book being read and introduce literacy skills that will be further developed during the school year. 

What are you reading the first week of school?  Leave a comment and share a great book and activity.

Happy Reading,


I read Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. We talk about all the things we all did to get ready for kindergarten. Then we make our own alphabet order name list so we can all learn each other's names, and we try to come up with rhymes that go with each name like in the book. It's a great get to know each other and rhyme practice.

I read Rainbow Fish on the first day and then we each decorate a large scale as we like and then they are compiled into one large rainbow fish that we keep up all year to remember that sharing is important and how we can work together to make something so beautiful.

*Note* I teach Kindergarten so we need easy projects at the beginning of the year that all students can complete.

Hi Tara, Great suggestion! I might have to get a copy of this book. Thank you for sharing the book and idea with us.

Prior to reading "This School Year will be the Best," I ask the students to tell me what talk about what they hope will happen this year. There is also the option to have them write about it. Afterwards we read and discuss whether or not they hoped for some the things that the main character wished for.

Hi Erin, Great book and activity! What a perfect way to introduce portfolios early in the school year. Thank you for sharing this idea with us. I can't wait to give it a try!

I read The Night Before First Grade. The story is modeled after The Night Before Christmas which students are familiar with! After we read the story we do a small writing activity about what we did the night before first grade. I then copy them for the students' portfolios. As the year progresses we visit other stories in the series and continue with writing which I later use to show student writing growth throughout the year!

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