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Top 10 Read Across America Ideas for Upper Elementary

By Lindsey Petlak on February 26, 2015
  • Grades: 3–5

March 2, 2015 marks NEA's Read Across America initiative: “...an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss.” - NEA Website

Often we think of this day involving teachers and students sporting fluffy blue "Thing One" and "Thing Two" hair, or marching down hallways wearing striped top hats representing the beloved Cat in the Hat. I LOVE the plethora of Seuss-tastic ideas for celebrating reading and the birthday of Dr. Seuss, but for upper elementary students, a red and white striped top hat may not always be the best “fit.” Keep reading to find out my top 10 instant, easy Read Across America ideas for students in intermediate elementary grades.


Start at the Source:

NEA sponsors and promotes Read Across America (RAA), and so I urge you to visit their site for ideas, information, and links to useful resources as you first begin planning. This year’s theme is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” so as you prep ideas for activities, you might want to keep that in mind. The NEA has a FANTASTIC Read Across America Pinterest board, and you’ll find an overabundance of fabulous ideas pinned, so be sure to check that out.


Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Given this year’s RAA theme and the geography content standards for intermediate grades, physically mapping out places you have read or are reading about on a U.S. or world map is an excellent idea! I will never forget the first time I stumbled (fortuitously) onto Beth Newingham’s teaching resources and found her “Reading Takes You Places” bulletin board idea. It instantly grabbed my attention as the perfect interactive bulletin board to tie reading to the content standards and the real world. You can read more about Beth's idea on her Top Teaching post Travel the World in the Comfort of Your Own Classroom!

Simply post a map (paper, fabric, or even digital on your interactive white board) and assign pins or other such markers to each student and one to the entire class. As students/class read and come across location names, they add their map marker to the collective map. This allows everyone to track the places they have read about both individually, and as an entire group. Year after year, this is a huge hit in my room. Kick off your reading map this year’s RAA celebration.  



Get Into Character:

I love the idea of "themeing" Halloween costumes to favorite book characters . . . but the fun doesn’t have to be reserved for Halloween only. Read Across America is the PERFECT opportunity to bring book characters to life through costumes for both teachers and students. Check out our absolutely fabulous librarian, Karen Grost, dressed as Dorothy and the one-and-only Miss Frizzle, as well as fellow Top Teacher blogger, Alycia Zimmerman dressed as Camilla Cream and Amber Brown below for some inspiration!  Kids will love seeing you dressed up and you’ll get a huge kick out of your kiddos’ costumes.





Get Comfy Cozy:

Nothing says “curl up with a good book” more than feeling comfy and cozy. As hard as we try, school is not always the best place for such relaxation. For RAA, instantly transform your space into a reading haven by implementing some of the suggestions below, which can be brought in by both teachers and students from items around the house:

  • Students dress in pajamas and slippers.

  • Bring in carpet squares, beanbag chairs, seat cushions, or even TENTS to transform your space.

  • Allow students to bring in one favorite toy or comfort item for the day.

  • Provide special treats like hot cocoa or tea.

  • Turn down the lights, turn on lamps, and allow children to read using flashlights.


Grab a Buddy and Read:

We are fortunate to have a buddy class system in our school.  This means an older classroom is paired with a younger grade and they do weekly or periodic activities together. Often this involves reading to each other. If you have a buddy system in your school, by all means pair up for RAA and have fun with some of these ideas while students read to each other.  

If you DO NOT have a buddy system, you could try one of the following alternatives for this special event:

  • Pair up with a younger grade just for the special event, even if you don’t have a designated buddy system school-wide.

  • Invite younger siblings into class for your older students to read to.

  • Students bring in stuffed animals and practice reading to them.

  • Students may use voice recording apps or “old fashioned” recording methods to record their own reading and then listen to themselves to monitor fluency.

  • Rotating buddies within your own class.



Try Out Book Trailers:

My students LOVE watching book trailers to preview books I’ve collected for them to choose from or that they may be interested in from the library, but are not familiar with. Check out this awesome collection of book trailers our librarian put together for students to preview a selection of southeast region-themed novels available right now in my classroom.  The kids were CAPTIVATED from the moment they hit "play." 

Karen Grost, Indian Trail Librarian & Media Specialist


After your students enjoy WATCHING book trailers, encourage them to create their OWN! Check out the how-to resources below to learn about having your students become book trailer directors as part of your RAA celebration.




Open Your Doors and Open Up Books:

Read Across America is a great reason to invite outside guests into your classroom. See my previous blog post for tips and ideas when inviting parents and community members into your classroom. Whether you invite mystery readers, parents, or notable community members, your students will love reading to and being read to by these special guests. See snapshots of past mystery readers from my classroom, and download FREE printables for inviting and managing your classroom mystery readers courtesy of Beth Newingham.

Beth Newingham's FREE mystery reader resources.



Flashlight Readers:

You might be having students bring in flashlights as fun accessories for cozy reading, but don’t forget Scholastic’s Flashlight Readers resources to kick your RAA experience up a notch! Letting students interactively explore some of their favorite books through this awesome tech tool is sure to make your RAA a success, and will be a resource they use beyond the celebration.

What are Flashlight Readers?

Flashlight Readers is an interactive literacy experience that lets readers enter the world of books and communicate with their favorite authors. Each of the highly-taught, popular titles offers community-building learning activities, author chats, and slideshows, all while encouraging essential reading and writing skills.   - Flashlight Readers home page

What books are available for Flashlight Readers?

Example of Scholastic's Flashlight Reader homepage for Because of Winn-Dixie


Want to see Flashlight Readers in action and get more ideas?

See the fabulous Christy Crawford highlight four of the books featured on Flashlight Readers in use in her own classroom and get lots of great ideas for implementing this tool in your classroom by reading her blog post, "Fun With Flashlight Readers." It’s a great place for you to start, if you’re new to this amazing resource and want a tidbit to get started.



Flash Mob Fun:

Pump up your class or entire school by creating a flash mob in honor of RAA! Get inspired by watching this creation by students and staff at Ridgewood Elementary School. Creating a flash mob can be super simple. Choose a catchy song, collaborate with your students on lyrics reflecting the purpose behind the RAA celebrations, and have fun choreographing and orchestrating the live flash mob within your school and/or community. If you have the tech tools available, record the event(s) and create your own video like the example below!



Dr. Seuss for Big Kids:

I like to think that you’re NEVER too old to enjoy Dr. Seuss, but sometimes our older elementary students see his books as too young for them. As I searched for ideas to make incorporating Seuss-tastic activities into our RAA celebration, I came across an absolute gem found on the Everything Library blog by Sarah Svarda.

Everything Library blog by Sarah Svarda

Svarda used Seuss characters as suspects in a library mystery. Her sixth graders then composed a mystery, complete with alibis featuring these characters. Check out her blog post detailing all of the information you’ll need to recreate this amazing experience in your own classroom or library!

 Everything Library blog by Sarah Svarda



I can’t wait to see how you incorporate these and other ideas into your Read Across America celebrations. Please feel free to share your ideas and success stories in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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