The complete collection of articles, lesson ideas, print-ready resources, and more.
Talk of the Town
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.1.b
What You Need: A favorite read-aloud book, such as Jamaica’s Find, by Juanita Havill, or Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems; chart paper; marker
What to Do: Read-alouds are a great way to get students thinking critically, including making inferences and predictions. Sarah J. Lang, a K–8 curriculum coordinator and former reading specialist for Wisconsin’s Oconomowoc school district, creates anchor charts to encourage debate about texts through “accountable talk” sessions.
Lang begins by introducing a book. She asks questions about the cover, and continues to prompt children to talk about what’s happening in the story. She brings out an accountable talk anchor chart, on which she has written a series of questions to help children discuss the story.
“We should refrain from just giving our kids language,” she says. Instead, “help them decide how as a class they should talk about books.” Her anchor chart hosts questions like: I agree with _______ because… and I sort of disagree with _______ because…. Or children might ask others questions like: Why do you think that? Can you give me an example of that? Choose questions that seem relevant to your class, and invite students to propose their own questions for the chart.
“Interactive read-alouds with accountable talk are an important part of balanced literacy,” says Lang, who blogs at Lang On Literacy.
The Un-Picture Book
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.5
What You Need: The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak; white drawing paper; crayons
What to Do: When we think of a great read-aloud book, bright colors and bold illustrations come to mind. So what happens when it doesn’t have illustrations? Barbara Leyne, a retired first-grade teacher who taught at Lakewood Elementary in Victoria, British Columbia, read The Book With No Pictures to her students—and their reaction was not what you might think it would be.
The book begins by admitting it has no pictures and acknowledging that might sound boring. It then explodes with nonsense phrases written in such a colorful and interesting way that the words come to life. “My class loved it, and it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time,” says Leyne.
Leyne began by reading the title and asking students: Will the book have pictures? If not, how does that make you feel about the book? As she read, she prompted them to pay close attention to the words and encouraged them to ask questions. Afterward, she asked why the book was so funny, even though there were no pictures.
Next, Leyne, who blogs at Grade Onederful, handed each student a sheet of drawing paper and crayons. She asked students to choose one page from the book to illustrate. “I know this is not the purpose of the book,” Leyne explains. “But there’s some great imagery in there—for example, ‘I eat ants for breakfast right off the rug!’ It’s lots of fun to see what kinds of illustrations the kids come up with,” she says.
Finally, she had students share their drawings without giving away which page they’d based them on, and had classmates guess.
Reading in Color
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4
What You Need: Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni; blue and yellow playdough; small sandwich bags; pencils; note paper
What to Do: To keep her read-alouds exciting, Chelsey Marashian, a kindergarten enrichment teacher at Carmel River Elementary School in Carmel, California, often makes them into a sensory experience. The book Little Blue and Little Yellow is perfect for this.
Before beginning, Marashian prepares half-dollar-size balls of blue and yellow playdough for each student. After giving each child a set, she asks kids what colors they see on the book cover and whether they have predictions about what might happen in the story. She then explains that they will be working with the playdough during the read-aloud but they should wait until they are prompted.
Next, Marashian reads Little Blue and Little Yellow, the story of two friends so excited to see each other they meld together when they hug. She prompts kids to begin mixing the playdough at the page where little blue and little yellow begin to hug, and asks what new color they are making. (The answer is green, of course!) “The kids love to explore mixing colors with a hands-on playdough activity,” says Marashian, who blogs at Buggy and Buddy.
After the activity, she gives children small plastic bags containing blue and yellow playdough to take home: “I attach a note to each baggie, inviting parents to ask their child to retell the story using the little balls of playdough. The students are always so excited to do this and can’t wait to bring it home. This activity helps to open a discussion with parents about the story. It’s a great way to foster a positive home-school connection!”
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.2
What You Need: Recording device; a favorite read-aloud book, such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle; drawing paper; pencils
What to Do: Audiobooks and podcasts are a great, alternative way to engage kids in active listening, because without images, all the focus is on listening. Have you ever thought about creating your own audiobook? It’s easier than you might think!
First, choose a read-aloud book that students are already familiar with, as this will help them grasp it the first time around. Record yourself (or a special guest) reading, pausing at key points to ask leading questions specific to the text. For example: “Can you picture in your mind what will happen next?” Pause for five to 10 seconds after asking a question to give students time to think and/or jot down an answer.
Then, get ready to play it for students. Distribute paper and pencils, and explain that they will be listening to a familiar story and answering questions. Encourage them to close their eyes while they listen. At the pauses, suggest that they sketch ideas or write words down to keep track of their answers to the questions.
After students have finished listening to the recording, have them share their answers to the questions asked in the recording. Wrap up the activity by asking students what they thought of the experience: “How was this different from a regular read-aloud? Which do you like better, and why?”
Activities for all ages, CCSS-ready lesson plans, and more.