Inferring With David Shannon

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1; R.7

What You Need: David Shannon books, including No, David!

What to Do: First-grade teacher Kristin Kennedy finds that wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books are the perfect way to introduce basic inferences to primary-grade students. She says that David Shannon’s books, especially No, David!, are great resources for this purpose. “The students have to figure out what happened in each picture,” says Kennedy, who teaches at Irving Elementary School in Berwyn, Illinois. “When they see David with a bat and then a broken vase, they need to put two and two together.” Students must infer what David did to break the vase, since it is not explicitly stated.

After reading the books with her class, Kennedy works with students to make a class book. Each student draws a picture depicting himself or herself getting in trouble for something he or she has done. They incorporate visual clues into their drawings so others can infer what happened. Students also add a sketch of a parent or guardian saying, “No, _____!” (with the student’s name in the blank).

“We shared and practiced inferring what happened in each student’s picture,” says Kennedy. “They loved it. I had never heard them laugh so loud.” (You can also adapt this lesson with books by other authors, such as Tuesday, by David Wiesner.)

Kevin Henkes Wall Chart

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3

What You Need: Kevin Henkes books, bulletin-board paper, index cards, markers, glue or tape

What to Do: When students in Dayle Timmons’s first-grade class study Kevin Henkes, the writing is all over the wall—literally. Timmons creates a giant chart and displays it on a bulletin board in her classroom at Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Horizontal rows are labeled characters, setting, problem, events, and solution. Vertical columns feature the title and cover of a Henkes book—Chrysanthemum, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Wemberly Worried, and Sheila Rae, the Brave, to name just a few.

As a class, read these Henkes favorites and explore the story elements in each. “On one day, we talked about Kevin Henkes’s characters, the difference between main characters and supporting characters, and how characters change during a story,” explains Timmons. Then, on an index card, you or a designated student write the name of a book’s main character, draw a picture of that character, and affix the card to the appropriate place on the chart. Afterward, discuss as a class how the characters change over the course of the story. Repeat this for each book.

On another day, explore the books’ settings in a similar fashion. The day after that, examine problems and solutions and then work with students to add those to the chart.

Timmons says that discussing a story’s events usually takes more time. Over the course of a few days, students work together to outline three events that drive the plot of any given book, from the problem to the solution. Again, the class works together to write the events on individual index cards, and then adds them to the wall chart.

After students have done this for every book, the end product is a staple in the classroom. Not only does it showcase what students have learned about story elements, says Timmons, but it also serves as a great reference when students practice retellings or write their own stories.

The Art of Lois Ehlert

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts)

What You Need: Lois Ehlert books; white construction paper; craft, natural, and “found” items; glue

What to Do: Every Lois Ehlert book practically begs for an accompanying art lesson. Share some of Ehlert’s books to teach kids about her unique form of collage. At this time of year, you might want to choose Boo to You!; Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf; and Leaf Man. Invite students to examine the pictures closely, noting the materials used, the textures of those materials, and the shapes, patterns, and any other clear details. You can also ask students what influence the colors have on them as readers. Then, prompt them to compare and contrast the materials used in the books. For instance, do some books feature only cut paper while others include three-dimensional objects like ribbons and buttons?

Ask each student to choose one book he or she finds most visually appealing. Then, give each student a sheet of white construction paper and an array of craft (scraps of fabric and felt), natural (leaves and pumpkin seeds), and “found” (coins and soda-can tabs) items. Challenge students to re-create a picture from their chosen book using the items, while encouraging them to put their own spin on the image. Don’t distribute any glue at this point—merely let students manipulate different objects in various ways before committing to pasting down their artwork. When students are satisfied with their work, allow them to paste down their collages. Let their masterpieces dry before sharing in small groups or with the whole class.

Mo Willems and Needs/Wants

Standard Met: McREL Self-Regulation Standard 2 (Performs self-appraisal)

What You Need: Mo Willems’s Pigeon series books, chart paper

What to Do: Believe it or not, you can rely on a pigeon to teach your next social studies lesson about needs and wants. Randi Stallard shares the books from Mo Willems’s Pigeon series with her first-grade students. “The silly character helps young learners understand the difference between what we need and what we want in life,” says the teacher at Rosewood Elementary in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Begin by introducing some basic life needs, such as healthful food, clean water, and a safe living environment. Then, ask students if the following things are needed to survive: toys, candy, and television. Define these items as “wants”—we may want to have them, but they’re not necessary. Share several or all of the Pigeon books with your students. Display a T-chart, labeling one side with the things Pigeon needs and another with what he wants. As you read, jot down the character’s needs and wants. You can prompt students with questions like, “Does the pigeon need to drive the bus, or does he want to?” You’ll find that the persuasive pigeon simply wants a lot of things (hot dogs and puppies, included). Afterward, add items to your T-chart that show what the pigeon probably needs to live, even if they’re not mentioned in the books.

If time permits, students can write or dictate their own “Don’t Let the Pigeon” stories, incorporating some other outrageous things that the pigeon wants.