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September 2, 2015 Host a Family Read-Along This School Year By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Every now and then you try something out in your classroom that turns out so well, it becomes a tradition. Twenty-two years ago, my teaching partner and I both fell in love with a brand new book by Cynthia Rylant: The Relatives Came. We brainstormed ideas to incorporate this tale of a close-knit Appalachian family traveling to spend time with each other over the long summer into our lesson plans. We decided that we would teach the book as a way for students to share personal stories of how their own families spent their summer vacation. As a culminating event, we decided to secretly invite parents to school to share in a surprise celebration of reading with their children. Over two decades later, this tradition, our Relatives Came Family Read-Along is still one of my favorites. When parents arrive unexpectedly, carrying baskets filled with books and snacks a la The Relatives, students go from pure shock to elation. This week I’m happy to share with you tips for hosting your own family read-along that just may become a tradition you and your families look forward to for many years to come.

    Why Host a Read-Along?

    • It helps build parent-teacher connections. There used to be times that I did not meet parents until parent-teacher conferences in November. Hosting a family event like a read-along early in the year gives me a chance to walk around and speak with parents and students that I am just getting to know in a relaxed, casual setting. Getting to know parents this way can help make it easier when you need to make phone calls about behaviors or concerns in the classroom later.

    • You see family dynamics in action. Because many people bring siblings and grandparents, I often get to meet extended family members, which gives me more insight into my students’ lives.

    Host a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read Along

    Host a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read Along

    Simple Steps to Host Your Read-Along

    For our event, students’ family members secretly arrive at school with a collection of favorite read-aloud books and baskets full of snacks to share with their children. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a little planning on our part. Below are some simple steps and resources you can use to host a read-along your students will talk about all year long.  

    • Decide on a date and time as early as possible for your family read-along. We prefer to hold this event the last 45 minutes of the day during our second week of school. Friday has become our day of choice because it is a nice way to conclude the first full week, and it seems to be the easiest day for many working parents to slip out early.

    • Choose a location for your families to spread out. We love to hold our read-along outdoors in our school's courtyard, but we always have an indoor backup plan in case of rain. Over the past two decades we have experienced every type of weather imaginable from beautiful sunny days to thunderstorms, intense heat, frigid cold, and a hive of irate bees that did not enjoy our celebration one little bit and let us know about it. Choose a location, but be flexible!  

    • Send home an invitation to parents/guardians explaining the details of your family read-along and asking them to RSVP. Because the read-along is a secret for students, I put this note on the parent page of my class website and also slip it into the back of the information folders that go home with all students on the first day. As the RSVPs come in, send parents a confirmation letter

    Host a Family Read AlongRelatives Came Read Along Invitation and RSVP

    • Make arrangements for students whose parents can't make it.  For those students who have parents that are unable to join us, we make arrangements for an adult the child is familiar with to “adopt” them. Parents will often volunteer to have one of their children’s friends join them, and staff members in our building who are available are always happy to help out with this annual event. For these special cases, we put together a basket of books and snacks for the children to enjoy with their adopted family.

    Relatives Came Family Read Along

    • Contact a parent who will knock on your classroom door at a pre-selected time on the day of the event to get it started. 

    • Prepare the kids to be surprised. A few minutes before the scheduled start time of our read-along, I have students sit on the carpet with their backs to the door, to supposedly review some of the elements of the book we have been studying. I tell them to brainstorm what it would be like to have a surprise visit from relatives they had not seen in a while. We talk briefly about what kinds of foods they might eat, what activities they could do together, etc. 

    • Enjoy the moment! The event really gets started once the parent you've contacted knocks on the door. When students hear the knock, everyone always turns, and I announce that it seems as if we are having a surprise visit from some of "our relatives.” Just then, families come streaming into the room with their baskets, many adorned with kerchiefs around their necks, clutching bunches of favorite read-aloud books. This moment is my absolute favorite part of the event. The class is just staring, jaws wide open trying to figure out why their parents, grandparents, neighbors, or babysitters are there and what exactly is going on. Stupefied looks turn to complete joy when they realize our visitors are going to be spending the rest of the afternoon with them enjoying a snack and a few good books. 

    • Mingle and take lots of pictures! As I walk around talking to all the parents and students, I make sure to take at least one picture of every student in my class with their family. These pictures are printed and used on a bulletin board, plus they are put on our class website to be shared with my students' families around the globe. 

    Check out some pictures from read-alongs the past few years:

     
    Host a Family Read Along

    While we use The Relatives Came as our starting point for the read-along, you could use any favorite book about family. Perhaps you could host a Clifford the Big Red Dog, Corduroy, or Ira Sleeps Over read-along where parents bring in a favorite stuffed animal along with their children’s favorite books.

    Tying the Read-Along to the Curriculum

    While the Read-Along is a great deal of fun, there are many ways we tie it to our curriculum, especially English Language Arts standards. See below for ideas on how to use this favorite book of mine in your classroom:

    Create a Comic Strip

    My favorite activity to do each year as part of our The Relatives Came book study is a simple comic strip. Using a five-part storyboard, my students plan a short story about a time they had a visit with their relatives. Students tell the story in sequential manner from their point of view including dialogue to show thoughts and feelings. Once the children have planned their narrative out, they publish it as a six-panel comic strip. The first panel includes the title and their name, followed by the five parts of the storyboard.

    Free printable story board

    The Relatives Came Activity

     

    More Ideas on Using The Relatives Came in the Classroom

    Each fall we begin our writer's workshop by collecting baseline samples of student writing. Find tips for doing so along with my writing rubric in my post, "Bring Families Together With a Single Book: The Writing Program." The Relatives Came is a wonderful mentor text to use when introducing narratives due to its strong lead, rich language that shows emotion, and effective closing. Below you can see the anchor chart I unveil when introducing narrative writing. 

    Anchor chart for personal narratives

     

    While we hold our family read-along at the beginning of the year, it's a wonderful event to hold any time of year. If your school does not have holiday parties, a Halloween or winter-themed read-along would make for a great celebration. It's also perfect during Reading Month or Poetry Month in April. 

    Over the years I have heard from several teachers around the country who decided to hold their own read-alongs after reading about ours. I would absolutely love to hear from you in the comment section below about your read-along or any other reading-themed celebration you do in your school or classroom.

    Let's connect on Twitter and Pinterest!

    Related Resources

    The Relatives Came by Cynthia RylantThe Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers

    Every now and then you try something out in your classroom that turns out so well, it becomes a tradition. Twenty-two years ago, my teaching partner and I both fell in love with a brand new book by Cynthia Rylant: The Relatives Came. We brainstormed ideas to incorporate this tale of a close-knit Appalachian family traveling to spend time with each other over the long summer into our lesson plans. We decided that we would teach the book as a way for students to share personal stories of how their own families spent their summer vacation. As a culminating event, we decided to secretly invite parents to school to share in a surprise celebration of reading with their children. Over two decades later, this tradition, our Relatives Came Family Read-Along is still one of my favorites. When parents arrive unexpectedly, carrying baskets filled with books and snacks a la The Relatives, students go from pure shock to elation. This week I’m happy to share with you tips for hosting your own family read-along that just may become a tradition you and your families look forward to for many years to come.

    Why Host a Read-Along?

    • It helps build parent-teacher connections. There used to be times that I did not meet parents until parent-teacher conferences in November. Hosting a family event like a read-along early in the year gives me a chance to walk around and speak with parents and students that I am just getting to know in a relaxed, casual setting. Getting to know parents this way can help make it easier when you need to make phone calls about behaviors or concerns in the classroom later.

    • You see family dynamics in action. Because many people bring siblings and grandparents, I often get to meet extended family members, which gives me more insight into my students’ lives.

    Host a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read Along

    Host a Family Read AlongHost a Family Read Along

    Simple Steps to Host Your Read-Along

    For our event, students’ family members secretly arrive at school with a collection of favorite read-aloud books and baskets full of snacks to share with their children. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a little planning on our part. Below are some simple steps and resources you can use to host a read-along your students will talk about all year long.  

    • Decide on a date and time as early as possible for your family read-along. We prefer to hold this event the last 45 minutes of the day during our second week of school. Friday has become our day of choice because it is a nice way to conclude the first full week, and it seems to be the easiest day for many working parents to slip out early.

    • Choose a location for your families to spread out. We love to hold our read-along outdoors in our school's courtyard, but we always have an indoor backup plan in case of rain. Over the past two decades we have experienced every type of weather imaginable from beautiful sunny days to thunderstorms, intense heat, frigid cold, and a hive of irate bees that did not enjoy our celebration one little bit and let us know about it. Choose a location, but be flexible!  

    • Send home an invitation to parents/guardians explaining the details of your family read-along and asking them to RSVP. Because the read-along is a secret for students, I put this note on the parent page of my class website and also slip it into the back of the information folders that go home with all students on the first day. As the RSVPs come in, send parents a confirmation letter

    Host a Family Read AlongRelatives Came Read Along Invitation and RSVP

    • Make arrangements for students whose parents can't make it.  For those students who have parents that are unable to join us, we make arrangements for an adult the child is familiar with to “adopt” them. Parents will often volunteer to have one of their children’s friends join them, and staff members in our building who are available are always happy to help out with this annual event. For these special cases, we put together a basket of books and snacks for the children to enjoy with their adopted family.

    Relatives Came Family Read Along

    • Contact a parent who will knock on your classroom door at a pre-selected time on the day of the event to get it started. 

    • Prepare the kids to be surprised. A few minutes before the scheduled start time of our read-along, I have students sit on the carpet with their backs to the door, to supposedly review some of the elements of the book we have been studying. I tell them to brainstorm what it would be like to have a surprise visit from relatives they had not seen in a while. We talk briefly about what kinds of foods they might eat, what activities they could do together, etc. 

    • Enjoy the moment! The event really gets started once the parent you've contacted knocks on the door. When students hear the knock, everyone always turns, and I announce that it seems as if we are having a surprise visit from some of "our relatives.” Just then, families come streaming into the room with their baskets, many adorned with kerchiefs around their necks, clutching bunches of favorite read-aloud books. This moment is my absolute favorite part of the event. The class is just staring, jaws wide open trying to figure out why their parents, grandparents, neighbors, or babysitters are there and what exactly is going on. Stupefied looks turn to complete joy when they realize our visitors are going to be spending the rest of the afternoon with them enjoying a snack and a few good books. 

    • Mingle and take lots of pictures! As I walk around talking to all the parents and students, I make sure to take at least one picture of every student in my class with their family. These pictures are printed and used on a bulletin board, plus they are put on our class website to be shared with my students' families around the globe. 

    Check out some pictures from read-alongs the past few years:

     
    Host a Family Read Along

    While we use The Relatives Came as our starting point for the read-along, you could use any favorite book about family. Perhaps you could host a Clifford the Big Red Dog, Corduroy, or Ira Sleeps Over read-along where parents bring in a favorite stuffed animal along with their children’s favorite books.

    Tying the Read-Along to the Curriculum

    While the Read-Along is a great deal of fun, there are many ways we tie it to our curriculum, especially English Language Arts standards. See below for ideas on how to use this favorite book of mine in your classroom:

    Create a Comic Strip

    My favorite activity to do each year as part of our The Relatives Came book study is a simple comic strip. Using a five-part storyboard, my students plan a short story about a time they had a visit with their relatives. Students tell the story in sequential manner from their point of view including dialogue to show thoughts and feelings. Once the children have planned their narrative out, they publish it as a six-panel comic strip. The first panel includes the title and their name, followed by the five parts of the storyboard.

    Free printable story board

    The Relatives Came Activity

     

    More Ideas on Using The Relatives Came in the Classroom

    Each fall we begin our writer's workshop by collecting baseline samples of student writing. Find tips for doing so along with my writing rubric in my post, "Bring Families Together With a Single Book: The Writing Program." The Relatives Came is a wonderful mentor text to use when introducing narratives due to its strong lead, rich language that shows emotion, and effective closing. Below you can see the anchor chart I unveil when introducing narrative writing. 

    Anchor chart for personal narratives

     

    While we hold our family read-along at the beginning of the year, it's a wonderful event to hold any time of year. If your school does not have holiday parties, a Halloween or winter-themed read-along would make for a great celebration. It's also perfect during Reading Month or Poetry Month in April. 

    Over the years I have heard from several teachers around the country who decided to hold their own read-alongs after reading about ours. I would absolutely love to hear from you in the comment section below about your read-along or any other reading-themed celebration you do in your school or classroom.

    Let's connect on Twitter and Pinterest!

    Related Resources

    The Relatives Came by Cynthia RylantThe Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers

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