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September 27, 2017

Teaching Social Skills and Reading With Mo Willems

By Nancy Jang
Grades PreK–K, 1–2

    Have you ever read a book and immediately been struck by how wonderful it is? You want to tell everyone about it and read it again. And again. As an adult, I have read thousands of books including fiction, nonfiction, professional development, and of course my favorite — children’s books! The moment I heard Mo Willems read his first Elephant & Piggie book at the Festival of Books in Los Angeles, I knew it was a gem. I went out right away and bought it. It was simple, fun to read, had a kid-friendly sense of humor, and made great connections to kids. In my mind, Willems was the new Dr. Seuss.

    Elephant & Piggie books have been the absolute favorite books in my second-grade class, but my first graders are also over the moon over these characters. The books are short and funny in a touching and charming way. For a teacher, they are the perfect book to teach littles about social interactions, inference, and as a jumping off point for discussions about character and friendship.

    Elephant (Gerald) and Piggie are best friends even though they are very different characters. Gerald is a worrier, cautious, and anxious. Piggie is joyful, imaginative, and kind. Social situations such as patience, inclusion, problem-solving, and being kind are just a few of the topics that Willems covers through these characters. Following are a few of the books in the series and how I use them in my classroom.

    We Are in a Book

    This is a great book to introduce to students when you are talking about stories in which the reader interacts with the characters.

    Can I Play Too?

    Can I Play Too? is perfect for launching a discussion about friendship, inclusion, problem solving, and maintaining friendships.

    I Really Like Slop

    This funny book is wonderful for discussing how to approach trying something new. It also underscores the concept that friends can disagree about things and still maintain a great friendship using kind words.

    Happy Pig Day

    This little story helps young children understand that while they might not share another person's cultural or religious holiday, they can participate in what is being celebrated by offering good wishes.

    Waiting Is Not Easy

    Very simply, this book teaches the value of patience.

    Should I Share My Ice Cream?

    Young children have a difficult time with the concept of sharing. In this story, Gerald struggles with the idea until a surprise solution appears at the end.

    My New Friend Is So Fun!

    The idea of sharing your friend with another or worrying about whether your friend will like another friend better is one that strikes all of us — no matter how old we are.

    Watch Me Throw the Ball

    Believing in yourself and being proud of your skills is a good thing. So is not taking yourself too seriously. This book addresses it all.

    Normally I bring these books out during read-aloud time. It gives me an opportunity to stop and ask questions about the setting and characters, or the problem the characters are trying to solve. I also like to stop to ask if students made any connections to other books, or themselves.

    Next, we begin to ask questions to improve comprehension and visualization. Then we brainstorm and create a simple thinking map such as a bubble map. Now we are ready to write. In first grade, we are learning to write complete thoughts and to support our opinions with evidence from the book. Since the Elephant & Piggie books are easy to read, and touch on kid-friendly concepts, it makes writing a breeze.

    In addition to responding to literature, I also love to draw the characters as an art extension activity. The kids have even begun to write some of their own stories starring Gerald and Piggie. It’s exciting to see the children so inspired by Willems’ work and chomping at the bit to read and re-read every single book. These are the books that make learning to read engaging and FUN.

    I hope that you enjoy the books as much as our class does and will read and re-read them all. Thanks for stopping by!

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

    Have you ever read a book and immediately been struck by how wonderful it is? You want to tell everyone about it and read it again. And again. As an adult, I have read thousands of books including fiction, nonfiction, professional development, and of course my favorite — children’s books! The moment I heard Mo Willems read his first Elephant & Piggie book at the Festival of Books in Los Angeles, I knew it was a gem. I went out right away and bought it. It was simple, fun to read, had a kid-friendly sense of humor, and made great connections to kids. In my mind, Willems was the new Dr. Seuss.

    Elephant & Piggie books have been the absolute favorite books in my second-grade class, but my first graders are also over the moon over these characters. The books are short and funny in a touching and charming way. For a teacher, they are the perfect book to teach littles about social interactions, inference, and as a jumping off point for discussions about character and friendship.

    Elephant (Gerald) and Piggie are best friends even though they are very different characters. Gerald is a worrier, cautious, and anxious. Piggie is joyful, imaginative, and kind. Social situations such as patience, inclusion, problem-solving, and being kind are just a few of the topics that Willems covers through these characters. Following are a few of the books in the series and how I use them in my classroom.

    We Are in a Book

    This is a great book to introduce to students when you are talking about stories in which the reader interacts with the characters.

    Can I Play Too?

    Can I Play Too? is perfect for launching a discussion about friendship, inclusion, problem solving, and maintaining friendships.

    I Really Like Slop

    This funny book is wonderful for discussing how to approach trying something new. It also underscores the concept that friends can disagree about things and still maintain a great friendship using kind words.

    Happy Pig Day

    This little story helps young children understand that while they might not share another person's cultural or religious holiday, they can participate in what is being celebrated by offering good wishes.

    Waiting Is Not Easy

    Very simply, this book teaches the value of patience.

    Should I Share My Ice Cream?

    Young children have a difficult time with the concept of sharing. In this story, Gerald struggles with the idea until a surprise solution appears at the end.

    My New Friend Is So Fun!

    The idea of sharing your friend with another or worrying about whether your friend will like another friend better is one that strikes all of us — no matter how old we are.

    Watch Me Throw the Ball

    Believing in yourself and being proud of your skills is a good thing. So is not taking yourself too seriously. This book addresses it all.

    Normally I bring these books out during read-aloud time. It gives me an opportunity to stop and ask questions about the setting and characters, or the problem the characters are trying to solve. I also like to stop to ask if students made any connections to other books, or themselves.

    Next, we begin to ask questions to improve comprehension and visualization. Then we brainstorm and create a simple thinking map such as a bubble map. Now we are ready to write. In first grade, we are learning to write complete thoughts and to support our opinions with evidence from the book. Since the Elephant & Piggie books are easy to read, and touch on kid-friendly concepts, it makes writing a breeze.

    In addition to responding to literature, I also love to draw the characters as an art extension activity. The kids have even begun to write some of their own stories starring Gerald and Piggie. It’s exciting to see the children so inspired by Willems’ work and chomping at the bit to read and re-read every single book. These are the books that make learning to read engaging and FUN.

    I hope that you enjoy the books as much as our class does and will read and re-read them all. Thanks for stopping by!

    Happy Teaching,

    Nancy

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Susan Cheyney

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