Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: August 2015
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Why Have a Theme-Based Community Meeting {Series Post #3}


Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview


In my last post, I shared with you my journey to the idea of a theme-based morning meeting. When I implemented a morning meeting routine into my classroom, I found that Common themes and messages kept popping up in our meeting discussions and in the literature we shared together {showing kindness, extending a sense of belonging to others, believing in oneself, showing compassion, that people can do more than they ever thought they were capable of, etc}. All of a sudden, it just made perfect sense to base the course of my community meetings on themes that allowed me to continue to touch on these important messages while also creating an organizational structure to tie everything together. {Post # 2 focuses on the design and organization of my meeting routines}.

Why Do I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the conscious decision of teaching through theme in my Community Meeting? Here's why:

Greater focus, more creativity. A theme-based approach to community meetings has allowed me to be more organized as I plan for our meetings. Within the expected structure that I have designed for my classroom meetings (introduction of the theme, vocabulary, and related quotations, self-assessment, discussion, making connections), I can still be very creative in how I share the theme with students and provoke discussions. Youtube videos, songs and lyrics, picturebooks, poems, mini-activities and projects, current events, artwork, memes, or just a simple question for students to respond to—the possibilities are endless but any and every creative teaching idea fits into the routine when the activity is part of building understanding of the focus theme!

Increased use of picturebooks. My theme-based community meeting allows me the increased opportunity to use picturebooks with my students. As we get past the “beginning of the year phase,” my reader’s workshop read alouds quickly become chapter books, but I know that picturebooks are still an appropriate, engaging, and fun teaching tool for upper elementary students. Picturebooks give us the opportunity to see a full story unfold in a short amount of time. They offer us the opportunity to "get to the point" and have discussions around a complete text in one or two classroom meetings. I like to think that I instill a life-long love of picturebooks in my students. So now, rather than use them sporadically with a feeling of guilt that I have not shared more picturebooks with my students, I am able to use picturebooks as a teaching tool consistently because of my community meeting lessons.

Increased Commitment. Designing my community meetings so that important themes are the driving force has increased my commitment to consistently hold community meetings because the theme-based approach allows me the regular opportunity to teach important literacy skills in addition to what we learn in reader’s workshop. As I expose students to new themes, teach related vocabulary, and read multiple books on the same theme, I am able to target how author's build a theme, analyzing an author’s message or perspective, and teach students to compare and contrast literature. Because of this, I’m not really “taking time away” from my classroom by adding community meetings to our schedule. I am complementing and increasing the meaning behind everything we do, especially in our literacy block. When I know and believe that community meeting complements my literacy instruction, and sometimes becomes my literacy instruction, it makes me more committed to sticking to my community meeting routine.

What really made me a firm believer in my themed-morning meetings? The first year that I implemented my theme-based morning meeting, I saw immediate and tremendous growth in my students’ understanding of theme. I regularly observe students referring back to our "Morning Meeting Themes" bulletin board during our readers workshop and I often ask them to take a look at it when we are discussing theme and central messages during our reading mini-lessons. Our community themes bulletin board is a great reference tool for students when they are writing in their reader response notebooks. The fruits of our community meetings multiply during readers workshop!

Community meeting is double-dipping in the best way! Take a look at the Common Core standards that are met through my theme-based community meeting lessons.

Later, I will show you how I cover a lot of ground during the first few weeks of school so that students are quickly introduced to themes that you will get a lot of miles out of as your year goes on.
Missed any posts in the series? Catch up now and see what's ahead!

See you next Saturday!  

Image Map


Does Character Have a Place in Your Back to School Plans?

Kara Coleman, owner of Making Playtime Count, is sure to help you figure out ways to fit character development and social skills into your back to school and year-long plans AND make this time with your children FUN! Kara's guest blogging on Tarheelstate Teacher today so be sure to continue reading to learn some creative ways that you can fit character in more often!

One of the biggest challenges of an elementary school teacher is figuring out how to fit it all into the day, week, and school year. The curriculum is vast, the kids are all on completely different pages with what they already know and what they need support with, and it seems like there are hundreds of unpredictable interruptions a week.

However, teachers are experts at understanding that social and emotional health has to have a big place in their classrooms, regardless of what the curriculum says or what they have time for. Teachers know that in order to create the most effective, engaging academic environment in which children can thrive, they must first develop a trusting relationship with students and ensure they feel safe, supported, and able to take risks in their learning. Supporting students in learning how to effectively communicate and solve conflicts with others and teaching them the importance of a wide array of character traits such as integrity, resilience, and courage are all crucial when building a classroom community.

While time is incredibly tight, there are some pockets of time throughout the school day where a focus on character building can be carved out. As you are planning out your back-to-school schedules, consider these ideas:


Implement a daily community meeting into your schedule. Community meetings help teachers be more purposeful about creating a trusting, open environment that shows your students you are a community that works together and supports one another. It sets the tone for the day, promotes authentic opportunities for open communication, allows students to feel connected to one another, and provides the perfect venue for working on social and emotional issues that your students need. The benefits of community meetings far outweigh the few minutes of time it takes from your day.


Start a weekly lunch bunch with a small group of students focused on a particular need. For instance, for a group of students who are struggling to get along with others, consider reading them books that teach relationship building skills or playing a game centered on making friends with them while they eat lunch.


Be purposeful about the activities students are doing when they are finished with their morning routines, but the day has not yet officially started. Consider teaching some character building games that would support your students’ needs at the beginning of the year so that students can play them independently with each other when they are finished with their morning work or possibly in lieu of morning work one day a week.

Stock up on engaging read alouds that hit on topics your students may need brushing up on such as interrupting, using manners, respecting personal space, working as a team, etc. There are so many great ones out there. Julia Cook’s books are some of our favorites because of their creative, humorous nature. Carry one with you whenever you leave the classroom with your students. How many times do you unexpectedly get stuck in the hallway waiting for the whole class to use the bathroom? Or for the specials class to let out so that your students can be dropped off? Those are precious minutes that could be used for a purpose, rather than just for waiting.

Involve parents. Consider loaning specific character building books or games to students that may need additional support with a particular skill so that they can work on it at home as well as at school. Parents are often eager to help, but need support in knowing what they can do at home.




Be strategic about rewards. Incentives are a popular way to motivate students. If you already use free time or game time as a reward, consider the games you are providing for your students. Also, consider playing some character building music in the background during these times. Why not reward them while simultaneously developing social skills that students may be lacking?

Teachers are the most creative people out there when it comes to making the most of their time with students. What are some other ideas you have used or seen in the past?

Want to stock up on some new books, games, or music for your new year? Use the code tarheel20 at Making Playtime Count and enjoy 20% off your order. Expires September 4th.

Kara Coleman is the owner of Making Playtime Count and has always been passionate about early childhood development.  A former elementary school teacher, she has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  In 2009, Kara became Nationally Board Certified and was recognized as the Orange County, NC Teacher of the Year.  Now a stay-at-home mother of two young children, Kara strives to find resources and activities that are rich in educational quality without sacrificing the fun factor for children.

Community Meeting: The Design {Series Post #2}

Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
Series Post # 4: Community Meeting: Materials and Resources
Series Post # 5: Launching Community Meeting at the BOY
Series Post # 6: Day by Day in the Community Meeting
Series Post # 7: Scheduling the Community Meeting
Series Post # 8: I Still Can't Fit it all In

I believe that each and every classroom meeting program can look different. If you choose to implement one this year, I encourage you to allow yourself the freedom to discover what works for you and your classroom. My classroom meeting has shaped itself over the years and yours will too. I am currently using a theme-based, literature-focused classroom meeting that incorporates literature, journaling, and reflection and I couldn’t be happier with how students respond to this classroom routine.

After implementing a very loose version of the Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting routine for a few years, I began envisioning a way that my students and I could get more out of those daily 15-25 minutes together. I knew that as I read aloud community-building books and shared short, inspiring videos with my students throughout the year, common themes (lessons and messages) kept popping up. I realized that my morning meeting could be based on these important themes that I have always found myself discussing with students! I could also “kill two birds with one stone” by using my community meetings in a way that would complement my literacy instruction.

As I kept processing this idea, I brainstormed a wish-list of all the themes I’d like to discuss with my students. Rather than have a seemingly random sequence of discussions planned for morning meeting, themes in literature could be the foundation upon which our morning meetings were built day in and day out!

The first year that I implemented my ideas for a theme-based morning meeting, I put things together piecemeal before the start of each themed-unit. Sometimes I was even searching for a good video 5 minutes before my students entered the classroom. I really wanted to have journal pages ready to-go, but often students responded to open ended prompts and just jotted things in their composition notebooks. I loved morning meeting, but it just wasn't something that I had a lot of prep time to work on. Finally, I sat down and made myself put together a cohesive plan for each theme. The bulletin boards and journal pages grew from this. Not only did I make the materials I needed for the classroom, but I also compiled related picturebooks, wrote key questions, and looked for extension opportunities include music and videos.

The components of my community meeting include:
To implement my theme-based morning meeting lessons, I pulled together quotations and related vocabulary words and created bulletin board materials to help me display each theme. My main themes:


Theme Coverpages: Students receive theme cover pages on the first or second day of each theme. The coverpages include the theme title, related quotations, and the related vocabulary with definitions. This is the perfect reference for students as we have discussions and they complete written reflections. Students often refer to the vocabulary to help them use appropriate language. Learning new vocabulary? I like it!
Self Reflections: It's important for students to complete a self-reflection at the launch of a new theme. They also use their reflection to set a personal goal related to the theme. For example, during our belonging unit, students could make a goal to reach out to a new person each day.
Discussion Page: Then, I created a variety of student journal pages that allow for personal reflection, written response to discussion questions, brainstorming and problem-solving. I created a discussion prompt journal page because I'm a firm believe in having students jot down ideas before I begin a whole group discussion. I like to hold everyone accountable for thinking and it's a great way to ensure that each and every child could contribute something to the conversation because they have a heads up about the questions I will be asking during the discussion. I often turn these journal pages into anchor charts that we can refer back to at anytime.
I incorporated bubble-maps, comparison charts, lists, and other graphic organizers. I created extension activities for each theme. Sometimes students generate synonyms on a bubble map (like for kindness), make lists, or create illustrations. Some of the journal pages go along with a specific book we read during the theme or a song or video that I show them from youtube.
Teacher Resource Ideas: I compiled lists of picturebooks, key questions, related videos, songs, and other teaching ideas into teacher resource pages. These plans have been a lifesaver for me as I strive to implement good-quality, theme-based morning meeting, I have what I need at my finger tips!

My community meeting materials are prepped for the first month of school. I started my bulletin board, have my teacher resource sheets printed and in my planning binder, and have made copies of the coverpages and student journal pages. I'm starting our first day {MONDAY!} off with my Belonging theme by reading Big Al by Andrew Clements. I've labeled all of my student notebooks with a "Community Meeting Journal" label (printed 4 to a page to save on ink) and glued in their "belonging" cover page so that we are ready to go! You can read all about my plans in my post on Setting the Foundation for Belonging and grab the free Belonging materials!

During the next post in my series, I'm going to share more about why a theme-based community meeting is just so perfect!

What else is coming up in the series?




What I'm Prepping: SALE: the Week Before School Starts


I have been working away in my classroom! It's not going to look like I have done a lot today when you see my pictures, but what I did get finished took some time and I'm feeling good about next week. I'm trying to get the "big rocks" in first and then the little pebbles (like all the deets about EXACTLY what I'm doing Monday) will fill in easily :) I wanted to share with you what I'm prepping this week that you can also find in my teacherspayteachers store along with some amazingly helpful freebies from other sellers that I recently came across....and Wednesday 8/19 you can get everything in my store at 28% off with the code MORE15  because TpT wanted to give you ONE MORE day of back to school love! Heck, I'm even going to run my sale on Thursday 8/20 in case you are crazy busy like me and need another day to shop. You won't get the additional TpT discount, but you will still save 20% on anything in my store! 
Okay, I know that you are supposed to save the best for last, but I just can't wait to tell you about my FAVORITE thing I prepped today! I started looking through my Building a Reading Life reader response and back to school bulletin board file to get my reader response journal materials ready and I decided that it was time to revamp the journal sections. {I'm also updating the cover and backgrounds for the posters and all the updates will be ready to re-download by this weekend! It's time for me to hit refresh on an amazingly helpful resource! If you are interested in this resource, as is, it's ready to go without the updates!}

I read The Book Whisper and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller this summer and she just sang all that I believe about reading instruction. So, I've decided that I'm calling my kiddos WILD READERS (and learners) this year and our journals are going to be called Wild Reading Journal. I am in LOVE with the clip art accents from Ashley Hughes that I decided to use to label each section. {This thing is packed full of journal response sheets for learning about what kind of readers your students are AND awesome quotations about reading that I have printed and posted all around my room...It is a STAPLE resource that I have used to launch my  readers workshop at the beginning of each year since I created the product!} I printed the journal sheets in different bright colors and went ahead and made myself a journal. The papercliped slips you see in the pictures are quotations that I will use to have students respond to and spark "wild reading" discussions. I LOVE building a reading life! Excuse the really bad pictures...I'm exhausted and really want to SHOW you my reading journal, but don't have the time to make it pretty tonight!

Finding Donalyn's templates online today (the ones from the Appendices of Reading in the Wild and so much more at her slideshare site) was a god-send this afternoon! I've printed so many of them in 1/2 sheet sizes and prepped my journal so that I know how I want students to lay out their reading journals. I also found an AWESOME and CUTE free resource at Third Grade Bookworm. You just have to RUNNN now and download this freebie from her post! Finding these freebies made my planning so much easier today!



Next, I prepared my "Community Meeting" journals. I'm keeping one for myself this year so that I can have a better record of what actually happened in our meetings. I'm doing the same with my reading journals. Plus, having my own journal with journal sheets glued in ahead of time sure is making me feel really great about my plans. I went ahead and made journal copies for my 5 beginning of year themes: Belonging, Kindness, Compassion, Conflict, and Perseverance. I hope you are following my take on "Implementing the Community Meeting Series" {new post on Saturday!} and learning ALL about my community meeting!

 

This year, I have decided to implement the Words their Way Derivational Relations Spellers word lists with my whole class. Because learning Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes are so important in 4th and 5th grades, I decided to implement my Derivational Relations notebook whole heartedly for the whole class. {For students who fall well below this level in word study, I'm going to have them do an extra chunk of word study based on their level during guided reading/independent time}. If you are familiar with my word searches for Words their Way, you know that I believe my "blind" word searches are perfect for teaching students to look for spelling patterns. {They complete the word searches without a word list prior to working through the notebook pages and DISCOVER the word list as they search for words.} I can write more about this later, but I LOOOOOOOOVE using the word searches and notebook pages and can't say enough about how excited I am just to jump in and implement this will my whole class this year!  {To prep these, I just decided to use the coverpages included in the resource and print back and front, staple or double staple, and hole punch. Students will put these in their binders.} I'll share my new Word Study routine with you soon!

One of my FAVORITE things that I prepped this week was my teacher binder. I.AM.NOT.a BINDER person!!! But, with the beautiful binder covers offered by Mandy Neal @teachingwithsimplicity, how can I not fall in LOvE? I also found really cute grade level and subject area covers in Jen Jones' store. I realized {thankfully} last weekend that perhaps if I had empty binders ready to hold the stuff I would print during the year, then I would be more organized as I moved on to other subjects and concepts. Can you say AhHAH??!?!?! I also keep thinking about advice given at TpT Vegas (it was about planners and time management) to commit to trying a system for a few months before you give up on it. I've labeled a "Back to School" binder and my math binder has dividers for each content area. I'm thinking at least this will remind me of what I did this year when I look through it next year. {My binder commitment issues are mainly because I have everything saved in a file or on TPT at this point, so it's tough for me to keep paper copies around. But, I'm going to reform myself this year!}


{Part of this post turned into alphabet soup :( and I don't want to cry about it! Forgive me for the shortened explanations. I will try to add more! I wrote a lot about my new binders and that just makes me double sad that it's gone now.:( :( )

I'm sure I've prepped a few more things, but golly I'm tired and need a shower! Can you say pre-back to school teacher workdays = 12 hour days?!?!??! I'm just happy that I have the MOTIVATION and the ENERGY to keep going while I can. I'll rest Saturday and mentally prepare some more on Sunday!

I hope your back to school season is treating you well. Do all you can to remain "as cool as a cucumber" and that you are looking forward to all that 2015-2016 has in store! I know you can make this your BEST year yet! Sending "teacher love" your way! 


Still Trying to Decide on Your Back to School Read Aloud?

4th and 5th grade teachers, are you still trying to decide which chapter book you will use for your first read aloud? My first day of school is next Monday, and while I've decided to use Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt as my first chapter book, I thought you might still be trying to decide on yours (as I usually am at this point in my back to school preparation) and that I would share some of my ultimate favorite books to read with students as the first chapter book we share together. 

At the start of every year, I spend some time mulling over which chapter book will be my first read aloud.  It's a big commitment and I want to make sure it's the right one! I have some time to make my decision because during the first few weeks of school, I read a ton of picturebooks. {In case you missed it earlier this month, I've created a list of some of my favorite back to school picturebooks and shared it in my TpT store. If you downloaded it earlier, I've added more titles to the "Love of Reading" section.}

I am a firm believer in reading aloud to my students and we always have a chapter book going, but reading this line from Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild this summer just hit me with conviction! "Every school year, I regret not reading aloud MORE to my students." I have to stop letting myself believe for one second that "perhaps we should be doing something more" during the time that I am reading aloud or students are independently reading their own books. NO!!! This is what WILD READERS DO!!! This is the GOAL of reading instruction---to read, read, read and LOVE IT! Not to read worksheets, but I won't go on a tangent!

With my plans to read lots of picturebooks at the beginning of the school year, I have 1-2 weeks into the school year before I'm ready to start investing our classroom time on a chapter book. Last year, I don't think I made my final decision until the day before I planned to begin our chapter book.

How's it possible to wait until the.last.minute? Well, many of the books I have tagged for my favorite back to school read-alouds have similar themes (as you'll soon see). So, given that I want to review reading skills, strengthen our classroom community, teach students to make inferences, and analyze characters more precisely, any of these books will fit within my teaching goals. Without further ado, prepare to grab some fantastic literature! 

My Favorite Chapter Book Read Alouds to use for my VERY First Read Aloud With Students
{In no particular order, although Wonder may now always top my list of the ULTIMATE classroom read aloud and community building experience. I cried at the end. I rooted for Auggie the whole time...you know, literary perfection! To be honest, I have not yet read Fish in a Tree, but I've heard it's amazing from some trusted sources and I'm going with it. I love sharing a NEW book with NEW kiddos too! I just solidifies the bond so much!}

Wonder by RJ Palacio: I read Wonder a few summers ago in just a few days and I am a SLOW reader. I was so excited to share this book with my 5th graders that year! Auggie, the main character, was born with a craniofacial disorder. He was born with droopy eyes, a cleft pallet, and missing part of his jaw. He is used to people looking at him and quickly changing their gaze or looking down. His parents chose to homeschool him until 5th grade. The book chronicles his 5th grade year in a middle school setting. As you would predict, he experiences bullies, fake friendships, and hurt feelings, but he also experiences true friendship, triumph, and finally--ACCEPTANCE. I had to fight off the urge to sob the entire time I was reading this book. I truly think it's a wonderful way to start the year, bring together a group of students, and teach compassion. This book challenges every reader (young and old) to see through how superficially we live our lives and to consider how critical we are of our own looks. I can't say enough amazing things about this book! I especially love how it is written with different perspectives and most of the chapters are BITE-SIZED. It makes me feel like we are moving fast!


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: When I was student teaching forever ago, I picked up a copy of Stargirl  and Jerry Spinelli became my favorite children's author. This man understands childhood! And, I was suprised (as many students are) to begin reading this book and find that it has a male narrator, Leo. Stargirl almost always makes itself into my 5th grade curriculum as a book club, but one year, I used it as a read aloud to target the theme of "conformity." I hope you are already familiar with Stargirl, but basically Mica Area High School is the "hotbed of conformity." Everyone, even the unpopular kids, seems to follow along with Hilary Kimball and Wayne Parr. Until, Stargirl, a homeschooled, unique, march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum, girl comes along. Leo, the narrator, eventually falls in love with Stargirl, but soon realizes that he is being ostracized because of his friendship with her. The critical conflict in the book is the choice Leo feels he must make between being accepted by his peers by returning to their world of conformity, OR continuing a friendship with Stargirl. Regret, "being caught between a rock and a hard place," and accepting others for their uniqueness (rather than expecting them to conform) are huge themes in Stargirl. I underline and highlight when I read, and this one is just full of beautiful language. Telling you guys about it now, I'm inspired to read this one aloud to my 4th graders later in the year! Just LOVE IT!


Firegirl by Tony Abbott: I have used Firegirl as a read aloud once and many times as a book club book. If you want a read aloud that gets at some of the same themes as Stargirl and Wonder but that is a shorter, less complex read, Firegirl is the one for you. Jessica comes to Tom's school mid year because she is receiving burn treatments at a local hospital. Jessica was badly burned when a gas tank exploded while her mom was pumping gas. As you can imagine, the environment in the classroom totally changes when Jessica joins the class. Although she is not able to come to class all of the time because of her medical treatments, when she does, no one speaks to her or wants to touch her. Mid-book, Tom begins a friendship with Jessica when his teacher asks him to drop off some of her school work at her house. When Jessica returns to her regular home, Tom has major regrets about not reaching out to Jessica and befriending her sooner. This book gives you the opportunity to teach compassion and regrets, but also lends itself to discussing with students how to be a leader rather than a bystander. {This would be perfect to combo with the picturebooks Each Kindness.}


The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo: This was my second read aloud last year and has previously be my very first read aloud. I was introduced to this book when my school began using the Lucy Calkins Reading Units of study. The Tiger Rising is a CAPTIVATING. I read it in all of one hour and just bawled again at the end. I love it because it has so much to teach us about dealing with our demons. The amazon.com description does not do this book justice, "Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger—a real-life, very large tiger—pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things—like memories, and heartache, and tigers—can’t be locked up forever." During my reading aloud of this novel, I taught students to walk in the characters' shoes, have compassion, and deal with their own "suitcase" of emotions. This book allowed me to fall in love with symbolism and the importance of teaching symbolism to 4th and 5th graders---they are not too young and the authors they read are definitely using it!  I seriously felt like I was teaching guidance lessons at the same time that I was teaching reading skills. To me, the tiger is the LEAST of importance in this book, but it keeps the kids wanting more and is a symbol of Rob and Sistine's own imprisonment by their emotions. Sistine's father is out of the picture and Rob's mother has recently passed away. Rob's father moved them to another town to get away from the pain, never talks about his mother, and has a hard time showing love towards Rob. Rob stuffs his feelings inside a metaphorical suitcase. On the otherhand, Sistine is always ready to let her feelings explode and often lets them out by beating on the bullies at the school. If you have not read this book, you MUST put it on your "to read" list. It took this slow reader all of an hour to finish and I did not want to put it down!!!!

Wings by Bill Brittain is a book that I have used with 4th graders a few times. I always go back and forth about it because the writing is not Jerry-Spinelli-amazing, but the storyline does keep students engaged. It's also set in the Appalachain Mountains of NC so that makes it a good book to tie in to our social studies curriculum. From amazon, "No one can explain why Ian has sprouted wings—or adjust to their huge batlike appearance. With family and friends hostile about his situation, only Anita Pickens provides Ian with the will to use his wings and to survive his ultimate decision to have them removed. Ian is worth getting to know, and his situation is one that has intrigued children and storytellers from the days of Icarus." Yes, you read that right! Ian is SPROUTING WINGS! At that point, I have my kids on the edge of their seats. Ian's parents are so self-involved, my students and I love {and hate} to watch their relationship with Ian. Really, his wings seem to be a cry for help in a family where he is the last priority. Enjoyable read and it's included here because I have read it for the first chapter books at least twice!

Just Juice by Karen Hesse is another great read! The first year I taught "building a reading life," one of the Lucy Calkins' units, I used Just Juice. Juice is a tomboy who lives in the mountains with her mom, pa, and two older sisters and a baby on the way. Juice is the type of kid who likes to be outside running around the mountain, not sitting behind a school desk learning and reading books. She's had the truancy officer visit the house a couple of times. Really, Juice has a secret that students have to figure out along the way--she can't read and it makes her not want to go to school. Juice was held back the year before and often talks about how her classmates moved up a grade (and so did the teacher! but she was left behind). This book is so perfect for teaching an appreciation for the ability to read, allowing struggling students to see that they are not alone, and for teaching the growth mindset.

The last book I want to highlight is Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. This book deals with foster children and issues of abandonment. Hollis Woods is always running away from something, and she might have run away from the family that truly loved her. This book is really cool because there are "pictures" before each chapter {written in italics} that provide us with Hollis' memories. I use this book to teach students that readers learn to "coach" their own reading lives. Perfect for a transition from 4th grade to 5th grade. Rather than tell students what the sections written in italics are, I read a bit of the book, and try to get most students to figure it out. They do usually realize that the snippets are flashbacks, but it may take a little prompting to get them to connect to why the book is called pictures. Hollis is a character who wants to be loved, who we love, and root for throughout the book.


From the looks of this list, it's safe to say that I like to choose read alouds that help teach my students how to treat one another with tolerance and compassion, how to face life, and how to become better people. I believe each of these books are the types that stick with readers forever!


Want more read aloud ideas? A few years ago, Mr. Hughes at An Educator's Life hosted a huge linky of favorite chapter books for 3rd-8th graders. The linky is still live so teachers are still adding favorites to the list! You can hop on over to see what other suggestions have been made. This amazing resource is organized by grade level so it's easy to hunt around for new books to familiarize yourself with.

While this post focused on the very first chapter books to read aloud to students, I've also written about some of my other favorite read alouds to share as the year goes on. You can check back often to see what books I've added to the chapter book read aloud section of my "Favorite Resources" tab.


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