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How to Choose Chapter Books for GREAT Teacher Read-Alouds

How to Choose Chapter Books for Great Teacher Read Alouds

Reading chapter books aloud to my class is one of my most favorite literacy instructional moves. There is not much better than diving into a great story together and experiencing every word from beginning to end. You know it's a great read aloud when your students are hanging on every word and you even catch yourself wanting to read on after time for reading is over. BUT, choosing the right text is crucial! How do you choose which books to read aloud to your class?
How to Choose Chapter Books for Great Teacher Read Alouds

As a general rule, books read aloud (whether chapter books or picture books) should be at least one to two grade levels higher than your students' independent reading levels. This provides the opportunity to model what good reading sounds like at higher levels, think-aloud for reading strategies (check out my #1 Best Vocabulary Lesson HERE), and improve students' listening comprehension. In today's world of podcasts, digital books, and multi-tasking in general - teaching children how to listen to a story is almost as important as teaching them how to read it!

I use the following guidelines when choosing read-aloud texts:
1. Choose a book at least 1-2 grade levels higher than your students' independent reading levels. This year my second graders have heard 9 chapter books read aloud. The average level was around 5th grade. Not only were my children able to pass the difficult AR test afterwards, but they accrued many points in doing so!
2. Choose books that are easy to bring to life. Some texts just lend themselves to being great read-alouds. In my Kindergarten-teaching days I would put my readings of Junie B. Jones's antics up against the greatest storytellers' renditions. The way Barbara Park created the character and wrote the dialog make her books an easy choice for increasing engagement. Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School is another fun, engaging text!
3. Choose books that are relevant to other subject areas. During the fall months we read The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks and were able to make connections to our Thanksgiving unit on Native Americans as we read. Connecting fiction and informational texts is a great way to increase content understanding and improve comprehension skills.
4. Choose books that are culturally diverse. Books can be powerful teaching tools and can become the vehicle for learning about so much more than reading skills. Choosing books that represent a variety of cultures is vital. All students in the class need to "see" themselves in the books you read aloud in order to be able to relate and make text-self connections. Moreover, hearing and discussing books about culture different than one's own is a way to break down barriers, expose biases, and begin to foster a mindset of acknowledgement and acceptance among cultures. As teachers it is our responsibility to make sure the books we choose to read aloud are diverse.
5. Choose books that interest your students. After hearing a true story about two dogs saving a man who had fallen through an icy pond during a core reading lesson I could tell my students' interest were piqued. They love animals so I knew they would love The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. The text was on a 7th grade reading level and the action was all implied as the animals' journey was documented by a narrator, but my class was enthralled. We laughed at times, we sucked in our breath at times, and we cried at the end. It's probably my favorite memory from this entire school year!
6. Choose books that interest you! I remember vividly how my first grade teacher told us that her favorite authors were Shel Silverstein and Chris Van Alsburg as she read ALL of their stories aloud to the class. It's no coincidence that these authors' books still rank among MY favorites today. Your students want to hear about what you enjoyed reading as a child and they want to be like you. I know I was the most excited person in the room the day we started reading Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers because the series was one of my very favorites as a child. My excitement fueled my students' excitement as well and we loved exploring the adventures of Jane and Michael together!

Remember - reading a chapter book aloud is a commitment. It takes time to work through an entire book when you may only be able to allot 15-20 minutes a day to the task. Stay the course and see those chapter books through! Your students WILL remember the experience as they grow older... and for some of them it will be their favorite time spent with you!


The #1 BEST Reading Vocabulary Lesson

The Best Vocabulary Lesson You Should Teach Every Day

What do you do to help improve your students' knowledge and understanding of vocabulary? Do you take a systematic approach by exposing students to a contrived list of words and definitions? Do you take a more incidental approach through teaching "word-awareness" and rich discussion? Either way, you've probably learned all about the components to good vocabulary instruction. This year I improved one specific area of my reading instruction and saw my students' vocabulary scores significantly increase!
The Best Vocabulary Lesson You Should Teach Every Day

According to Linda Diamond and Linda Gutlohn in their article, "Teaching Vocabulary," on the site, Reading Rockets, there are four main components to good vocabulary instruction:

  1. wide or extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge
  2. instruction in specific words to enhance comprehension of texts containing those words
  3. instruction in independent word-learning strategies, and
  4. word consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enhance learning

My guess is that most of us work to get these strategies right. We build comprehensive and engaging classroom libraries to foster a love of reading, grow independent readers, and expand our students' reading "appetites." When using a mentor text we will take time to teach vocabulary words from the story and we present vocabulary from other content areas on a daily basis. We teach word-learning strategies and use word-play in our instruction so that students have skills to tackle unknown words when they are reading. In short, we get all the explicit part right. 

But, my fear is that when we focus on explicit vocabulary instruction we miss big opportunities for authentic, organic vocabulary instruction that lie right under our noses!

The single BEST reading vocabulary lesson I give every day is during my teacher read-aloud time. If you are not using your teacher read aloud as an integral part of your vocabulary instruction then you are missing out! (Read more about how I select chapter books for read alouds HERE!)
When we read aloud we should be conscious of the instructional opportunities that lie within the pages. When we MODEL word-attack strategies, THINK ALOUD how we use context clues, and INVOLVE students in the process of comprehending we open a world of words to our students with which they might not otherwise engage.

Check out this excerpt from my most recent read aloud, Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers...
"Mary Poppins pulled the perambulator up with a jerk, in case Andrew, in his wild flight, should upset it and the twins." 
Me: Hmm... here's a tricky word I've never seen before. How should I try to solve it?
Students: Break it in parts and read the parts!
Me: Right. Per-am-bu-la-tor Wow, I still have no idea what this word is! What should I do if I'm still not sure?
Students: Read the rest of the sentence!
Me: Great idea. Rereads sentence. Well, now I'm thinking about what this thing could be. The text says the twins are in the perambulator so it must be some kind of carrier; so definitely a noun. And Mary Poppins and the kids are out on a walk... Hmm. Any ideas?
Students: Maybe it's a stroller!
Me: Oh! Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it?
Students: Yes, since the twins are babies and they can't walk.
Me: To be sure, I'm going to write this word down and we will look it up later.

WOW! In just one 3 minute interaction we reviewed all 4 steps to good vocabulary instruction with an organic authenticity that my students are MUCH MORE LIKELY to remember and (even better) APPLY to new and unknown vocabulary words within their own reading experiences. 

The proof came just a few days later...
Teacher: Who would like to share something they wrote in their journal about their weekend?
Student: I had a soccer game. This picture shows my mom pushing my baby sister in the perambulator.

Are YOU taking advantage of authentic vocabulary teaching moments when you read aloud? I can honestly say that when I amped up my real-aloud instruction my students' vocabulary scores improved... not one child in my second grade class
(aside from two students learning English as their second language) 
shows a deficit in vocabulary knowledge.

I want to hear from you! 
What book are you reading aloud to your class RIGHT NOW?
Let me know in the comments below!

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Top 5 Memorable Ways to End the School Year

Top 5 Most Memorable Ways to End the School Year

The end of the school year is always bittersweet. Summer Break is always calling me, but after spending ten months together it's hard to say goodbye to our classroom family. I'm sentimental by nature and work hard to create wonderful memories for my own children at home... so my classroom is no exception. So I've put together what I believe are the top 5 most memorable ways to end the school year.
Top 5 Most Memorable Ways to End the School Year

1. Memory Book: Whether it's a simple file folder filled with exceptional work or a binder with tabs and page protectors, a memory book is an easy way to cap off the year and reflect. One of my favorites is from Nicole Rios on TpT called "Packing Up My Year..." My Kinders love choosing all their favorites from the year and I love the added touch of a note from the teacher at the end of the book.

2. Photo Slideshows/Videos: Taking photos throughout the year is a MUST for this memory-maker. So, if your phone is bursting with fun pics then creating a video is super simple using Apple iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. I take lots of individual shots of my students throughout the year to decorate my door. So to make my video extra special I put each student's photos in a row to show how he/she changed over the year... from the first day to the last.

3. Authors' Breakfast: We keep portfolios for student-writing throughout the year. Parents are invited to our classroom one morning to sit with their child and read through their work. This is a wonderful time for reflection and a perfect time to give young authors a real audience for their work. To make the celebration extra-special (and to make sure each child has someone to read to) I invite all our school and board level administrators as well as all support staff including custodians and cafeteria workers. The Authors' Breakfast is one of my most favorite activities of the year.

4. School Thank Yous: As we reflect on what made the school year special, my students and I make a list of all the people at school (and at home) who had a positive impact on our year. Then, we divide the list and write special thank you letters to each person. We talk about why thanking others is so important and why having an "attitude of gratitude" not only lifts up others, but ourselves as well!

5. Class Awards: It's important to make every single student feel like a success so each year I create individualized class award certificates. At the award ceremony I describe the recipient without saying their name so that students in the class can guess who will be named. Sometimes the awards are obvious - "Best Reader," "Class Leader," & "Class Comedian." Other times the awards are specific or stem from happenings during the school year. One spring we were overrun with crickets in the classroom and one little boy would safely catch them and release them outside. When he won the "Best Bug-Catcher" award the class roared with applause and he puffed with pride over the recognition of his important class contribution!

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Add to your end-of-the-year curriculum with these resources from 21st Century K on TpT: