The other day while relaxing at the pool, I sensed it – the feeling of summer slipping away, of August staring down at me, ready to descend. The end of summer brings about many things I enjoy: setting up my classroom, purchasing new school supplies, creating lessons, etc. There is one activity, however, that consumes me, fills up my days and nights, leaves me frustrated and unable to relax until I have found the answer…picking my first read aloud.
I am a huge proponent of read alouds in the classroom. Heck, I’m a huge fan of them in my house as well. I strongly believe every student should be read to, from the time they start kindergarten until they reach graduation. When teachers of older students tell me that their kids don’t enjoy read aloud, I disagree. I clearly remember during my senior year I had Hazel Lindsley as my teacher. When she assigned Macbeth, I tried my best to read it at home and got confused. Realizing many of us were struggling, she began reading it aloud instead. Mrs. Lindsley had a theater background and when she read Macbeth, you felt like you were transported. She brought that play to life.
After having taught over fifteen years, I count different read aloud experiences among the most memorable events in my classroom. My first class at Monticello taught me a unforgettable lesson – always read the book ahead of time. I had chosen Stone Fox. Oh gracious. Not to spoil anything for you, but as I read the book at the end of a certain chapter, the class gasped. My cousin, Morgan, was in that class. He got me a box of Kleenex and said I had to go on and finish it, I couldn’t leave them there. So we passed the box, sobbed, and finished the book.
There was the first class I read The Lightning Thief to. We followed Tony Keefer’s Google Map of the book, and also made our own. Some students decided to stay in for lunch recess to make a drawing of Camp Half Blood. Other students joined them. We had groups studying Greek Mythology for the rest of the year – comparing different myths and looking at how they linked to Roman myths.
Last year’s class got to be the first group to experience The One and Only Ivan. We followed the story of the ape at exit 8 with sadness in our hearts. Hoping and praying Ivan would find a way to save Ruby, and himself. We watched the ALA Youth Media awards together and when they got to the Newbery and said, “The One…” the entire room erupted in screams, applause, tears (mine), and joyous laughter.
Picking a read aloud is a big deal. I picked Wonder two years ago shortly after it came out because I knew that class needed Auggie. They were getting ready to head to the middle school the following year and were not always remembering to Choose Kind. Other books I’ve picked because I know we need to build confidence, or remember we aren’t alone, or just because we need to have fun.
While picking a read aloud is a big deal, picking the first read aloud can seem daunting. Franki Sibberson recently tweeted she was struggling to pick the first read aloud for her third graders. What followed was well over one hundred tweets in a thirty minute period of friends suggesting titles. Franki had a certain criteria – shorter, maybe something fun. She said she needed an easier read until she got to know this group of children, which makes complete sense to me.
My criteria this year is similar, even though I am in fifth. Last year I got bogged down in a long and slow book. So I am looking for some shorter books this year. Also, I know the group headed my way well. We need to do some character building through our read aloud, but also discover who we are as people, and have some fun too.
I know the first picture book I will read is Patricia MacLachlan’s What You Know First. I love this book and always end the year with it as well. We talk about what we bring with us to fifth grade and, in May, I’ll talk about what they are taking on to middle school, what I don’t want them to forget. As for what novel we’ll start with, I think we’ll stay with MacLachlan and read Journey. I think my kids will learn a lot from this quiet boy.
How about you? I’d love to hear what you are thinking of starting the year off with in the comments. Please share!
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fourteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.