flotsam September 13


Top Ten Things People Said 5th Graders Couldn’t Read – But Did by Taylor Meredith

Each year, I have tried to choose unexpected texts solely for the purpose of making my fifth graders think. I want them to think about themselves, our community and the world around them.


And in these unexpected choices, I found myself also forced to think….what if we made it a classroom practice to closely examine each text? …what if we ignored grade level stereotypes and make discoveries that changed our reading lives?


Picture books, poetry, political cartoons and advertisements are no longer unconventional “5th grade” texts but texts that will take us on reading adventures and teach us lessons that go straight into our reading hearts.  In this spirit, these are texts that people said 5th graders couldn’t read. But read we did.


The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems

While Mo Willems is highly entertaining for readers of any age (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is a personal favorite) this book really resonated with my fifth grade class and started a discussion about societal norms. Maybe the pigeon only wanted a puppy because he thought he should want a puppy. He clearly knew nothing about how to care for a puppy but he wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. We a wrote comparative literary essay addressing the theme of following the crowd and found common threads between Willems’ text and the next one on the list…


“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

I shared that this is one of my favorite poems and oft consulted source of inspiration from the time I first read it as a freshman in high school and into my adult life as well. Throughout the year students would reference the decision-making implications found in this text.  In Social Studies they applied it when looking at change-makers, in Science after exploring the world of code, and in daunting times of transition they applied it in their own lives, and were encouraged to take risks and try new things.



Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

I was told not to read this book to fifth graders simply because of the name.  This book has also forever changed the way I read aloud with students.  We spent our read aloud discussing the language and syntax, lifting lines and learning life lessons.  Rump taught us that we are in control of our own destiny, that we can solve our own problems and that when we are true to ourselves, magic can happen.  A must read.


Code & Morse Code

Not a text, but definitely something that you read.  This commenced with Hour of Code and coding became a fixture in our classroom.  Students explored code using their 1:1 devices and often went home to explore more.  As a child, I learned Morse Code from my grandpa.  One Friday I brought in the Morse Code alphabet, some decoding/encoding devices and let them go.  To this day, I still receive emails from students entirely in Morse Code.


brain rules

Brain Rules by John Medina

As an educator and human, this book has been life changing.  I decided to share some of the brain rules with my students.  I introduced each rule and we discussed HOW the rule helps our brains and lives as learners.  We began to live these rules in our classrooms and apply what we were learning outside of our classroom. One of our favorites was Brain Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.



Flotsam by David Wiesner

Using wordless picture books was met with resistance at first, by adults and students.  We used Flotsam and other wordless picture books to help construct meaning, identify shades of language that evoked images and words in our minds and explore new lenses. We realized that each person constructs their own version of meaning based on prior knowledge and experiences and this became an incredible learning adventure for all of us.


Vintage Print Ads

During a unit on propaganda we analyzed print ads and commercials.  The most interesting and unique discussions stemmed from vintage print ads. Students were shocked at some of the stereotypes and bandwagon tactics used. We created timelines to track changes in product ads to find trends and connections. We discovered that just as authors and illustrators write with purpose, so do advertisers; each element is purposefully placed in the ad to send a message to consumers.


Chris Van Allsburg

Most of the Chris Van Allsburg books in my classroom library were mine as a child.  With my name and the date neatly printed on the inside cover these books are some of the most loved by my students.  This year we got to know Van Allsburg as an illustrator.  Each text is visually beautiful and unique.  We challenged the purpose of each image and the connection with the words on each page.  Even though my students have all read these texts before (they do not hesitate to share this) each reading is a different experience.


Political Cartoons

There are always skeptics when I say that my fifth graders analyze political cartoons.  Through these cartoons we are able to explore different perspectives on past and present events.  Fifth graders are more than capable of analyzing a sketch addressing rising gas prices, healthy eating habits or questioning too much screen time.  They understand pop culture references and learn from the historical implications of older cartoons.  There was a sense of importance and engagement in discussing current and historical events; Fifth graders felt that they had a voice and a stake in the world around them.

the one and only ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This book has clout.  Most of my students had read this book before 5th grade and I was told that they wouldn’t want to read it again.  This book is beautifully written.  The words captivate you as the text delves into the complex relationships between living things, friendship and civil rights.  Each time we read this book we discover something new.  This speaks to the different experiences that each group of children brings to a classroom.  There is power in the group.  No matter how many times you have read the text before, reading it with a new group in a new year is always an incredible learning experience.

What unexpected texts have you read with your students? I’d love to know!


Taylor Meredith has taught 5th grade in New York City and suburban Chicago.When she isn’t reading, Taylor can be found practicing yoga, traveling or drinking iced coffee. You can also find her on Twitter at @ForFeedback or at The Formative Feedback Project.