Monday, July 29, 2013

That First Read Aloud of the School Year....

Every year, I put a lot of thought into that first read aloud of the school year.  It is always my summer obsession.

On Twitter, the other day, I posed a question to a friend about a possible first read aloud.  Several others jumped into the conversation with suggestions for that first read aloud.  So many possibilities, but none feel quite right.  Last year, I wrote an article for Choice Literacy about my thinking behind that important first read aloud. For those of you that subscribe to the weekly Big Fresh from Choice Literacy, you may have seen it this week.  Spending my summers thinking about my first read aloud is not something new for me.  And in moving to a new grade level, I am finding myself doing even more thinking about it than usual.  I'm never sure quite what I am looking for, so the search often continues until that day right before the students arrive.

The Read Aloud routine is an important one in our classroom. It is an anchor for reading and conversations and community. It is a time when I work hard to make sure 100% of students are in the classroom and I protect that time from pullouts and interruptions.  It is important as students not only share a common story but we learn together how to think about and talk about stories in ways that change us--as readers and as people.

I know we'll read many picture books every day in the classroom, but in 3rd grade a chapter book read aloud is key as this transitional stage is a stage where children are learning to read longer books, stick with a plot, think across a longer text.  I know that a chapter book is not a chapter book is not a chapter book and I want that first one to be one with a plot simple enough for all students to follow but complex enough with some things worth talking about. I want to start those conversations about what readers do when reading longer books, but more importantly, I want to start those conversations about books and the way they often change our lives.

The choice of the first read aloud is even harder because I don't know my students. I don't know their reading histories and I don't know much about them as people.  I don't know if a child is going to walk in the door who who is suffering in some way.  Our community will not yet be strong enough during that first read aloud for a student to come to me to say, "I don't think I can listen to this story right now in my life." as they might do later in the year when they understand that this is one of the decisions readers make.

There are so many books I can read to kids and they would love, but kids loving a book is not enough for me.  I have found that kids love being read aloud to so much that most of them are going to love almost any book I read aloud and the year isn't long enough to read aloud that many books. So I have to choose a book for more reasons than just "kids will love it".  It has to give me lots as a teacher --each book has to grow them, as readers, as people and as a community of learners.

Even though read aloud time is an anchor in our classroom and I do lots of teaching, read aloud feels to the kids like that time of pure joy.  The book has to be so good that it naturally INVITES the conversations I  want to happen and that there are so many invitations for talk and thinking that the talk happens naturally.  I am looking for books that makes my "teacher work" during read aloud is almost invisible because the book pretty much does the work on its own.

Ideally, I'd love a book that none of the kids have read before. I value rereading but the first read aloud involves lots of kidwatching as I get to know each student and experiencing a new book can tell me so much.

So, it is nearly August 1 and I am still thinking.  I will probably still be thinking for a few more weeks. I started a Pinterest board to keep track of my own thinking--keeping track of the books on the top of my list for the moment and books that I want to keep in mind for the first few months of the school year.  I don't know if I'll stick with this list but it is a list of books I don't want to forget about yet. I know that after the first few days of school, when I know my kids and see how they respond to that first read aloud (whatever it may be) and I see the books they are reading and I start learning about who they are,  I will know the perfect book to choose for our second read aloud. But that first read is never an easy decision!


  1. Franki,

    As your teacher super fan and fellow third grade teacher, I am so excited that you will be teaching third grade next year! I continue to love reading your ideas and getting book suggestions from you. Your blog recommended Lulu and the Brontosaurus to me years ago and sometimes I start with this one because like you said the plot is simple, it invites readers, and gives us lots to talk (and laugh) about.

  2. Amy--that is the one I am leaning toward right now. Glad to know it is a good choice from a fellow 3rd grade teacher! Thanks for sharing:-)

  3. Anonymous9:04 AM

    It is a decision I struggle with as well. As you say, it is so much easier once we know our kids!I often like the first read aloud to be one from a series that may hook kids, so I am still torn.

  4. I, too, obsess all summer long about what to read. Last summer I couldn't find a new book, so I read Golden and Grey. This year I thought of starting with The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, but after reading your post I wonder if it is too advance to start the year. What is your thought on Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library? I had planned on reading Rump too, so maybe. Darn you Franki I was all set!

  5. That first read aloud is so important for so many reasons, as you've written about. And, lucky us, there are so many wonderful choices. I've used Priscilla Cummings' Red Kayak for years now - it's just the sort of story my sixth graders love, and it gets us talking and sharing right away. My teacher work is invisible - just as you say. Now, that book has become a sixth grade tradition - incoming sixth graders know they will be reading it, so they "save' it for class time, and my ex students drop by to check on the progress of the read aloud. The final project, likewise, is a community thing - ex students stop by to compare this year's effort with last year's. I acn't wait to learn about the book you choose!

  6. Mary Lee,

    I, too, revered read aloud. Beginning in the later 70s, so I totally get this. I know you will have fabulous ideas. I have some favorites that the kids and I loved, but each to her own. In late winter I read Because of Winn Dixie. The Mary Jane Auch series about Arful, the dog was also great on a lot of levels. Read them in Jan.or later. I actually started with The Wizard of Oz because of what I could do with vocabulary. And based on their reactions. It was not my first choice, but it worked. The Light on Hogback Hill is also a consideration. ( A little long, but pretty good and worth a look.) Of course I have lots more and will send if you like. My reasons for my choices are layered. And based on my observations and the kids' reactions. I viewed the year as a symphony with many movements. Love that Dog is fabulous as you know...And because of the way I used poetry, my kids loved it. I love Gooney Bird Green and used a class set for this. I am sure you have amazing books I don't know about....and will be curious to find out what you choose. Up North at the Cabin is really nice early on, The Rag Coat is great. I could go on. Too many books, too little time.

  7. Your post hits exactly what I have been going through the past few weeks. I am also switching grades, moving from 3rd gr. to 4th as well as a new school!! I have been agonizing over my favorite books, reading new ones, and perusing Amazon and other book sites for ideas. That first read aloud is so important to get just right. For your third grade I would add to your choices 'The Magical Ms. Plum.' It would make an excellent first book and I love the magical aspects of Ms. Plum's 3rd grade classroom. The story opens the door for discussion about character and empathy but is still simple enough for a first read aloud. Each chapter is a short story about a different student and what happens to them in the supply room.

  8. Franki,
    Thank you for sharing your thinking about first read alouds with us. You are right, it's hard when we don't yet know the children that will be part of our new community. We don't know what they wonder about, what they worry about, or what they love. We don't know them as readers.

    I loved when you said, "I have to choose a book for more reasons than just "kids will love it". It has to give me lots as a teacher --each book has to grow them, as readers, as people and as a community of learners."

    It's good to know there will be plenty of time to share books with this new group soon to be a part of our days and our hearts.



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