The Power of a Great Read Aloud

Read aloud time is THE most important part of my day.  Period. The end.  I am lucky that I teach in a self contained third grade, so I can make sure it happens, every day.  It is my morning meeting, my reading lesson and so much more.

This is my second go around with teaching third grade.  I did a stint about 18 years or so ago for 6 years.  However, this time things are different. I have a different perspective on teaching grade three, as I taught second grade for many years, then fourth and then I landed back in grade three. Also, in that time, the middle grade genre exploded!

Third graders are an interesting bunch.  They are caught between early childhood and middle grades.  That makes read aloud a very interesting time.  At the beginning of the year, many (not all) responses to conversation are about themselves. If you are reading about a dog, they will tell you they have dog or their aunt has dog or their friend has a dog. Etc.  This is very developmentally appropriate.  As we delve deeper into read alouds and read more, slowly, their responses begin to change.  They are able to begin to look through the characters eyes now. They can make predictions that make sense to the story and not what they want to happen.  Because by now we have shared many good books, we are starting to make connections to other stories.  I marvel as their responses grow as they mature as students and small humans.

Last week, an amazing thing happened.  My read aloud at that time was the One and Only Ivan.  This is one of my personal must read to student books.  It is about a gorilla named Ivan and his friend Stella the elephant who live in a shopping mall.  If you haven’t read it, you need to! It is probably my 5th or so novel this year so I am starting to see the change in responses from my students.  Anyways, 3 girls asked if they could stay in for recess to work on something.  I said sure.  I noticed that one student took about 20 sheets of copy paper.  She put them all out like a puzzle and began sketching.  At the end, she handed everyone sheets to take home and work on it.  At the end of recess, they told me that they were creating Stella the elephant. (See picture below).  The story was so powerful that they felt the need to miss recess to get their ideas down.

So, I finish the story and then I read the picture book by the same name.  The students were not happy about the treatment of animals.  Also, at that time, my daughter Kelsey is in South Africa   Home.   And had been to safaris.  She had been sending us pictures and information about animals that needed help.  It was decided that we would “save” animals.  We looked up the World Wildlife Federation and we decided to save a gorilla or an elephant.  It was decided that the students would have to earn the money themselves. it cost $25 to sponsor one animal.  I told them that if they raised $16, I would kick in the rest.  Well, a very generous donation from our teaching assistant, Mr. Carroll helped us to adopt a gorilla.  The students then worked to adopt an elephant.  They were to do chores at home.  Parents were not just give them the money.  The money started coming in. Yesterday, I was able to adopt a gorilla, an elephant AND a rhino (which we had learned from Kelsey were in the most need).  How fabulous is that?

My next read aloud which I started immediately (and am still reading) is Wishtree also by the same author as the One and Only Ivan. The same girls from before decided to make a Wishtree where each child created a wish for it.  They also felt we should have a class wish, which is in the middle of the tree.  These girls also played Wishtree at recess.  Students who at the beginning of the year who were making connections to themselves are now seeing connections between Wishtree and Wonder.

I love to read aloud.  I love to watch their faces as the story unfolds.  Some books, I choose to read every year.  Some books I mix up but every year, students surprise me with their insight.  Every class takes read aloud in a different direction.  I am so lucky to be able to watch it unfold. I can’t wait to see where this class continues to go..


This is our bulletin board mentioned above.  On the sides is our personal reflections to the One and Only Ivan.  The elephant is Stella.  (The girls haven’t finished yet with the title).  The sign in the middle says, We Love Katherine Applegate Book.  Then the Wishtree.  Our class wish is that We Wish everyone to be kind to each other.



I have been waiting for this book since I first knew of its existence.  I watched in envy as people with advanced copies tweeted and posted about its magic.  I even preordered it from Amazon Prime, which is not something I do often with books.  Katherine Applegate is a writing genius.  Her books are amazing.  The One and Only Ivan is a must read aloud every year for me. It is brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a gorilla who is in a shopping mall zoo and the trials and tribulations that come with it.  It was the first book that I had a student so invested in the book that she broke down and cried at one part.

As I sit here on a chilly end of September morning wrapped in a blanket, I devour the whole book in one sitting. I wanted to slow down and savior its deliciousness, but my brain need to absorb every word and find out how/if the story worked out. Once I finished, I felt I should go to the gym, but I must write about this work of art. Beautiful.  That is how I describe this book.  Just beautiful. My favorite line of the whole story is, “I wanted to tell them that friendship doesn’t have to be hard.  That sometimes we let the world make it hard.”  I reread that line again and again.  I find myself still mulling that line over.

This book is meant to be shared, talked about and lingered over.  The central character is Red an oak tree. Red and the other animals help the reader to see a different perspective than we usually see.  This book is about friendship, kindness of strangers, prejudice and so much more.  This book takes us back to look forward.

I cannot wait to share this work of art with my students.  They will love it!





Reading aloud is the most important thing I do in my classroom.  It is the glue that holds us together. Read aloud is so much more than hearing a really wonderful story.  During read aloud, we discuss reading and reading skills without the students realizing it. We talk about how books go and what to expect from certain books. We talk about how the book reminds us of other books. We make predictions, we notice patterns and we analyze the plot.

But read aloud time is more than that.  It is when we become a community.  It is when we learn about ourselves and our world.  Read aloud is when we tackle big social problems as group through the safety of literature and our classroom.  

Beginning grade three is a time when I begin to build that trust.  I always start off the year with Marty McGuire.  A delightful story by Kate Messner.  The students enjoy Marty and her naughtiness and I begin to hook them.  I usually read Marty McGuire Digs For Worms next to get kids hooked on series.  This year, however, I tried something new.  Usually, my first “heavy” book would be done with the Global Read Aloud, in October. But with the movie Wonder coming out in November, I decided that it would be my next read aloud.

I struggled with the decision, was it too early in the year for my students?  Wonder is about a boy with cranifacial abnormalities who is attending school for the first time.  It is a wonderful story that I would definitely read later in the year.  However, I am a reading purist and do not like reading a book after the movie has come out.  So I struggled, should I do this? Would my small humans be able to handle the complexity of the book?

I decide that I will try and see what happens.  Well, this week has shown me that I made the right decision.  I am a little over half way through with the book. I am beginning to notice a change in my students.  They are starting to get emotionally involved in the book.  Auggie is taking up space in our classroom and in our hearts.  We are beginning to really dislike other characters.  Students are spontaneously cheering at appropriate parts (not to give anything away). During meaner and more intense parts, I am watching their faces and they are so engrossed in the story line.  Many showing anger and happiness throughout my reading.

What amazed me the most was yesterday.  I showed them a short YouTube video called I am Auggie.  It was a montage of different people saying, “I am Auggie Pullman.”  Each person had a different abnormality.  It was very powerful to watch.  You could hear a pin drop in my room as the students sat and really watched the video.  The discussion after it was priceless. In such a short period of time, they have grown as humans.  A good book does that.

I am glad I made the decision to read the book early.  I always believe that students will surprise you every time.  As we head toward the second half of the book, it is with mixed emotion.  I don’t know if we will be ready to put Auggie away, but I know that he will be in our classroom the rest of the year!

Counting Thyme

For the past several years, I have made reading a priority in my life.  Being a part of #sixtybook club has really made me keep track of what I am reading.  I read every day.  I steal moments when I can to read a chapter here or there.  I balance my personal reading with professional reading and middle grade reading. Becoming a stronger reader in my personal life has made me a stronger teacher of reading at school.

Middle grade reading has grown in amazing ways.  Middle grade books are amazing. If you haven’t checked them out, I would! Teaching grade three has allowed me the privilege of seeing students go from reading primary books to discover the richness that is middle grade novels.

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin is one such book that I cannot wait to share with my students.  In this story, Thyme along with her sister Cori and brother Val move to New York for Val to get treatment for cancer.  This is how the book opens.  Right away it gets you in the heart strings.  The book takes you on a journey as Thyme tries to navigate a sick brother, being new at school, a best friend and grandmother back home and family relationships.  It was a book that I wanted to hurry up and read to find out what happens to Val and yet slow down and savor every word.

I cried and laughed often through this book. At the end, I was on our deck and my husband brought me sunglasses because he thought the sun was getting in my eyes. ;). I highly recommend this book to anyone..not just middle grade students.

Iwanicki Book Awards

In going with the theme of making the last day of school as good as first, I did this Dave Burgess inspired activity of the Iwanicki Book Awards.  This was several weeks in the making and revealed today. Just a quick recap. Students used Kidblog to write their nominee and convince others of their choice. Then I created a google form which they answered (using google forms for the first time).

During the week, small groups of students had created trivia questions for many of the categories. Another group also made a word search. During the Award’s ceremony, we built up suspense by playing Oscar Music and then announcing each category and the nominees. I would then say, “Here is a word from our sponsor.”  While the students waited, they worked on their trivia.   Students were cheering and yelling and there were even a few disappointed students.  I had to sit back and remember that this was all about books!  Students in my class were yelling about books! How great is that?!  The books listed below affected my students.  It made them passionate readers. They all made my students think just a little differently.

It was a wonderful activity that I hope will become a tradition.  I am glad that I pushed myself just a little harder.  The students reactions were priceless.

PS I would recommend any book on this list for anyone to read. They are all fabulous!


Best Setting
Winner: Echo
Runner Up: The War That Saved My Life


Best Supporting Character:
Winner:  Frankie in Echo
Runner Up:  Rose in Out of My Mind

Best Illustrations
Winner: The Night Gardner
Runner Up:  Journey

Favorite Character in a Graphic Novel
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: El Deafo

Favorite Character in a Chapter/Middle Grade Novel
Winner: Tie: Gerta in Night Divided and Charlie in Wish
Runner Up:  Frankie and Mike in Echo

war that saved my lifeBest Picture Book:
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: The Night Gardener

Best Graphic Novel
Winner: El Deafo
Runner Up:  The Bad Guys

Best Middle Grade Novel
Winner:  Echo
Runner Up: Tie The Night Divided and The War That Saved My Life

Favorite Read Aloud
Winner: Rump
Runner Up:  Out of My Mind
the night divided


Blackout Poetry

I hoard books.  I have a problem.  I know I do.  Getting rid of books is very difficult for me.  You just never know if you will have a reader who needs THAT book!  So for me, it is always a struggle.  This year, I have been very lucky.  I have  received many brand spanking new books for my classroom library. I finally felt better getting rid of some of the old, worn out books and/or the books that were never read.  I set up an area in my classroom called retired books and my students could just take as many as they wanted.  I got rid of many of my books, but there were still many left.  What should I do?

Going with my theme of trying to make the end of the year as good as the beginning, I decided to give them to the students to do Blackout Poetry.  In blackout poetry, a reader skims any page.  Students are looking for words that stick out for them.  They then try to find words that go with that word to form a poem.  The rest of the words are then blacked out.

I gave a brief explanation from and showed them a few examples on google. Then set them off!

The pictures below were created in no more than 15 minutes (all the time we had).  If students create more tomorrow, I will post another blog.

In this example, the student highlighted the words and then made a base and part of a diamond to go with his poem.



This child was not completed yet, but you can see how her poem is turning out!


Students loved this activity and actually asked to take it out to it at recess!  Success!

How important is your reading life?

teacher readLast year I joined a twitter challenge called #sixtybooks.  The idea was to read 60 books in the year 2016.  I thought, oh what the heck, I will give it a try, but there is no way that I can read 60 books in one year. I also knew that I had to keep track of books that I read, and unsure how that would work out.  I started with a small notebook and divided it into sections: middle grade books, professional books and novels.  Basically, that is what I read.  Then I went to it.

Turns out I read. A lot.  I decided that books that I read aloud in school were also okay.  Picture books for me were not (I end up changing my mind in 2017).  I found that the more I read, the more I discussed the books with my students.  I told them about the books that I was so scared I was under the covers reading.  I would tell them about the setting in another book or how I read 3 books on the way to Virginia in the car.  I would talk about my trips to the library or how I didn’t like the ending of certain books. I talk about my book club and when/if I should abandon books.

Reading feeds my soul and I was once again making it a priority.  Last year, I had read an article on Sneaky Reading.  That is what I do.  I made time at night to read, but I would also read a page or two in the morning.  I would read middle grade books during lunch or a quick chapter at the beginning of my prep.  I found these sneaky reading times were just as valuable.  In class, we created sneaky read charts and the students would write when and how they would sneaky read.

Keeping track of the books was difficult.  I would forget all the time.  I tried an app on my phone Goodreads.  Turns out, I read almost 100 books in 2016.  I thought that was pretty cool, but the ability to talk about my reading life is one important piece to making reading come alive in the classroom.  Students know I know the books in my library.  They ask for recommendations and know I am usually spot on.  They recommend books to me and know that I will read them. They come up to me and tell me the part that they are at and discuss with me (they think I remember all the books I have read). Visitors to my class are greeted with, “Have you read this book yet?”  and then are promptly handed the book to read with the promise to come back and talk. (There are awesome middle grade books out there).

So this year, I am up to 50 books read. That counts picture books, read aloud books, middle grade books, personal novels and nonfiction books.  I have found that Goodreads is a great way to track my reading life and I have designed different shelves for each of the categories.  I also keep track on my white board for all of my students to see..What Mrs. I is many books this school year 79…how many books in 2017.

My to be read #TBR pile is huge for the summer.  What I am currently reading right now is the 16th Seduction (although I didn’t put the word Seduction on the board).  I have read everyone of these James Patterson’s goodies in order (I did tell my students that). I am also reading Fenway and Hattie (middle grade book) and rereading Launch by John Spence and A.J. Juliani.

What are you reading?