Monday, August 12, 2013

Using Picture Books to Build a Classroom Community of Respectful Learners

Some of the most important moments we as teachers will spend with our students are during those precious first few days of school.  These are the times where we will set expectations for behaviors and attitudes that will carry over throughout the entire year.  Over the last eight years I have often reflected on how to improve those first few days so that I can be sure to foster a safe, caring, classroom community where everyone is expected to learn at his/her highest level.
One of the best ways I have found (aside from modeling my own behavior) is to use picture books.  Yes, fifth, sixth, even middle school kids enjoy listening to picture books (even though they may not admit it!).  Below is a list of picture books and activities I use to begin building our classroom community.

Activity: After reading the story of how Miss Malarkey never gave up on a reluctant reader, explain that you are going to be just like her.  Tell students that you will always be there for them, encouraging them to find ‘just right’ books throughout the year.  Take some time to explain your classroom library and how to choose ‘just right’ books (books that are not too difficult, easy, or boring after reading the first page)

Activity: Read this book about Louis and how he learns a practical way to stop himself from shouting out in class.  As you are reading, have all the students try practicing how to stop themselves from blurting out.  I have done this with fifth and sixth graders and they love it!  Have an honest conversation with the class about how we can all be a Louis at times, but we (include yourself!) need to try our best to keep our thoughts to ourselves until the time is right. 
***TIP: Have students sitting on the carpet in a circle while you read.  It creates a great community of learners where everyone can see each other!


Activity: Bullying is a huge concern in every school.  Be proactive and set expectations about how to stop bullying before it even begins by reading this book in the first few days of school.  After you read about Pete and how the kids in his school decided not to just stand around and let bullying happen, make a class chart of all the ways you as a class are going to stop bullying.  Have students talk in partners or small groups to come up with ideas to stop bullying when they see it happening.  Then ask them to share their ideas with the group.  Write their thinking on the class anchor chart.  Having a plan in advance will give students the power to stand up to bullies and avoid making the wrong decisions (including doing nothing at all) right there in the moment. 
***TIP: Have all the students sign their names on the class anti-bullying chart.  Leave this up all year and review it often as a reminder of their plans to stop bullying!

Activity: This is such a great book to read to older students!  Have your kids sit in a circle on the carpet so that they are facing each other as you read.  Every student can connect to this book because the main character, Ira, is so relatable.  Ira is on his way to his first sleepover and is torn about whether he should bring his stuffed teddy bear that he always sleeps with.  His older sister teases him that his friend Reggie will laugh at him.  Ira really does not know what to do!  As you are reading how Ira keeps changing his mind, stop and ask students to turn and talk to someone they are sitting next to.  Have them share their thinking about Ira, his sister, and the book.  Encourage them to make personal connections with their own special objects. 
***TIP: After you read the book ask students to go around the circle and share a special item they either still sleep with or used to as a small child.  Give them the option to tell about someone they know who has a special item.  Remind them not to laugh and that we all have special items in our lives.  This conversation will bring your class together as a community because everyone will begin to understand, through sharing something a little vulnerable, that their class is a safe place to learn!  This is a super fun activity!!!

I hope you have found these activities to help in starting your year off right!  If you would like more lesson ideas for using books like these you can check out the following resources available at my TpT store by clicking on the pictures below.

I wish all my fellow teachers out there a wonderful first few days with their new class and an amazing year!!!
Jen Bengel

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