Planning Engaging Lessons Using Children’s Literature
In a world of test-driven instruction, teachers are still expected to have effective teaching strategies and teach children to love reading. It is very important that we as professionals take a look at how we introduce reading to children; what strategies we use to teach them to love reading; and how we can make it fun, engaging, and meaningful. This article discusses teaching objectives, skills that must be taught, and how they can be organized and successfully implemented by using children's literature. You may have to get a little creative, but creativity makes lessons engaging and worthwhile!
Children's literature covers many types of texts from picture books to biographies. Children's literature empowers children. It motivates thinking, enhances language, and promotes cognitive development. Children not only become involved in the story, but they connect with the characters. If children love to read, their comprehension is higher, their vocabulary is extended, and their fluency becomes more evident.
It is so important for teachers to have objectives and plans for why they do certain activities, and children's literature is an easy way to engage children in the learning process and cover objectives. Do you remember in elementary school when your teacher would read a book? Most of my teachers had that wonderful soothing voice that would entice me to be engaged in what they were reading. I loved when my teachers would read aloud in class. I loved even more the activities that we would do with the books they shared with us.
How many of you remember doing a book report? What do you remember about that book report? I want to share a few successful strategies and ideas that I used in my classroom that allowed children freedom, flexibility, engagement, enrichment, and thoughtful consideration that I believe a book report lacks. I have also used these strategies in my college classroom and my teacher candidates are now using them in their classrooms with their students.
Cooking With Students
Cooking with my students is probably one of my favorite ways to bring children's literature alive. As you teach these lessons you are teaching your students how to follow directions, apply math and science, literacy and writing skills, sequencing, vocabulary, problem solving, and social skills. You can find recipes for each letter of the alphabet through my classroom mascots activity pages.
There are many different books that a teacher can choose from to cook with—you probably already have some and don't even know it!
- GET COOKING: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen by Mollie Katzen
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
- Have Sweet Dreams of Ice Cream by J.C. Manzanares
- If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff
- Knead It, Punch It, Bake It!: The Ultimate Breadmaking Book for Parents and Kids by Judith and Evan Jones
- Pete's a Pizza by William Steig
- Popcorn! by Elaine Landau
- The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes by Harriet Russell and Amanda Grant
Literature circles can be used with many ages, but they are most appropriate for children that can read on their own and take on responsibilities as part of a group. The teacher must first model exactly how a literature circle works, explain what each group member's "job" will be each week, and describe how to manage time during the circle's group time. As the teacher, you can have whatever "jobs" you want your students to complete and choose what books meet your goals and objectives. View a list of possible "jobs" to help you get started.
Literature circles provide children time to read independently or as a group consistently depending on your schedule. These groups get to share information in a grand conversation where the teacher monitors, but does not really participate. As part of the discussion, students think critically, discuss, respond, and collaborate for a common goal—just as in the "real world" where each person in the group has a "job." When the book has been read, students choose how they will present the story (without giving the end away) to fellow classmates. Options include staging a puppet show, performing a play, describing a timeline of events, writing a song or poem, and even cooking with the book.
Book Character Dress Up
Before I had my students dress up like a book character I would first dress up like my favorite character and actually be that person for the morning. Getting students into costume and having them be a character in first person makes a student take on that character's characteristics. The students can choose characters they identify with or are inspired by. Dressing up like book characters has the students think about the items the character carries or uses, what they will wear, things they believe in, and even how the character speaks. They have to stand in front of peers and be that character, so they must know that character almost personally.
Book bags can be sent home with children for families to share or they can be kept at school for students to enjoy. The bags can be themed or have different objectives you may be working on in your classroom. Many times these bags will have a book and then a short activity or assignment to practice a lesson that you may have taught previously. Book bags can help to get families involved and they teach responsibility, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and any skill or objective that you choose for that bag to contain. This helps the teacher to also differentiate lessons for students.
Teach children the parts of a book by "making and taking" books together. Children can make these books and use them to construct stories and practice words and names. You can also have children make these small books to practice sight words, retell a story, change a story's end, write their own story, play math games, and practice fine motor skills. Children love to be independent and these make-and-take books are a way that children can choose what they make and how they will use it.
The classroom library should be full of books children can read at school and check out to take home. We must remember that not all children have books at home and we need to ensure each child has the opportunity to love reading. Pick books that all children will like. Have varied genres, magazines, comics, and whatever will engage your students in becoming readers for life.
Teachers usually like to be in control of what children are reading or studying. Let children have the opportunity to engage in activities that are fun and exciting while also useful, thoughtful, and structured so that they are learning the skills and objectives they need. Reconsider the book report: There are so many hands-on, engaging, and creative ways for students to become involved in a book and learn to love reading.
This article only discusses six ways to get children involved in reading. There are so many things we can do to get children engaged and it is up to us to provide these opportunities. Check out other fun ideas for using children's literature in the classroom and "103 Things to Do Before/During/After Reading" for more resources. All of these examples display differentiation for children and teach many skills while actively participating in hands-on learning.
Tisha Shipley is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Ashford University. She received a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction from Northcentral University and a master's degree in Elementary Education/Administration and a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. She has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including pre–K children and gifted 3rd–6th graders, and served as a cheer sponsor and a principal. Most recently, Shipley served as director of preschool programs at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. Shipley presents at early childhood conferences and helps teachers in their classroom. She has also started a teacher website to help teachers, parents, aspiring teacher candidates, and administrators at www.busyclassroom.weebly.com.