Updated: Sep 10, 2022
Whether you've taught for only one year or 15 years, choosing your back to school read aloud texts in elementary school is always a daunting task. The books we choose to read to our new class takes just minutes, but has a huge impact on the school year ahead. Often this includes:
building a trusting relationship between the teacher and students
getting students talking to you and each other
setting expectations for how we do things and care for one another
asking questions, inquiring, wondering and preparing to learn
One small problem....
When looking all across the internet, the same titles come up over and over again. Every Pintrest Pin has the same book covers, shuffled in a different order - disappointing!
So here I give you a few of my absolute favorite (and too not worn out) read aloud texts for the first weeks of elementary school.
What We'll Build by Oliver Jeffers
Appropriate for all primary grades (though you may not think so at first glance).
The text and images are simple and can be understood from kindergarten onward. However the content and opportunities for inference make it suitable for older kids as well.
Topics that I enjoyed teaching about in this text:
How to "build" a relationship
Differences between a house and a home
"Tools" that we use and need at school in order to get along and work and play together
Photocopying and cutting out the tools from the story and passing them out to children (this is especially helpful if you have English language learners). As I read the story and the tools are mentioned, the kids give them to me and we talk about what it is, what it does and how that might relate to relationships at school.
Collaborative coloring page for meet the teacher day, this first grade version can be found in my free resource library and it is waiting for first grade teachers everywhere to use it! 😉
Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor
Best for the lower grades **
This book is special! There's a gentleness in the way Byrd Baylor writes and I find it brings an emotional element to class. I loved teaching this text slowly (only a couple pages at a time across a few days) and incorporated the following activities:
Getting outside and exploring the world around us
Observing the natural world (particularly in silence) - even better with magnifying glasses
How-to writing and generating a list of rules
Identifying what is important to us
Having pet rocks throughout the school year or making a rock community in your classroom
Blind contour drawings
Writing advice or a personal/class set of rules for finding a rock
So many lesson ideas and plans that I've seen online for Everybody Needs a Rock focused on describing the physical attributes of rocks. While those activities might be great, that surely isn't what I am recommending this book for. When using it at the start of the year, I suggest tuning into the emotional elements of it.
** If you teach upper primary, consider Byrd Baylor's The Table Where Rich People Sit - it would serve as a nice alternative and make a strong statement for an inclusive start to the year.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
Best for lower primary.
So maybe this one you've used before, I sure have. Again and again - and I don't just mean in the beginning of the school year. It's on repeat play in my classroom. It starts in the first week of school, but relationships and situations pop up throughout the year that call out for the message to be reiterated.
So I read it in the first week, and then during snack at least once a month and any time that we have a few extra minutes before PE or at the end of the day.
A few learning engagement you might want to try:
Making a Welcome banner or mural of who is welcome in your class and what your "community" looks like, sounds like and feels like
Drawing/writing/painting common greetings in all of the languages of your classroom or school
Making collective definitions for inclusion, exclusion and empathy at school - what it looks, sounds and feels like. I've created a chart that you're welcome to use (shown below). You can get this and so many other resources in my free resource library. This is not a worksheet for children to complete independently or in pairs, but intended to be a guide for discussion. It's perfect for large print or interactive display.
Partner portraits, repeat and display. I love having children draw each other, maybe not even show their drawing and then move on to another partner and repeat. After the first couple of times (maybe with a timer), they get the hang of it and don't get so stuck on the little details. Afterwards, you will have enough art work to cover your bulletin boards for the first quarter! Plus, you're celebrating and embracing the diversity of your class.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Best for lower primary.
This text brings joy to my heart! I love it and I love reading it with my students. It's a perfect text for back to school because it leads with inquiry as the focus.
A few ideas for making in extra meaningful in the first weeks:
a good old makers space session; start with planning, end with reflecting
creating a class set of growth mindset phrases - students can create and illustrate posters or an affirmation station.
Discuss and introduce a tool for emotional management, such as the Zones of Regulation or TimeIn Toolkit.
As always, when thinking about quality teaching and learning, I shy against using or suggesting worksheets - especially so early in the school year. This is a precious time to learn about each other and build relationships. I don't have any positive experiences with managing these things through a one-size fits all paper (especially if there are "correct" answers, lines to fill up or boxes to stay inside of).
What books should be added to our list? Comment or send me a message with your most cherished read alouds for building community and love!
Wishing you a joyous school year ahead!
PS. Did you know that you can get an absolutely FREE teaching resource from me each month? It's true! Sign up for my monthly newsletter and get something unique, creative and beautiful for your classroom every mid-month 🥰
Check out these other amazing back to school resources that support creativity in your classroom: