If you’re lucky enough to work on a K-12 campus, you have access to a fantastic educational resource: little kids.
To motivate reluctant readers, increase fluency and confidence, and demystify literary analysis, I tapped into that resource last year by asking my students to organize a monthly story hour for the lower grades.
I broke the project into several assignments:
- Write a five-sentence paragraph telling what your favorite book was when you were little and why you liked it. Ask the kids to RACE (restate, answer, cite, explain) their responses to establish good habits ahead of their standardized tests.
- Look at the Common Core standards for the grade level you’ll be working with, and choose some that fit your story. Administrators will think you walk on water if you ask kids to plan lessons aligned to Common Core. The ELA standards are vertically aligned, so if you really want to impress the brass, you can ask the kids to compare and contrast the standards they’re teaching with the ones for their own grade level. I give them the “I can” statements rather than making them translate from educatorese.
- Use sticky notes to annotate your book. Annotations should include vocabulary words, potentially unfamiliar concepts, discussion questions, pronunciation guides, and anything else students deem appropriate.
- Read your book aloud to your classmates, and add annotations based on their reactions. During this assignment, I asked the kids who were not reading to think — and act — like small children. They blurted random questions and comments, made faces, squirmed, and created other disruptions while the reader practiced responding appropriately to an unpredictable audience. This hilarious activity revealed teachable moments within the text and boosted readers’ confidence.
- Plan a craft or other activity the children can do to reinforce their understanding of the book. During one recent story hour, we created the Giving Tree-themed bulletin board shown above, with acts of kindness written on paper leaves we stapled to the tree. The reader is responsible for gathering materials for the activity and delegating tasks to classmates (e.g., setting up the activity, distributing materials, supervising children, etc.)
- Create a formal invitation and deliver it to the children’s teachers.
- Assist classmates with their projects.
I also asked the kids to create rubrics — one for the reader, and one for the assistants — and grade each other’s performance.
This project began as a means of boosting reluctant readers’ confidence, but my superintendent and I loved it so much that we wound up creating a children’s-lit elective this year, and I put that class in charge of story hour. We love it because it gives the little ones positive role models, gets them excited about reading, boosts my kids’ metacognitive skills, and leaves everybody smiling — including my boss, who occasionally slips out of her office to join the fun:
If I taught in a bigger district and couldn’t bring the little ones into my room, I might have my kids create an online story-hour program — something along the lines of Reading Rainbow or Books from Cover to Cover — to be shared with elementary classes instead.