Thinking about Second Grade Read-Alouds
February 06, 2012
Each week I read books to a class of second-grade students. Last year's group liked text-rich picture books (like Library Lion) and nonfiction about animals, even the dry "this is the leopard" kind. The current crew enjoys short and funny read-alouds, so last week I went in with Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Several of the kids knew it already, but no matter. "That was the best book you've ever brought us," said one little guy. Someone else asked, "Where did the bus driver go?" and another, "Who is the pigeon talking to?" (F.Y.I., just in case you haven't seen this contemporary classic, Willems has the pigeon directly addressing the reader.) I try to get the other children to chime in with their answers to questions like these. It's fun to hear the ideas. Up next is The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! After that, maybe Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. None of these books takes more than a few minutes to read out loud.
The children's book expert Anita Silvey has made the case for bringing back picture books with longer texts; she wrote in School Library Journal last fall, "So much of what we see, no matter how clever it is, can be described as a joke book. Some are very good jokes, but once you’ve read the text, you don’t really need to read it hundreds of times." I agree, but...
For example, Bill Peete's much wordier picture books are full of fanciful storylines, not to mention hilarious visual humor, but I worry that if I read one, I might lose half the class to thumb-twiddling and squirming. But, if I never read it, they'd miss Prewitt Peacock's ridiculous, guffaw-inducing tail. Do I share Judi and Ron Barrett's equally funny though much more succinct Animals Definitely Should Not Wear Clothing, instead?
I know that the connection I make with the children is the most important part of our weekly story times; connection is what literacy is all about. But I do wonder about these things. And I certainly don't have all the answers!
My boys pay attention to books they might not normally sit through for as long if they're at the table eating a snack while I read. I don't know if it would work in a school setting with a big class (or if the teacher would allow it), but maybe if you had a popcorn party while you were reading a longer picture book, that might work?
Posted by: Holly | February 06, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I think about this a lot, too, Susan, with my storytimes, and I don't have an answer. Different groups can tolerate different types of books and different lengths, and, honestly, I think some of those longer picture books are best read one-on-one, so it's on the parent. I've been trying to make sure I'm handing some of those books to parents more frequently and encourage them to read them to their kids.
Posted by: adrienne | February 06, 2012 at 01:50 PM
A popcorn party may work, Holly. That is food for thought! I used to read to Jr. when he was eating breakfast. I loved that. Occasionally we'd do a poetry teatime, too; he would have hot chocolate. I enjoyed setting the table with snacks and books.
Adrienne, I could always book-talk some of the wonderful longer picture books and suggest reading them at home with their parents. Around here the Goodwill store can be a great source of 50-cent paperbacks. For a few dollars, I could get quite a few.
Posted by: Susan | February 06, 2012 at 02:43 PM
It's all trial and error, and I love watching you work with these things with your small folk who come through. Popcorn worked with older kids, too!
Posted by: tanita | February 06, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Trial and error. Yep!
The biggest Pigeon fan is thinking of writing his own Pigeon book. I hope he will. There are several budding writers and storytellers in the class. A couple are so articulate that I forget they're only 7 and 8.
Posted by: Susan | February 06, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Sometimes I kind of "Tom Sawyer" classes into a longer picture book. I'll show them the cover & talk about it, just enough to get interest, then say something like, " but i'm not sure . . . Usually I don't read this one to anybody but 3rd grade, because you really have to pay close attention to the pictures/words to get how awesome it is. I better save it until next year" 90% of the time, that helps them sit still long enough to get sucked into it. You do have to be prepared with something shorter, for the 10% of classes that it doesn't work with, tho. I'm reading Leo Lionni with 2nd right now.
Posted by: Rebecca Dickenson | February 06, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Rebecca, I like that idea and have a feeling this group of friends might rise to the occasion. I love Leo Lionni's work.
Posted by: Susan | February 07, 2012 at 09:38 AM
BUT---from a 29 yr veteren first grade teacher---if you love it, they'll love it. Do your talking at the beginning and end, but don't stop along the way. THAT's what causes their attention to wander. Just get lost in the story yourself, and they will too. Let them stay in the story once they're in. I never lost the attention of a class with anything from Bill Peet---his are the kinds of books that get them so deeply entrenched in the story they sit with their mouths hanging open, eyes glued to the book. I love that look---and then---what glorious things they talk about afterward---things you might not even have noticed about the book. They're minds are like sponges if you just let them do their thing, and don't interrupt their thinking until the story is over.
Also, the more they have in their hands, the MORE distracted they are in a group. I wouldn't try popcorn until AFTER the reading.
Posted by: Deb Miller | February 07, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Deb, thank you for the tips! I am going to give Bill Peete a whirl soon because I do love Prewitt Peacock.
Posted by: Susan | February 08, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Let us know how they like it! :-)
Posted by: Deb Miller | February 09, 2012 at 10:30 PM
I volunteer weekly at my girls' school, reading to a mixed group of 5-7 year olds. We read a story and then do a craft based on the story. The books I've found work the best are ones that involve me making silly voices, and also books the type of which their teachers might not read (because they are just TOO silly, or a little bit naughty) - for example Sir Scallyway and the Golden Underpants. Off now to read Anita Silvey's post as what you quote from her makes a lot of sense to me.
Posted by: Zoe | February 12, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Funny voices definitely help. Interrupting Chicken has worked really well for me! Check out some of my reviews! I am following you now, too!
Posted by: laci | March 02, 2012 at 09:40 AM