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Great Books Get School Off to a Great Start!

Reading aloud to students is an important activity on any school day -- but many teachers have books that they use to help make the first day of school a very special one. Read about some teachers' favorite first-day read-aloud books. Then share your own favorite on our message board! Included: Reading aloud on the first day isn't just for little kids!

Stacey Price has a favorite way of breaking the ice on the first day of school. She dons a robe and slippers and reads Miss Malarkey Doesn't Live in Room 10, by Judy Finchler, to her students at Hurst Hills (Texas) Elementary School. "This helps get rid of a few first-day jitters," Price told Education World. "And it gives students a chance to see their teacher in a new light."

Price is one of thousands of teachers -- across the grades -- who start out the year with a good read-aloud book. "I think there is some sort of age-old comfort in 'story time,' something about the teacher reading a story," eighth-grade teacher Holly Sessions told Education World. "It's safe, familiar territory for kids, and a fun, easy way to get their attention when they are hyped up by the first day of school. It's a nice transition from 'welcome' to 'work,' and it's a positive interaction for teacher and students," added Sessions, who teaches at Olle Middle School in Texas's Alief Independent School District.

Even though Sessions teaches eighth grade, she finds that picture books are often great tools for making that transition. One of her favorite books to use on the first day of school is Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes. The book tells the story of a little girl named Chrysanthemum who just loves her special name -- until she starts school. That's when she realizes just how unique her name really is!

"After I've read the story, I have the children write about their names -- a name mix-up anecdote, whatever they can think of," Sessions told Education World. "When they've finished, they take turns sharing, and we all share a few laughs. This helps everybody -- myself included -- to remember names."

The book can be extended in other ways too, added Sessions. "You can have the children write an acrostic poem using their names," she said. "Once the poems are written and decorated, you have something to hang up that helps personalize the room for your new class, so they can start to feel like it's 'theirs' right away. It gives parents a nice feeling at open house too."


Read More About Reading Aloud!

* Reading Aloud -- Is It Worth It? Why do teachers read aloud to their students? Are the benefits of reading aloud worth the time? Many teachers believe reading aloud enhances classroom instruction and improves academic achievement -- and recent research supports their belief. Included: Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, talks to Education World about the value of reading aloud!

* Reading Aloud -- Are Students Ever Too Old? Do you read aloud to your students? Is there ever a time when students are too old to be read to? Many teachers are firm believers in reading aloud -- even at the high school and college levels!

For Mary Cox, a children's literature consultant in Ontario, Canada, reading aloud is an integral part of the first day of school. One of her favorite first day read-aloud books is Never Spit on Your Shoes, by Denys Cazet. The book leads to many great follow-up activities, notes Cox. "The cover of the book is filled with speech bubbles. Even the title is a speech bubble," Cox told Education World. "Teachers can point this out to the children as a technique for writing conversations, a technique students might want to practice in writers' workshop."

Becky Kenton Pyle has a favorite back-to-school book too. Pyle, an Ohio teacher, noted last summer on the Teacher-2-Teacher Mailing List that she often reads Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by Mike Thaler. In the book, the teacher -- Mrs. Green -- is a monster with a tail and smoke coming out of her nostrils!

After reading the book, Pyle takes her students over to the junior high school to meet a teacher there: Miss Greene (her real name). "She makes a big deal over the book, then checks over my students to see who would make the most succulent snack. Then she decides she's just had lunch and isn't hungry," Pyle explained to list readers. "The kids just love it, and we do things with Miss Greene the rest of the year."


Donna Ellis, a teacher in Grand Island, Nebraska, is another educator who believes in reading aloud to her middle level students. Ellis had often used Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! at the end of the school year when her sixth graders were about to "move up" to junior high. But a few years ago, when her school district transitioned from a junior high to a grades 6 to 8 middle school configuration, she decided to use the book on her sixth graders' first day at their new Walnut Middle School. " All of us were new to the middle school. It was great!" said Ellis. "I stressed how I had faith that we all would be doing great things this year and going places -- figuratively."

This year Ellis is back in the elementary school -- teaching fifth grade at Engleman Elementary. But that won't change her plan to read Oh, the Places You'll Go! on the first day of school!

Reading aloud Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, might not sound like the best way to start a new school year, but don't tell Debi Hooper that! Hooper, a former computer skills teacher at Columbia (North Carolina) Middle School, is now an author and researcher for Teacher Created Materials. She used the popular children's book by Judith Viorst to get her middle school students talking about cause and effect. "I let them know that nobody will have those kinds of days in our classroom," said Hooper.

The book lends itself to all kinds of possible follow-up activities. Hooper suggests having kids write their own versions of their very worst day. "Sure beats the 'What I Did This Summer' assignment, and it still gives you a chance to assess whether your students can write sentences and paragraphs," she told Education World. "Some kids may not have done anything 'memorable' during their summer, but everyone has had a 'very bad day.'"


Those are just a handful of the possible books for reading aloud on the first day of school.

Click here for additional information about the titles referenced above -- and for a few other titles we've tracked down that might make entertaining first-day reading.

Please check out our featured theme this week:

Icebreakers 2000: Getting-to-Know-You Activities for the First Days of School

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Updated 7/16/2004