Wednesday / May 29

The Way You Begin: Dynamic Read Alouds for the First Days of School

Every time I read aloud Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin, my heart sings when Angelina and Rigoberto form a bond through their shared stories. For me, this picture book sums up our role at the beginning of the school year—to help children feel connected to the people in their school and the new friends in their classroomsWhether you are in your first years of teaching (welcome to our rewarding profession!) or, like me, you’re starting the school year for the 34th time, the way you begin matters. We only get one chance to set the tone and establish a shared vision for living and learning together, so let’s make the most of it! With that goal in mind, I’ll offer a few books for read alouds and ideas that you might try as you build relationships on the “days you begin.” 

Sharing Our Stories 

When Alma complains to her Dad that her name is too long, he tells her about her namesakes. 

In her book Alma and How She Got Her Name, Juana Martinez-Neal gives us the perfect segue to sharing name stories. Begin by telling your story, and then invite each student to find out the history of their name or another special family tale. Start or end each day with a student or two sharing their personal stories. As students are sharing, you could read aloud other books about names like Thunder Boy Jr. (Alexie, 2016) and The Name Jar (Choi, 2001). 

Jaime Kim’s luminous illustrations in Where Are You From? (Méndez 2019) bring to life a young girl’s quest to find the answer to that oft-asked question. This book will spark a classroom conversation about students’ unique identities and may lead students, as the young girl in the story does, to ask their families to tell them more about their own heritage. You could also take the after-reading discussion in a different direction by doing what my colleague, Jessica Walsh, does. At the beginning of the year, Jessica has learners introduce themselves by sharing a place that is meaningful to them. She collects the GoogleEarth links to their special place via a Google Form and projects each place as the students share their stories  

We use the phrase “Have a good day!” often and sometimes without thinking. In Micha Archer’s second book about Daniel, he asks the people in his neighborhood, “What makes a good day for you?” Consider reading aloud, Daniel’s Good Day (2019), and then asking your students to draw or write about what will make a good school day for them. It will be fun to see what they have to say! If you’re looking for a read aloud experience about her first book Daniel’s Finds a Poem, you’ll find one (and 100 others) in The Ramped-Up Read Aloud (Walther, 2018). 

Learning From Stories 

Along with helping students get to know each other, we want to spend time helping them bond with books. To illustrate the power of letters and words, read aloud The Magic of Letters (Johnston, 2019) then ask your students what they want to discover and write about this year. If you have emergent readers who are nervous or hesitant, Mighty Reader will come to the rescue in Mighty Reader and the Big Freeze (Hillenbrand, 2019). For fans of fractured fairy tales, don’t miss Deborah Underwood’s sequel to Interstellar Cinderella (2015). In Reading Beauty you’ll meet Princess Lex who uses what she’s learned from books to break the fairy’s curse. 

After getting kids excited about reading, we have make sure they have time to read. If your teaching days are like mine, they are jam-packed. So it’s essential to teach kids how to be “sneaky readers” as Kristin Ziemke describes in Game Changer (Miller & Sharp, 2018). To start this mini-lesson, read aloud Lori Degman’s book Just Read! (2019). Next, have children brainstorm all the times and places they can sneak in reading. Record their ideas on an anchor chart to post for future reference. 

Finally, for older listeners, I would suggest Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet’s How to Read A Book (2019). A poemin Alexander’s words, paints “a picture of the journey readers take each time they crack open a book, get lost in the pages, and wander through the wonder” (Author’s Note). Creating a classroom culture where students feel included and have time to “wander through the wonder” are the ways I choose to begin. 

What are some ways you begin your school year? I’d love to hear more about them! 

Picture Books Mentioned: 

Alexander, K. (2019). How to read a book. (M. Sweet, Illus.). New York: HarperCollins. 

Alexie, S. (2016). Thunder Boy Jr. (Y. Morales, Illus.). New York: Little, Brown. 

Archer, M. (2019). Daniel’s good day. New York: Nancy Paulsen. 

Archer, M. (2016). Daniel finds a poem. New York: Nancy Paulsen. 

Choi, Y. (2001). The name jar. New York: Dell Dragonfly Books. 

Degman, L. (2019). Just read! (V. Tentler-Krylov, Illus.). New York: Sterling. 

Hillenbrand, W. (2019). The mighty reader and the big freeze. New York: Holiday House. 

Johnston, T. (2019). The magic of letters. (W. Minor, Illus.). New York: Neal Porter. 

Martinez-Neal, J. (2018). Alma and how she got her name. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 

Méndez, J. S. (2019). Where are you from? (J. Kim, Illus.). New York: Harper. 

Underwood, D. (2019). Reading Beauty. (M. Hunt, Illus.). San Francisco, CA: Chronicle. 

Underwood, D. (2013). Interstellar Cinderella. (M. Hunt, Illus.). San Francisco, CA: Chronicle. 

Woodson, J. (2018). The day you begin. (R. López, Illus.). New York: Nancy Paulsen. 

Professional Books Mentioned: 

Miller, D. & Sharp, C. (2018). Game changer: Book access for all kids. New York: Scholastic. 

Walther, M. (2018). The Ramped-Up Read Aloud: What to Notice As You Turn the Page. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

Written by

Maria Walthera first-grade teacher in Aurora, IL, has been spending her days with children since 1986. And Maria has been a longtime advocate for reading aloud. She was honored as Illinois Reading Educator of the Year and earned the ICARE for Reading Award for fostering the love of reading in children. Before partnering with the Corwin team, she co-authored five professional books and the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment with Scholastic. With Corwin, she has published The Ramped-Up Read Aloud. Learn more about her books at and follow her on Twitter @mariapwalther. 

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