If you haven’t read Jacqueline Woodson’s The Year We Learned to Fly yet, I suggest you order it from your library or independent bookstore. Once it is in your hands, find a quiet place to savor Woodson’s words illuminated by Rafael López’s vibrant illustrations. Hear a young girl’s story of how she and her brother are inspired by their grandmother’s insights and by the actions of their ancestors, to use their imaginations, let go of their anger, and face the challenges that lie ahead. Let’s think together about how we might use The Year We Learned to Fly to create a connected read aloud-shared reading book experience. I’ve mapped out a quick step-by-step plan to guide you.
Step 1: Determine the focus of your read-aloud experience, aside from pure enjoyment. When I studied this book, I thought it would be ideal for helping students read between the lines to learn lessons from the characters. To invite conversation around this focus, you might ask questions like these:
- What did the girl and her brother learn from their grandmother?
- Why were these lessons important?
- How might you use some of these lessons in your own life?
Step 2: After the read-aloud experience, ask yourself, “Is there something happening in either the text or illustrations that would advance students’ reading knowledge if they took a closer look?” The answer to this question can easily turn into a short burst of shared reading. A short burst of shared reading has the following characteristics:
- Connects to a read-aloud experience
- Spotlights a clearly identified learning target
- Focuses on key pages or sections that illustrate the target skill or strategy
- Invites students to collaboratively reread and study key pages with teacher support
- Encourages investigation and conversation aimed at bringing a transferable skill to light
Step 3: Gather students for a short burst of shared reading. Here are two examples from The Year We Learned to Fly:
- Short Burst 1: Reread to Boost Comprehension: Infer Characters’ Feelings
- Revisit and study the page that reads, “We fought and frowned and made silent promises to never speak to each other again.” While rereading work with students to use pictures and words to infer the characters’ emotions.
- Short Burst 2: Notice Writer’s Craft Moves—Ponder Point of View
- The story is told in first-person point of view by the sister. When her grandmother speaks, her dialogue appears in italics. Reread those particular pages to explore who is telling the story different points.
Here are two additional connected book experiences to try out in your classroom. If you are looking for more ideas like these check out Shake Up Shared Reading.
Book Title: “Not That Pet!” (Prasadam-Halls, 2021)
About the Book: Mabel’s family takes her to the pet store to pick out a pet. The first creature delivered to her home is an elephant. Each of her subsequent choices causes chaos in her multigenerational household. Finally, when she has exhausted her options, readers predict (based on the rhyming pattern) that her next pet will be a cat. Instead, she gets a rat!
Read Aloud Experience: Predict Using Evidence
Pause on each page before Mabel gets a new pet. Encourage students to use evidence from the illustrations and text to predict which pet she might get next.
- Short Burst 1: Reread to Boost Comprehension—Identifying Problems and Solutions
- Reread the pages that begin with “but” followed by those that start with “so”. Notice that the pages the begin with “but” state a problem and those that start with “so” offer a solution.
- Short Burst 2: Notice Writer’s Craft Moves—Surprise Ending
- Revisit the last few pages. Discuss how the author tricked the reader into thinking Mabel was going to get a cat when she really got a rat. Think about ways kids could add surprise endings to their stories.
Book Title: Everybody in the Red Brick Building (Wynter, 2021)
About the Book: Everybody in the red brick building is asleep until Baby Izzie starts crying, “WaaaAAH!” Her crying sets off a chain reaction of noisy nighttime fun. In a cumulative fashion, each apartment dweller’s sound is added to the person before culminating with a booming two-page spread. Then, in reverse, the characters quiet down and return to sleep.
Read Aloud Experience: Text Structure—Cumulative or Add-On Structure
Notice that as each person wakes up, the sound they make is added to that of the person before them. The same is true as the building quiets down. Share that we call this a cumulative or add-on text structure. Compare to other books with a cumulative structure like The Napping House by Audrey Wood.
- Short Burst 1: Wonder About Words—Onomatopoeia
- Reread to notice that the sound words at beginning of the book are all loud noises while those at the end are quiet sounds. Record the noisy and quiet onomatopoeias on a chart.
- Short Burst 2: Reread for Fluency—Join in on Repeated Parts
- As you reread this repetitive cumulative text, invite children to read along with you.
When we combine the power of interactive read aloud with short bursts of shared reading, we give our readers the insights and actions they need to fly. I would love to hear how you’ve linked read aloud and shared reading in your learning context and, of course, any book titles that have connected with your students. You can share in the comments or reach out via Twitter @mariapwalther.