Creating the kind of classroom culture where children are invested and engaged in their learning doesn’t just happen by luck when the ‘right’ combination of students happens your way.  It must be created.  Every year.  With every group of students received.  But how is that done?  What will create the kind of atmosphere in which students cooperate with each other in socially responsible ways?  “The rate of development depends on the learning environment we orchestrate.”  (Peter Johnson, Engaging Literate Minds, p, 72.)

In Engaging Literate Minds, Peter Johnson reminds us that, “Our role as teachers is not primarily the traditional role of delivering knowledge.  Our job is to keep the children engaged and in control of their learning while they are growing new knowledge and building a culture that will sustain that engagement and sense of agency.”  p. 218

Picture books can be used as a vehicle to establish the kind of classroom environment we envision.  Bibliotherapy, or conversations based on books, must not be underestimated.  Not only are children deepening their comprehension as they engage in rich conversation, but their very being is contemplated.  It’s a process that scaffolds students’ intellectual and social competence.  You will be amazed at how these conversations can create a classroom culture beyond your wildest dreams!

Brian, at the age of 8, needs a break; a retirement in fact.  He jets off to the Happy Sunset Retirement Community, but what will life be like?  Will he reflect on the parts of his life that he wanted to escape?

I wonder why Jon Agee wrote this book?  Did he have a message for us?  What might that be?

Retired Kid ~ Make a class book

Frustrated by her inability to make the most magnificent thing work, her assistant suggests a walk.  About to get mad again, she begins to notice the good parts and gives it another try.

What can we learn from this book to make our lives better?  Why did Ashley Spires write this book?

Have you read Engaging Literate Minds by Peter Johnston?

   Chapter 6 is absolutely brilliant!  In it, Johnston and Champeau explain the role of classroom dialogue as a means to deepen comprehension, build perspective in little people, and create individuals who understand the concepts of personal and social responsibility.

Linus the pencil and Ernie the eraser are not getting along.  Is there a way for these two characters to get along?

What messages might author Scott Magoon have for us?  Are there ways that we can learn to get along with each other even when we are being ‘rubbed’ the wrong way?

A cooperative art activity that results in a class book will create a lasting memory about the importance of working with others.

Linus ~ Collaborative Class Book templates

LINUS the Little Yellow Pencil ~ lesson 2

What does it mean to be kind?  When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, she’s laughed at.  She’s obviously upset, but how do we show kindness instead?  Is it about giving or sharing?  Is it helping or paying attention?  If kindness is an issue in your class, reading this book will open dialogue in which all learn from each other.

Be Kind by Pat Miller

The amazing images in this book demonstrate a variety of ways that children around the world get to school each day.  Why would some children take such difficult routes to school?  Why would their parents allow them to travel a dangerous path?  Why is an education important anyway?  After reading this book, children will engage in an appreciative conversation about  school.  By making a classroom book, this message will be read over and over again by your students.

The Way to School ~ Create a class book

It’s a rainy, dreary day.  Could there possibly be anything worth appreciating?  In this, there’s-no–such-thing-as-bed-weather take on life, all your students will have an opportunity to reflect on the positive aspects of different situations.  That is, if the conversation is facilitated by a caring adult.

This beautiful Day

Ruthie’s  Snurtch makes sure nothing goes as planned.  It’s no help to her at all!  Is Ruthie the only one with a Snurtch?   What can one do when a Snurtch takes over?

Do you have a Snurtch?  When does it appear?  What can be learned by Sean Ferrel’s work?  Why did he write this book? A rich thinking question like this last one can stimulate rich, classroom discussions.  While developing these core competency skills, conversations like this also model what deer comprehension sounds like.  It’s a win/win!

The Snurtch ~ some Snurtchy writing with voice!

No-one really noticed that Sally McCabe was paying extra  careful attention until one day in the school’s cafeteria.

What can we learn form this little hero?  What can we learn from author Justin Roberts?  How can we take this information and use it in our everyday lives at school and home?

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade ~ detailed writing based on careful observation outside

After reading this book, your students will be invited to write a letter to the Earth expressing gratitude.  What does being grateful have to do with anything?  According to Psychology Today, practicing gratitude improves relationships, physical and emotional health, enhances empathy and reduces aggressions.  It also improves sleep, self-esteem and mental strength.  Perhaps keeping a gratitude journal might be in order!

Thank You Earth lesson ideas

When you feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach by your friends, what do you do?  Will Ahn listen to his anger or pause to develop strategies to help keep anger at bay?

A class book about dealing with anger will leave an ongoing legacy about what matters when anger creeps in along with ways to help it fade.

Steps and Stones~ An Anh’s Anger Story ~ written reflections about calming anger

Ahn gets angry and his grandfather suggests he sits with his anger.  What happens when you take a pause when things get out of control?

Why might Gail Silver have written this book? Can conversations about handling anger help tame this emotion?  What can be learned from each other during discussion?  Creating a class book will provide an opportunity to read and reread strategies suggested by peers.

Anh’s Anger lesson ideas

Ruby did things in her own time.  She might not have been ready at the same time as her quick-learning siblings, but Ruby ended up flying farther than all the rest.

Some children are not quite ready for the group plan … yet!  What do ducklings, children and seeds have in common?  A little experiment can go al long way in showing what’s possible with a little time and patience.

Ruby Flew Too lesson ideas

A negative comment and laughter leads to frustration and crumpled pictures.  His sister takes the crumpled images and runs away.  Where has she gone with them?  What has she done with them?

How can thinking, ‘Ishly’ helps us live better lives?  Why did Peter Reynolds write this book?

Ish by Peter Reynolds lesson ideas

Spiders are scary right?  Lots of people despise them, but can we learn to love some of the things we hate?

Can we turn our perspectives in another direction and learn to love some of the things in life we think we hate?

I’m Trying to Love ~Early primary I’m Trying to Love ~

I’m Trying to Love ~ Lesson ideas

What do you like and what don’t you like?  What about others in your class?  What do they like and dislike?  The more we get to know each other, the closer we become as a group.  When we care about each other, the harder it gets to hate, belittle or bully.

Hmmmm, why might  Sam Bishop have written this book?

I Like Bees, I Don’t Like Honey

I don’t like snakes, but did you know any cool facts about them…. ?  What happens when we become  better informed about things we dislike?

I Don’t Like Snakes Core Compentency

I Don’t Like Snakes ~ Making a Web ~ While reading a second time, why not explicitly teach your students how to make a web showing the author’s main ideas.  When I say ‘teach’, I mean co-construct with lots of student thinking guiding the way!

A comical look at how to lose friends might just inspire some collaborative thinking about how to make and keep friends!

Can a book and discussion  help heal friendship issues in classrooms?  Yes it can!

How To Lose All Your Friends Lesson ideas

The tall man the small mouse are opposites.  Is there anything that might connect them?

I wonder why Mara Bergman wrote this story?  Can we possibly learn something from this book that might help us live a better life?

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse ~ What’s important for the tall man?  What’s important while at school?  … some written reflections.

How to use this book:

  1. Enjoy the book.
  2. Choose happiness.
  3. Share your happiness.
  4. Pass Ishi to a friend.
  5. Enjoy their happiness.              ishi  Lesson ideas

The Busy Beaver doesn’t always think things through.  When an accident causes him to reflect, he manages to turn his actions around.

What happens when we don’t think things through? Conversations about cause and effect can help children pause to consider their actions and possible reactions.

Busy Beaver  ~ Follow up by inviting your students to build/create a contraption to help someone.  When finished, document the language used by students when sharing the ideas behind their contraption.  You’ll be glad you did! Display bits of this pedagogical narration.  Sometimes very wise thoughts come from very small people!

Carl is an earthworm who questions why he does what he does?  He sets out on a mission to ask others and eventually discovers something really important about the role of all earth’s creatures.  Have a conversation with your students asking why Deborah Freedman might have written this book?   Don’t miss the author’s note at the back of the book, but my guess is that through a rich discussion, your students will have already figured out the author’s rich theme message!

Inferring Theme Chart

Inferring Theme ~ Core Competencies picture books ~ so many more core competency picture books to inspire rich thinking …