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From the Classroom: The Perfect High School Read-Aloud

By Christine Soring

I was thrilled when asked to write for the PAWLP blog and immediately knew that I wanted to write about my new passion: children’s books. It wasn’t until I participated in grad school and the Writing Institute that I discovered a new love for children’s books. Why didn’t I think of this before? The versatility of these books is so powerful and something that I have been regretting not using before. My new goal this year: use children’s books as mentor texts for all aspects of writing. 

I recently began a suspense writing unit with my 10th graders and I struggled to find books of a reasonable length that could be used to demonstrate the elements of suspense. I visited my local library and found one book in particular that had every element of suspense that I needed to teach to my students. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems details the adventures of a young girl, Trixie, her Knuffle Bunny, and her Daddy on a trip to the laundromat. The story takes a dramatic shift when Trixie realizes that her bunny was left behind. The only problem is that she is too young to explain what happened, so her Daddy is not aware of the horrible problem. Willems uses images, dialogue, punctuation, and variations in text structure and style to create a true-to-life tale about when things go terribly wrong. Willems’ craft is so captivating and original, every page adding suspense and leaving the reader itching for more—perfect for my high school students.

While reading this aloud to my students as an introduction to our lesson, I immediately noticed the various reactions the students had when being read a children’s book. Excitement flooded the room, but also looks of disappointment and bitterness. I knew what some of the students were thinking—why are you reading us a children’s book? We’re in high school. As soon as they heard Willems’ tale, gasps and stares of wonderment arose, and I knew that children’s books were my new best friend. In today’s environment, children are reading less and less. With the amount of standardized testing that needs to be prepared for and the amount of curriculum that teachers need to get through, I think that bringing children’s books into the classroom may help spark that light in students’ eyes again. Although short, sometimes juvenile, and at times looked down upon, children’s books like Knuffle Bunny can serve as some of the best read-alouds for our students.

I have always loved reading, whether it be a children’s book or a novel. Sometimes, students don’t have access to reading materials and their only sense of reading is in an English classroom. Reading aloud children’s books is something that I have seen students enjoy. I am slowly trying to bring the love of reading back to students and I hope to start with this. As an educator, it is my passion to inspire students and to bring life to reading. I truly believe children’s books will help me get there.


Christine SoringChristine is a lacrosse coach, high school English teacher, and has been a PAWLP Fellow since 2014. She began her teaching career in 2011 and has continued to find ways to incorporate mentor texts and promote reading and writing in her classroom. Christine loves seeing her students visit her classroom library, choosing a new book to read every week. Writing daily is something she aspires to bring to her students lives as well as her own with the help of Ralph Fletcher. Information about Christine’s classroom can be found at mssoring.weebly.com.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gabriella #

    Christine,

    I think it’s wonderful that you brought children’s books into your high school classroom! Writing books for young children is a very unique talent I think and they seem to be the perfect length to teach students elements of writing. I can think of quite a few children’s books that still captivate me today and I love that you thought to revisit them with older students, it definitely changes the feel of the classroom and it also helps you reach your struggling readers.

    I’m curious what other books you would use to teach different elements of writing besides suspense.

    Thanks for the great idea for my future classroom!
    Gabriella

    Like

    December 8, 2015
  2. Amanda McDevitt #

    Christine,

    Wow! What an insightful read. I know that even young adult literature is under attack right now in the world of education. How brave of you to venture into the realm of children’s literature. I thought that you made a thoughtful connection between expectations and outcomes. Often what we expect, and what students expect is completely different than what happens. I enjoy that you noted that many of your students were skeptical of the book at first, but then they could not help but be drawn into the fun and suspenseful story line. I would not have thought to consider bringing children’s literature into my future high school classrooms, but I now have this great idea on my radar. What a wonderful break it would be for the students to revisit their favorite children’s book for educational reasons– a nostalgic blast from the past indeed!

    -Amanda

    Like

    December 2, 2015
  3. Angela Broderick #

    Christine,
    I enjoyed reading your post and was able to make similar connections throughout. I can imagine how scary it was to find the perfect children’s book for 10th graders, but I am not surprised you were able to find one at the library. There are so many books out there for everything and everyone. “In today’s environment, children are reading less and less.” This couldn’t be anymore true because students think that reading is always boring so to show them that a children’s book can be beneficial as well is great. It is so important to be modeling reading in classrooms because it may be the only time they are listening to books and/or reading. There is a book for everyone, we just have to find what they are interested in and put that book in their hands. Access to books is key!

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Like

    December 2, 2015
  4. Ron Pizzini #

    Christine,

    It’s so neat to see you as this week’s writer! Having had the pleasure of listening to some of your students self-created suspense stories, I never would have guessed that you started the unit with a children’s book. Many of the student pieces that I heard included graphic themes such as death; one of them even talked about attempted suicide. These topics make for great suspense, but what is truly remarkable is that they learned about the elements of suspense through a children’s book and then bridged them into more excitable subject matter.

    I recently became very interested in the role of YA lit in the classroom, but using children’s books hadn’t even occurred to me! Your article made me want to go back and re-read my childhood favorites with an eye for pedagogical opportunities.

    See you in class!

    Like

    November 17, 2015
  5. Chelsea #

    I loved reading your perspective on children books and high school! It’s interesting that children books could possibly effect you for the rest of your life. Thank you for this article!

    Like

    November 17, 2015
  6. Taylor Dalisera #

    Christine,
    Wow, what an awesome experience for you and your students. I would have never thought to bring children’s books into a high school classroom. After reading about your experience and the reaction of your students, before you started reading to after you read to them it honestly sounds like you have a new strategy for your classroom. It is very true that the pressure of standardized testing and curriculum cause the meaning and interest of learning to be lost. I love when you talk about sparking a light within your students because that is what is most important, our students. The question that always arises is, how do I keep my students interested? How do I make this class more fun? or How do I help my students find school and learning more interesting or appealing? It sounds to me like you have found ways to answer those questions by bringing in children books and incorporating them into your lessons. This story is so insightful and has taught me something that I had never, ever thought about before. I think that if more teachers use children books in their classroom especially older classes, they would be seeing this spark of light within their students as well.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!
    Taylor

    Like

    November 17, 2015
  7. Christine,
    Thank you for such an insightful post! I believe your suggestion to use children’s books with secondary students will also work well with my freshman college students. Narrative seems to be one of the more difficult genres for them. Even though I know they’ve written, read, and deconstructed narratives K-12, mastery of the elements seems to be incremental — With the right introduction, children’s books may just illuminate aspects of narrative that have eluded them/ posed challenges for them in previous years. Thank you for sharing your passion and classroom practices with us. Great ideas!

    Like

    November 17, 2015

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