Friday, September 11, 2015

TALL Words

First grade is such an exciting time in the library. They get to go to the shelves for the first time and choose from thousands of books. This can be overwhelming, and often frustrating for kiddos, so this is what we do in our library to handle the transition from Kindergarten to First Grade.

After our story time, Kindergartners are sent to sit at a table with three or four other students. They choose books from a selection of about ten to twelve books on their table. I have found that number to be plenty of choice for them. More is overwhelming. No, I don’t let them go to the shelves yet for many reasons, mostly because my assistant and I do not have the time to straighten the shelves after a class of Kinders get through with them. Yes, I teach them spine out, standing on their feet, shelf markers, one at a time, but most of these little darlings are just not ready for it.

First grade, though, is a different story. First graders learn to use shelf markers, practicing for a
couple of weeks on a cart, and then on the shelves. We do not level our library or use a system like Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts, so I spend time teaching young students how to choose a “good fit” book. I read Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins to second graders, but not to the first graders. I save one of my absolutely favorite lessons for the Firsties. I call it TALL WORDS.

I do this lesson every year, and every year it is a smash hit. I start with Billy & Milly, Short & Silly by Eve Feldman. We talk about how TALL the words are—not big words, because that connotes many letters in one word. TALL words are easy for small eyes to see. TALL words need a lot of room, so there are usually few to a page. We also talk about how rhymes help us predict the next word, even if we don’t know it yet. Some classes spontaneously repeat the words after me, because the words are TALL enough for them to see from where they sit.

Then I get to the best part. I mean, I can have those kiddos eating from the palm of my hand. They laugh in all the right places. They hold their breath, wondering what is going to happen next. They call out, “Again, again!” when I finish reading. The books that hold so much power? The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. I chose I Will Surprise My Friend this year. There Is A Bird On Your Head is another favorite. I have voices that I use for Elephant and Piggie, and I speed up, slow down, whisper, and shout as the text indicates. The speech bubbles make it easy to tell who is speaking. Instant success!

For the rest of the year, the students are hooked. Elephant and Piggie books are in high demand. I add at least a half dozen books to the collection each year, but it doesn’t matter how many we own. We rarely have more than two checked in at a time.

I may have to read another Elephant and Piggie book next week just because they are so much fun. Oh, and to make sure the kiddos understand TALL words.

What are your favorite books for first graders? I would love to hear your ideas.

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