Powerful Pairings: Read-Alouds for Working with the Common Core

Lower Elementary

Pairing literature with Informational Text: Fiction and Non-fiction Companion Texts - (see the standards)

The Common Core challenges teachers to give informational text greater emphasis than most elementary classrooms have in the past.  (Read more about this instructional shift here.) Pairing an informational book with a fictional text that you have chosen to read aloud is one way that you can intentionally introduce more non-fiction.  Decide which book is logical to read first, and then enhance that reading by following up with the other.  Students will soon learn that stories sometimes have facts woven into them so that they are realistic, and that informational texts can help us to learn and discover more about the things we encounter in stories.

Judge, Lita.  Bird Talk:  What Birds are Saying and Why.  ISBN: 978-1-59643-646-6. Lexile: 820.
This is a beautifully illustrated book about how birds communicate—through their songs, their other sounds, and their dances and motions. Short phrases in a different font serve as headings and alert the reader to changes in the topic and the “big idea” for the next section.  The author offers additional facts for each bird at the end of the book , along with a glossary and references.  Reading the Author’s Note to students is worthwhile as well.  It provides a perfect opportunity to discuss a non-fiction writer’s motivation, qualifications, and passion for a topic and how that shapes their writing.

Franco, Betsy.  Birdsongs.  ISBN: 978-0-689-87777-3. Lexile: 593.
Franco has crafted a subtle counting book that walks the reader through a typical day outdoors using the sounds and songs of the various birds in the yard.  The actual sounds that the birds make are the focus, and these are repeated in the end papers.  After reading Bird Talk you might go back into this text again, specifically looking for clues about what each caw, chuck, tat, and qua means.

Key Ideas and Details: Literature Standard 2 - (see the standards)
Students will identify with the dilemma that the character faces in these two titles, and will see that they have a common central message or theme.

Demi, The Empty Pot.  ISBN: 0-8050-1217-6.  Lexile: 630.
The time has come for the Emperor to choose a successor. In order to find a worthy candidate among his subjects he provides a challenge to all of the children in the kingdom.  He distributes seeds to all of them and asks them to bring him what they have grown in one year’s time.  The child with the most beautiful flower will one day become Emperor.  Ping dutifully nurtures his seed, tending to its every need, changing the soil and the size of the pot-- but nothing grows.  Downtrodden when he sees the beautiful blooms brought by others, his father assures him that there is no shame in doing your best.  (The emperor had cooked all of the seeds as a test and none should have produced anything.) Ping does the right thing and presents an empty pot to the Emperor.  His honesty is rewarded in a satisfying ending. 

Park, Linda Sue.  The Firekeeper's Son.  ISBN: 0-618-13337-2.  Lexile:  AD 490. 
Newbery award-winning author Linda Sue Park tells the story of another young boy who is faced with a moment of decision and decides to do the right thing. Set in Korea in the early 1800’s, it recalls a time when bonfires were lit atop the mountain peaks that stood between the seacoast and the king’s palace.  A lit fire signaled that all was well;  no fire meant that invaders had come and the king must be warned.  Sang-hee’s family has tended one of the fires for several generations and he knows of their importance.  But he also knows that if the fire isn’t lit, then soldiers will come. He longs to see soldiers and talk with them, perhaps learn to fight with a sword.  When his father is injured and cannot perform the task one evening, it is up to Sang-hee to see that the fire is lit.  He struggles with his decision as two of the three glowing coals go out, but finally does what is expected.   This text, along with the one above, will provide opportunities for students to discuss the difficulties sometimes in doing the right thing. 

Key Ideas and Details: Informational Text - (see the standards)

Messner, Kate.  Over and Under the Snow.  ISBN:  978-0-8118-6784-9. Lexile: 700.
Stewart, Melissa.  Under the Snow.  ISBN: 1-56145-493-1.  Lexile: 780.
In each of these books there is one clear main idea presented at the beginning. Use these titles when discussing the main idea and how it is supported by key details.  Both Messner and Stewart explain that there is much going on under the snow in winter, even if we can’t see it.  One refers to a “secret kingdom,” one a “hidden world.” They highlight some of the activities of a variety of animals but each has a slightly different approach.  Stewart shares what happens in four different habitats under the snow—fields, forests, ponds, and wetlands.  It is clear from the text which habitat is being discussed, and when it changes.  Messner uses a family trek through the woods on skis as a device to move from one habitat to another in a subtle way.  Students will enjoy keeping track on a chart what they learn from each book, and will remain engaged because there is very little overlap.  There are opportunities for comparing and contrasting the two texts as well.  Both books are great choices to build content knowledge and vocabulary associated with the survival of animals in winter.  Even the youngest listeners will be able to tell you what the book is “mostly about” and offer simple details about the various animals that support the main idea.

Craft and Structure:  Literature Standard 4 - (see the standards)

Kurtz, Jane.  Water Hole Waiting.  ISBN: 0-06-029851-0. Lexile:  AD280
It is a scorching hot day on the savanna and Monkey is desperate for a drink at the water hole.  Each time he ventures out on the path, however, he is pulled back by his mother because of a new danger.  Kurtz introduces students to many of the savanna’s creatures and they will notice the sounds and sound words associated with their activities—the swish swishing of hippo tails, the splish, splush, slurp slush, slash, and snap of the alligator, the lip-laps of the lion, the thrum thrum of the elephant, the cha-chug of crickets, etc.  She uses many words that appeal to the senses as well, and by the end students will be feeling as parched and baked as the little monkey himself and thus be delighted with the ending at the water’s edge. This narrative is full of rich language that evokes the senses, particular hearing.  A treat for the ear.

Mayo, Margaret.  Choo Choo Clickety-Clack.  ISBN: 1-57505-819-7.  Lexile: not available
Students will enjoy looking closely at Mayo’s word choices and the placement of words on the page in this energetic book about things that go.  The author uses onomatopoeia as a device with words such as vroom, whizz, ding, whurr, and shlump and repeats the phrase “Off they go!” on every page.  Mayo captures action and movement with the use of many –ing words, building phrases such as race, race, racing, and rev, rev, revving which get bolder in print and larger in size with each word, for emphasis.  For added fun, the text is sometimes arranged in ways suggested by the vehicle itself.  The text on the cable car page rises steeply from one corner to the other, text for the sailboat is arranged in waves, and the words on the hot air balloon page curve in semi-circles atop each balloon.

Craft and Structure: Informational  Texts Standard 6 - (see the standards)
Young elementary students are learning to distinguish between texts that are stories and texts that offer information.  When working with informational text, they likewise need to distinguish between information provided by the text from information provided by the illustrations or other visual components such as maps,charts, or diagrams.  The pair of texts below offer concrete examples of how the illustrations can convey information beyond what the text provides.

Macken, JoAnn.  Flip, Float, and Fly: Seeds on the Move.  ISBN: 9780823420438.  Lexile: 650.
Macken's book is spot on for young children.  Each page introduces just one way that seeds travel—by natural forces, animals, and humans.  The illustrations help to convey words she uses such as roll, flutter, flip, fling, dangle, skitter, and skate.  She may state very simply what happens in the text, but then uses inset cutaways or diagrams to demonstrate how it is possible.

Pallotta, Jerry.  Who will Plant a Tree?  ISBN:  978-1-58536-502-9.  Lexile: 306.
Pallotta's text also concentrates on how seeds are spread.  It complements Macken's book, though, because there is very little overlap.  Pallotta shows seed dispersal in a number of habitats around the world, with many animals such as camels and monkeys and pacu that students may not necessarily have considered.  Tom Leonard's illustrations also serve to clearly  demonstrate to children what it is the text has said.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:  Literature Standard 7 - (see the standards)
Literature standard 7 for young learners requires careful attention to visual components such as illustrations to make meaning and comprehend a story.  The titles below are excellent choices to help students  attend to visual details and determine how they extend and enhance the text. 

Graham, Bob.  How to Heal a Broken Wing. ISBN: 978-0-7636-3903-7.  Lexile:  not available.
This is a beautifully written and illustrated tale of hope and healing.  Graham’s quiet text is spare;  his illustrations tell so much more of the story.  A small boy in a crowded city scene is the only one who notices a pigeon fall to the ground with a broken wing.  He and his mother take it home, and a loving road to recovery begins. Graham uses a combination of full and half page spreads along with individual frames to show specific details about what the family does to help the bird.  Students who truly attend to the illustrations might also notice several motifs that are used to show the passage of time. 

Staake, Bob.  Bluebird.  ISBN:  978-0-375-87037-8.  Lexile: not available
This is a gentle, wordless text about a lonely boy befriended by a bluebird.  (Be forewarned that the bird is struck down when the pair encounter a gang of bullies in the park.  Ultimately, though, this is a book about the power of true friendship and it ends on a hopeful note for children.)  Staake is a master at using simple geometric shapes to form his characters and convey emotions.   With each turn of the page, teach children how to look at each frame and notice the setting, the characters, and what is happening.  Have them study the faces of the characters and discuss how they are feeling at that moment.  A useful guide with suggestions for using this and other wordless books is available from the publisher here.

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