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

Upper Elementary

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.

Pairing literature with informational text: Fiction and Non-fiction Companion Texts - (see the standards)
The first title in this pairing highlights the serious issues of nonrenewable sources of energy, energy conservation, and global warming.  Harnessing the strong winds that blow around the island of Samso was the first step toward energy independence.  McMillan's story, set in nearby Iceland, is silly and fun and makes for a satisfying companion text.

Drummond, Alan.  Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed their World.  ISBN:  978-0-374-32184-0.  Lexile: 920.
Using a casual, conversational style with one of the island's residents as narrator, Drummond relates how Samso, a windy island in Denmark, reached the lofty goal of energy independence.  Under the leadership of schoolteacher Soren Hermansen, even the island's biggest skeptics eventually joined in the effort.  The themes of teamwork and making a difference are offset by sidebars which highlight and explain renewable and non-renewable energy, global warming, and windpower in kid-friendly terms. Childlike watercolor illustrations and the repeated phrase “Hold onto your hats!” contribute to the feel of the book and help to make the subject matter seem less daunting.

McMillan, Bruce.  How the Ladies Stopped the Wind.  ISBN:  978-0-618-77330-5. Lexile: 497.
Iceland, we are told by the author, is a very windy place where it can be dangerous to even go for a walk. The ladies of one village come up with a solution, however,  involving chickens, sheep and cows.  Unsuccessful at first, the ladies remain undaunted, serenading the animals with their made-up songs and eventually achieving the desired results.  Great fun!

Key Ideas and Details:  Literature Standard 2 - (see the standards)
The message shared by these two texts is that burdens seem lighter when they are shared.  Both provide opportunities to practice inferring from the text.

Coombs, Kate.  The Secret Keeper.  ISBN:  978-0-699-83963-4 Lexile: 870.
Kalli is the secret keeper in the village of Maldinga.  Nearly everyone in the village visits her occasionally to confess something—a young boy doesn’t like his new sibling, a baker sells bread loaves of less than full measure, a farmer turns away a beggar, the miller’s son has stolen a coat.  With the telling of each secret, an object that represents it appears in Kalli’s hand and she stores it in one of hundreds of tiny drawers designed for that purpose.  One spring, though, Kalli falls ill—ill from the weight of so many dark secrets and sorrows.  Eventually, the villagers gather round her and decide to tell their good secrets to her and one another as a remedy. Kalli heals and finds true love when the village potter shares his secret love for her, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Paterson, Katherine.  The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks.  ISBN:  0-525-67283-4. Lexile:  AD 930.
Yasuko, a kitchen maid, sets free an ailing wood duck that no longer pleases the lord of the manor.  Shozo, a former samurai with a kind heart, takes the blame and is stripped of his rank.  Their secret brings them closer together but when he suspects a conspiracy, the lord sentences them to death.  Imperial Messengers arrive with news, however, that capital punishment has been abolished and Shozo and Yasuko must proceed to the Imperial Court. Left alone by the lord’s retainers in the forest the prisoners are untied, clothed, and fed by the Imperial Messengers.  In the light of day, the Messengers appear to be gone but a pot of rice is bubbling in an iron pot and a pair of wood ducks greets them and fly off, leaving Yasuko and Shozo to happily live out their days.

Key Ideas and Details:  Informational Text Standard 2 - (see the standards)

Markle, Sandra.  Octopuses.  ISBN: 0-8225-6063-1. Lexile: 920.
Markle makes it clear to students on the first page that this is not an all-about-octopuses book.  Her focus is the prey/predator relationship, and the main idea of the book should be fairly obvious from the last sentence on page 1--”They are all equipped to defend themselves against their enemies.”  Challenge students as you go through the text together to record key details that support this main idea for each species of octopus discussed.

Rusch, Elizabeth.  Volcano Rising.  ISBN:  978-1-58089-408-1.  Lexile:  NC 1090.
Most of us probably think of volcanoes as being either dormant or destructive. At the outset of this book, however, Rusch points out that a majority of the time volcanoes are actually creative—growing in size, forming mountains, and building islands where none existed before.  These creative eruptions are the focus of the book and the ensuing pages provide key details that support this idea. The book also provides dual text.  The main points are given at the top of the page, in a larger, bolder font and additional information that extends that text appears below in a smaller font, giving teachers some flexibility to differentiate.  Rusch provides an extensive glossary and bibliography.  The topic, combined with the lush collage illustrations using painted papers and found objects, make this an appealing title for students.

Craft and Structure:  Literature Standard 4 - (see the standards)
Books such as the following pair of titles help students to see that when writers care deeply about their topic, they take pains to carefully craft each part of the text, thinking about the exact, precise word to use, and even how the word will appear on the page.  

Floca, Brian.  Locomotive.  ISBN:  978-1-4169-9415-2.  Lexile: 840.
Anchor standard 4 is all about word choice and how it helps to shape the meaning or the tone of a text.  Floca's book is chock full of words and phrases that suggest the power, noise, and energy of the machines that ensured that “the country's far corners have been pulled together.” From the clank, clank of the hammers and shovels that laid the rails and tracks to the hiss hiss of the steam and the huff huff of the engine, the clickety-clack of the cars and the whoo hoo of the whistle, readers will get the sense that they are being propelled forward through the text.  And what a journey it is!  Floca weaves in much information about the parts of the train, the jobs of the crew, and what it was like to be a passenger.  Bold onomatopoetic words appear in fonts reminiscent of posters of the time, and action verbs are all italicized, adding to the sensation of motion.  Plan to spend several days working with this text.  Immerse students in the information on the endpapers, look at the ways words are arranged.  Ask whether the book is prose or poetry.  But most of all, enjoy this tribute to the locomotive!

Guiberson, Brenda.  Frog Song.  ISBN:  978-0-8050-9254-7.  Lexile:  AD 950.
Like Floca's book, Guiberson's is a celebration of her subject—the music and songs of frogs.  She introduces readers to different species from all over the globe and to their unique sounds.  Words like thrum-rum, brack-brack, tinktinktink and mwaa-mwaa  are oversized and in different fonts, making it easy for readers to attend to them.  Additional facts for each species appear at the end, along with online resources.  The “Frogs in Trouble” endnote offers an opportunity to discuss the author's purpose as well. 

Craft and Structure:  Informational Text Standard 6 - (see the standards)
The following titles bring history to life.  Written with a tongue-in-cheek style, they provide two different accounts of the same topic—the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Begin by having students look at the cover images of the books and make predictions about the perspective each author will provide.  After reading, discuss with students the similarities and differences between the two texts. 

Jurmain, Suzanne.  Worst of Friends:  Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the true story of an American Feud. ISBN: 978-0-329-97555-5.  Lexile: 920.
Jurmain's introduction, along with the cover image and subtitle, clues students in to the ongoing feud between these two Founding Fathers in the early days of the new nation that they had forged together.  Although she initially paints a picture of the men as friends, Jurmain shifts the focus to the fundamental differences they had over what the government of the new United States should be like.  She gives specific examples of comments and incidents that caused them to go their separate ways and not speak for eleven years.  Jurmain circles back to the friendship in the latter part of the book, describing how they repaired it in letters back and forth to one another until their deaths on the same day—July 4, 1826--the fiftieth anniversary of the new nation.

Kerley, Barbara.  Those Rebels, John and Tom.  ISBN: 978-0-545-22268-6.  Lexile: 960.
Kerley also begins by profiling each of these men and highlighting their differences. She then goes on to show the growing dissatisfaction of the colonists with how they were being governed.  The focus becomes how these two very different figures formed an alliance to fight against the tyranny of King George.  Kerley portrays the respect each had for the talents of the other, and how they were able to combine them to convince others to separate from England.  The book concludes on a celebratory note with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  It is only in the author's note at the end that Kerley discusses the rift that developed in later years between the two.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:  Literature Standard 7 - (see the standards)
Standard 7 deals with visual components of a text, and with comprehending texts in diverse formats. The titles listed below include poetry and a graphic novel format.  Pair your favorite volume of traditional fairy tales with these two books for some fresh perspectives.  

Yolen, Jane and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.  Grumbles:  Fairy Tale Voices with a Twist: Poems.  ISBN: 1-59078-867-2. Lexile: not available.
The “twist” here is poetry.  Voices from fifteen classic fairy tales are represented in short poems. (Perhaps a main character, perhaps an object such as the mirror or the pea.)  Read a traditional version first, and then have students discuss what they know of the characters.  Then read the selections from Yolen’s book. Does the point of view of the poem’s “voice” jive with the evidence from the traditional version?

Duffy, Chris, ed.  Fairy Tale Comics.  ISBN:  978-1-59643-823-1.  Lexile: not available.
Graphic novels are so popular with this age group, and this is a stellar collection of re-imagined fairy tales by some of today’s most talented cartoonists.  Even if this is not a favorite form of literature for you, your students will appreciate the chance to look at the genre in a different form.  This volume might work particularly well as a way for reluctant readers and English Language Learners to access the content of classic fairy tales. 



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