A Must for Upper-Elementary Classrooms
If I was giving a new upper elementary teacher one piece of advice unique to these grade levels, I wouldn’t have to think hard. As a fourth grade teacher, this applies to fifth grade as well, and probably third and sixth. I would suggest this: all upper elementary students need to have picture books at their fingertips.
These books need to always be readily available. I’m not talking about just having a basket of tattered favorites in the classroom library or leveled bins at a fluency station. While those can be helpful too, students need to have picture books instantly available at their seats. It’s a bonus if the students have self-selected these books.
Why is this so imperative in the upper elementary grades? Consider these three points:
1. Requiring everyone to have picture books eliminates negative stigmas. – No matter how much time and effort we spend building a thoughtful, caring community and confident, self-assured students, children at this age are beginning to care what their peers think. I did too when I was their age. So did you. Despite the fact we know otherwise, many students continue to view picture books as childish, and they don’t want to be viewed as needing to read “baby books.” We can talk and talk about book selection, our individual differences, and how much we, as teachers, love pictures books, but I have found the “baby book” stigma to be invincible. However, if everyone has picture books at their desks, then picture books become part of our normal reading lives. Everyone is doing it, so nobody worries. Most importantly, the kids who need to be reading those books to help themselves grow as readers are able to do so without fear.
2. Picture books are perfect for practicing many reading strategies. Imagine you have just taught an amazing lesson examining character change. You’ve modeled for students how to think about character change and why it is important to notice. You feel the kids are getting it, but you want to see them practice without your help. Can you send them to read the next chapter in their chapter book and then discuss character change? Not really. Character change happens over the entirety of a book. But, can you send them to read a picture book independently or with a partner and report back on what they noticed? Absolutely. Picture books can be used to support almost any lesson, including character change, synthesizing, making inferences, determining the effect of the setting or characters on the plot, comparing and contrasting stories, and countless others.
3. Kids love them! They might be reluctant to say it out loud (see #1), but kids truly love picture books. When my students visit the library, two of their choices must be picture books, and these are often the books I see being read first when we return from the classroom. Helping kids enjoy reading should be one of our top goals, and this is a perfect way to foster a love of books.
If you’re new to upper elementary or know someone who is, I encourage you to make sure all students at this critical age in their reading lives have access to picture books. It will make a difference.