Teaching Children’s Litature

Students’ oral and written communications are products of their interactions with people, their environments, and, of course, their life experiences. Teachers begin to “even the playing field” by exposing all students to a wide variety of children’s literature from the first day of kindergarten. Hearing, reading, and responding to children’s literature expands students’ knowledge, vocabulary, and sense of story structure, all of which are transferred to their speech and writing.


Once you realize the positive effects of a literature-based classroom, you must decide not only when to read, but also when not to read. Literature read to, with, or by students can be used to:

  • start the day
  • ease into Writers’ Workshop
  • teach specific language arts skills
  • illustrate points about behavioral or social issues in the classroom
  • calm the class after lunch or recess
  • demonstrate concepts from math, science, or social studies lessons
  • communicate hard-to-explain ideas in an effective manner
  • celebrate a birthday or holiday


Good books should be shared with students several times each day. While countless ways exist to weave books into lessons, teachers don’t always need a content connection. One of the most powerful reasons to share a book is because it is personally meaningful to you. Books you love will become books your students love. Conversely, when students love books, their writing blossoms.

Of course, children’s literature can also be the perfect lead-in for mini-lessons or other skill instruction during a writing workshop. For example, consider the following titles and how they can be used to launch instruction:

  • Aunt Isabel Tells A Good One by Kate Duke shows how to illustrate dialogue.
  • Everybody Needs A Rock by Byrd Baylor provides a model for writing a how-to in an almost poetic fashion.
  • Cook-A-Doodle-Doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel demonstrates how enticing a good lead can be and how to use effective sidebars.

Children’s literature also enhances thematic unit lessons. Utilize children’s books to demonstrate the various styles writers use to convey their messages and the many genre responses and perspectives a topic can elicit. For example, a lesson on the environment could include the following titles:

  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
  • Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • Save the Earth compiled by Linda Longo Hirsch
  • It Zwibble and the Hunt for the Rain Forest Treasure by Lisa V. Werenko
  • Our Planet: Earth by Lisa Feder-Feitel
  • The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
  • The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore) by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • Rain Forest by Helen Cowcher
  • Heron Street by Ann Turner
  • Welcome to the Green House by Jane Yolen
  • 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by The Earthworks Group


Primary students generally have brief attention spans. If your students have been sitting at their desks for a long period of time, move them to the whole-group area to share the next book. If they’ve been seated in that area for 15–20 minutes, give them time to stretch before rejoining you or moving to their seats. As you become familiar with your students’ individual needs, plan each reading for a time and place most conducive to stimulate rapt attention.

As you read a book to students, model the importance of being a reflective reader. Pause at strategic places throughout the text to think aloud, comment on the writer’s style, or discuss an idea. Explain that readers who predict, question, and make connections enjoy books more and learn more from them. However, with very short books, avoid explicitly teaching a skill during the initial reading. Target specific skills in subsequent readings, after students have heard or read a book once and have had the opportunity to think about it.

Consider how you hold a book as you read it. During some read-alouds, it is imperative to show the illustrations in a book as you read the text aloud. During others, it is effective to withhold illustrations and allow students to form images in their mind before seeing the illustrator’s interpretations. This practice strengthens each student’s ability to imagine the author’s intent. Students will enjoy comparing what they imagined to the actual illustrations.

Inevitably, you will face a management challenge as you look for ways to organize your classroom texts and make them accessible to students. Many teachers separate books into the following categories:

  • Leveled texts
  • Periodicals
  • Reference books, such as picture dictionaries and children’s encyclopedias
  • Books by particular authors
  • Thematic texts
  • Student-authored texts
  • General texts, including favorite pieces of children’s literature that your classroom shouldn’t be without

Books may be arranged in labeled crates, magazine file boxes, detergent boxes covered with contact paper, discarded cardboard book holders from book fairs, or on easy-view bookshelves. Determine also how you want students to check out and return materials from your classroom library and whether they will be allowed to take them home. Be sure to model and teach these procedures during the first few days of the school year.


source: Benchmark Education