Fall has arrived, which means that it is time to get down to business in all classrooms, including the library. Most of you have been in school for almost a month at this point, so you have already had time to introduce (or re-introduce) yourselves, discuss rules and procedures, and review major topics from the previous school year. The crisp fall air always invigorates me and makes me excited to dive into new topics in the library. Here are a few suggestions for how you can “bring fall into your library” for each grade level:
Focus on farms! At this time of year, it is very popular to make a visit to a farm and some of your schools may even take kindergarteners to a farm as a fall field trip. Capitalize on this excitement by using books about farming for your next several lessons.
You can read a fiction book about farming, such as Grandpa’s Tractor by Michael Garland (Boyd’s Mill Press 2011), or Hogwash by Karma Wilson (Little Brown 2011). Encourage students to attend to the story by telling them that after you have read the book they will be asked to list all of the different aspects of farming that they noticed in the story. If your story is a silly one, like Hogwash, you can also make a two-columned chart that lists “things (from the story) that you would find on a real farm” in one column and “things you would not find on a real farm” in the other. Making distinctions like these helps students to see that even fiction stories can contain bits of information that can help us to learn something new.
Don’t neglect nonfiction when you focus on farming. There are lots of great nonfiction books out there about how farms work and about popular fall crops. You can help students to understand the life cycles of some of those “fall foods” by sharing nonfiction books that explain the process of how a seed becomes a fruit. The books From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer (Perfection Learning 2004), and How Do Apples Grow? by Betsy Maestro (Harper Collins 1993) are both excellent introductions to plant life cycles that kindergartners will enjoy. Before reading, encourage students to pay close attention to the order of the steps in each life cycle. After reading, choose several volunteers and give each an index card or sentence strip on which one of the steps (i.e. “leaf buds open into flowers”) has been both written and illustrated. Encourage the entire class to help the volunteers put themselves in the correct order that will lead from seed to pumpkin (or apple).
Summarize some fall-themed stories. This is a good time of year to start working on the basics of summarizing with your students. Using a simple form ( Story _Summarizing) with boxes labeled “beginning”, “middle”, and “end” can help students to focus their thoughts when trying to write a summary. Include a few numbered lines in the “middle” section for students to list major story events. Once students have determined the major events of the story, they will more easily be able to write a summary.
You might consider reading any or several of the following books for your students to summarize: Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson (HarperTrophy 2008), Fall is For Friends by Suzy Spafford (Cartwheel 2003), The Bumpy Little Pumpkin by Margery Cuyler (Scholastic 2009), or The Best Gift of All by Jonathan Emmett (Candlewick 2008).
After your students have summarized some or all of these stories, you can display their efforts on a bulletin board or spare piece of wall. Entitle your display: First Graders Have “Fallen” For These Stories! and make sure to display the books as well.
Compare and contrast fall fiction and nonfiction. It is important for students to be able to tell the difference between a fiction book which is meant to entertain them and a nonfiction book which is meant to impart information. You can use the theme of fall to help your second graders practice differentiating between these two types of books. All you have to do is choose a fall-themed topic like apples, pumpkins, harvest, etc. and read two books about that topic–one fiction, and one nonfiction. It’s best to read the books during different class sessions, as it would be difficult to fit in the reading of two books and a comparison all in one session. After each read-aloud, ask the students whether the book you read was fiction or nonfiction and ask them to defend their statements (ex. “It was fiction because there were ghosts in it” or “it was nonfiction because it told us facts”). Once you have read both books, work with the students to prepare a large Venn diagram comparing the two. Draw the Venn diagram by drawing two circles that intersect, forming a space in the middle. In this middle space, list elements that the books had in common. Label each outer circle with the titles of each of the books and list the unique features of the books in their respective sections. This activity helps students to practice comparing and contrasting and will help them to see the differences between fiction and nonfiction in a visual way.
Some book pairings that you might use for this activity include:
FICTION: The Perfect Pumpkin Pie by Denys Cazet (Atheneum 2005), NONFICTION: Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson (Tricycle Press 2002)
FICTION: Fluffy Goes Apple Picking by Kate McMullan (Perfection Learning 2002), NONFICTION: Our Apple Tree by Gorel Kristina Naslund (Roaring Book Press 2002)
Seasonal searching using the online catalog. By this point in the year, you have probably already introduced the online catalog with your third graders. Now you can put students’ new searching skills to good use by tasking them with creating a display of fall books. An easy way to do this is to put students into groups (3-4 students per group) and assign each group a fall topic on which to focus. Some possible focus topics might include: pumpkins, apples, Halloween, leaves, Thanksgiving, harvest. Ask the groups to brainstorm keywords that they might use to search for books about their topics, and then send them to the online catalog to compile a list of five titles and call numbers that fit their topics (encourage students to be careful and accurate when recording the call number of each book). At this point, you can add a little technology element into this mini-unit. Give each group a digital camera and a shelf marker (paint stirrers work well if you don’t have shelf markers), and have them locate their books on the shelves. Each time they find a book, they should mark the spot on the shelf with a shelf marker, remove the book and take a picture of the front cover, and then replace the book on the shelf. You can then print out the pictures and have the students help you to make a fall-themed display (ask groups to make posters of the books that match their topic, post the pictures on a bulletin board along with titles and call numbers, etc.) that all students will be able to enjoy and use.
Break out the creepy folklore! Most students at this age love a good scare, especially in the safety of the library, so turn the lights down low and get out your flashlights as you share some seasonal folklore with your students. Start by reading aloud The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (Harper Collins 1990) or one or more stories from The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Treasury retold by Alvin Schwartz (Harper Collins 1995). After you have tingled their spines, discuss the fact that folktales and legends are stories that have been around for many years and have been passed down through the generations by word of mouth (if you are following the plan from my book, this should be a review for these students). You can culminate your mini-unit by putting students into groups and asking each group to create an oral presentation of a folktale or legend to perform for the class. You can ask students to choose their own folktales, or provide them yourself (there are some good websites with short folktales that you can print out, like American Folklore.Net). Encourage students to use sound effects, small props, and even simple costumes to enhance their performances. Challenge students to give great performances by reminding them that it was only the ability of gifted storytellers that made it possible for us to still be aware of these stories today. Many districts have oral language standards that require students to have experience speaking aloud, so this small unit would be a great way to hit that skill.
It was a dark and stormy night… Fall is filled with dark and stormy nights and this type of weather is the perfect setting for a mystery novel. Spend some time in the fall getting fifth graders excited about mysteries. First, introduce the fiction genre of mystery to your students by discussing the elements that are found in most mystery stories (see pages 76-77 in The Tibrarian Handbook for a detailed explanation of the elements of mystery). If you want to give your students an example of a mystery, read them one in picture book form. There is a list of mystery picture books that are short enough to read aloud in one class session in the Corner Store. Once students understand what a mystery is, ask them to each choose a mystery book to read. You will have to be helpful and vigilant as students are choosing their books. It would be a good idea to use the tops of your shelves to display as many mysteries as possible so that it is easy for students to find books that excite them. Make sure to check over students’ choices to ensure that they have all chosen mysteries and have selected books that they can read independently (enlist the help of the classroom teacher, if necessary). Give students about three weeks to read their books. After the reading period has ended, remind students that a key element of a mystery story is that there are clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys”. Ask students to identify a villain (“bad guy”) from their mysteries and to create “Wanted Posters” for their villains. It is best to give students as much direction as possible with this sort of project, so you should list some items that they must include on their posters. Such items might include: a drawing of the villain, a physical description (with defining characteristics like limps or scars), a list of “crimes committed”, locations where the villain has been seen, and note-worthy personality traits. Display the posters around the library to encourage other students to read mysteries!