Building Character with Characters!

Our time every day is limited and so so precious. In my ideal fantasy teaching world, we would have plenty of time to cover all the curriculum, plus work on social skills, citizenship, make art, sing songs, etc.

This is not our reality however, and we have to make the most of our time! I try to cover more than one subject area when reading aloud to my students.

At the beginning of the school year, I carefully choose books that will not only hook my students into being voracious readers, but that will also help me teach those all-important (painful!) procedures. At times, I can also use strong character models to help build citizenship. Fortunately, our district curriculum has us focusing on fiction for the first month of school, so that is supportive of these goals as well.

So many of the stories we hear in the first weeks, have characters that are experiencing simple problems: anxiety about school, a new teacher, sharing with a friend, etc. If I don’t already have too many other teaching points, then I guide the discussion toward analyzing the traits of characters in the story:

“Oh dear. Look at her face in this story. What do you think is happening?” OR “Why do you think he said that?” OR “ Would you want your friend to do that?”

Many times my students can see easily through a fictional character, what they cannot see in real life. They swell with pride when they interpret Chester and Wilson’s feelings about Lilly (Chester’s Way, Kevin Henkes). They burst with excitement at Buddy’s comic consequences as a result of not listening carefully. (Listen Buddy, Helen Lester)

Once we’ve made some connections between ourselves and our new “book friend,” then I post a small color copy of the cover on a bulletin board that grows throughout the year. Here is what my board looked like after a few weeks of school:


I love being able to refer to this board during the year when we need some reminders about being kind, or sharing, or including others. When that unit about character traits rolls around, it’s suddenly a breeze!

If you would like to use the same title pieces, and a simple reading response page to help students make the connection, click HERE to get a little freebie! I just printed them on colored cardstock and laminated the pieces. I don’t own the book cover images, so I cannot share those. The book covers I display change every year based on books we read.

Building Character with Characters!

Good luck! I hope this helps you to become better every year!


How many books will your class read this year?

It’s such a simple thing, really.

Near our group reading/ lesson area, I post a piece of chart paper. Of course one of the first things we do as a class is read a book together. Choosing which book to share first with my new, slightly nervous young community is something I struggle with every year, because there are so many excellent choices. I spread all of my favorite Back to School books out over the first week or so.

Immediately following our first shared story, I write the title on the chart paper and explain that we will be keeping track of all the books we read together (our read alouds). This immediately generates some excitement. How many books will we read today? How many books will we read all year? The students immediately begin making ridiculous guesses, and I let them. They eagerly look forward to our next book together, AND they always remind me to write the title on the list!

Book list

Keeping a list of all the books we’ve read together!

*Keep reading for a link for some freebie signs for your display!

Why do I do this?

1. It encourages literacy.

2. It shows our accomplishments.

3. Students love to read the list for fun, but also for any “read the room” or “word hunt” activities.

4. It helps me decipher the requests that students later have, when looking for a favorite title. (Student with big sparkly eyes: “Can I read that book that we read with the big mean rat and the rabbit?” Teacher takes deep breath….: “Well let’s look at the list…. oh was it Listen Buddy?”)

5. We can occasionally stop and make better estimates of how many books we will read by the end of the year.

6. I can look back at the list when planning for the following year. Do I want to obtain more copies? Were there books I had to order from other schools that I want to own myself?

7. Because I loop between first and second grade, I can see what we’ve read the year before. There is great value in rereading text, but it’s nice to announce that we are rereading a title before all the little voices point that fact out to me.

**Helpful tips:

1. I alternate between two colors for writing the titles, to help with readability. You could choose to use different colors to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, or even multiple colors for each genre. Some upper grade teachers I know have separate lists for each genre. Another option is to reread the list as a class each time you introduce a new genre, and then ‘code’ those titles with an initial or symbol.

2. Once I fill a page with titles, I use blue tape to put a second page over the first one, and keep listing. This way, we always see the current titles that we’ve read most recently. If you have oodles of wall space, you could display them all.

3. A few times a year, we display all the pages, so we really see and feel our accomplishments as well as show off a bit to the rest of the school. When we get to the 100 book mark, they go in the hallway temporarily with a sign. Then we put out all the pages again at the end of the year. It is very impressive to everyone walking past our classroom. It also gives me something easy to stick out there, instead of the very bare walls that appear that last week of school. They can stay up until even after the students have gone, and then they can all be wadded up and put in the recycling bin.

100 books!

Celebrating the 100 book mark!

4. Decide whether or not you want to keep an ongoing typed list as well for future planning. I just keep a Word or Google document ready and add to it when we fill another page.


HERE is a freebie set of signs you can use throughout the year for your own book list display! Download it for free from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Books We've Read

Books We’ve Read


Good luck! I hope this idea helps you to become better every year!


Taking an Interest Survey

Who are these readers?

The beginning of the school year is full of assessments to help us see what skills our students already have. Some assessments are required by the school district, others are teacher created, so that we can collect data, and tailor our instruction to meet the needs of our students. It’s all very helpful and necessary, but before I begin any testing, I want to know:

Who my students are as readers? How they feel about reading?

At the primary level, students are developing their own reader profile. I truly believe that my students’ success depends upon their attitude about reading and their motivation to spend time with books. Much time is spent through out the year, and every day building the excitement of reading in the classroom. I’ll be sharing all of these ideas with you, but here is what I do first:

I begin the year by giving my students opportunities to show me their preferences.

A reading interest survey not only helps guide my decisions about what books to read aloud or stock the shelves with, but communicates to my students that I value who they already are as readers. They know that I respect their preferences and will even help find books that they will not only enjoy, but will help them become stronger readers and thinkers. Once that relationship is established, then students are much more open and willing to try a new book, or tackle assigned reading of my choosing.

 Reading Interest Survey Primary

Click HERE for a freebie copy of my primary reading interest survey. This can be implemented during the first few days of school, either in small groups, or as a class (read aloud the questions, then allow students to work on the bottom portion independently).


And in case you are like me, and want to read even more, here is a great article:

Reading Motivation: What the Research Says by Linda Gambrell and Barbara Marinak

Attention Getters! (Using books of course!)

Attention GettersSo many stories become a part of the identity of our classroom. Don’t you just love it when you are cruising along in your classroom, following your carefully constructed plans (ha!) and you have a moment of spontaneous brilliance?

I make as many connections to literature as I can during the day. Read alouds are our favorite time of day. There is nothing like a solid piece of text to bring everyone together on the rug. One thing I happened upon this year is using references to our favorite stories as attention getters.

One day after reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes my class was particularly chatty while I was teaching (Can you imagine?!?).

““Listen up!, said Mr. Slinger!”” I spoke to the class in Mr. Slinger’s voice.

Instantly, everyone’s eyes turned to mine, with recognition on their little grinning faces. They loved it! They responded! I continue to use this attention getter every once in a while.

Another one that came to me on a whim was after reading, Listen Buddy! by Helen Lester. This one required some practice, as the students need to respond as part of the procedure. I like this one because it gives them a little time to be ready to listen.

Teacher: “Listen, Buddy!”

Students: “Who??”

Teacher: “You!”

Students: “OK!”

At this point, they are facing me, ready for anything!

The possibilities are endless! Choose a character or a story that really appealed to the students, or that became part of the classroom community while you were reading it. For example, this classic story has become a favorite after using it in several mini-lessons.

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood

(* Adapted from the repetitive pattern in the book)

Teacher: Help, help, cried the teacher when she needed to teach. Who knows what to do? Oh, who knows what to do??

Students: We do, cried the students with a hear, hear, hear! Today we are ready to learn!


Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle

(*follows the pattern)

Teacher: Students, students, what do you hear?

Students: I hear my teacher talking to me.


Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester (or any in the Tacky series – they all end the same way: )

Teacher: Tacky was an odd bird…

Students: But a nice bird to have around!


The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Teacher: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot…

Students: Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.


And one more spontaneous mind grabber!

Hooway for Wodney Wat! by Helen Lester

Teacher: Woot! Woot!

Students: Wooty-toot-toot!

Some of our best attention grabbers have been accidentally discovered because the students were already responding to the literature in some excited way. If there is a part that repeats, or a part that the students are amused by and repeat out loud, then that is a perfect place to try using this technique. Look out for ways the text is connecting to the students.

I can’t wait to see what our class creates this year! I’d love to hear your ideas as well!

If you want a quick printable freebie of these attention getters, click HERE. You can post them, or laminate them and put on a ring for a quick reminder for yourself or a substitute!

New ideas and flexibility make us better every year!