With the arrival of Spring, it is more challenging than ever to keep kids reading and motivated to keep learning. What techniques keep your kids inspired? How do we keep them motivated to work when their minds are on getting outside? How do WE stay motivated as the year winds down? Engaging mentor texts can make a big difference, and we’ll focus on them in this post. By making careful book selections for your mentor texts, we can expose kids to great literature AND meet our curricular demands.
Best Authors for Spring Mentor Texts
Leo Lionni and Eric Carle
For this time of year, there are a few authors I have as my go-to authors. The first two are perfect for the primary grades, and their books are great for comparison since they both utilize collage for their illustrations and seems to match the season Can you guess who they are? Yes, they are Leo Lionni and Eric Carle.
Last fall, I revised all of the Leo Lionni units in my store. The bundle expanded from four titles to seven, and now includes Inch by Inch, A Color of His Own, Swimmy, Alexander the Wind-up Mouse, Fish is Fish, Frederick, and A Busy Year. Kids LOVE animals, so you can pair any of these titles to nonfiction works as a way to tap into kids’ interest in animals. Honestly, they’d even work for upper elementary too if you want to share a part for modeling. You can also weave in studies of habitats, animal adaptations, and plants. I love using these books for character and plot development too.
Another author that has quite a few books for Spring is Eve Bunting. In fact, she has something for any time of year to be honest. I chose three titles for the spring set in my store including Someday a Tree, Butterfly House, St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning, A Turkey for Thanksgiving, and Sunflower House.
With these titles, you can teach Earth Day or environmental education (Someday a Tree), life cycles (Butterfly Houses), and plants (Sunflower House), but each of the titles can work as mentor texts for writing ideas and word choice too. [This post] includes more details about these ideas.
One of my favorite author for upper elementary is Patricia Polacco, and she has several books that could be paired with nonfiction too. I love The Bee Tree for spring when bees are active, and I think kids are really interested in how bees form honey as well as other bee topics such as how hives work and the roles of the queen versus worker bees. You can also include how to handle bee stings, etc. too.
Another on the same line as The Bee Tree is When Lightning Comes in a Jar. It’s a great one for tying in lightning bugs or family reunions.
Just Plain Fancy and Chicken Sunday are great for spring too. My students were very curious about the Amish way of life, so we explored it a little bit as we worked with that book. Peacocks are also interesting, and many kids are unfamiliar with them. You could tie both of these into a study of birds.
Chicken Sunday works well for family traditions and friendship, but all of these titles are perfect for building word choice and voice with writing as well as character development and plot. Patricia Polacco is truly an author every upper elementary classroom needs to study. [My author study bundle] includes materials for thirteen titles if you’re interested.
Finally, I’d suggest Bear Wants More and Bear Feels Scared by Karma Wilson. I just love this series, and so do the kids. It is written in rhyming verse, so each “verse” has a rhythm about it. I love how Karma Wilson uses tier 2 vocabulary throughout her books too. I feel like my students learn so much each time I use books from this series. Other titles in the series include Bear Snores On, Bear Feels Sick, and Bear’s New Friend (another great book for Spring). With the Karma Wilson Author Study, I’ve included a Bear Research lapbook too, so again, you can tie fiction and nonfiction themes. In addition to researching bears, students can explore weather, sharing, diet and nutrition, and even food chains (herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore). Click the image to the right to explore the full series.
Engaging Activities that Build Readers
Project Based Learning
Aside from doubling up ways to use literature in the classroom, giving purpose to reading is huge. Using Project Based Learning is one research based technique that requires deeper reading. [This post on Adventures in Literacy Land] explains why PBL is a great choice and where you can find great resources to help you implement PBL in your classroom. Nell Duke shared recently at the VSRA conference that the reason PBL is for ALL learners is that it gives purpose for reading and requires students to dig more deeply into their texts which adds rigor.
Another way increase reading opportunities is through use of text sets. If you’re teaching plants, pull together a variety of texts about plants at various reading levels to allow all students to access the content. Text sets can extend content beyond just your text book and allow for second and third exposures to concepts you might only hear/read about once otherwise.
This last quarter is brutal, and I hope these ideas help you re-energize just a little. As we know, the end of the year is rough. If we can put this off just a little, I am sure you prefer it.
How will you keep your kids inspired to keep learning til June? If you have other ideas, please feel free to share in the comments.