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Using Children’s Books to Build Classroom Community

Katrina Litzau, MA

“Remember, when you treat others with love and kindness, you are doing the right thing.”

Courage, kindness, empathy, problem solving, risk taking—the list goes on of all the characteristics we want our students to embrace through the school year. So how do we build a culture that fosters these characteristics? Last month, residents in the Boettcher Teacher Residency worked with a variety of children’s books to determine books that would cultivate a positive classroom culture and designed activities that would further foster these characteristics. Here are a few of their favorites.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Young Unhei is starting school in the United States for the first time. She struggles with the decision to keep her Korean name, even when it is hard to pronounce, or to pick an American name to go by. The kids in her class help her to realize the value of her name.

Names have meaning. What is the meaning of your name? Why did your parents select this name for you? After reading the story, have kids go home and interview their parents about their names. After students have interviewed parents about their name, create a name jar with all the names of students in the classroom. Over the next several days, select a name out of the jar and have students share the meaning of their name. This will help students to learn each other’s names and create a sense of community as they learn about what makes each person’s name special.

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy
Lucy is being teased by a student at school but one day the same student is having a hard time on the playground. Instead of getting back at him, Lucy has the courage to treat him with kindness and help him. They become friends who help each other.

Do you have the courage to be nice to someone who has been unkind to you? This book will open the doors to establishing a classroom culture of kindness. After reading the book, have students help make a list of ways in which we show kindness. Challenge kids to identify acts of kindness. Each act of kindness is written on a hotdog bun (or other shape).

I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
The narrator of this story uses a variety of experiences to show that life has up and downs—but focuses on staying positive and accentuating the ups more than the downs.

How do you handle your ups and downs? After reading the book, tell students how excited you are to have them as students. Discuss some of the ways in which students may experience ups and downs throughout the year and ways to use the ups to help with the downs. Then have students make a wish for the year. Post wishes on a board to be revisited throughout the year.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
Patricia’s ancestors made a quilt from articles of clothing they had worn coming to America. The quilt signifies special things for the family and survives to present day to remind the family of their heritage.

Can you think of something that is important to your family? Is it a quilt, or something else? After reading the book ask students to bring to school a special object or a picture of the object that has special meaning to their family. Each student can share their object and then make a piece of a “quilt” to show how each is special. The quilt represents what makes the class special. Stitch together all the “quilt” pieces and hang it in the classroom.

One by Kathryn Otoshi
Blue is a quiet color. Red is a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand—until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count.

This books is packed with a strong message that all students are responsible for standing up for each other. As a class, create action steps for helping each other keep bullying behavior away from the classroom.

 

What are some of your favorite books for building a classroom community?

I want to send a big thank you to our incoming residents for their wonderful insights into these books and the many more they read and discussed during summer institute.

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