5 Reasons to Explore Christmas Books in Your Classroom

As December looms nearer, Christmas is all around us. Decorations are being hung in public spaces, Christmas music is beginning to be heard, and the Christmas aisle suddenly appears in the shops. You also find Christmas picture books, especially written to bring Christmas into the literary word. These books are perfect to explore in your classroom at Christmas - bringing together the excitement of the holiday season and the real learning which comes with exploring picture books. Here's a few reasons why you should explore them in your classroom.

 
5 Reasons to Explore Christmas Books in Your Classroom
 

1. Christmas is a Time of Excitement in the Classroom

Christmas is a time of great excitement for many children and adults alike. In the classroom, it's often the lead up to holidays, either the long summer holidays in the Southern Hemisphere or shorter winter holidays in the Northern Hemisphere. This excitement around Christmas and holidays can make it difficult for students to focus on more traditional learning. Christmas books are a great way of harnessing that excitement and turning it into real authentic learning. While students are enjoying the stories of Christmas, they can also be looking at the choices the author and illustrator make, the meanings that come from the Christmas books and the text features they use in their work.

2. Christmas Books are Connected to Shared Experiences

Almost everyone has some experience of Christmas - whether it's their own family celebrations, the activities they participate in at school or the Christmas they see in media. This shared experience means that students are coming to Christmas books with a significant amount of background knowledge and understanding. This makes it possible to explore the books a little deeper, to compare and contrast them with the Christmas experiences we have, to create work inspired by the books with a greater knowledge. These books then become another shared experience for students - another part of their Christmas knowledge.

 
 

3. There Are Some Really Good Christmas Books

The idea of Christmas books doesn't always make you think of interesting story lines. But there's been some really interesting and fun concepts developing over the past few years. From exploring how Queen Victoria celebrated Christmas (in Queen Victoria's Christmas) to looking at drought at Christmas time (in the CBCA recognised All I Want for Christmas is Rain), authors and illustrators have been taking a whole range of approaches to Christmas stories and it's fascinating to compare and discuss these.

4. Christmas Books Often Have Beloved Characters in Them

Young readers can easily fall in love with characters who appear in more than one picture book. And when those characters appear in a Christmas book, there's an immediate anticipation of what that book might contain. When students see Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey, they know they're probably going to read about some of the horrible behaviour of the selfish Pig. Or, if they look at Jackie French's Christmas Wombat, they know there's a pretty good chance that it will be written in diary format and may include carrots. This anticipation builds excitement into lessons using these books as well as offering opportunities to explore how well known characters react to the events of the Christmas season.

 
 

 

5. Picture Books are Easy to Use

Christmas time and the lead up to holidays are usually some of the busiest times in the school year. There isn't always a lot of time for sustained learning. This is where the Christmas picture books can be a huge assistance - they're quick and easy to read, but there's a lot of smaller activities you can do with them. They're portable, so you can take them with you if you're moving from one activity to another and need to fill in waiting time. You can get a complete text experience, without worrying that you're going to run out of time to read a novel. 

Are you exploring Christmas books in your classroom this year? You can find a whole range of Christmas picture book studies at the Galarious Goods shop, including our money saving bundles - for Year 3, 4 and 5 and for Year 4, 5 and 6.

 

 
 

Five Ways to Explore Picture Books in the Classroom

Last week I looked at why we should use picture books in middle grades classrooms, but it's also important to look at some of the different ways we can use them. Picture books are great for flexibility - their length and size allow them to fit into smaller blocks of time and to be shared more easily. So what are some of the different ways you can utilise this flexibility?

 
Five Ways to Explore Picture Books in the Classroom
 

1. Make Pictures A Daily Read

Picture books can be a great way to start a day, lesson or language block. It can serve as a transition for students, giving them time to be prepared to learn. Daily picture books allow your students to be exposed to a large range of books, allowing you to bring a wide range of diverse authors, illustrators and stories to your students. It creates a large shared vocabulary with stories that students can refer back to and talk about. Many picture books also contain themes, questions and social situations which are important to discuss with students.

Students can interact with the books through quick discussion questions, paired or small group discussion or through exit slips (you can download free exit slips here). Students may also like to keep journals exploring some of the books which are read in the classroom.

Although it's great to have students respond to the texts, they don't need to respond formally every day. Sometimes it's best to just let students sit with the text and insisting on a written response every day can reduce enthusiasm for the daily reading time. Mixing up the ways students respond (or don't respond) can help to keep the daily read fresh.

 
 

 

2. Connecting a Text to a Specific Lesson

Picture books are great to use as mentor texts - whether it's exploring a type of story or looking at a particular text element. Picture books can also be used as introductions to other subjects - as a way to look at a historical period or a scientific principal, or they can be used to expand ideas or raise questions about those subjects. 

In this way, picture books may be simply used as a prompt to get students thinking about a subject. They might follow it up with a brainstorm or ask questions to explore further. Students may refer back to the book later on when they have more understanding of the topic and may engage in a critique of how the picture book handles the subject.

Alternately, the picture book can become the basis of an entire unit of work. A book like I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox can become the centre of a unit on what it means to be Australian and how people travel to Australia. Students can refer back to the book at different times, connect the book to other texts or media and create pieces of work inspired by the book and other information they have learned.

3. Teacher Led Small Group Work

If you use literacy rotations or use a reader's workshop in your classroom, picture books are great for teacher-led small group work. Students can meet once or more a week with their teacher to explore a book, looking at themes, literary techniques, making comparisons or completing activities. The size of picture books make them perfect for a small group work - they're easy to pass around to examine pictures, and the smaller amounts of text on each page make it easier for students to find examples or read out quotes from the page.

These small group explorations can be a great way to support your curriculum goals and assist you in collecting evidence for assessment. With guidance, you can allow students to take on discussions themselves, allowing you to take notes on their understanding of the book and the elements you wish to explore.

4. Student Led Exploration

Also great for literacy rotations or in a reader's workshop, students can work independently on their own, in pairs or in small groups to explore the book. You may create a generic set of discussion questions or activities for students to work through with any book they choose, or you may have 'packs' of books, questions and activities for students to work through. You can also select themes or ideas for students to explore, choose picture books which will work with those themes or ideas and have questions or activities specifically created to link to those themes or ideas.

When students are being asked to work independently with picture books, it can be useful to model how they do this. When students are being asked to work in small groups, you may walk them through the process during the first few weeks and then offer a reminder card of the process for following sessions. If students are working on their own as part of a literacy rotation, you may like to outline the routine and expectations, then use a reminder card to help students keep on track.

5. Whole class close reading

Sometimes it can be useful for all the students in the class to take a deep look at one text at the same time. Students may follow with a large classroom copy of the book or work in smaller groups examining multiple copies of the text. It can be helpful to provide a range of activities when all the students are engaging with the same text - you may start by reading it aloud to the class, give them individual time to record their ideas and reflections (possibly with question prompts), bring them into small groups to discuss and look closer at the text and then ask them to work individually or in pairs to create their own work. There are many other options to use here including whole class discussion, students using sticky notes or exit slips to share their ideas with others or even a whole class response to the text.

You Can Find a range of picture book studies for middle grade students at Galarious Goods including Flood by Jackie French, The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin and I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox

 
 
 
 

Five Reasons to Use Picture Books in Middle Grades Classrooms

Books with pictures can sometimes get a bad reputation as 'lesser books'. Once we're able to read novels - the 'important' books, we're supposed to put away our books with pictures - relics of our younger childhoods. However, there is so much we and our students can learn from picture books and plenty of reasons to make sure they find a home in middle grades classrooms. 

 
5 Reasons to Use Picture Books in Middle Grades Classrooms
 

1. Picture Books Are More Complex Than You Might Think

There can be a stereotype of picture books as early readers. While it's definitely true that a number of picture books are written for young children, there's an increasing number of complex picture books written and illustrated for older readers. The books of Shaun Tan, for example, contain intricate and complex illustrations and themes and ideas which can take multiple rereadings to untangle. Many picture books contain unnamed themes which allow students to flex their inferencing muscles. Illustrations can also allow students to examine prediction or question the choices of the illustrator in matching the words of the writers. It's well worth taking time to look through picture books to find those more complex books.

2. Picture Books Cover A Wide Range of Topics

As well as fictional stories, you can find plenty of biographies, history and science picture books. Many of these books present information on complex topics in a clear and simple fashion and they're great as an introduction to a discussion or a topic of study. Even books aimed at the youngest children could be used like this in the classroom - I recently bought a board book called Rocket Science for Babies which would be a great introduction to a science class or a great way for students to explore how scientific topics can be explained for a wider audience.

3. Picture Books Can Be Easier to Manage in the Classroom Than Novels

When students read novels as part of a small group or class, it really is important that all the students have their own books. Sharing novels can be frustrating for slower or faster readers and make it harder for students to follow the narratives. Picture books can be more easily shared between pairs or groups because each page is meant to be taken in as it is. Teachers can also use picture books to lead small group or class discussions - their larger size can make it easier for all the children to see and discuss illustrations. 

Picture books can also be easier to fit into crowded classroom timetables. Students can easily finish, discuss and analyse a picture book in one or two lessons, where a novel requires a much bigger block of time to complete and discuss. This is particularly useful when looking for texts which share certain literary techniques like personification, rhyme schemes or allegories.

4. Picture Books Improve Visual Literacy

More and more information is shared through graphics and images these days and it's important that students learn to 'read' these as well as text. Picture books can be used as one way of improving visual literacy. Students can examine what aspects of the text the illustrator chose to depict and how they chose to depict it. They can look at the style the illustrator used to tell a story and how it might be different if a different illustrator had been used. They can question the choices the illustrator made and how they make an impact on the story as a whole. This can also be connected with art classes as students explore different artistic techniques used in picture books (the works of Jeannie Baker, Shaun Tan, Bruce Whatley or Freya Blackwood would be fascinating to explore here!)

5. Picture Book Allow For Effective Differentiation

The shorter length and shorter text of picture books can make them excellent tools for students who have difficulties with reading or need assistance to focus for longer periods of time. Students are more likely to finish picture books in a short amount of time, allowing for feelings of mastery and growth and building self-efficacy for future challenges. The wide range of picture books available means that it is possible to find ones which suit particular interests and wordless picture books can also assist students to find themes, ideas and literary techniques without needing to decode words. Picture books can also allow for in-depth and extensive examinations of theme and exploration of the choices of the authors and illustrators, allowing advanced or gifted students to reflect on how they might apply what they have learned to their own writing. 

You Can Find a range of picture book studies for middle grade students at Galarious Goods including Flood by Jackie French, The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin and I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox

 
 
 
 

Three Different Ways to Explore Poetry in your Classroom

I adore poetry - I still remember early lessons on haikus back in my Grade Three classroom. I love reading it and finding little gems of words. And I love writing it and manipulating language and rhythms until the paint little pictures in words.

Poetry can be amazing in the classroom. It's relatively easy to fit into smaller segments of language. It's perfect for exploring literary and language skills like figurative language. And there's poems for all situations - funny poems, sad poems, serious poems. You can even explore verse novels and how an author can put together a series of poems to tell a story.

Here's three ways to bring poetry into your classroom.

 
Three Different Ways to Explore Poetry in your Classroom - Blog Post by Galarious Goods
 

1. Combine Poetry and Art

Poems often use a few words to create pictures, so they're perfect to combine with art. You can start with using one to inspire another - students can write a poem inspired by a piece of art or create a piece of art inspired by a poem. This can be especially effective when you're looking at particular styles of art - abstract art or sculpture - or if you try to create art work which reflects particular patterns in a poem - what might a limerick piece of art look like?

Students can also combine poetry and art in one piece. Found poetry and black out poetry are fascinating ways to combine both, as is exploring calligraphy or typography. Students can look at how poetry can be a part of public art or how words, colour and shapes can be combined to create something beautiful.

2. Create Poetry Displays

Due to their shorter size, poems make wonderful subject for displays. And seeing poetry all around us is a great way to inspire thinking about poetry and more poetry. 

There are a few ways you can display poetry in the classroom. If you write or explore poems on a particular theme, you can use that to create a display - autumn poetry can be displayed on colourful trees made out of paper, beach poems can be written into a beach scene. Teachers can also incorporate poetry into the classroom - even displaying them where you wouldn't expect them - a poem about numbers near the maths equipment, a poem about nature tucked near a window. These could even form the basis of a poetry treasure hunt, with students searching to find all the poems.

Students can also use a display board to create their own poetry. They can use pieces of paper or magnets with words on them and arrange them to create poetry. They can also write lines of poetry to pin up on a board to continue a poem which is being written. 

Beyond the classroom, students may like to look for other places they can display their writing. You may be able to display poems in the school library, the office or the hallways. If you have classroom windows which can be seen outside, you may like to display poems there where other students, teachers and parents can see them. Or a local shop may be able to offer space or a notice board for students to display their poetry to a wider audience. 

3. Explore Poetry in Song

While poetry and songs are two different forms of writing, it's not hard to see the similarities between them. They both use rhyme, rhythm and highly effective word choice to make you feel something. So how can we use them together?

Students can use lines of a song to inspire their own poems. Starting with one or two lines and then continuing in their own poem allows them to think about what those lines might be saying and how they can continue that in their own words with their own experiences. Examining the structure of songs also allows students to play with structure in poetry. This can be especially effective with songs which change structure between different parts or between chorus and verses - how do they change their writing style? How can students experiment with that.

Students can also think about how already written songs could be set to music. What kind of music could they set the poems to? How would it change if you used a different style of music? 


Take a moment to share some poetry with your students and open up a whole world of different rhythms, rhymes and pictures made out of words.

Look at poetry through a verse novel with the Pearl Verses the World Complete Novel Study Bundle

 

 
 

Adventure Girl and Reclusive Author

Three Ways to Investigate Stereotypes Using the Nim's Island Movie

I've previously introduced Nim's Island, the adventure book by Wendy Orr. But you can also enjoy the story as an adventure movie, released in 2008. The movie and the book are fantastic to explore together in the classroom, especially when we are teaching characters. The notion of character stereotyping, whether stereotypes are good or bad and how they apply to Nim's Island makes for a wonderful classroom investigation - giving students questioning tools they can also transfer to a range of other texts.
 

 
Adventure Girl and Reclusive Author - Three Ways to Investigate Stereotypes Using the Nim's Island Movie by Galarious Goods
 

A stereotype is an oversimplified view at a character or person, usually demonstrated through a collection of behaviours or traits. First glances at the Nim's Island movie tell us that we can see Nim as an adventure girl. She flies through the trees, uses different adventuring tools and tackles big challenges. Meanwhile, Alex Rover can be seen as a the stereotype of an author. She is reclusive, a little scattered and her whole life revolves around her books and her writing. As students are watching the movie, they can find other examples of these stereotypes and others. But once they've found the examples, what can they do with them?

Are the Stereotypes Realistic?

This is a great question to add to a comparison between the book and the movie. Students can have a look at character traits in the movie and note where they were similar or different to the book. Which ones were more realistic? Which ones were less realistic.

Students can also discuss whether authors would really be able to be mostly anonymous the way Alex Rover is or if they'd be required to attend events to promote their books. They can research authors who have been anonymous (or have tried to remain anonymous) and authors who use a pen name and why they do that. (J.K. Rowling is one example, as her adult crime novels are written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith).

Another classroom activity to look at whether stereotypes are realistic can involve acting it out. Students can identify a section of the movie which they feel show a particularly stereotyped version of the character. They can reenact that scene themselves, then look at ways they could change the character's words or actions to make them feel more realistic.


What Part Do Stereotypes Play in Books and Movies?

Although stereotypes often have negative connotations, they can be very useful when telling stories. They provide a shortcut to the reader or the viewer, helping them picture or understand the character and the behaviours of the character without needing extra descriptions. 

Students can explore this by thinking about how they picture certain characters. You can brainstorm a collection of 'character types' like princess, wicked witch or famous sports person and ask your students to draw what they think they would look like or write a description of them. Students can compare their drawings or descriptions and look at which elements or traits they share. 

Stereotypes can also help to surprise us when they are changed. When Alex Rover steps out into the world to help Nim, we know that it is a big thing - something her character would never do normally because it doesn't fit her stereotype. It lets us know that things are changing in the story and that we should be paying attention. Students can identify other times that characters break their stereotypes in movies or books and how that changes the way the story goes. You can set up a large piece of paper or display board for this and students can add their examples on pieces of paper or sticky notes as they find them.

 
Use a large piece of paper or a section of a display board for students to add stereotypes to as they find them
 

Can Stereotypes Be Harmful?

There's no doubt that stereotypes can be harmful in real life situations. They can act to give us incorrect impressions of people and box people into categories or situations where they're uncomfortable or restricted from doing what they'd like to do. But what about stereotypes in stories? Can they be harmful too?

Students can look at the way stereotypes are used in fairy-tales - especially the versions of fairy-tales which have come to us through popular movies. How is the princess portrayed? The prince? The step-mother? The dragon? How do we see those stereotypes and the language around them used in the real world? How many times do we see the word 'princess' on girl's clothing or toys? How does that have real world impacts?

We can also ask if all stereotypes are harmful? Nim is portrayed as an adventure girl - students can discuss whether that's a good or a bad portrayal and whether we should need more or less characters like her. They can also have a go at writing their own stories with characters like Nim or her father or Alex Rover.