Bubble Gum Brain by Julia Cook is another favorite read aloud for me to share with my students in the first weeks of school. During those first weeks as you begin to build relationships with your students and have conversations with them, you’ll often hear them start to express their frustrations with unfamiliar skills and concepts that they are encountering in their new, often more challenging, grade level. I can’t do this. This is too hard. I can’t figure this out. I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m not good at math. I can’t think of anything to write. As a teacher, you’ve likely heard your students make these claims throughout the school year. Bubble Gum Brain teaches students about the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. I like to start the year by teaching my students about the power of yet, and this book helps convey the message that students need to replace statements like, “I can’t do ________________,” with “I can’t do _________________ yet.” Tacking that little word on to students’ can’t-do statements can make all the difference between giving up and shutting down, and being discouraged but persevering and pushing forward. So many students get easily disheartened if they can’t tackle a challenge – academic or otherwise – successfully on the first attempt. We have to explicitly teach students – especially those with perfectionist attitudes – that making mistakes is part of the learning process; mistakes are okay and in our classroom, we embrace them. Introducing the concept of growth mindset early in the year allows you to revisit it often until your community of learners grows to know the power of “yet.” You can download a free bookmark here.
My Mouth is a Volcano is – EXCUSE ME! MY TEACHER ALREADY READ THIS BOOK IN SECOND GRADE! – another book by Julia Cook that is a perfect read aloud for your first weeks of school. If you hadn’t already guessed by the interruption, this picture book is all about a little boy named Louis who has a difficult time managing his impulsive need to interject comments at inopportune times. Louis is like many of our students who find it an arduous task to hold on to their words until it is their turn to talk. This book always leads me to explicitly teach students not only about ways to manage their excitement and impulsive need to immediately share what’s on their mind, but also how to have a proper discussion. It’s important to teach conversation skills such as: speaking one at a time; acknowledging others’ words with statements like, I like what you said about ________, or I agree/disagree with ___________ because… or I feel the same as ____________; and responding with appropriate eye contact and body language as a form of acknowledgement. This takes a ton of practice with kids – perhaps all year long – which means modeling, practicing and role-playing. But, by the end of the year, my third-grade students could hold a decent class discussion with little involvement from me. On a side note, this book provides other teachable moments such as noting the title as a metaphor and allowing students a chance to experiment with writing their own. Additionally, the book lends itself to discussions about word parts. The Latin root -rupt means “to break.” Just like a volcano erupts or breaks the surface of the earth, Louis interrupts or breaks into conversations. Have students brainstorm other words with the root -rupt (corrupt, abrupt, disrupt, and rupture) and identify how those words also have definitions related to the meaning “to break.” Even though your intention with reading this book may be to teach students ways to manage their impulsive behavior, don’t miss opportunities to sneak in language standards about vocabulary and figurative language whenever possible. You can download a free bookmark here.
Soda Pop Head is yet another book by Julia Cook that features a character named Lester who loses control of his feelings when things aren’t fair; again, another featured character and situation most teachers and classmates have met and experienced in the classroom. I like to introduce this book at the beginning of the year too so the story of Lester can be revisited throughout our time together. Best of all, the author provides strategies like Push Pull Dangle (see bookmark) or taking five deep breaths to de-escalate those rising feelings of anger and frustration. Again, the author does a good job of relaying the message that anger and frustration are real and valid feelings to have but emphasizes the importance of explicitly teaching kids how to release those feelings in healthy ways that are not destructive to themselves or others. Don’t miss the opportunity to have a lesson on similarities and differences by comparing and contrasting Lester from Soda Pop Head with Louis from My Mouth is a Volcano. You might even use this explosive Coke and Mentos activity as a hook, as a lesson about similes/metaphors, or as a science lesson about physical and chemical changes. Remember, to look for opportunities to sneak in other standards with your picture books. You can download a free bookmark here.
The Book Wrangler