Kindergarten and Chapter Books? Absolutely!

Don't shy away from chapter books just because you teach Kindergarten. Chapter Books are a great springboard for vocabulary and skills.
Colby’s mom came in for her weekly volunteer time. Our kindergartners loved her help and so did I. Instead of her usual greeting, she said, “I have a bone to pick with you.” I was completely caught off guard.

“If you are teaching the kids big words, you should tell the parents, too” she giggled. She went on to explain that Colby had opened the door of his father’s truck, missed the step, and had fallen to the ground. As his parents ran to him, he popped up and said, “It’s ok, mom. I was on a precipice and missed the step.” His mother looked at his father incredulously. “What do you mean, Colby?” said his mom. Colby responded, “A precipice, mom. It’s a cliff or an edge.”

Proud Teacher Moment:

I couldn’t have been prouder! We had been reading the chapter book, The Knight Before Dawn, by Mary Pope Osborne. During our “Words to Know” lesson, we learned the concept “precipice.” We walked to the playground and each student stood on the edge of the jungle gym and jumped off the “precipice” to the ground. A few days later in our story, Jack had been hanging perilously from the precipice above a moat. We gasped when he fell in the moat, panted until he swam to the bank and potentially out of the way of the alligators, and cheered when the knight let him and Annie ride the horse back to their magical tree house. Colby’s mom had a point: I guess I should include the parents in our lessons.

Why Magic Treehouse Books?

Don't shy away from chapter books just because you teach Kindergarten. Chapter Books are a great springboard for vocabulary and skills.
I have been reading the Magic Tree House chapter book series to my Kindergartners for years. The books appeal to both girls and boys. They can relate to the bookish Jack or the impulsive Annie. They can visit places through the books that are exciting to children. They are also developing keen listening skills and participating in every reading strategy: predicting, making connections, visualizing, questioning, and summarizing. Exposure to higher level thinking skills and vocabulary in an entertaining way, allows Kindergartners to develop reading and writing skills that create a firm foundation for their future and help them look beyond simple words and phrases.

Our Reading Routine:

We start each book with a “Words to Know” lesson. Getting a preview of “the big words” in the book allows students to be excited about vocabulary. Their faces light up when we use one of the “big words” and they are eager to share their words with classroom visitors and, in Colby’s case, their parents. They even try to use these words in their writing! In book one, Dinosaurs Before Dark, we named dinosaurs and found the “crest” on the pteranodon, discussed things that are “ancient,” and made the connection between soccer medals and the “medallion” in the story. For each book, we make a chart of new words and refer to the list when we are reading. The list is available for the students to see (and us) during the day. 
 
I create a PowerPoint with the pictures from each book. We review each picture from the chapters before, and read one chapter each day. I model prosody, expression, interactive read aloud strategies and demonstrate correct fluency. At the end of each chapter, we summarize the chapter with a “Somebody…Wanted…But…So” sentence. My student, Gia, offered her Somebody Wanted But So Summary of chapter 4 in Night of the Ninjas: “Jack and Annie wanted to follow the ninjas but the water was too cold, so the ninjas put them on their shoulders.” We also read the chapter title for the next day and make predictions about the upcoming chapter. They have to use the model “I predict…because…”

Connecting to the Standards:

Don't shy away from chapter books just because you teach Kindergarten. Chapter Books are a great springboard for vocabulary and skills.
I would be willing to say that any Virginia Standard of Learning can be taught using the Magic Tree House book series. In Dinosaurs Before Dark, we talk about shadows when the pteranodon rescues Jack from the T-Rex. In Knight Before Dawn, we use our senses in the dungeon and the tunnel to imagine what we would see, hear, smell, and feel. In Pirates Past Noon, we connect what we know about maps and perspective to Jack and Annie’s adventure with Cap’n Bones. Finally, Mummies in the Morning can be a great discussion of solid, liquid, and gas, climate, and customs and traditions.

Chapter books were once thought of as only for the upper grades, but this is no longer the case. The use of chapter books, allows students to get invested in characters, settings, and stories. Picture books certainly have their place, but Kindergarten teachers should not rely on them exclusively. Exposure to higher level thinking skills and vocabulary are key to creating learners who are engaged and interested. If you have learners who are engaged and interested, they can learn anything. Just ask Colby (and his mom).

2 comments

  1. I just love the Magic Treehouse books, and I think this approach is a great way to frontload our kids' vocabulary instruction. Plus, my youngest started kindergarten reading, and this would have been a wonderful way for him to read the books on his own AND get instruction rather than crossgrading to first. Thank you for sharing this much needed idea.

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