Every week during the school year, I read to all of the second grade classes at a local elementary school. It’s usually the highlight of my week. The kids are so happy to have a break from their normal routine, and they are old enough to point out aspects of the story or the illustrations that even I hadn’t noticed.
Stretches for Elementary School
I usually read for half an hour, so I try to build in a couple of easy activities to help the kids refocus between books. Here are two of my favorites, which I learned from a Library Explorers camp we offered two summers ago:
Tell the kids to close their eyes, and take a deep breath in, stretching their arms out to either side and then up over their heads. As they raise their arms, they should imagine a big bubble around their heads that is filled with their favorite color. When their arms are just above their heads, tell them to clap their hands together, and imagine the color spilling down all over them. Repeat two or three times.
Tell the kids to pretend they are an elevator inside a tall building. Squat down low to the ground (say “first floor”), then slowly stand up, announcing each “floor” of the building as you go. When you get to the tenth floor, stretch your arms up high, and stand on your tiptoes. Then call out different floor numbers at random, moving up or down to demonstrate each one. The kids always love rapid changes, like moving from the tenth floor to the first floor. If you have time, it’s really fun to have the kids take turns calling out the floor numbers (in the camp, the kids loved to come up with challenging floor numbers, like “negative fifth floor” or “one millionth floor”).
This one isn’t a stretch, but it is a nice mindfulness activity to help the kids refocus. You start by asking the kids to hold out their left hands, and tell them you are going to make a little rollercoaster for your index finger. Then you demonstrate running your right index finger up the right side of your left thumb while breathing in. When your finger reaches the tip of your thumb, you hold your breath and count to three. Then breathe out while running your index finger down the left side of your thumb.
Repeat for each finger of your left hand, breathing in each time you run your index finger up the right side, holding your breath for three counts (or longer if you like), then breathing out as your run your index finger down the left side. If you want to extend the activity, you can switch hands.
Favorite Books to Read-Aloud
This week was my first time reading to this particular second grade, so I started with some of my all-time favorite picture books for that age group. I’ll add more of my favorites to this list throughout the year, so watch for updates.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Hilarious story about a T-Rex named Penelope who discovers that it’s hard to make new friends at school, because she keeps eating her classmates (luckily, the teacher always makes her spit them out). But when she tries to befriend the class goldfish, she learns firsthand what it’s like when someone tries to eat you.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen
This story about Annabelle and her magical box of yarn always holds the kids spellbound. They also love the illustrations, especially as Annabelle’s sweaters gradually cover everything in the town.
Claude, the White Alligator by Emma Bland Smith; illustrated by Jennifer Potter
This book always generates lots of excitement in our area, because many of the kids have seen Claude in person at the California Academy of Sciences. Even if they haven’t, they are usually excited to learn that the story is true, and to see the photograph of Claude at the end. I often use this book to discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction, and to introduce the idea of a biography. If you aren’t familiar with Claude, he is an albino alligator, who lived in a zoo in Florida before being moved to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The book describes how the biologists originally tried putting him with another alligator named Bonnie, but she bit Claude so badly that he lost his pinkie toe. But afterwards, he made friends with the five snapping turtles who share his enclosure.
The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
If I had to name one surefire hit to read to an elementary school class, it would be this one, which always gets the whole class laughing hysterically, and begging for me to read it again. As the book explains, even though it may seem like no fun having someone read you a book with no pictures, the rules of reading mean that whatever the book says, the person reading the book has to say. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Guess Again by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
Second graders are the perfect audience for this book, which asks the kids to guess the answer to a rhyming riddle, accompanied by the silhouette of the person or thing in question. At first, the riddles seem so easy that even a preschooler could guess them, but the answers are always surprising, and hilarious!
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
This one is so much fun to read aloud, especially if you like to do different voices for the characters. It’s bedtime for the Little Red Chicken, but every time Papa tries to read her a classic fairytale, like Hansel and Gretel, she interrupts the story to give it a better ending. The kids always laugh when the little chicken says, “I’ll be good!”
What About Worms by Ryan T. Higgins
Most of the second graders are very familiar with the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. So I like to share some of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading books, which are written by other popular authors. In this one, a tiger explains that he’s not afraid of anything…except WORMS! In fact, his fear of worms leads him to break a flower pot, throw away an apple, and leave a book on the ground that looks like it might be about worms (but is really about tigers!). This one always gets big laughs.
Sun: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Stevie Lewis
This is the second book in the Our Universe nonfiction series. In it, the Sun provides facts about himself, using kid friendly analogies and descriptions, and large, bright illustrations. This generated a lot of discussion about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more, and other bits of space trivia that the kids were eager to share.
Stay tuned for more favorite read-alouds for second grade. In the meantime, please share any of your favorites in the comments below.
Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Scott Magoon
When Bob the jellyfish and his crew of squid film a television special about sharks, they are shocked when Shark appears to be about to eat a fish “in front of the people!” But, Shark says, they misunderstood, he was only showing the fish his new tooth. Several other “misunderstandings” occur, including a group of beachgoers running from the beach thinking Shark is planning to eat them. But, Bob says, “you are far more likely to be bitten by another person than bitten by a shark.” I love the way this book folds facts about sharks seamlessly into the story, and the kids always laugh at Shark’s explanations.
Earth: My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by David Litchfield
Like Sun! One in a Billion, this conversational picture book with simple facts about the Earth generated lots of questions and comments, especially about dinosaurs and how the continents split apart. I love the timeline of Earth’s history, and the subtle environmental message at the end, followed by a hopeful message. This series does such a great job of conveying basic information in a fun, readable, kid-friendly way.
King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Dori Hillestad Butler; illustrated by Nancy Meyers
I love to introduce second graders to beginning chapter books and series they may not be familiar with, and I always have fun reading this one aloud. In this mystery, King, the dog, is upset when Kayla assumes that he ate three of the freshly baked peanut butter dog treats that she made for her friend Jillian’s new puppy, Thor. Luckily, Kayla figures out that it couldn’t have been King because his breath doesn’t smell like peanut butter. But who did take the treats? And why does King smell an intruder in the house? The kids love the way King declares everything he eats to be “my favorite food!”
Rabbit’s Snow Dance by Joseph and James Bruchac; illustrated by Jeff Newman
One of my favorite types of books to share and talk about with second graders are folk tales. We discuss how folk tales are stories that are so old that no one knows who originally created them, and how people create their own versions over time. In this fun retelling of an Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) folk tale, Rabbit decides to make it snow in the summertime by playing his magic drum, and singing his snow song. The kids love to join in on the chanting and singing.