Intentional Read Aloud: Classroom Culture and Environment

Sharing books is a great way to build community, grow your classroom culture, and foster a lifelong love of books. Make sure all your children feel included in your read aloud by creating a space where everyone has a comfortable spot to sit and a good view of the book. Create a culture where every child has a voice in the conversation and feels they can contribute to the learning of the group.

Use the messages and themes in your read alouds to teach and reinforce the responsibilities your children are practicing each day. From Bear Wants More to Martin’s Big Words, so many books contain powerful messages about how to be and act in the world. In fact, one of the main reasons we read books is to explore these big ideas about how to take care of ourselves, others, and the environment around us. We learn empathy, compassion, understanding, and responsibility through the characters we grow to love and by learning about the world around us.

Checklist for How to Set Up Your Space for Intentional Read Aloud

Design your read aloud space to foster a community of learners and a love of books. Here is a checklist of things you will want in place for an effective and engaging read aloud:

Preparing Your Environment for Intentional Read Aloud

Tips and pictures for setting up a successful Intentional Read Aloud space.

  • Create a comfortable, cozy large group meeting area where children can gather together on a carpet. Choose where you will sit so that you are close to the children. Make sure everyone has a clear view of the book.

  • Place a message board or easel near the front of the area to post vocabulary words, charts, or other visuals.

  • Assign children spots on the rug next to their “turn and talk” partners. You can create borders on a carpet with colored tape.

  • Create and post anchor charts with the children such as “How to Come to the Rug” and “How to Sit on the Rug.” Include visual clues to reinforce expectations.

  • Find a few spaces to hang the instructional anchor charts that you create or reference during the Intentional Read Aloud.

  • Find a place to store materials that you will want to have in reach during the read aloud such as markers, retelling props, index cards, sentence strips, and post its.

  • Place books that you have read to the children and any props to use with the book in a “book talk” center so that children can retell the story during center time.

Procedures and Responsibilities for Intentional Read Aloud

Establish and teach procedures and responsibilities for Intentional Read Aloud to help children understand exactly what is expected and increase engagement. Your read aloud will go more smoothly with fewer distractions and children will have more time to talk about and interact with the book and each other. Teach procedures with the children through mini-lessons using clear and specific language.

Procedure Sample Language
How to come to the rug “Today we will practice moving from our seats to the rug quickly and safely. By understanding exactly what to do, we will have more time for learning.”
How to sit on the rug “Today we will learn how to sit on the rug so we can stay focused during our read aloud. By focusing on our learning, you will be taking care of yourself and others around you.”
How to stay focused on the lesson “I’ve noticed that sometimes we get distracted during our read aloud. Let’s talk about some ways we can stay focused on our story and not get distracted. Our time together is so valuable. Let’s make every minute count.”
Think, Turn, and Talk “Today we are going to learn how to discuss our ideas with a partner. Sharing our thoughts and listening to others will help us learn more.”
How to be active listeners “Let’s brainstorm some ways we can be active listeners on the carpet. Listening is an important skill that we can practice and get better at. Skilled listeners understand the story better.”
Looking at the speaker “Today we are going to practice giving our full attention to whoever is speaking. When we do this, we show them that what they say is valuable and worth listening to. It also helps us hear and remember the important things they have to say.”
How to participate in book discussions “Let’s think about some ways we can talk about books together. When we know how to have a good book discussion, we learn from each other and our understanding grows.”

Award Winning Books

Here is a list of links to books that have won awards in a variety of different categories. These book lists are a great way to find high-quality children’s books for your classroom library.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The Claudia Lewis Award is given annually for the best book of poetry for young people.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award is given annually to an outstanding new writer and new illustrator of picture books for children ages nine and under.

The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award is presented annually for a distinguished work of nonfiction which serves as an inspiration to young people.

The Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature is presented for a picture book selected by children from a shortlist chosen by older children.

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award is given for the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and translated into English for publication in the United States.

The Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

The Pura Belpré Award is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino/a cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

The Schnieder Family Book Award honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the authors and illustrators of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year.

The Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award is given annually for English language works for children and teens of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the authors and illustrators of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

Children’s Books That Support a Strong Classroom Culture

We Take Care of Ourselves

Understanding and Managing Emotions

Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison – Grumpy Bernice grabs all of the balloons at a party and is pulled skyward. In figuring out how to get down, she helps herself and others have a better day.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes – When her teacher takes away Lilly’s beloved (and distracting) toy purse, she writes a mean note. Her remorse leads to a sincere, heart-felt apology.

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen – Over-enthusiastic Tyrannosaurus always messes up other kids’ projects. Gradually, and with help from his classmates, he learns to control himself.

Also try:

  • Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu
  • Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman
  • When Sophie Gets Angry… Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

Taking Risks and Making Mistakes

Alfie Gets in First by Shirley Hughes – Young Alfie closes the front door of his house, accidentally locking his mother out. While a group of adults consult about how to get in, Alfie solves the problem himself.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Cheryl Uegaki – By the time it is Hana’s turn to perform in the talent show, she knows she is not good at playing the violin. Brave Hana plays anyway, in her very own style.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine – Risking his life, Henry Brown, a slave, mails himself in a crate to Philadelphia. This true story shows the great lengths a person will go for the sake of freedom.

Also try:

  • The Day Roy Riegels Ran the Wrong Way by Dan Gutman
  • It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr
  • Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka
  • Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming

We Take Care of Each Other

Maintaining Positive Relationships

Big Al by Andrew Clements – All of the other fish judge big, ugly Al by his looks, and keep their distance. One day he uses his size to save them, and the smaller fish see that they were wrong about him.

Red by Jan de Kinder – A girl’s comment about Tommy’s flushed cheeks leads others to bully him. Filled with remorse, the girl is too afraid to speak up. Thankfully a brave classmate tells the teacher.

What James Said by Liz Rosenberg – When a hurtful rumor spreads, the narrator stops talking to her best friend James, despite his many kindnesses. Finally she finds out what James really said, and all is well.

Also try:

  • One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck
  • The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  • Alan’s Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis
  • Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

Feeling and Showing Empathy

Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson – No one at school is friendly to the new girl, Maya. After a lesson on kindness, a girl realizes she has treated Maya badly, then learns that Maya has moved away.

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald – When a young girl moves to a new country where she does not speak the language, it takes time and a persistent, friendly person to help her feel like she belongs.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead – When zookeeper Amos is too sick to go to work, his animal friends visit him at home, returning the attention and affection he has always given them.

Also try:

  • When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang
  • How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
  • School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex
  • Yardsale by Eve Bunting

Teamwork and Cooperation

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams – A community comes together to provide shelter and furniture for a family that lost its home in a fire. The family also saves up for a special new chair.

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle – An arrogant dump truck realizes the importance of friendship when the little blue truck and its animal friends work together to push the dump truck out of the mud.

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young – Each blind mouse explores parts of an object they have found and guesses as to what it could be. The last mouse explores the whole object and puts it all together.

Also try:

  • Swimmy by Leo Lionni
  • Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold
  • The Gigantic Turnip by Aleksei Tolstoy
  • Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

We Take Care of Our World

Setting and Achieving Goals

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin – Dissatisfied farm animals leave notes for the farmer demanding more comfortable conditions. Smart negotiations help the animals achieve their goals.

Green City by Allan Drummond – The true story of Greensburg, Kansas, which was destroyed by a tornado in 2007. Its citizens decided to rebuild an energy efficient, environmentally sustainable town.

Sixteen Years in Six Seconds by Paula Yoo – This is the story of diver Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal, which he earned with determination, dedication, and hard work.

Also try:

  • Energy Island by Allan Drummond
  • The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney

Making Responsible Decisions

A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts – After pocketing a dollar someone dropped, Ruben sees that it’s really one hundred dollars! He could keep it and buy a new bicycle. But is that the right thing to do?

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey – Even though he has to get up really, really early to deliver newspapers, the paperboy does his job, demonstrating great commitment and responsibility.

Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl – Sonya raises three chickens, caring for them exactly as she should. One night a fox steals one of the chickens, and Sonya learns about the fox’s responsibility to its family.

Also try:

  • Ten Kisses for Sophie by Rosemary Wells
  • The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins
  • Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola


City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan – When Marcy and Miss Rosa begin planting flowers in the empty lot, others take an interest, eventually transforming the lot into a community garden.

Gerbil, Uncurled by Alison Hughes – Little Gerbil thinks one of the rules in the gerbil community charter is unfair. At the weekly meeting she talks to the other gerbils, leading to an amendment of the charter.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul – In this true story, Ceesay finds a way to recycle plastic bags by crocheting them into other useful items.

Also try:

  • Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  • Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood
  • Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney


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