Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

6 Steps to Use Big Books for Shared Reading

By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger

Chimps, jaguars, and sloths, oh my! Students are naturally curious about animals, especially rainforest animals. Presenting students with informative animal books for kids is one way to promote a love of reading and content-area literacy. In today's blog post, I'll provide six easy steps to use big books for shared reading about rainforest animals.

During shared reading, students share the reading experience with you. Shared reading supports struggling readers and also improves vocabulary for language learners. By reading along with you, students will be able to build sight word recognition and reading fluency. Big books are the perfect tool to use during shared reading lessons because students can easily see the text and participate in reading.

Let’s look at simple steps you can take with few nonfiction big books from Zoozoo Animal World that are perfect for first-grade readers and that focus on rainforest animals. You can also explore more ways to optimize each of the books mentioned in today's blog post with the appropriate page from the Zoozoo Animal World Teacher's Guide .

Chimpanzee Big Book

Our first big book is Chimpanzee , and it is guided reading level F informational text. When you begin a shared reading lesson, it is important to do a picture walk to introduce the book, new vocabulary, and to draw students’ attention to details in the photographs.

  1. Book Introduction: Grab students’ attention by giving clues about chimpanzees. Today we are going to read about a rainforest mammal that lives in the trees of Africa. Can you guess what animal we might be talking about? You may have to add more clues.
  2. Assess Prior Knowledge: Show students the cover of the Chimpanzee Big Book . Ask them to share any facts and background knowledge they have about chimpanzees.
  3. Picture Walk: Look through the book with students and talk to students about details in each photograph. You may ask students, What is happening in this picture? On page 5, you may ask students what the chimp is doing (climbing). Then you may ask students to name other ways a chimp could move.
  4. Echo Reading: Read Chimpanzee Big Book by reading a page first and then have students repeat the text after you. As you read each page, you can use the talking points that correspond to each page of the leveled book. These are located on the inside of the back cover.
  5. Shared Reading: Read the book a second time with your students.
  6. Extension Activities: Be sure to download a free copy of the Zoozoo Animal World Teacher's Guide for ideas to practice digraphs, vocabulary, writing, and reading fluency.

Jaguar Big Book

Our second big book is Jaguar , which is also a level F nonfiction book for kids. This book describes the appearance of jaguars. Finding key details and answering questions about key details are both Common Core State Standards that this book will help your students practice.

  1. Assess Prior Knowledge: Ask students what they know about jaguars. For example, they are large cats, they have spots, etc.
  2. Picture Walk: Allow students to pair share what they see in each photograph using the following sentence stem: In this photograph, I noticed ___, so I think this page will teach me about ___.
  3. Guided Reading: Read Jaguar .
  4. Find Evidence: Ask students to find evidence in pictures that pertain to the text on each page. For example, the text on page 4 talks about sharp teeth so students should point to the teeth.
  5. Echo Reading: Use the same steps described earlier for echo reading and don't forget to use the talking points from the back of the book to enrich discussions.
  6. Extension Activity: Put students in groups of three or four with a copy of Jaguar . Ask each group to complete a web by adding key details about jaguars using their leveled books.

Sloth Big Book

Sloths are so popular that you may have recently seen stickers or stuffed animals of this slow animal. This book can support students in mastering the Common Core Reading Standard of understanding how to find details within pictures and the text.

  1. Book Introduction: Introduce Sloth by asking questions that can help you assess background knowledge.
  2. Set a Purpose for Reading: You can do this by saying, Today we are going to read Sloth . After I read it, I will give you some key details found in the book. Some details will be found in the photographs and others will be found in the text. However, some will be in both the photographs and the text.
  3. Guided Reading: Read this leveled informational text.
  4. Shared Reading: Reread Sloth with student participation.
  5. Ask the questions and discuss where to find the answers. Here is an example:
  1. Extension Activity: After you practice with students, you may ask students to come up with a detail and let the class decide if it is found in the photographs, text, or both.

Spider Monkey Big Book

The big book version of Spider Monkey is a level G nonfiction book that will be a great way to engage and have fun with kids as they practice literacy strategies. Keep reading to see how you can incorporate the Barrel of Monkeys game as reading comprehension practice after a shared reading session.

  1. Book Introduction: Ask students what they visualize when they hear the word spider . Now ask the students what they visualize when they hear the word monkey . Then ask the students what they visualize when they hear spider monkey together.
  2. Set a Purpose for Reading: You can do this by saying, Today we will be reading a book called Spider Monkey . As I read, pay attention to key details. I will ask you to share some key details after we finish reading.
  3. Shared Reading: Read  Spider Monkey
  4. Echo Reading: Use the same steps described earlier for echo reading and be sure to draw upon facts in the talking points located in the back of the book to keep kids engaged.
  5. Pair Reading: Put students in pairs and give each pair a copy of Spider Monkey . Each student should have a turn to read the book. You may want to pair a strong reader with a struggling reader because each time students read, they build fluency.
  6. Practice Reading Comprehension: Gather together as a class with the big book. Take out the Barrel of Monkeys game, but for the sake of this activity, you can call it Barrel of Details. Ask students to share key details from the book. As students share a key detail, they should add a monkey to the chain. Then give students slips of paper that they can write key details so that students can create chains of details just like the chains of monkeys from the game.

Using thematic big books about rainforest animals during shared reading engages students while they practice grade-level standards and content-area literacy. Stay tuned for more helpful tips using leveled readers in content areas.


Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog .