Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Literacy Strategies with a Thematic Unit on Construction

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

Thematic units can be powerful tools to practice a variety of literacy strategies that help kids achieve Common Core State Standards. Get your hard hat ready because today I'm going to provide steps you can use with leveled books to help students develop important literacy skills in a thematic unit on construction.

Understanding Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives

Tools is a level D informational text about a little boy who uses a variety of tools to build a birdhouse. This is a wonderful book that you can use with students to improve vocabulary about tools and to practice identifying nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

  1. Assess prior knowledge by showing students a toolbox and ask questions that prompt making predictions about what is inside.
  2. Ask students if they have used tools to build something. Allow time for them to partner share any experiences they have of building things. Encourage them to share which tools they used. Monitor student conversations and then allow a few students to share.
  3. Preview the vocabulary of Tools by opening your toolbox, which should have some of the tools from the leveled reader. Elicit student participation by asking kids to name each item that's inside and predict the purpose of each tool.
  4. Review the definitions of a noun, verb, and adjective.
  5. Set a purpose for reading by saying: Today we are going to read the book with the title Tools . As I read it, look for nouns, verbs, and adjectives using key details in both the text and pictures.
  6. Read the nonfiction book.
  7. Engage kids in a noun, verb, and adjective hunt by asking students to help you place words from the leveled book in a chart as you slowly read the book again. Here is an example:
  1. As a follow-up activity, you could put students into small groups and have each group choose a building project out of a hat. Then have them decide which tools they would need to complete that project. Another follow-up activity would be to use adjectives to describe a tool and see if the students can guess which tool you are describing. Here's an example: I’m thinking of a tool with a long handle, shiny top, and that is used for tapping nails.

Sequencing Events in a Story

Grandpa’s Toolbox is another level D nonfiction book for kids, but it's about a grandpa who puts tools in his toolbox to prepare for work. There’s a funny surprise at the end of the book that kids will enjoy, and this story lends itself to achieving the Common Core reading standard of sequencing key events.

  1. Introduce the book by showing students an empty toolbox. Ask them which tools they think you should add to the toolbox. You could encourage students to use the sentence stem: I think you should add ___ because ___.
  2. Set a purpose for reading by saying the following: Today we are going to practice sequencing events in a book. As I read this book, pay close attention to the order of tools that are added to the toolbox.
  3. Read Grandpa’s Toolbox .
  4. Have the events of the book written on sentence strips and mix them up in a pocket chart. Ask the class to help you correctly sequence the events after pulling each stem from the pocket. Once you finish, reread the book to help them see if they are in the correct order.
  5. Afterward, you can mix them up again and leave this activity out as a center. You could also add pictures of the items from the book (hammer, saw, nails, etc.) and students can act out the story with an empty toolbox.

Improve Vocabulary by Comparing and Contrasting

The New Road is a realistic narrative text about different construction equipment used to pave a road. When students compare and contrast features of the equipment in this guided reading leveled book, they will enhance their ability to make meaning of new vocabulary related to construction. Here are some steps you can take to help kids activate prior knowledge and the ability to compare and contrast.

  1. Assess background knowledge by asking students if they have seen road construction and what types of equipment were being used.
  2. Encourage kids to make predictions by telling students to share with a partner what steps would be needed to make a new road.
  3. Set a purpose for reading by saying the following: Today we are going to read  The New Road . As I read, pay attention to the equipment used to build the road and how the equipment is similar or different from other tools we've read about.
  4. Read the fiction book for kids.
  5. Introduce academic discourse by introducing a sentence stem that you can model to show students how to compare and contrast the equipment: A ___ is similar to a ___ because of ___. A ___ differs from a ___ because of ___.
  6. Ask students to prove where they found the key details to compare and contrast each piece of equipment to understand whether they're using text or illustrations for support.

There are many ways to give students access to leveled readers that they will enjoy and acquire reading comprehension practice. When you can tie several books together in a thematic unit, vocabulary continues to grow alongside the achievement of Common Core reading standards. Be sure to visit our blog soon for more ideas on using leveled readers in your lesson plans!


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 .