Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Tips to Develop Reading Skills with Animal Books for Kids

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

Comprehension skills are critical for kids to develop, whether they're early learners or elementary students, because the skills can be transferred across content areas. These strategies can also foster a love of reading when children practice with insect and animal books! Today's blog post is about engaging your students to develop important reading skills while using leveled animal books. For each leveled reader, I'll describe reading skills that would be appropriate for students to practice with that book, as well as steps you can take to ensure that kids get the practice they need. Then I'll share different activities you can use in your classroom with these fun leveled books.

Recalling key details is an important Common Core State Standard that progresses with each grade. You can incorporate the informational book Service Dogs , from the Kaleidoscope Collection , into a social studies unit on community helpers because the photographs and text depict key details about how dogs help people. Here are some ways you can help first graders practice recalling key details of an informational text.

  1. Introduce the book by showing a picture of a service dog and asking what the students notice about the dog. You can also ask for students' background knowledge about service dogs: Have you seen a service dog? What was the dog doing? What did it look like? Do you think every dog is a service dog? What makes service dogs different from other dogs?
  2. Set a purpose for reading: Today we are going to read Service Dogs . As I read, listen for key details about the ways these dogs help people.
  3. Read Service Dogs .
  4. Ask students what they learned about service dogs and encourage them to use the following sentence stem: I learned that service dogs ___. Record the key details that children share on a class chart that everyone can see.
  5. You can create a matching game with cards to help reinforce the key details presented on each page. On one set of cards that are the same color, write details about a person who may need a service dog ( cannot see , cannot hear , cannot walk , etc.). On another set of cards that are a different color from the first set, write details about how dogs help ( helps walk in safe places , helps warn person of danger , etc.). Have students match the cards based on the person that the each type of service dog helps.

Activating prior knowledge and making predictions are important comprehension skills because they help students make real-world connections with a topic and its related text. Since kids love animals, I would recommend Animals That Work for Us , from Fables & the Real World , because it's about many different animals that help humans accomplish tasks. This level H book is also available in Spanish . You can use the following steps to tap into background knowledge for struggling readers in first grade or second grade.

  1. Begin by asking students to name animals that help people do jobs. If students are unfamiliar with this topic, you may want to name tasks, such as carrying people when traveling or farming, and then have students respond with “___ help people by ___.”
  2. Name and show a picture of an animal from the book. Then ask students to talk to a partner how that animal could help people work. You can do this for several animals in the book. This gives students time to interact.
  3. Pass out a chart with each animal from within the book on it and ask students to make predictions by writing a sentence, or drawing a picture, of how they think each animal could help.
  4. Set a purpose for reading: Today we are going to read the book Animals That Work for Us . I want you to listen for key details about how each animal helps and add it to your chart.
  5. Read Animals That Work for Us .
  6. After reading, review each animal to check students' responses on their charts.
  7. Allow students to share what they learned as a class or with partners, and encourage them to use the following sentence stems: “I learned ___ help by ___.” or “Before reading the book, I thought ___, but I learned ___.”

Another important comprehension skill that elementary students need to learn is distinguishing between information that they find in the text and information they gather from looking at pictures in books. This skill is important for students to understand the value of images as context clues. The Incredible Bee , from Fables & the Real World , is a nonfiction book about bees that has many nonfiction text features, such as a table of contents, labels, glossary, and index. This level I book is helpful for struggling readers in first or second grade, and available in Spanish . Try the following steps to help your students gather information from text and images.

  1. Activate prior knowledge by asking students to share facts they know about bees.
  2. Set a purpose for reading: Today we are going to read The Incredible Bee . This book teaches us many facts through words and pictures. After we read, I am going to ask you what you learned about bees. Then we will decide if what you learned came from words or pictures on each page.
  3. Read The Incredible Bee . You may want to stop periodically and draw kids' attention to the photographs.
  4. After you finish reading the book, you can ask students to share what they learned about bees. You can also turn to each page to review if students have a hard time remembering.
  5. A great way to encourage reading comprehension practice is with a matching activity with a two-column pocket chart. Make one set of cards with facts that students share about what they learn on one set of cards. Make another set of cards so that Picture , Text , and Both are written on their own cards. Have students help you sort the cards by putting facts in one column and putting the appropriate source card in the second column of the pocket chart. Here’s an example:


Found in picture, text, or both?

Bees have stripes.


Bees have six legs.


Bees have two stomachs.


  1. You can use a different version of this activity by incorporating movement. With each fact that you read to students, have them walk to the right side of the room if the fact was found in the text. Have them go to the left side if the fact was found in a photograph. You can also have kids move to the middle of the room if they remember that the fact was found in both the text and in a photograph. Be sure to show kids where to locate fact in the book after everyone moves.

Books that teach students about a process are strong tools to teach comprehension strategies on sequencing.  From Silkworm to Silk , from Fables & the Real World  is a good example of this kind of text. This leveled reader teaches students about the process of making silk fabric and shows how the fabric is used. This level J book is available in Spanish as well. You can try the following steps to practice sequencing with second graders. 

  1. Show a piece of silk fabric to students. Ask them what they know about silk and where it comes from.
  2. Set a purpose for reading by explaining the following: Today we are going to read from From Silkworm to Silk . As I read, listen for the steps needed to create silk fabric. After reading, we will review these steps in the correct order.”
  3. Read From Silkworm to Silk .
  4. After reading, try a variety of sequencing activities:
a) Have students list the steps of making silk in order.
b) Write the steps ahead of time on sentence strips and put them right side down in a pocket chart. Have students take turns coming to the pocket chart to say each step aloud before turning a strip. Encourage each child to turn the strip around to check if they are correct. If not, give a turn to another student.
c) Write the steps ahead of time on unnumbered sentence strips. After reading, give each student a different strip. Excite the students about arranging the strips in the correct order.
  1. After each activity, you can use the book to check answers. Consider using the following questions as a way to check comprehension: What would happen if the silkworm didn’t make a cocoon? What would happen if the silk didn't get dyed?

Key details, prior knowledge, making predictions, gathering information from text and pictures, and sequencing are all critical comprehension strategies for content-area standards. Apply each of these skills and incorporate these guided reading leveled books with your science and social studies lessons to help students learn in many different ways.

Be sure to come back frequently for more teaching tips and lesson ideas!


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 .