Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Big Books for Shared Reading in Pre-K–1

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

“Whoa!”–that's the excited response I usually hear from my students when they see a big book for the first time. They are immediately drawn to the size of the book and want to read it. When a book is that big, every student is able to interact with the text and pictures. This increased interaction promotes better learning and a love of reading during shared reading time.

As teachers, we give our students explicit guidance to develop reading skills by modeling intonation and fluency. We also help students use reading comprehension strategies, such as making predictions, asking and answering questions about key details, and utilizing nonfiction text features. You can foster these critical skills and strategies by using big books. Continue reading to find out which features to look for when choosing great big books for shared reading at the primary level.

As pre-kindergarten students develop vocabulary and additional language skills, big books with compelling pictures support these young learners. Wordless books are also useful because you can model how to develop a story with the pictures during shared reading time. Then students can practice telling the story in their own words. Have students do this with a partner to get them excited about reading. If new vocabulary is introduced, encourage students to use these words when retelling their stories.   

big-books-for-shared-reading Pre-K texts for shared reading should not only be exciting for students, but they should also have simple sentence structure that students can easily repeat on their own. Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection  provides many nonfiction big book titles with repetitive, simple sentence structure. The titles Dinner!  and Butterfly  are both very simple. Here are a few pages from one of the level A books,  Dinner!

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These books are also fantastic for supporting EL students and struggling readers who need to improve vocabulary. After reading, have students create their own books with illustrations and sentences that help them produce their own simple sentence structure.

A big-books-for-shared-reading t the kindergarten reading level, when students are starting sight word practice and utilizing literacy strategies, they are also developing their own love of reading. Narrative texts at the kindergarten level should utilize sight words and have a simple narrative text. This helps students easily identify the characters, events, and settings of stories. Big books by Joy Cowley are adored by kindergartners because entertaining characters give life to simple story lines. 

Titles from Joy Cowley Early Birds , such as Wishy-Washy House   and Wishy-Washy Ice Cream , are great shared reading books for kindergarten because each book has a variety of sight words. Here are a few pages from  Wishy-Washy House .

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big-books-for-shared-reading Informational texts at the kindergarten level include simple sentence structure and strong photographs to represent the text. Strong photographs are important for helping students understand what the text is teaching. Similar to your kindergarten narrative texts, be sure to look for big books with a sentence structure that allows students to practice identifying main ideas and key details.

The Kaleidoscope Collection  by Hameray is a great resource to find nonfiction books with these features. All About Grasshoppers  and Corn are a few of the many titles your kids will love while they strengthen their reading skills.  All About Grasshoppers   even ends with a labeled photograph of grasshopper parts. You could have students write a book about any animal that ends with a labeled illustration while using this book as an example. Here are a few sample pages:

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When students reach first grade, they are building upon many of the comprehension skills that have been modeled in pre-K and kindergarten. Students are also mastering the comprehension skills of answering questions about key details and retelling at a slightly higher level.

big-books-for-shared-reading To help them in this process, look for narrative big books that help first graders move from identifying key details about characters, events, and settings to comparing and contrasting them. The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat  or The Silkworm and the Spider  are vibrant fiction books within the  Fables & the Real World  series that will undoubtedly improve your students' ability to compare and contrast.

Informational big books for first graders should utilize many nonfiction text features, including table of contents, headings, labels, photographs, labels, glossary, and index. During shared reading, you could model how using these features improves comprehension. The paired texts in  Fables & the Real World  include text features and are leveled between E–K. The book Wind  is written at level G and includes headings, text to support photographs, a glossary, and an index. Here are a few sample pages:

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The fun thing about Fables & the Real World is how memorable fables are connected with corresponding informational texts about nonfiction elements within the fables. Pairing texts of both fiction and nonfiction during shared reading time is great for strengthening comprehension. Consider using paired texts to develop real world connections because this is an important part of building content area literacy in first grade.

When browsing for purposeful big books to use for reading aloud, focus on elements appropriate to the age of the students and the Common Core reading standards being taught. Students in pre-K through first grade rely heavily on pictures and repetitive structure as they begin to build confidence with literacy strategies.

Continue to check back often for more teaching tips!


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 .