Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Big Books to Teach Content-Area Literacy Skills

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

Using big books that align with science and language arts standards will allow you to help your students meet the demands of standards for both content areas. The purpose of today's blog post is to provide you with ideas to use big books for shared reading to practice content-area literacy skills with students in kindergarten and first grade. If you're looking for tips to practice guided writing strategies with some of the books mentioned in today's blog post, you can read 3 Guided Writing Strategies for First-Graders .

Level C Big Book

The big book version of All About Grasshoppers uses a simple sentence structure to teach kids how a grasshopper uses its body parts to survive. This level C informational text is recommended for kindergarten or very early first grade.

  • Day 1: Introduce students to the nonfiction book by saying: All About Grasshoppers Big Book is not a storybook. It is going to help us learn to be scientists as we listen, ask questions, read, and write. Point to the title and read it with the children. Then ask students to read it with you as you point to the words.

    Talk to kids about the meaning of insects and encourage making predictions about what insects need. Make a list of the predictions and have kids write or illustrate each prediction in their journals.

  • Day 2: Read the second page to the children and ask them to read the page. Ask a volunteer to come and point to insect and then say: Who remembers the name of the grasshoppers’ family? We recorded some needs of insects in your journals. Turn to your neighbor and share what you see as you carefully study the picture on the page we just read. Write a sentence in your journal that shares a fact about the photograph of a real grasshopper.

    If there is time, you can read a fable about a grasshopper to the students and then have students compare and contrast grasshoppers in a narrative text and in an informational text.

  • Day 3: Assign roles to kids so that they can take turns pointing to the words while the other students read pages of the rest of the book. Display the list of predictions and have students compare and contrast their ideas with the things discussed in the book.

  • Day 4: Review the parts of the grasshopper with the last page of the big book by saying. Comparing and contrasting is an important task of scientists. Ask children to draw a picture of a grasshopper and add labels for the body parts.

Level D Big Book

The big book version of Where Does It Live?  has wonderful pictures for group discussion as it introduces the habitats of different animals. The science content that you can teach kids about with this book includes the need for shelter, food, coping with the environment, and the use of body parts. This guided reading leveled book could be used with kindergartners or first-graders.

  • Day 1: Introduce Where Does It Live? Big Book using the title page. Ask them to watch carefully as you point to each word you read. The children probably know that each animal is a living thing.

    Use a language experience activity to list each animal on a chart or the screen. Invite the students to use the big book pages to spell the names of the animals for you as you record them. Provide paper and crayons for their use as they draw and write the animal names from the language experience activity. Suggest that they think about how the animals are different. Inform them that they will be learning more about each animal.

  • Day 2: Display the big book cover and ask the students what they learned when they first saw the book. Read pages 2 and 3 to the students, reminding them of the importance of watching carefully as you point to each word. Then have students read the pages with you. Guide the children as they talk to each other as they talk about what each picture tells them. It is important that they learn to do this automatically as they read. You can then ask the children in the group to discuss each animal's home, their body parts, and the need for water.

  • Day 3: Invite different students to use the pointer to guide the rest of the group to follow along as they read pages 4 and 5. Use the same Day 2 procedure to discuss the snake and ask, What would a snake eat and how would it eat? How does it use its home to survive?

  • Day 4–6: Read ages pages 6 and 7 on the fourth day, then pages 8 and 9 on the fifth day, and ages 10 and 11 on the sixth day. On these days, several things could be done. The children could ask a question they want to be answered about each animal shown in the nonfiction book for kids, find an answer, and then write it in their journals. You could also read a story about the animals they choose and discuss how the author presents details about the animal that they're curious about.

  • Day 7: Read the entire book with the children and invite them to share what they have learned about living things. Since the last page shows an image of a young boy, you can ask questions to help kids make real-world connections: What do people need to stay alive and healthy? They could list the ways that people survive. Be sure to encourage students who have strong writing skills to write a few sentences about what people need to live.

Level G Big Book

The big book version of Incredible Ants has wonderful photographs and other nonfiction text features that are sure to engage kids in kindergarten and first grade. There are listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities that you can use to help kids compare and contrast attributes ants as they learn about different ways that ants adapt to their environment.

  • Day 1: Use the front cover and table of contents to introduce Incredible Ants Big Book . Read the name of the book and explain that the students will be learning about why ants are incredible. Point to the word  ant and ask students to clap the syllables. Read page 2 to the children, stressing the word incredible and then say, Let’s see what you already know about ants. Pictures can help you remember and give you reasons for reading. As you share what you already know about ants, I will make a list.

  • Day 2: Explain to students that they should listen and watch carefully as you point and read the text, and have them repeat the name of each part. Ask children to make predictions about how the ants might use each part of their bodies. Have kids draw a picture of an ant and label its parts in their science journals. You can also enlarge page 3 with an overhead projector for the students to use as a model as they illustrate and label their pictures.

  • Day 3: Pages 4–6 shows ants of different colors. Read the pages to students and invite them to read them with you. Invite kids to turn to a neighbor and predict why the ants are different in colors and why this may be true. Remind them to study the pictures as they predict and have them write their thoughts in their journals. When students finish writing, have students listen carefully as others share their thoughts about why the ants have different colors.

  • Day 4: Read pages 7–8 of the book together and ask questions that prompt kids to think about why ants are incredible. After students have shared their thoughts, explain that there are even more reasons for this word to be used. Here are some questions you could ask: Why do you think ants have different sizes? Why is this important? Have you ever seen ants in your home or outside your home? What size were they?

    If at all possible, you could bring some live ants in a container so that students can make observations and then draw or write about what they see the ants doing.

  • Day 5: Before reading pages 9–11, reread the pages that have been read already and then say, Today we are going to see some other ways ants are different. As I read the next pages to you, study the pictures carefully and think about why the homes of the ants are so important.

    After the children read the pages together ask: Why are ants' homes important? Write a sentence in your journal that states why you think this is true. Invite the students to write a few sentences about the importance of their shelter for they are also living things.

  • Day 6: Read up to page 14 with students to explore different jobs of ants, which will help them understand more ways that they are incredible. Then use the following questions to help kids develop critical thinking skills: What body part would the ant use to get food, dig tunnels, or build bridges? Why would ants need a bridge? Could humans build a bridge with their bodies easily? Is there a bridge near your home? Whom do you think built it?

  • Day 7: Ask students to read the entire book with you. After reading through page 16, have your students turn to a partner to study each of the pictures. Then guide students to participate in a writing activity that will prompt them to think about how they use their body part to meet their needs. You could use the title “We Are Incredible” or “I Am Incredible” for a language experience activity, and it could be completed as a classroom library activity or within a writing center.

Be sure to visit our blog soon for more helpful tips that you can use in your classroom!

Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog .