Letting the Children Lead

Two weeks ago I decided to mix up the regular library routine with my kindergarten classes. Rather than starting with a read-aloud selected to support their classroom curriculum or a particular library lesson, followed by book choice and borrowing, I offered my take on a “flipped classroom”.

I gathered dozens of picture books and early readers that the children don’t normally gravitate to when they get up to borrow. Translate–not a Star Wars, LEGO, Jack and Annie (aka Magic Tree House), or Minecraft book among them. Dividing them up into six baskets, I spread them around the rug and had the students work in groups of three to complete two assignments:

  • Choose a book for me to read at the end of the lesson
  • Find a book they might want to borrow (with the understanding that Star Wars, LEGO et al were still allowed if they just couldn’t find something they liked)

After the borrowing, we regrouped on the rug and I reviewed the six books that were selected by the groups and chose one to read aloud in the remaining time. The purpose of the lesson was to encourage the students to move outside of their comfort (and copycat) zones when it came to borrowing and to empower them by allowing them to choose the read aloud.


What I didn’t expect was that one of the books chosen would lead to the following week’s lesson. Too Many Toys by David Shannon is the cautionary tale of a boy who is inundated with toys and can’t/won’t part with any of them. Finally (finally!) he agrees to box up some of the excess but when his mother comes to collect the box, she finds all the toys dumped out and the box nowhere to be found. As it turns out, the box was the best toy of all. Not a surprise to any adult who has witnessed present-opening at virtually any occasion.


Clearly I had to incorporate playing with boxes into the following week’s lesson. Preparation was easy. I gathered up boxes, corrugated cardboard, tubes and other paper goods from our low-tech mobile maker cart, added some masking tape, markers and scissors and then posed the following question: “How would you play with these boxes and what would you make?”

Mobile Maker Cart 1

What would they make indeed!!

Laney and her dogLanie and her dog:

“I got the idea from my stuffed animals. I’m a fan of dollhouses and animals. I’m going to name him Spot. I putted cones for his ears. A long one for his tail and a short one for his nose.”



Logan’s rocket:

“You move thingies to make it blast off. I got the idea of a rocket from the book. I want to add more detail.”




Ari and his house:

“This is the chimney. This is the fire and this is the smoke. The pipes exploded and the water is coming out.”




Nate and his bird feeder:

“I cut this. I put this string I cut off from a party hat and I tied a knot in it.”


Evan and his creation

Evan and his rocket tank:

“It’s called a rocket tank. People can sign their name if they want to sign up for programs. These are heaters. The red is heat.”



Jamie and his truck

Jamie and his truck (built with Lukas):

“It’s an ice cream delivery truck.”



Eli and his house:

“I need to finish this at home. See the details-a couch, bed, TV, table and chairs, even a bowl.”


And there was a pirate ship “with no plank, like in the olden days”. A sled–“We’re pretending that we’re in real snow. It’s the best sled ever. There’s a front handle and a back handle. Hold on to the pencils to make you stay on.” A blower ship: “You blow on this and it will go in here and back up to make it move.”



Though this activity grew organically from David Shannon’s Too Many Toys, it would work just as well (maybe even better) with Antoinette Portis’ classic Not a Box. That might make the best lesson ever!!







Let Every Voice Be Heard

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray

As in any class there are the ones who always raise their hands, the ones too impatient to even wait to be called upon and the quiet ones who listen but never offer comments or observations. Whether it is due to shyness, introversion or just a lack of confidence, these silent children don’t have as many opportunities to share what they think.

Sure there’s “Think, Pair, Share” and “Exit Tickets” and a whole catalog of other strategies. But I continue to seek out new and different ways to let every voice be heard (even if just as a whisper). Given that I have less than a half hour of instructional time per week with my students, it is often collaboration with teachers that allows me to reach this goal. Collaboration, in conjunction with technology, has opened the door for children to speak up and speak out.

The latest venture involved kindergartners making predictions about the book Mud by Mary Lyn Ray. The predictions were based on viewing two illustrations from the book. Using Voicethread, their teacher, Stacy Cahill and I showed the children how to comment on the images. All nineteen students were given the opportunity, the wait time and the encouragement to record their own voices. And speak up they did! Listen to the wisdom of the children here.

The images students commented upon

The images students commented upon

Extra time (via collaboration) and technology provide the perfect solution to the imbalance of classroom participation. Whether it is this delightful kindergarten experience, the Readers Theater I wrote about here (thanks Amy Melisi) or the Book Trailers I wrote about here (thanks Andi Daunais and Lisa Miranda and Nick Greenwood), teacher partnerships and new technologies are giving our students the opportunity to say what they need to say.