Picture Books for Teaching Theme, Figurative Language, Kindness, Creativity, and Writing!

Ready for one of my favorite ways to teach students about writing, reading, creativity, and even kindness? It’s something that elementary teachers have known all along…it’s the picture book!

The picture book is a powerful instructional tool that can work in any classroom…and I thought I’d share some examples of my favorites with you today.

I’ve put the collection of books in a simple (and free) PDF with links that you can download by clicking this LINK. I’ve also paired each book with a ready-made unit that you can easily teach in your classroom too. Feel free to download the PDF at any time.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of my favorite picture books for any classroom.

First, I’m sharing a book that is great for the beginning of the year as you’re building a positive classroom community.

Teach students about kindness and build classroom community with this picture book. It's perfect for back to school and middle school!

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts taps into a child’s innate need to have what everyone else has. In this case, the main character longs for the “cool” shoes even though they are too expensive for his grandmother to purchase. After finding a pair that is much too small, the main character makes the ultimate sacrifice for a classmate. It’s a touching story that celebrates kindness and classmates…perfect for any time of year. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Picture books are also wonderful examples of creativity. Since learning to be creative has shown to be one of the most powerful skills for helping students thrive in life, it’s important to celebrate creativity in the classroom.

These two books do just that…

Use picture books to help students develop creativity. Read this creative book to inspire creativity in the classroom.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis is fairly simple at first glance. A box shape is turned into everything expect a box – a robot, a hot air balloon, even a rocket ship. It’s a fun example of “thinking outside of the box,” just imagine all the creative lessons you could do as an extension to this story. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

This picture book is great to teach creativity. Middle school students will love how a traditional story is changed with imagination!

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner is another example of creativity. This time students see how a traditional story can be flipped on its head and come to life with a little imagination. This book is the perfect springboard for lessons about thinking in new and creative ways. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Picture books are wonderful for adding a little humor and whimsy into the classroom. You can keep these two books on your shelf for a rainy day and pull them out when students can use a laugh. And…as a major bonus, humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn.

Read this funny picture book to your middle school students to add laughter to the classroom!

One of my favorite funny books is The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. While there are no pictures in the book, there are plenty of silly words and crazy sentences that you, the reader, must read out loud. Students love how “powerless” you become against the words Novak makes you say. You’ll all be laughing together with this book! (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Get students laughing with this funny picture book about a unicorn!

Another funny book filled with voice (and a sweet message) is Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. Not only is the book funny as the goat laments about the new Unicorn in town, it’s also cleverly written. There’s a lesson in this book along with a few laughs. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

What about using picture books to teach critical ELA skills? That’s a genius idea.

Teach the concept of theme in your middle school classroom with The Empty Pot.

For instance, if you’d like to teach theme, try The EmptyPot by Demi. It’s one of my favorite stories because the reader learns its themes of honesty and integrity along with the main character that shows up to a gardening challenge with an empty pot. Not only is it a great way to teach theme, it’s a lovely way to showcase important character traits too. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Use picture books as mentor texts before starting a writing unit.

The next time you’re putting together a writing unit, have students begin by reading mentor texts in the form of pictures books. It’s a super engaging and quick way for students to learn about the critical elements of the genre. I always started my memoir writing unit with a review of several picture books like The Baby Sister by Tomie dePaola. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Send students on a figurative language hunt with this picture book for middle schoolers!

Want to each about figurative language? It’s easy with picture books. Send students on a figurative language hunt in a book like WhiteSnow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt. The story has a poetic quality as it tells about the first snowfall of the year. (Click HERE to check out the book.)

Alright, I could go on for days…but I better stop right here. I just love how picture books are a powerful way to help students learn about critical ELA topics and build character. Remember, you can check out a list of all my favorites in this FREE download.

Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope some picture books make an appearance in your classroom! 

See you soon!

Mary Beth 

*This post contains affiliate links.

Favorite Back to School Activities

Ready to "cook up" a great first day of school? Check out this easy recipe filled with ideas and activities for back to school!

Ready to "cook up" a great first day of school? It's easy with this recipe for a successful start to the school year!

➤ Think about how you will set the tone for your classroom on the first day of school.
➤ Plan to keep students engaged and active.
➤ Prepare to build a positive rapport with students from the first instant that they become a part of the classroom community.

➤ Warm-Up Activity
➤ Get-to-Know-You Activity
➤ Game that gets students out of their seats
➤ Get-to-Know-the-Teacher Activity
➤ Writing Prompt
➤ Extension Activity

Once you've gathered your ingredients, you can get "cooking!" 


STEP 1: Begin with a warm-up activity. Place an activity on students' desks that they can complete independently. 

You might try a simple survey or poster. An All About Me poster is a quick way to learn about students. You can even gather them together for an awesome classroom display. 

Or, a survey is a wonderful way to collect information about students. You might include questions about where students like to sit, their favorite way to learn, and activities that they enjoy so that you can start connecting with students.

Back to school warm up activity that you can place on students' desks. The All About Me Poster is great for getting to know students. The student survey is perfect for back to school.

Another awesome warm-up activity is an "All About You" name tag. Students answer questions about themselves while coloring in a name tag based on their responses. Then, students can place the name tag on their desks to help you learn your students' names. This activity is particularly awesome if you have multiple sets of students. You can collect the name tags and re-distribute them each day during each class while you learn names. 

Oh, and as a bonus, you can gather them together and leave them with substitute teachers throughout the year!

If you'd like to check out ready-made Back to School Warm-Ups, just click here for the poster, here for the survey, and here for the name tags.

STEP 2: Mix in a get-to-know-you activity. Give students a chance to share about themselves and learn about their classmates with an engaging get-to-know-you activity. 

One of my favorites is a doodle-inspired mini-book. Students transform a single sheet of paper into a doodley mini-book all about themselves. After students make the mini-book it's fun to hang them on a clothesline. Then, as students finish their work during the first days of school, you can encourage fast-finishers to grab a classmate's mini-book and learn about him or her.  

Students love this hands-on and doodle mini-book. They answer questions about themselves and then they create a doodle mini-book. It's a great first day of school activity!

Check out the doodle mini-book HERE.

STEP 3: Scatter in an activity that gets students moving. Since students crave opportunities to get up and out of their seats, plan to get your class moving on the first day of school. You might have students complete a scavenger hunt or even play a learning game that requires students to move around.

I'm a huge fan of this simple get-to-know-you activity that gets students moving (and you can download it for FREE here.) 

First, students make paper airplanes. They write their name and 3 interview questions on the wings. Then, students line up shoulder-to-shoulder and launch the planes. Next, they pick up a classmate's plane, find him or her, and ask the interview questions. You can repeat the airplane launch as often as you'd like! 

Find everything you need to do this activity in this FREEBIE. 

 STEP 4: Sprinkle in a chance for students to get-to-know-you (their teacher). On the first day of school, students are very curious about you. They want to learn about you, so you'll want to be sure to share about yourself. You can give a simple biography of yourself, or you might try these easy and engaging activities:

Create a teacher interview question along with 4 or 5 prize cards for each student in your class. Then, tape the questions and the prize cards under students' seats before class begins. During class, explain to students that they all have something under their chairs. It might be a question and it might be a prize. If they get a prize card, have students keep it quiet. Then, call on students. They can either read a question for you to answer or reveal that they won a prize. If they won, you might give them a pencil, piece of candy, or a homework pass. You can find all my favorite questions HERE.

Great for any classroom, this back to school activity helps students learn about their teacher. Fun and engaging!

Or, you might have students complete a "Teacher Guess" about you. First, they predict the answers to questions about you. Then, as you reveal the answers, they earn points for every correct prediction. It's a fun activity that students truly enjoy! You can check it out HERE.

Help students get to know their teacher with this fun back to school activity!

 STEP 5: Add a fun writing prompt to your back to school activities. A writing prompt is a great way to gather a baseline for students' writing on the first day of school. You might give students a simple prompt about their summer or goals for the new school year. However, I love to add a fun creative writing prompt into the mix. 

For example, with this writing prompt students select a setting, character, problem, and 3 random objects. Then, they need to work them all into a story. It's fun, engaging, and a great way to see where your students are starting the school year. 

Here's a great writing prompt for the first day of school. Students love this fun creative writing task!

Find this writing prompt HERE or check out this collection 

STEP 6: Top it off with a review of tomorrow's warm-up. Set students up for success during your next day of school by quickly reviewing what they will need to do when they arrive to class. If you're planning to have students work through warm-ups like these This or That ELA warm-ups where students choose to do the "this" or the "that" activity, then you might quickly review what will be waiting on their desks when they arrive. 

Taking the time to preview tomorrow's warm-up is a great way to set expectations for students! If you're looking for some daily warm-ups, you might want to check out these This or That ELA warm-ups or these This or That Writing warm-ups!

STEP 7: Don't forget to have an extension activity just in case your lesson ends early. I love playing games like "Move If You..." which you can find for FREE HERE. While you may never get to the extension activity, it's a lifesaver if you need it!

When you're following this recipe for a great first day of school, you might want to:

➤ Greet students at the door and answer these questions for students right away:
       ➨ Where do I sit?
       ➨ Am I in the right classroom?
       ➨ What should I be doing right now?

➤ Also, be prepared to manage students' behavior on the first day of school. Ensure that you have a positive classroom management system in place and ready to use if you need it!

Well, there you have it, my recipe for a great first day of school. Be sure to download all the ideas with links AND the FREE airplane activity HERE!

Thanks so much for stopping by,
Mary Beth

Round Up of My Favorite End of the Year Lessons & Activities

Check out this collection of activities for the end of the school year. You'll find free lessons for the end of the year and tons of ideas for ending the school year with a bang!

Before you know it, it'll be time to say goodbye to your students as they head off into summer. With the last day of school rapidly approaching, I thought I'd share my favorite ways to make the most of the end of the school year. (I've also filled this post with some exclusive freebies! So exciting!)

Here's a quick listing of the ideas I'm going to share today:

➧ Unit to teach:  Roller Coaster Persuasive Writing Unit
➧ Gifts for students:  Motivational Gifts for Students
➧ Whole-class review:  Grammar Escape Rooms (with a twist)
➧ Doodle reflection:  End of the Year Doodle Suitcase or Locker
➧ Freebie: Accordion Book Reflection
➧ Summer reading project (and FREEBIE): Summer Reading Project
➧ Free plan books: May and June
➧ Summer school lessons: Resources for Summer School
➧ Free Teacher Challenge: FREE 30-Day Challenge

End of the Year Unit to Teach: Persuasive Writing Unit

This is a super fun and engaging end of the year writing unit. Students design roller coasters and then write persuasive ads for their coasters. So fun!

This is my FAVORITE end-of-the-year writing unit! During the ten-day unit, students design a roller coaster (after learning about their history and vocabulary). Then, they design their own roller coaster. Finally, students write persuasive advertisements for their coasters. I promise, your students will LOVE this motivating unit!

End of the Year Gifts for Students
Check out this collection of easy to make end of the year gifts for students!

If you're looking for some ready-made gifts for students, check out this set of 3 simple and inspiring gifts for students. There are motivational posters, inspirational quote cards, and personalized note pockets. Each is designed to be easy to create and wonderful to keep. You can give every student all 3 gifts or make one set of the gifts for your entire class!

Whole Class Review: Grammar Art Escapes

These escape rooms that I created with Art with Jenny K. are so much fun! They are the perfect way to keep students learning and engaged during the last days of school!  Students work together to recover a stolen masterpiece while reviewing critical grammar skills. There are 3 different escape rooms to choose from - Mona Lisa, The Frame, or Starry Night. Or, save with the bundle. Great news! We've put together an EXCLUSIVE FREE SET OF MASTERPIECE COLORING PAGES for you!

End of the Year Doodle Reflection

This end of the year activity is all about reflection and fun! Students will be creating a doodle locker or suitcase filled with memories and lessons from their school year.

Here's an end of the year reflection that your students will love! First, they complete a guided reflection about the school year. Then, they fill a doodle suitcase or doodle locker with their memories. The end result is a meaningful and interactive year in review! 
This end of the year activity is all about reflection and fun! Students will be creating a doodle locker filled with memories and lessons from their school year.

Find the suitcase here and the locker here.

Summer Reading Projects

Help students enhance and retain their reading skills this summer with this super engaging summer reading project! In it, students will read a book and complete a creative and engaging file folder reading project to demonstrate their understanding of the book they read.
Keep students reading and learning all summer long with print-and-go summer reading projects. In the File Folder Summer Reading project students record all their learning in a single manila folder. It's a hit with students and teachers. Or, you might want to check out this summer reading project where students create a newspaper about their book.

AND...if you'd like to send students home with a reading tracker to log their reading over the summer, I've created a FREE one just for you! 
Help students track their reading with this free and interactive reading tracker!
You can download the free reading tracker and log here.

Free End of the Year Activity

Looking for a hands-on and fun end-of-the-year activity? Well, look no further! This end of the year lesson will not only help students practice the critical skill of reflecting, they’ll also create an interactive accordion book to showcase their thoughts and ideas.

Here's a freebie that is perfect for the end of the year. First, students complete a reflection. They'll consider highlights, challenges, lessons, and even look to the future. Then, they can put together a fun accordion book. This is a great activity for the last days of school!

Free Virtual Plan Books

Check out this collection of free lessons virtual plan books for every month of the year!

If you love collecting teaching ideas and tips, then be sure to check out the virtual plan books in my shop. They're FREE! Each is filled with tips, tricks, and even a quote poster! 

Here are two that you might need as the year draws to an end:

Summer School Resources

Teaching summer school? No problem! I've got summer school lesson plans for the first days of summer school. There's units for teaching ELA in summer school, too!

Have you signed up to teach summer school? If so, I've got a few lifesavers for you!

➧ First Day of Summer School
➧ Summer Poetry Analysis
➧ Summer Reading Project
➧ 6 Week Summer School Curriculum

30-Day Teacher Challenge

Rachael from The Classroom Nook and I have teamed up again to create a FREE 30-Day Teacher Challenge. The challenge is filled with hundreds of ideas for planning out your next school year. It starts in July, but I wanted to give you a chance to sign up right HERE. If you participated last summer, be sure to sign up again because this year we have so much MORE!

I hope you've found a few resources to teach during the remaining days of the school year!

Here's a round-up of the links again:
➧ Gifts for students:  Motivational Gifts for Students
➧ Whole-class review:  Grammar Escape Rooms (with a twist)
➧ Doodle reflection:  End of the Year Doodle Suitcase or Locker
➧ Summer reading project (and FREEBIE): Summer Reading Project
➧ Free plan books: May and June
➧ Summer school lessons: Resources for Summer School
➧ Free Teacher Challenge: FREE 30-Day Challenge

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Mary Beth

3 Easy Ways to Make Poetry More Fun!

Why does poetry have such a bad rap? In my experience, every time that I would mention poetry to students, their response was always a deafening protest.  Every year, it makes me wonder:  why are students so averse to learning how to read, analyze and write poetry? 

There seems to be a massive misconception about poetry among students (and maybe teachers too). Poetry is often perceived as this mythical type of literature that only the most gifted and insightful can interpret and create.  But, it's not!  Sure, there are some challenging pieces of poetry, but there are so many wonderful ways to make poetry FUN!  Here are just a few ideas...

CREATE A POETRY CULTURE:  One simple way to make poetry less intimidating is to make poetry a normal part of your classroom. Expose students to poetry all year long, not just during a poetry unit. You can do this by reading poems out loud to students throughout the school year, displaying poems as part of morning work, copying fun poems and hanging them on students' lockers or desks, or creating a collection of poems that students can read once a week during the school year. 

Check out some of my favorite poems to share with students:
➧ A poem for inspiration: "If" by Rudyard Kipling
➧ A seasonal poem: "Jack Frost" by Gabriel Setoun
➧ A holiday poem: "Mr. Macklin's Jack O'Lantern" by David McCord (Find a FREE lesson for this poem HERE.)

Free poetry lesson for Mr. Macklin's Jack O'Lantern. Perfect way to celebrate Halloween with poetry!

Don't worry, I've compiled a list of the poems I'm highlighting with clickable links in this exclusive FREEBIE!

CELEBRATE THE FREEDOM OF POETRY:  One of the coolest parts about poetry is that there are NO RULES! Poets have absolute freedom to write about whatever they want, however they want. No grammar rules. No rules about form or structure. No mechanics rules. And if you like, no spelling rules! Students love this! It's their chance to rebel against conventions.

During a poetry writing unit, I love to take this idea a bit further and encourage students to be unconventional with WHERE they write their poems, too. That means that they might write their haiku poem on a rock, or a cinquain on a basketball, or a free verse poem on the bottom of an old sneaker. It's so much fun to revel in the freedom of poetry!

Here are some great poems to illustrate the freedom of poetry:
➧ "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams
➧ "How to Eat a Plum" by Eve Merriam
➧ "I(a" by e.e. Cummings

You can find links to the poem and even a BONUS poetry writing lesson in this FREEBIE!

READ FUNNY POEMS WITH STUDENTS:  Help students find joy in poetry by reading funny poems to students...or challenge students to find a funny poem to read to the class. Laughter and silliness are the perfect way to get students excited about reading and writing poems.

Here are some of my favorites:
➧ "Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About" by Judith Viorst
➧  "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
➧  "Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face" by Jack Prelutsky
➧  "Sick" by Shel Silverstein

There you have it...3 really simple ways to make poetry more fun. Be sure to download the free lesson and all the poem links HERE.

I hope you'll add a little more poetry to your classroom!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Mary Beth

P.S. Here are some of my favorite poetry units to teach!

And here's a video that you may enjoy...

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