The introduction of new literature to a class of primary students sets the stage for the reading instruction to follow. Using big books can be a powerful and useful tool in the classroom, especially with very young students. Big books allow for group or whole class reading of one text in an enlarged form. Many classrooms are even equipped with furniture specifically designed to hold big books.
Before starting to read a big book, the students need to be brought to a position where all students are able to see the enlarged text and pictures. This is often done by bringing the children to a central location, like a carpet, or by making sure that all of the students’ desks and chairs are arranged to see properly. If the students are not able to see the text and the pictures that accompany the text, then the purpose of using the big book is lost.
It is imperative that the teacher implement pre-reading strategies before starting to read the big book with the class. One of the best strategies for before reading is to discuss the topic and access the students’ prior knowledge about the topic. This is especially effective when reading a non-fiction text. This discussion can be purely oral, or can be accompanied by a graphic organizer or chart. A common and very helpful graphic organizer, which is easy to use, is a KWL chart. This type of graphic organizer is used throughout the entire study of the topic. This chart is a way to document what the students already know (K), what they want to know (W), and what they learned (L). Adaptations on such a chart have been made as well. For example, some teachers add a section for how to find out more (H). Others have added a section entitled still questioning (Q). In addition to accessing prior knowledge, teachers need to encourage the students to predict what the story will be about. This can be done through what is called a picture walk. In the case of the big book, the teacher would quickly flip through the book so that all of the students could see the pictures. Then, she would ask the students to make an educated guess about the content of the book. This is also a good time to make a comment on the genre of the book.
Now, the teacher should be ready to begin reading the book to the group of students. As the teacher reads, she should continually check to make sure that all students are on-task and are paying attention to the story. One way to do this is simply through visual observation. Another way to make sure that all students are on track is to verbally remind students of the expected behavior. While the teacher is reading, it is imperative that the teacher use this precious instruction time to guide comprehension. The teaching points can vary and the teacher can use several strategies including making connections, asking specific comprehension discussion questions and offering feedback, implementing vocabulary instruction, and/or discussing strategies that good readers use (Bailey, 2003). When a teacher encourages making connections, her students are required to connect the text to themselves (their own personal experiences), the text to another text (another book they have read), and/or the text to the world (something going on in the world around them).
After the conclusion of the class big book lesson, it is extremely important that the teacher follow through with post-reading activities. After reading, there are many ways to respond to the text. Some examples of such activities include stating main ideas, retelling information, organizing, sequencing, comparing/contrasting, analyzing cause/effect, identifying topic/sub topic, and creating story maps. It is important not to stop at this point, but instead to push students to include higher-level thinking strategies, including inferring, generalizing, and evaluating (Burns, 1999). One great activity to do after reading a narrative big book is to complete a story map, which identifies key parts of the story. These parts often include the title and author, characters, setting, plot (including problem/solution) and opinion. Of course if the teacher’s pre-reading activity requires a follow-up, like filling in the learned (L) portion of a KWL chart that needs to be done as well. When using graphic organizers, teachers need to remember that they can be used as whole-class, small group, or individual comprehension aids.
One specific strategy, which can be used both during and after reading, is the use of literature conversations. Literature discussion and conferences can be an effective way to get to the heart of student learning. During or after reading a big book with a class, the teacher could have the students participate in a knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye discussion (Cole, 2003). In this strategy, students are grouped in pairs or small groups and are asked questions about the reading. Students sit close to each other and ask each other guiding questions that help them understand the big book. During the discussion they use specific language, such as: I agree because…, I disagree because…, I also noticed..., I’d like to add that..., I didn’t understand...,Say more about what you mean., I don’t understand what you mean., What is your evidence?, Can you show where that is in the text/illustration?, Why do you think that?, I think the author meant..., How do you know that?, We’re getting far away from the text.., and What does the author say that makes you think that? (Cole, 2003).
The reading comprehension process should include active engagement. Using a variety of before, during, and after reading strategies helps to keep the students interested and thinking about the big book throughout the entire lesson and beyond. Modeling the strategies used and participating in “think-alouds” is an important step to take and cannot be overlooked. A think aloud is when the teacher verbally discusses with the class what he or she is thinking as she is reading the text. Students may join in and share what they are thinking as well (Cunningham, Cunningham, Moore, and Moore, 2004).
Using big books can be an extremely effective way to reach an entire class for instruction. Modeling effective strategies is necessary for success. When teachers use big books and the accompanying comprehension strategies to teach their students, fabulous results can occur.
Bailey, T. (2003, March). Shared reading in the upper grades? You bet!. Instructor,
Burns, B. (1999). The mindful school: How to teach balanced reading and writing. Arlington
Heights, IL: Skylight Training and Publishing.
Cole, A. (2003). Knee to knee, eye to eye: Circling in on comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: