How To Read Mindfully: 7 Strategies for Elementary Students

Teaching ideas to build a socially and emotionally strong classroom with books.

Are you looking for teaching ideas to build a socially and emotionally strong classroom with books?  Here are group and individual activities that will engage young children. 

Study illustrations to reveal emotions. Understanding characters’ emotions can help us recognize our own. Discuss how illustrators use color, white space, and facial expressions to indicate a change of emotion or a significant event. Have students create illustrations using similar techniques and tools as their favorite illustrators. Ask them to illustrate a scene from their lives where they listened to others, offered help, or showed empathy.

Use movement and drama to retell. Incorporating multimodal literacies such as movement and drama can help kids strengthen retelling skills and emotionally process complex stories. Gather students in small groups to retell a story through dramatic methods. Notice characters’ facial expressions and body language. Have students share observations, make connections to their lives, and create short performances of times when they felt listened to or supported.

Ask "How can I help others?" Learning to listen is hard. So is learning how to help a friend—and recovering in times of trauma. All year, refer back to read-alouds whose characters respond to challenging moments by helping others. Build a daily routine encouraging students to ask How can I help others? and How did I help others today? Ask them to share how they aided others that day to build a supportive classroom community.

"I am" affirmations. Foster positive self-identity by crafting daily "I am" statements. Watch the song "What I Am" by on Sesame Street. Have students share the song’s "I am" statements and write their own. Hang a blank anchor chart with "I am" in the middle and markers nearby for students to add their "I am" statements all year. Add "I can" and "I did" for children to affirm what they can accomplish.

Message books text set. Elizabeth Bird has written about "message books," whose stories give instruction for how to live our lives. Classics like Arnold Lobel’s "Frog and Toad" series and Leo Leonni’s Frederick and Matthew’s Dream are poignant examples. Recent titles include Lost and Found and The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn, Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat, and Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin. A text set can explore students’ responses to characters and situations. What are the messages for living life with meaning and purpose?

Text set for contemplation and mindfulness. Focus on living a joyful life with books inviting contemplation and mindfulness. Recent relevant picture books include Round and Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson.

Read-aloud titles. Contemplate big-life questions with What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater. Recent titles about the gift of waiting or seeking something worthwhile include Waiting by Kevin Henkes, Wait by Antoinette Portis, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett.

Katie Egan Cunningham is the author of Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Instruction for Student Happiness (fall 2019) and blogs at SLJ’s "The Classroom Bookshelf.”


Illustration by Irmun/Getty Images

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