Back to School Read-alouds

Upper elementary (grades 3 and up):

Hill, Kirkpatrick.  The Year of Miss Agnes  ISBN: 0-689-82933-7  Lexile level: 790L

Set in Alaska in 1948, this book is a wonderful jumping off point for a discussion about what you and your students hope/dream for the school year together.  Miss Agnes is the next in a long line of teachers who have come and gone, most after only a short while because they don’t appreciate the Athabascan culture or find the way of life too difficult.  With her very different outlook, her unusual methods, and her strong opinions about things like great literature, Miss Agnes endears herself to the students of her one-room schoolhouse and their lives are forever changed.

Have students think about the following and be prepared to discuss.  Have them find evidence from the text to support their opinion about whether or not Miss Agnes was a good teacher.

What makes a good teacher?
Was Miss Agnes a good teacher? 
What makes a good student?

And, finally:
What can we do to create the best classroom environment for all of us?


Weatherford, Carole Boston.  Dear Mr. Rosenwald  ISBN: 0-439-49522-9
Lexile level:  720L

Set in the early 1920’s in the rural South, this collection of free verse poems tells the story of how one community came together to build a school with a challenge grant from Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears, Roebuck, and Co.  Rosenwald drew his inspiration from Booker T. Washington and in just fifteen years he donated money for the building of more than five thousand schools for African Americans.  An author’s note at the end gives more information about the requirements for a Rosenwald school and the impact that the schools had on the education of blacks at the time.

After reading, students could:

  • Create a timeline of the building of the school with details gleaned from the poems.
  • Investigate the history behind their own school building.
  • Make a Venn diagram or use another tool to compare and contrast school for Ovella (the narrator) with their own school experience.
  • Find examples in the poems of personal sacrifices for the greater good.  Discuss/write about why people who had so little to begin with were willing to make these sacrifices to see that the school got built.