Teaching fifth graders requires the use of lots of mentor texts. Usually, during reading workshop we have a touchstone novel that we use. However, we also use a variety of picture books as well. We refer back to these texts throughout our school year and they're a great way to kick-off the start of school! My two favorites are great for the start of the year because both are about the golden rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. These books teach as much about character as they do reading and writing! I love the double whammy!
The first book I highly recommend is Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. I owe the finding of this book to my fabulous ATP (Amazing Teacher Partner) Amie! She had bought the book for her son but knew it would be perfect for school as well! We read this book as an entire team this year on the first week of school. This book is about a little rabbit who is worried about his new neighbors... OTTERS! Will the otter family like him? Will they treat him the same as his other friends? The book is a humorous look look at how to treat each other. It also highlights anxiety that people have about fitting in and how to best find friends is to treat them how you would want to be treated. Here are some sample pages from Laurie Keller's website.
There is also a You Tube video of someone reading the story...
The story goes on to teach essential character traits like forgiveness, honesty, etc. that help everyone get along at school. The book although meant for a younger audience was a hit at the fifth grade level. Our students absolutely loved the characters and some of the "humor" in the illustrations. Afterward, we had students create their own page for the book. They had to add in one thing they thought that "Otters" ought to be. Then we shared our wishes and drawings in small groups before hanging them in the hallway. It's a fun book and definitely worth the time... plus, none of our kids had seen it in prior grade levels! BONUS!
The second book is a novel we read at the beginning of the year. The novel Rules by Cynthia Lord was our fifth grade touchstone text for nearly the entire year. We based our character reading unit on this novel plus made connections to theme, motifs, symbolism, characters, etc. throughout the school year.
The book centers around twelve-year-old Catherine who upset because her brother David is not "normal." She wants to live a "normal" life. She desperately wants to be best friends with the new girl next door and spend her summer going to the lake, drawing, and having morse code late night talks. However, life is not easy for Catherine because her little brother, David, has autism. David always seems to be in Catherine's way! Therefore, Catherine creates rules for David to help him fit-in. The book offers a realistic look at autism and how it can effect an entire family. Cynthia Lord's own son has autism and she took her own life experiences with her son and created a story that was serious and humorous at the same time. This book is perfect for helping middle school students understand autism and students with special needs. The book also centers around the character of Jason who becomes with friends with Catherine. Jason has a powerful "voice" in the story although he is nonverbal and wheelchair bound. Catherine learns through Jason the meaning of friendship and compassion.
I felt as though this novel made my students more aware of each other. This awareness seemed to make them more thoughtful and kind to all students. They started to realize that sometimes students can't control their behaviors, noises, fidgets, sensory issues, etc. After reading the story, many of our students asked to volunteer to work with several autistic students on our team. Our students seemed to develop a deep level of compassion toward others after reading this book. Thank you, Cynthia!
In class, we tied a non-graded service project novel. The entire fifth grade at our school participated in the project. We asked students to "pay it forward" to others in the community as Catherine had done in the novel. We gave students a month to pay it forward with acts of kindness. We wanted students to try and make a big difference or even little differences in their community or family. Some students volunteered at food banks or Cincinnati Children's Hospital, while others helped their parents mow the lawn or take out the trash. Students wrote up a reflection about their service and we share day where students (if they wanted too) shared out what they were up too. The Pay it Forward project was a great way to bring the book to life in our own school and community!
Even if you don't teach the in the upper grades, this is a fast & fabulous read!
I can't wait to hear about any back to school mentor texts you can't live without! And don't forget....