Our school decided to start the year with a community read where everyone has a shared reading experience using one book. This is the first time my school has ever participated in this type of program. So far it has been a very rewarding experience! It has connected students across grade levels as kids notice things around the building and discuss the book together. The book we chose for this program was Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller. This book has been a great mix of fun while highlighting the social skills that we hope to teach this time of year.
How this Came to Be:
Last May, Scholastic offered Potato Pants! as a dollar book. A fabulous third-grade teacher who I collaborate with often, Kim McDermid (@GoldenTeach), came to me with a big idea! She felt like it would be a great book to use at the start of the school year. We began brainstorming and decided that a community-wide reading event would be a perfect fit. The next step was convincing others!
We started by getting our administrator on board. She was able to secure funding for all students in kindergarten through third grade to receive a copy of the book. (We are a preschool through third-grade building.) In addition, we were able to purchase a hardcover copy of the book for each teacher to add to their classroom library.
Now that our administrator was on board, we had to share our big idea with the rest of the teachers. We felt it was important to let people know before leaving for the summer that this would be happening the following fall. We wanted to get people thinking about what fun things they could do to connect with the book as well as make sure they were not caught by surprise. Teachers are not really fans of surprises at the start of the school year!
We were given permission to present at an end-of-the-year meeting. We shared this document to explain our plans and get them excited about the possibilities of the project.
Back to School:
When we returned to school we were able to finalize our plans for the project. We shared this new document with teachers during our beginning of the school year meetings. The activities planned were meant to be engaging for students, but not overwhelming for the teachers. We thought keeping it simple at this time of the year was a good idea and teachers could add their own extras if they wanted.
The Fun Begins:
Week #1: Pre-Reading
We waited to start until the second week of school. This gave everyone time to settle into their classrooms, learn a bit about their students, and start to set routines before throwing in something new.
We wanted to get kids excited before reading the book with some pre-reading activities. We decided on four activities for this week:
- Potato Jokes – We have large screens around the school building that display information and upcoming events. We had some potato jokes added to these screens for the kids to enjoy. For example: What do you call a lazy spud? A couch potato
- Real Potatoes – Each teacher as well as support staff received a real potato on Monday of this week. The goal was they could move this potato around to different places in the
classroom. Additionally, they were welcome to decorate their potato, but that was completely optional.
- Hidden Potatoes – We were able to create a few printouts on cardstock of Potato from the story in his pants. These were hung around the school building. Throughout the week they were moved to various locations.
- Potato/Pants Fact – A list of potatoes and pants facts was shared at the start of the week as well. Teachers could share these throughout the week.
Week #2 – Read Aloud
We started this week with an all-school Morning Meeting. All the students were able to attend this assembly. It was a quick 15 minutes that let us share what the potatoes were all leading up to. We shared the book, the project, and Potato Pants! Day. Click here to see the presentation we used.
This week each teacher was asked to read the book with their class. They focused on identifying characters and discussing the story elements while reading. Then, after reading, each student created their own potato. They added clothing to represent themselves. For example, if they liked to swim they created a swimsuit. If they take dance classes they may have added a tutu. The students could use any type of materials they wanted. Many of the classes even traveled to the makerspace to add to their Potato designs.
Week #3 – Social Emotional Learning
During this week the students will listen to the story again. This time the focus is on the emotions that the characters have throughout the story and why. The hope is that the students will be able to see how the characters change and what Potato and Eggplant learn throughout the book.
For the activity this week we are going to use the ChatterPix app. Students will take a picture of the potato they created during week #2. Then they will share something that the potato learned in the story. All of these videos will be put together in a class video to share with parents.
Week #4 – Author Visit and Potato Pants Day
To wrap up the unit we have planned a whole school celebration with Potato Pants Day. Our students wear uniforms so this is a big deal because they can wear casual pants that day. The sillier the pants the better!
We also have the author, Laurie Keller, visiting virtually. This will be a perfect opportunity to close out this project by meeting and talking about her work.
This project has become so much more than we initially planned. The kids are so excited to connect with the book and talk to each other about it. When they took the books home they could not wait to read it with their families.
The collaboration and connections that were happening across the school have been amazing to watch! Several of the preschool classrooms are going to try to grow a potato plant from their potato. The specials area teachers jumped in to join the fun too. In music, they learned songs about potatoes. The third graders made a potato instrument. In science, they made potato circuits. In PE they created potato games and in art, they are doing potato painting.
Probably the biggest takeaway for me has been how much direction and intention this project has given us. It has allowed us to really start the year in a fun yet focused way. It has been a wonderful advocacy tool that highlights the schoo library and places value on reading across the grade levels. I cannot wait to see what book we choose next year! If you are looking for more about a community read you can check out this resource from Scholastic.
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).