One of my favorite ways to engage and connect with with upper elementary students is by reading aloud to them. You might think that bigger kids would rather read to themselves, but that's really not true. 3rd, 4th, and even 5th grade students love hearing a good story. A huge benefit of reading aloud to older elementary school students is that you can expose them to more advanced vocabulary and complicated plots than they can handle on their own. A read-aloud is also a fantastic opportunity to build comprehension skills without it feeling like a reading lesson. Finally, reading aloud is a really nice way to relax and connect with your students during the school day. All of these things are especially important mid-year. When December arrives, the kids are thinking about the holidays, not school. It's harder to get them to focus and stay on task. As the weather gets colder, there's less outside recess time and your class might feel cooped up inside. Then testing season is on the horizon and burn out can set in.
Spending a few minutes each day reading aloud to your students can really help them through the tough winter season.
The Best Winter Read-Alouds for Upper Elementary
In this blog post, I want to share a few of my favorite winter read-aloud books for upper elementary (third, fourth, and fifth grade). These are all books that my students really enjoy and are fun for me to read - important when you read the same book several years in a row. Most are chapter books, but I've included a couple of exceptional picture books as well.
(Note: This post may contain Amazon affiliate links.)
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe My absolute favorite read-aloud is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This is a wonderful book to read leading up to the holidays because of it's winter theme. You see, in Narnia it is "always winter but never Christmas" which is very sad indeed.
The story follows the adventures of four siblings and takes place in the magical land of Narnia. It's a land with talking beavers and mythical creatures. The White Witch is a cruel and tyrannical ruler, and the children find themselves entangled in a battle to free Narnia from her grasp.
At one point in the story, the children encounter Father Christmas. The gifts he gives them are not toys, but tools to help them in the upcoming battle against the White Witch. But I like to stop reading before we get to that part, just after the arrival of Father Christmas. I split the class into small groups and start a discussion about why he has shown up in Narnia. This usually brings us to the topic of gifts and we talk about what makes a quality and meaningful gift.
Next, I assign one of the characters - Lucy, Peter, Edmund, or Susan - to each group. They work together to create a list of possible gifts for that character based on what we've read so far. It's a great opportunity for students to make predictions about the plot based on character traits.
It's always so interesting to hear what they come up with and why. By then, the students are anxious to get back to the real story and find out what actually happens.
For a little extra fun, I also let them draw their own visualization of Narnia inside a little paper wardrobe like this:
Reading aloud to older students is a great way to explore literature more deeply and get them thinking creatively. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a book that really activates the imagination!
The Long Winter You are probably familiar with the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Long Winter is number six in the series, but it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone. The setting makes this one of my favorite books for winter. The story takes place in De Smet, South Dakota, during one of the worst winters in U.S. history. As the snow falls and falls, the family's situation gets more and more dire. They run out of coal and kerosene and food becomes scarce. Somehow they survive those terrible winter months and when spring arrives, the trains are finally able to bring food again. This is a great book to read-aloud in upper elementary. The plot is suspenseful and based on real events which makes it all the more interesting. It is also really easy to use this book as a jumping off point for social studies and science topics. For ideas on how to do this, see my post: Integrating Science and Social Studies with Literacy
Snowflake Bentley This book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a great example of why picture books aren't just for younger students and deserve a place in every upper elementary classroom.
This is the true story of Wilson Bentley - a man who was utterly fascinated with snow. Bentley was a farmer and self-taught scientist who became famous for his pioneering work in the field of snowflake photography. The book highlights Bentley's passion for snowflakes and his dedication to science. It also touches on the problems he faced in his quest to photograph snowflakes, such as dealing with the extreme cold and the fragility of the snowflakes themselves. Bentley's work contributed to our understanding of snowflakes and his photographs continue to be admired for their artistic and scientific value. After reading this book and seeing the beautiful illustrations, your students will enjoy looking at some of Bentley's snowflake images here: snowflakebentley.com/images For a fun extension activity, you can let your class cut their own paper snowflakes: How To Make A Snowflake Out of Paper
Mr. Popper's Penguins This classic book follows the adventures of Mr. Popper, a house painter who dreams of exploring far-off places - especially Antarctica. After receiving a live penguin as a gift from an Antarctic explorer, Mr. Popper and his family find themselves with a growing family of penguins. This leads to a lot of challenges and fun as they try to care for their unexpected guests in their small home. I love this book's theme of finding joy by following your dreams. It's a silly story with an endearing main character and kids just love it! Published in 1938, there's a good reason Mr. Popper's Penguins has as been popular for so long.
The Dogs of Winter The Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron definitely deserves a spot on your winter book list! This novel is about a young boy, abandoned by his mother, who is taken in by a pack of wild dogs. They become his loyal and protective friends - the family he doesn't have. Together, they navigate the brutal Alaskan winter, relying on each other for warmth, food, and protection from the harsh elements and other dangers. This chapter book is suspenseful, emotional, and thrilling. It's a great story that your students will beg you to keep reading.
Owl Moon This book by Jane Yolen is the second picture book on my list. It's perfect for winter and to use as a mentor text when teaching figurative language. Owl Moon is the story of a little girl who ventures out into the cold weather to go owling with her father. They bundle up in warm clothing and head out into the snowy woods one winter night, searching for the great horned owl. This is a good choice for older students because of its lyrical prose and generous use of metaphors, similes, and personification. It's also a good book companion for a science unit on animals and habitats. I like to pair it with our owl pellet dissection lab which is always a favorite activity in my classroom. You can read about here: Owl Pellet Dissection Lesson - A Science Investigation
Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America The last book on my list is this nonfiction book by Jim Murphy that recounts the massive and historic Blizzard of 1888 which struck the northeast. This storm was so devastating that it changed weather forecasting and disaster preparedness in America.
Upper elementary students enjoy this read-aloud because it's exciting, dramatic, and true. The book includes personal stories and experiences of people who lived through the blizzard plus a heathy dose of scientific information. Most kids are fascinated by natural disasters, so this book fits the bill. It's only 124 pages long, so you can get through it in just a few days. As a supplement to this book, you can show your students this video: Monster Storms: The Blizzard of 1888 I hope this list of read-alouds is just what you need to get your students through those dreary days of winter. If you have a favorite winter-themed book that's not on this list, please share it in the comments below!