Back to School Books, Lesson Plans, and Fun Activities to Kick Off the New Year

Break the ice and build a classroom community of readers with read alouds and resource sets that promise to make your first few days and weeks of school a success.

The first day of school is an emotional day for everyone. Some are nervous, others are anxious, and many are hopeful that this is the beginning of the best year yet. Connecting the experiences children have with engaging picture books will help your students realize they are not alone with their feelings.

The following stories are some of our favorite Back to School read-alouds. Choose the titles you like best then browse the resources available for each story - when you teach with books you love, you'll set the stage for year filled with positive reading experiences.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is sure to earn a special spot in the heart of your students.

This charming story about a fumble-fingered, bucktoothed little girl with a knack for stacking pennies on her teeth teaches children to be true to themselves, no matter what. When Molly Lou starts a new school she is bullied by Ronald Durkin. But, instead of losing confidence in herself, she chooses to shine. She also chooses to be Ronald's friend.

With her unwavering confidence and unique charm, Molly Lou is the embodiement of self-acceptance and individuality.

Share this book with your students on the first day of school and celebrate all the ways each and every one of your students is unique. You can even make a class book with pages for each student showing the unique ways they stand tall in the world.

School's First Day of School by Adam Rex

School's First Day of School by Adam Rex is a must-read for kids during the first few days of school.

In this delightful read-aloud, Adam Rex masterfully crafts the story from two points of view: The school building and the children who go to the school. The school building eagerly anticipates the arrival of new students, feeling excited and nervous, just like the children it is about to welcome.

Readers get a peek into the school's hopes and fears as it wonders about the students it will meet. On the other hand, the child's perspective reveals their own excitement, apprehensions, and wonder about what awaits them inside the school.

Through its clever play on perspective, the book provides a reassuring and delightful peek into the shared excitement and nervousness that accompanies this special time of the year.

Try pairing School's First Day of School with the Making Inferences lesson plan or the Personification worksheet to turn your read aloud into a time to teach.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg

First Day Jitters will delight students with a surprise ending and keep them engaged with a reassuring message that everyone (even the teachers) are nervous on the first day of school.

This classic read-aloud has been used by thousands of teachers on the first day of school since its debut more than 20 years ago - and for good reason!

Readers follow Sarah Jane Hartwell as she reluctantly prepares for her first day of school, anxiously sits in the car and nervously enters her new classroom. It's a set of events that many students will easily relate to, especially on the first day of school.

Use this book to make an immediate connection with your students. You'll laugh together and have a shared experience that will put any anxious feelings at ease.

Then, if you're students really enjoy the book, you can use the paired worksheet to help them write about the things they do to feel confident on their first day of school.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Going to a new school can be hard. But when you're going to a new school in a new country, it's especially challenging.

The Name Jar beautifully captures the journey of a young Korean girl named Unhei. Worried about her classmates struggling to pronounce her Korean name, Unhei decides to adopt an American name instead. With the help of her new classmates, Unhei practices being a Suzy, a Laura, and and Amanda. But, as it turns out, none of those names fit her as beautifully as her own.

Through reading about Unhei's experiences, students will easily relate to the feelings of uncertainty and the desire to fit in - especially during those first weeks of school.

This read-aloud provides a wonderful opportunity for students to explore themes of empathy, compassion, and the value of embracing each other's differences.

Try paring The Name jar with the Synthesizing Lesson Plan for older students or the Vocabulary Connections resources for younger students.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Share the story of a school where everyone is welcome to be who they are, share their talents, and learn from one another with your students.

The simple rhyming nature of the text is beautifully complemented by bright and engaging illustrations, making it the perfect book to reassure students during the first days of school.

After reading the book try pairing the "All About Me" book template with the text to create a set of class books where students share their talents, their dreams, and more.

Students can share their books with one another, or you can place them in a bin in your classroom library for students to read all year long.

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard

Sharing the mystery of Miss Nelson's disappearance from Room 207 is a fun way to kick off the new school year!

This back-to-school read aloud has been loved by generations of students. With its narrative structure and simple elements of intrigue, Miss Nelson is Missing! is a fun way to introduce students to the fact that bad behavior has consequences.

The book subtly teaches valuable lessons about appreciating teachers, learning from our mistakes, and following the rules.

Share this book with younger readers and have some fun examining the pictures to solve the mystery of Miss Viola Swamp and the missing Miss Nelson!

For older readers, you can use the Making Predictions Lesson Plan to model how text and picture clues can be used to make meaningful predictions and deepen comprehension.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

As students embark on a new school year, this enchanting story offers comfort, warmth, and a gentle reminder of the unwavering love of family.

In The Kissing Hand, little Chester Raccoon is anxious about his first day of school and leaving his mother's side. To ease his worries, Chester's wise mother shares a special family tradition - the Kissing Hand.

With a simple kiss on his palm, Chester carries his mother's love wherever he goes, offering him the strength and confidence he needs to face new experiences.

Use this perennial favorite to encourage a conversation about feelings and emotions. Doing so will help younger children to express their own anxieties and receive reassurance from their teachers and peers.

And, if you'd like to help your students connect their feelings about school to their own kissing hand, you can dowload the paired worksheet and other resources for the book here.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Angelina's story about what it takes to "fit in" at a new school is sure to resonate with many children.

The story follows Angelina, a young girl who feels like an outsider due to her language differences, and Rigoberto, who faces the challenge of having his name mispronounced.

Then, one day, Angelina shares a story about her summer, and suddenly, the other children in her class find glimpses of their own stories within hers.

The Day You Begin exemplifies the themes of acceptance, inclusivity, and empathy, all of which make it a wonderful choice to share on the first day of school.

Celebrate the diversity in your class and help your students get to know one another with the paired activity for this book. Students will have fun sharing their stories and finding classmates whose stories help them complete a grid - it's the perfect icebreaker activity.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco is an inspiring and heartfelt story that deserves a prominent place on any back-to-school book list.

This is the story of a young girl named Trisha who can hardly wait to start school. She excels at many things, but when she tries to read, she only sees a jumbled mess of letters. Just when she starts to believe she's as dumb as her classmates say, Trisha meets an exceptional teacher who refuses to let her fail.

The story touches upon significant themes of perseverance, empathy, and the transformative impact of educators - all of which make Thank You, Mr. Falker a great choice for reading aloud to fourth and fifth graders.

By sharing this heartfelt story during the first weeks back to school, you can set the stage for a compassionate and supportive classroom environment where every student feels seen, valued, and empowered to reach their full potential. And, if you'd like to dig deeper into the text, you can try the Making Inferences Lesson Plan paired with the book or the Cause and Effect matching game.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum tells the story of a loveable mouse with an important lesson to learn, which is why it takes center stage on our back-to-school book list.

This enchanting story follows a young mouse named Chrysanthemum, who is thrilled with her unique and beautiful name—until she starts school. Facing teasing and taunting from her classmates about her name's length, Chrysanthemum's once boundless confidence wavers.

As Kevin Henkes' gentle storytelling unfolds, Chrysanthemum sends a heartwarming message about the significance of self-esteem and the impact of peer interactions on a child's confidence. Young students will learn the value of treating others with kindness and how their words and actions can positively influence their classmates' sense of self-worth.

Use this well-loved story to foster a respectful and inclusive classroom community during the first few days of school. Then revisit the book in a few weeks and pair it with the Retelling and Summarizing or Making Connections Lesson Plans to help students improve their comprehension skills with a book they already know and love!

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Who can resist the delightful story of Nick Allen and his Frindle? That's why Frindle tops our list of chapter books to read aloud during the Back to School season!

This laugh-out-loud story follows fifth-grader Nick Allen, a spirited and imaginative student who decides to create a new word, "frindle," as a playful act of rebellion against his language arts teacher, Mrs. Granger. As the word spreads like wildfire throughout the school, it sparks a spirited language revolution that captures the imagination of the entire community.

Andrew Clements' storytelling captures the excitement and energy of the school environment. He also underpins the plot with themes of resilience, creativity, individuality, and the power of language.

Share this book with your students to inspire them to make creative choices throughout the year or try using the paired Book Club resources focused on identifying the main idea and details in chapter books - either way Frindle promises to leave a lasting impression on your students' reading experiences.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig is a touching and poignant tale that takes a special place on our back-to-school book list.

This heartfelt story follows Brian, a quiet and introverted boy who often feels invisible to his classmates. While others fail to notice him, he longs for connection and friendship, yearning to be seen and valued for who he truly is.

The story beautifully illustrates the power of small acts of friendship, as a new student named Justin reaches out to Brian, bridging the gap between him and his classmates.

This book promises to help you promote a culture of kindness and empathy. Through exploring the importance of being inclusive and welcoming to all students, regardless of their backgrounds or personalities, children will learn to look beyond appearances and embrace the unique qualities of their classmates.

After reading the book, your students will be able to name some of Brian's unique qualities, one of which is his ability to draw. And so, if you'd like to give your students the opportunity to draw like Brian, you can use the paired Retelling and Summarizing comic strip activity for the book.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

Get ready to step into a tall tale so fantastic it's sure to spark a flurry of creative storytelling in your classroom!

This is the story of Wallace's summer vacation - a vacation brimming with cowboy's pirates, and wild safaris, or so he says.

Mark Teague's enchanting storytelling also encourages creativity and imaginative thinking. As students embark on a new school year, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is sure to inspire them to bring their creativity into the classroom, setting a positive tone for a year filled with exploration and discovery.

Supplement your read aloud with a fun writing activity paired to the book - students will use information from the text along with their own imagination to create a classified ad for a cowboy.

Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Welcome students back to school with this Caldecott award-winning book about Officer Buckle, a police officer with too many rules, and his four-legged sidekick, Gloria.

Officer Buckle loves to share safety tips with the students at Napville Elementary School, but his presentations often go unnoticed. That is until Gloria, his canine companion, joins him on stage. As Officer Buckle shares his safety tips, Gloria performs tricks that amaze and entertain the audience, making the safety rules come alive.

Officer Buckle and Glorias a delightful read that not only entertains but also imparts essential values of cooperation, creativity, and the significance of sharing knowledge. By sharing this fun-filled story on the first day of school, you will create a welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere, where students are eager to learn and work together as a team. This charming tale of friendship and safety awareness will leave a lasting impression on students' hearts, setting the stage for a positive and enriching school year ahead.

If you'd like to help your students think deeper about the theme of teamwork in Officer Buckle and Gloria you can try the Identifying the Author's Purpose Lesson Plan for the book.

Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland

Enchant students on the first day of school with this magical read aloud that promises to be one of the books your students return to again and again throughout the year.

When Miss Smith opens her storybook, her class is transported to exciting and fantastical worlds filled with thrilling adventures, daring quests, and fascinating characters.

As Miss Smith's students embark on extraordinary journeys, your students will discover the joy of reading - the excitement of the story, the captivating illustrations, the sense of connection to the story - it's all there inside the pages of Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook.

So share this book with your students on the first day of school and celebrate literature in your classroom. Then, if your students are up to the challenge, you can play the cause and effect matching game paired to the book - they'll have fun and you'll sneak in a little comprehension skills practice. It's a win-win!

Restart by Gordon Korman

Captivate older students with this compelling and thought-provoking novel that promises to top their list as one of the best chapter books of the new school year.

Restart is a story about second chances. In his bestselling novel, Gordon Korman takes his readers into the halls of Hiawassee Middle School where Chase Ambrose is redefining who is after suffering from amnesia. Told through the perspective of various middle school students, this story will intrigue older readers and prompt them to think about their own choices, friendships, and experiences with bullying and social justice.

The novel explores themes of redemption, empathy, and self-discovery, making it highly relatable and relevant for students starting fresh in a new academic year. It also offers a rich opportunity for teaching readers about tracking character perspectives and analyzing how they shape the plot.

As students delve into the minds of various characters, they will understand the story from multiple angles, gaining insights into their motivations and how their unique viewpoints influence the narrative.

Read this book aloud to your students and use the Book Club lesson plans and resources paired to the text to teach readers why it's important to pay attention to character perspectives in order to fully enjoy and comprehend books like Restart.
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