I teach my kids the song “Who Was the First President?” It is sung to the tune of “London Bridge.”
Who Was the First President?
(to the tune of "London Bridge")
Who was the first president,
Who was the first president
Of our country?
Washington was first president,
First president, first president,
Washington was first president
Of our country
I like to use this song because it frontloads the most important fact of all that I want my students to learn about George Washington from the read. It is a fun way to springboard into the book and set the stage for reading!
Read George WashingtonBy Barbara Knox.
We look at the front cover and read the title and author’s name. We look at the title page and table of contents. I ask: What does the Table of Contents tell us? (what is in the book) We then read the table of contents and I remind kids that this is a great preview of the book.
Page 1 We look at the picture and talk about what we see. I then read the text. Under the text is the caption for the picture. I say: The caption tells us about a picture. Let’s read about this picture. We then talk about what the picture actually shows. (the outline of Washington’s house)
I point out the timeline at the bottom of the page and we read the year. I ask: Why is this year important? (it is the year Washington was boarn)
All the pages of this book are formatted in the same way, so I follow the same pattern for this first read. We look at the picture to gather information. We read the text and caption to confirm or add on to what we know. We then review the timeline and verify the significance of that year in Washington’s life.
I love this book because it is manageable for my students but has all of the key structures of a nonfiction read that help us attack it. We have been reading for understanding all year, so the kids are familiar that we do this with text. With this first read I spend a lot of time on the structural items that are found in informational texts that are, most likely, unfamiliar to my kids but important for understanding.
I have the students first cut apart the four events from Washington’s life. We then read each event. I ask: Which of those events came FIRST in Washington’s life? What happened earliest? (born) Could Washington have been elected the 1st president before he was born? (no) So it makes sense that he was born first. If students are struggling with the events, we bounce back to the text in the book and/or timeline on the pages of the book to confirm.
I continue with the same pattern for each of the events. I try to stress what makes sense and what we’ve learned from the book to help us sequence the events.
When we are finished gluing all four events, we read them using the ordinal words First, Second, Next and Last. I say: We call this a retell or summary of the story.
Retelling a story is important because it helps me to informally evaluate student understanding. But, more importantly, it helps the kids to self monitor their own comprehension. However, they do not always know how to do it intuitively, so it must be directly taught.
Trigger language that indicates order must also be taught. It helps the kids, again, self monitor for correct order. Many young readers will just ‘tell you about a story’ with no rhyme or reason to what they tell you. My students will say “..and then…and then…and then…” and it makes the story hard to follow.
I explain to kids that, at that point, it really stops being a story. Stories are stories because they make sense and their sequence is what gives them sense and meaning. And we all know that one of our main purposes for reading is to understand what we read. That is what makes reading fun!