Author Studies...Not Just for Story Time

06 October 2015 / 2 comments
Read aloud time is a common practice in nearly every elementary classroom, but did you know that your read alouds can be more than just story time?  Classroom schedules are tight aren't they? Because time is always an issue, today, I challenge you to take that read aloud time and make it count for more than one purpose. Let's go a step further. Pull out your pacing guide, look at the writing prompts or types of writing you need to address as well as the comprehension skills your students learn, and carefully map out our year matching these skills to authors whose work will help you get the job done. So...why use author studies?
There are many reasons to use author studies in the classroom. Of course teachers will have their favorites, so some coordination may be required in order to prevent duplication, and it should be noted that grade levels should not be limited to chapter books in the upper grades, and picture books in the primary grades. Look carefully at the language used in the books you choose to match the needs of your students.
As you choose the authors you wish to highlight, consider authors that will motivate your students. The authors chosen need to have a collection of published books so that your students can select some titles for reading independently. Author studies require lots of reading which provides plenty of opportunities to observe each author's writing style
With author studies, students think deeply about the author's craft including language choice such as figurative language and sentence fluency. choice of illustrations, common themes across multiple books, and connections to the author's own experiences helps students connect with the author's specific writing style. What better way to see how writing develops?
Think back to your own school experience. Do you recall your favorite books? Perhaps you remember where and when you first heard the book or when you read it yourself. If we celebrate our book choices, we attach special memories to those books for the long term. By working with the text, students are able to fully appreciate what makes them quality literature and even connect with the author so that they anticipate when the author publishes something new. Just think about the Harry Potter craze or how you looked forward to the release date of the next book in your favorite series.
There is much research showing how mentor texts model writing traits. Do you ever use a template when you create a letter to parents or with a form you need. Few of us start from scratch with anything, so why would we expect our students to start from scratch.  Naturally, their response is often, "I don't know what to write." One of the best tips I received in my reading education training is to tell a story to get a story. By sharing a book with the same format you wish to teach or with a style you want your students to use, you demonstrate how to get there. 
Are you part of a book club?  If so, then you know how things go when you get together with your fellow book club members. You share the parts you love, complain about the parts you hate, and everything in between.  Kids need that experience too, and author studies give them a common topic to discuss at recess and around the cafeteria tables. 
Do you have students who are stuck in a reading rut?  They read the same style of book over and over again. If you try to sway them, they reject your suggestions. Well, by using author studies in the classroom, you open their eyes to other options, and it's important to point out that your choices need to be varied including informational texts, fractured fairy tales, tall tales, realistic fiction, and more.
An important piece of author studies is researching an author's life which is a standard for all. Learning how to research is just one skill that can be taught through an author study. Comprehension skills and strategies are easily modeled with Think Aloud, and honestly, an author study does not have to last a month long. One week may be sufficient for some. The time needed depends on the depth of your study.
Finally, author studies can make learning fun for our students and planning streamlined and easier for the teacher. Students love hands on activities, and book celebrations are the perfect way to bring in writing projects, themed crafts, book talks, and more.  As teachers, it may make it easier to locate materials if you have certain authors you wish to search out.  

Authors for Kindergarten and First Grade:
When I think about the skills taught in kindergarten and first grade, the primary focus is on letter recognition and sounds, rhyming, building a sight vocabulary, concept of word, and decoding skills. There are certainly authors who target beginning readers by keeping true to this list of beginning reader needs as well as the interests of beginning readers.  My favorites for this age group include:
Mo Willems
Arnold Lobel
Dr. Seuss
Norman Bridwell
Mercer Mayer
The National Geographic Readers
Syd Hoff
Donald Crews
Lois Ehlert
Alan Fowler

Frog and Toad Bundle by Arnold Lobel  Lois Ehlert Author Study  Syd Hoff Unit (Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, Chester)

Author Studies for Second and Third:
For this age group, the shift is moved to fluency, comprehension, and writing.  Students at this level enjoy books with interesting vocabulary, an engaging plot, and discussions at a higher level. Again, a mix of topics is important. 
Eric Carle
Kate DiCamillo (Mercy)
Cynthia Rylant (Henry and Mudge)
Ezra Jack Keats (First-Second)
Mary Pope Osborne
Dan Gutman
Karma Wilson
The National Geographic Readers (level 2)
DK Readers (nonfiction)
Mem Fox
Steven Kellogg 
James Marshall
Jan Brett
Leo Lionni

Mem Fox Author Study  Leo Lionni Author Study  Ezra Jack Keats Author Study for Six Books

Jan Brett Author Study  Mercy Watson Series Bundle  

Author Studies for Fourth and Fifth Grades:
By fourth and fifth grade, students are fluent, so developing comprehension strategies, study skills, vocabulary, and deeper writing skills is extremely important.  It's easy for teachers in the fourth and fifth grades to select a chapter book and stick with it a full six weeks by reading a chapter at a time. I would encourage you to not write off picture book studies.  There are several that target upper elementary as their audience.  Here are my favorites:
Cynthia Rylant
Tomie dePaola (3-5)
Jan Brett (3-4)
Patricia Polacco
Chris VanAllsburg
Patricia MacLachlan
Kate DiCamillo (chapter books
Roald Dahl
*** Gail Gibbons***
***Seymour Simon***
Gary Paulsen
Sharon Creech
Judy Blume
Beverly Cleary
Richard Peck
(and so many, many more)

Cynthia Rylant Author Study  Patricia Polacco Author Study  Jan Brett Author Study

As you can tell, I love using author studies with my students. If you are looking for options for tying your writing to them, you might look at The Writing Fix for unique lesson ideas, and of course, there is a multitude of resources available on TPT that will help you weave these authors into your routines.

Which authors do you enjoy sharing with your students?  I would love to hear what you love as well as ones your students enjoy.  It's good to include them in your choices too.  

Until next month, happy reading!


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