10 Back-to-School Read-Alouds to Teach Classroom Rules and Expectations

Dec 11, 2023
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In the elementary classroom, the beginning of a new school year ushers in a critical opportunity to set classroom rules and expectations. And, while creating your rules, modeling procedures, and enforcing expectations are absolutely necessary, the lessons to help instill some of these behaviors don’t have to be dull and boring.

As a former 3rd grade and kindergarten teacher myself, I quickly saw the error of my ways whenever I didn’t effectively teach and uphold my expectations for classroom management. And, at the end of some particularly exhausting days, I recognized the need for a change in approach. It’s in that reflection that I quickly discovered even my fiercest rulebreakers would get lost in a good read-aloud. So, read aloud we did! I’ve since searched far and wide for my favorite books to teach rules and expectations and build a strong classroom community, and here is a list of 10 of those top picks!

1. All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Let’s start this list with a book focused on building classroom culture. Above all else, the best thing you can do for your students is to create a safe and welcoming place where all are welcome to learn and grow together. This sweet, rhyming tale does just that by telling the story of a school where diversity and inclusion are celebrated.

2. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi

The beginning of a new school can come with a lot of butterflies due to so much newness and uncharted territory ahead. In the face of not knowing, this book focuses on developing a growth mindset by welcoming the “yet.” This encouraging and uplifting book reminds us that there are things we all haven’t learned . . . yet and that we can set a positive tone for teaching new expectations that may be require practice to get right.

3. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

This heartwarming story speaks to the power of individuality and anxiety associated with feeling like you’re the only one. As students explore all the things that make them different than their new classroom peers, this book reminds us that connecting to others takes courage, even when you feel scared and alone. What a beautiful reminder of the power of kindness as the bedrock of your classroom expectations!

4. You Get What You Get by Julie Gassman

I still quote this phrase: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” In this story, Melvin the squirrel grows very frustrated when things don’t go his way, but with the help of others, he realizes that his fits aren’t really helping anybody and that, sometimes, you just have to let things go. Not only did this become my motto when we were choosing colors of construction paper and ran out of pink (oh no!) or when we were lining up for a restroom break, but also my entire class soon got on board and chanted along.

5. My Mouth Is a Volcano! by Julia Cook

Anybody else have a lot of little interrupters in their class? Whether they’re interrupting you or their peers, this is a common challenge that can be hard to beat. Enter Louis, a self-pronounced “erupter,” who explains his constant interruptions as rumbles and grumbles in his tummy that he just can’t control. But, when he feels the pain and frustration of being interrupted himself, he starts to realize it’s not so fun. This relatable tale might just help your class keep their volcanos in check.

6. David Goes to School by David Shannon

This story, as well as the others in the familiar No, David! book series, is sure to elicit a few laughs and start a nice discussion about rule breaking. While David pretty much always struggles to follow the rules in these classroom favorites, he does find that breaking the rules is met with consequences and, ultimately, forgiveness. A popular activity for this one is to map out activities that make your students rulebreakers versus peacemakers with the help of David’s mistakes as your guide.

7. The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill

As much as recess can be a welcome break in your day (for both you and your students), it can also create a lot opportunities for hurt feelings and bruised knees. Setting expectations on the playground can go a long way. Meet Mean Jean the Recess Queen, the bossiest child on the playground. When a new student moves in and isn’t intimidated by Mean Jean but instead asks her to play, she’s shocked beyond belief. This lesson about the power of kindness and friendship leaves an impression.

8. A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook

Is there anything more irritating than constant tattling? It sure makes it hard to keep your patience and properly attend to the occasional more serious issues that come up. In this story, Josh tattles so much that he develops a yellow, itchy, twitchy tattle tongue. When the Tattle Prince visits him in a dream, he starts to understand the difference between tattling and warning with a series of simple tattle rules. Adapt these rules for your classroom to help your students and keep tattling under control!

9. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

The fear of failing can create a lot of anxiety and sometimes tears for your students in the absence of a classroom community that allows for mistakes. While Beatrice has no problem encouraging others when they stumble, she has never made a mistake herself, and the idea of doing so puts her on edge. With a little laughter and humility, however, she learns that mistakes happen and that moving past them quickly can avoid a lot of unnecessary worry. Teach your students how to show compassion and encouragement toward others with this story.

10. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

I’ll leave you on a positive note with a student favorite that is used in classrooms far and wide to encourage daily happiness. The concept portrayed in this book is that everyone carries around an invisible bucket to hold good thoughts and feelings that add up to happy thoughts and actions. With simple instructions on how to be a bucket filler, this story emphasizes the power of kindness and respect. Take this idea a step further by creating a bulletin board dedicated to bucket filling in your classroom, and recognize those who demonstrate the traits of being excellent bucket fillers.

Interested in more tips and tricks to support classroom management? Check out this post on eight essential classroom management procedures!

This post was originally published August 2018 and has been updated.

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