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15 Minutes of Literacy with Multicultural Children's Books

Updated on September 9, 2013
Journey the world through a good book
Journey the world through a good book

When I first started teaching, I wanted to share the world of literature with my second grade class. I wanted something motivating but didn't take a lot of time. I came up with "Around the World in 180 Books" with the goal to read a book from a different location each day we had school. Fifteen minutes seems like a short amount of time, but, with planning and organization, students are introduced to a larger world that encourages reading, knowledge, and a greater understanding of cultures and peoples.

Students Who Meet Common Core Standards Will be Come to Understand Other Perspectives and Cultures

"Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own."


Why 15 Minutes?

Fifteen minutes was the time I had between lunch recess and the next class. Rather than an unstructured transition time, I used it as the time to calm the students, get them back into classroom mode, and promote literacy and language arts. For some students, they needed 20 minutes for their time with special services such as speech. It was not direct classroom time and they would not be tested on it later.

I used picture books because they were readily available in the classroom and the illustrations could reinforce a description of setting or action. They also take about five to ten minutes to read out loud. We only needed to read one book a day and that gave us plenty of time for the whole story from cover to cover.

Fifteen minutes is also appropriate for their attention span. Since they were just coming back from recess, they were not thinking about pulling out their books and pencils just yet. Also, if they were losing interest in the story for any reason, I would be done by the time they would start squirming.

Set the Stage: Pick a Book Close to Home

Be the Guide for Multicultural Books

I started the school year in a place they knew well: their own backyard. The school was located in north-central Illinois, one of the far suburbs of Chicago. The first books was about children in the farmlands of Illinois. I was surprised to find something so close to home, but it goes to show that there is a book for any kind of reader in any part of the world.

Once I read the book, I told them to get out their "passports", a new spiral notebook waiting to connect them with the story. This is the that we not only modeled how to make connections with a story or book, but also how to respond to our observations. After I read the story, I would have a question on the board that they would have to answer. In the first semester, they were given the option to either write or draw their response as long as it related to the story. For Oh, Brother!, they were asked to write about what they imagined they would do in their yard. With the remaining five minutes of our time, they would put their text-to-self connection in their passport and share it with the class. The amount of time spent sharing responses depended on the students' interest in sharing or how much time was left at the end of the read-aloud.

As a guide, it was also my job to help along with text-to-text connections. Many times I would indicate if other books by the author or on the same topic were available. The books were kept in a place where all students could access them and reread the initial book or try something new. Often they would share with me the connections they made when they read the other books on display. A few times they would find a book and suggest it as another choice for a text-to-text connection, such as one of the different versions of Cinderella or the Three Little Pigs. The fifteen minutes from one story spurred interest in more books and increased the reader's knowledge of a subject or culture.

Reading Strategy: Making Connections

  • Text-to-self connections:
    • What does this story remind you of?
    • Can you relate to the characters in the story?
    • Does anything in this story remind you of anything in your own life?
  • Text-to-text connections:
    • What does this remind you of in another book you have read?
    • How is this text similar to other things you have read?
    • How is this text different from other things you have read?
  • Text-to-world connections:
    • What does this remind you of in the real world?
    • How are events in this story similar to things that happen in the real world?
    • How are events in this story different from things that happen in the real world?

Multicultural Children's Books are Interdisciplinary

There are many good books that supplement a child's education, but in the classroom, it can be challenging to read them during class period or have enough for them to read on their own. A read-aloud can connect the concepts taught in one subject and allow students to understand and apply the connections they make between classes. One day a book can refer to history while another day could be more scientific.

Older students in fourth or fifth grade can change what they know about September 11, 2001 and the effects on the world by reading different perspectives from around the world. The book 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy is an example of a story they did not know happen in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers. Students add to their knowledge of history as well as the cultural response of the Maasi villagers in Africa. Schools that work on character development can use this as an example of compassion

More Multicultural Books for Older Students

Picture books are not just for primary students. Some other illustrated books that have relevant topics for older students include:

  • Golem by David Wisniewski; the legend of the golem and a story in Jewish history of oppression long before the 20th century Holocaust
  • Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac; details of the Lakotan culture and one of their famous chiefs in history
  • Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say; a biography about the author's grandfather and his emotional immigration to the United States
  • The Cats of Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse; historical recount of Jewish resistance during World War II in Warsaw, Poland

15 Minutes of Literacy at Home

Teachers are not the only ones who can and should use multicultural children's books at home. Parents of children as young as preschoolers can still use their reading time with their child to teach and share and make connections to the world around them. It doesn't take 180 days, but small subjects can take a few days to make text-to-text connections.

Fairy Tales

A theme of fairy tales from around the world will spark the interest of young readers and book lovers. The fairy tales from the Grimm Brothers were from oral stories passed down by villagers in Germany. Take a map of Germany and mark when you have read from different towns along Fairy Tale Road like Bremen (The Bremen Town Musicians) and Hameln (The Pied Piper).

United States of America

There are picture books from stories all over the country or people and places that are featured. Any presidential story can feature the White House, Texas has its tall tales, and Native American stories feature tribes who left their mark on the state. Try reading with different dialects and accents, like a Cajun accent for Candance Fleming's Gator Gumbo or a lumberjack like Paul Bunyan with the Wisconsin "o". If it is difficult finding one particular book of interest, there are a number of alphabet books by different authors that feature a state or region. To finish up all 50 states, a book like Train of States by Peter Sis can tie all of the states together.

Tie Each 15 Minutes Together

Maps show students where they went and where they still need to go. It can also indicate which areas of the world needs more attention. I displayed the United States map next to it to increase understanding as to how close and far away from of the stories took place. Sometimes part of the text-to-world connections can take place within the same country.

The "passport" or reader response journal is critical because it models how to make connections and allows them to go back and see where they have heard stories. It is also a journal of book titles so that they can recall a book and try to find it again or remember the title to tell another friend about it.

Parents, teachers, and children who talk about books are making the connections and sharing ideas that may be new or interesting. Students who hear books about Suki's Kimono and want to learn more about Japanese culture or traditional clothing now have the words to look up or understand and read for themselves. They will still select the books on their own, but with thousands of books published every year, especially multicultural children's books, 15 minutes can guide them to becoming better, more knowledgeable readers.

If you could share one book in 15 minutes, which book would you pick?

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    • Rachel Horon profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Horon 

      5 years ago from Indiana

      The best part of book talks or sharing time like this is that they can be exposed to books that they would never consider picking up on their own. Not only were they interesting in reading, but also looking for more about certain topics. They were more likely to search in the non-fiction area for fairy tales or poetry, not just picture books.

      Thanks for your comments!

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      What a wonderful idea! 15 minutes is a short time but it's just enough to read a new story and by the end of the year you gave your students the opportunity to discover all kinds of new books... and adventures!

      Did you see the interest for reading grow for some of your students during the school year?

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from sunny Florida

      Reading to the children each day is a wonderful thing. It was the time of the day I always felt the children liked the most. They gathered around, got comfortable, and were on---eyes , ears, and brain all actively participating.

      Keep it up!!!

      Thanks for sharing this...the beginning of a love for books begins with hearing stories read to them.

      Sending you Angels this evening. :) ps


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