9 Winter Picture Books for Upper Elementary Classrooms

9 Winter Picture Books for Upper Elementary Classrooms

No matter how old students get, they still love to gather in the reading corner and get lost in a good book, especially during the cold winter months. 

Navigating the holidays in the classroom can be tricky, and if your school is like mine, they encourage seasonal activities over any holiday-specific activities. When December approaches, I dive deep into winter, snow, and ice activities to keep the students engaged and learning all through the winter months. Connecting learning to what is going on outside of the classroom is not only critical but the best way to keep students engaged and completely hooked during each lesson. 

These winter read-aloud books are perfect to share during reading and writing mini-lessons, after recess, before dismissal, during morning meetings, or anytime you want to stop and read a good book. These stories are the perfect way to welcome winter into your upper elementary classroom in a meaningful way, while providing content-based lessons and addressing the standards, too!

Below are my favorite tried and true, seasonal winter read-aloud picture books to share with students during the winter season.  Some new favorite titles have been just added, too! Read to find out more about each book and grab the FREE winter book activities at the bottom of this post.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

winter mentor text Owl Moon
Owl Moon is the perfect read-aloud for so many different language arts activities. This book tells the story of a young child spending time with their father on a midnight stroll owling, lending itself as the perfect mentor text for personal narratives and memoir writing activities and units. It is also chock full of figurative language: personification, similes, metaphors, and onomatopoeia, making it a great read-aloud to share for revising student writing. Since this book talks a lot about shadows, have students go outside, and create their own shadows. Then have students work with a partner to measure and write a descriptive paragraph to describe their shadows. My favorite activity to do with this book is focused on point of view. Grab it for FREE in this post.

Grab the Owl Moon companion activity set HERE.

Brave Irene by William Steig

winter mentor text brave irene
If you have never read Brave Irene, now is the time to read it with your students! This book is about a young girl who goes out in a blizzard to make a delivery to help her mother the dressmaker. I use this read-aloud book to discuss character traits. The main character changes throughout the story, showing different traits and feelings as the story progresses. The descriptions of the character make it easy to make connections with Irene, as well as, compare and contrast her with other characters students have encountered in their readings. This book is also filled with figurative language and varied word choice, making it perfect for synonym and revision lessons. Your students will be on the edge of their seat, cheering for Brave Irene to meet her goal. The suspense in the book, lends itself to lessons on building suspense within student writing, too! The possibilities are truly endless. 

The Five Dog Night by Eileen Christelow

If you are looking for a 
winter mentor text for kindness
book that your students have not heard before, this is it! The Five Dog Night is the book that I look forward to reading each winter season. It tells the tale of two neighbors who help each other throughout the long and cold winter months. I love the themes of kindness and friendship that are woven throughout this story. Each time I read this book, the students always worry for the well-being of the characters, kicking off great empathy discussions in our classroom. I use this book to discuss character traits, making connections, themes, and most importantly, kindness. Grab a FREE kindness activity to use with this book in this post.

Grab the Five DogNight companion activity set HERE.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

snowflake bentley activities
Wintertime is not complete without a read-aloud of Snowflake Bentley. This sweet biography-story highbred is perfect to tie together seasonal activities with reading strategies. Whether you are studying informational texts, biographies, or fiction and character development, this book can help you meet your objectives. After a read-aloud of this book, I always have my students complete a Venn diagram comparing themselves to the main character Mr. Bentley. This simple activity helps the students identify something that is of great interest to them, just like studying snowflakes and ice crystals was of interest to Snowflake Bentley. Grab a FREE writing activity to use with this book in this post.

Grab the Snowflake Bentley companion activity set HERE.

Winter is Here by Kevin Henkes

descriptive winter writingThis short but sweet book is a great way to welcome winter into the classroom! It is filled with vivid word choice, strong verbs, and figurative language, making it a great read-aloud for any classroom. Because the text is short, it naturally lends itself for visualizing activities. Have students fold a blank piece of white paper into fourths and number each box. Read aloud the book without showing students the illustrations. Pause throughout the book frequently to allow students enough time to create their own illustrations to go along with the words that they hear.  Reread the book again, this time sharing the book's pictures with students so that they can again compare and contrast what they drew with the illustrator's drawings.  Grab a FREE follow-up figurative language visualizing activity to use with this book in this post.

BONUS Recommendations...

The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen

the mitten tree kindness winter activities

The Mitten Tree is a must-read in my classroom! It focuses on one kind deed that is done just for the joy of helping others. The main character looks for nothing in return but smiles on the children's faces that she helps. This book is a great kick-off to completing a kindness challenge in your classroom and discussing random acts of kindness. Kindness is always a year-long focus in my classroom and this book helps to support that!
Grab the Mitten Tree companion activity set HERE.

Snow Globe Family by Jane O'Connor

snow globe read aloud and writing activities

We love reading this one right before we dive into our winter descriptive writing snowglobe projectIt really sets the scene for winter setting and descriptive writing activities. The surprise concept of the story helps students to put themselves into the story, and the snow globe, and get excited for the season of winter. This one is just perfect to help celebrate the first day of winter!

Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan

snowflakes fall winter read aloud

This sweet and touching story tells about a small town that I once lived in for many years: Newtown, Connecticut. Written to honor and remember the 26 students and educators killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, this story celebrates children and how beautiful and unique they are. This book is illustrated by a former Newtown resident, Steven Kellogg. This one brilliantly describes winter and sets the scene for the winter wonders that await us as the new season begins. I love this book, its meaning, and having students celebrate each other after reading this book.

Yetis are the Worst! by Alex Willan

yetis are the worst read aloud

This brand-new picture book won my heart over quickly and is adored by the kids, too! I love all the books by Alex Willan in this series, but this one about yetis is definitely my fave! If this series is new to you, it follows a small goblin who learns about different mythical creatures. It is extremely fun to read with engaging illustrations, diagrams, and funny language. It has two underlying themes: not judging people before you get to know them and friendship. This is one that is fun all winter long! Your students will ask you to reread it again and again!

The Stranger written by Chris Van Allsburg 

On a drive one night, a family accidentally hits a man with their car. The family loads him up and brings him home to be checked by the family doctor.  The students have to think about who the man is given all the things in the story that make the man “strange”. He cannot talk, animals flock to him, and he seems confused by very common and simple items. Through class discussion and context clues, see if you can infer who thisnameless man isGrab some no-prep materials to go along with the story here

When it comes to engaging students don't overlook the power of a great read-aloud book, especially a great seasonal read-aloud. 

winter mentor text

You will love reading these related articles:

Grab highly engaging winter activities HERE.

Winter Activities for Upper Elementary

                                           Spread kindness this winter!

9 Winter Picture Books for Upper Elementary Classrooms

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winter activities for kids

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3 Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning While Reading

questioning anchor charts

Teaching students to question is always one of my biggest goals for each school year. With the increase of technology and with almost every answer available at our students' fingertips, learning how to ask meaningful questions is now more critical than ever. Questioning is a reading skill just like predicting and summarizing that students must master as they become proficient readers of complex texts. Read on to find out how I make my classroom an environment that welcomes and encourages students to question everything!

Model Your Own Questioning

Stephanie Harvey said it best-"Passion and wonder are contagious." Your students will benefit greatly when you share all of the questions you develop and model how to track them. To do this, I keep a spiral bound notebook on my desk and every time I have a question, I stop, share my question with my students and record my question in the notebook for students to see. I keep space between each question, so that as I gather information about each question, I can take notes. Questions may be related to a lesson, topic we are studying, or even life events! Students love hearing what I am wondering about and develop important skills as they begin to brainstorm and share different ways that I can collect information about each question that I have.

Keep Wonder Books

questioning in the upper elementary classroom
Once students have seen how you develop questions and keep track of all of your wonders, allow them the same chance. Provide students with their own wonder books. I love doing this with my students for many reasons. It allows students to be in control of their learning, provides many student selected topics that can be used for future research projects, and gives students a place to "put away" their thoughts and questions, especially ones that may become a distraction during the lesson at hand. You can use anything as a wonder notebook. You can use small notebooks from the dollar store, the back of a reading notebook, stapled line paper, or create your own with the FREE wonder book templates at the bottom of this post.

Explicitly Teach Questioning

Asking meaningful questions is a skill that must be explicitly taught, practiced, and carried out daily. What better way to provide students with opportunities to question than with each new book that they read? When teaching questioning with my students I make sure that we don't refer to responses to questions as answers. I want my students to constantly be researching the questions that they have, so we respond to our questions with the term "our thinking" instead of "our answers". It is a great way to reinforce that wondering, questioning, and learning are ongoing.  Additionally, students benefit greatly from learning about the different types of questions that can be asked. We stay away from asking questions that are yes, no, or one word responses, since those do not require much thinking or researching.  

mentor text for questioningInstead, we focus on asking more meaningful questions that require readers to infer, collaborate and discuss, or research. Before expecting students to question on their own, practice together using a class size t-chart to model questioning and collect students' questions from high-level picture books*. Two books that I love to use for this modeling whole class activity are Knots on a Counting Rope, written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, written by Evaline Ness.  Both stories require students to infer to truly comprehend the plot. (Warning: you will all cry at the end of these books) Having students question as they read can be done with both fiction and non-fiction reading material. I have students keep track of their questions for each book on a t-chart graphic organizer. When students have finished reading the material, they go back and record their thinking on the second side of the t-chart. I love using a t-chart because students can easily make one of their own! Looking for more questioning materials, click HERE. This encourages them to question as they read in other settings besides the classroom, making it a real-life skill. Using just a blank piece of lined paper, students create a large "T" and label one side with "Questions" and the other side with "My Thinking". Hold students accountable by collecting their t-charts to monitor the types of questions that they are asking as they read. Encourage students to select their most meaningful questions that go beyond the text and add them to their wonder books!

questioning graphic organizer
Try this easy differentiation tip! Have students reread and reflect on the questions from their t-chart and select four of their deepest questions. Collect their deepest questions on a sticky mat reading organizer and confer with students about why the questions that they selected are meaningful. This extra step helps students reflect on the types of questions that they are asking and motivates them to ask good questions the next time that they read! Grab a FREE student t-chart and sticky mat reading organizer at the bottom of this post.

Teaching how to ask meaningful questions is a powerful tool that we can provide to our students. I always strive to create a classroom filled with questioning, wonder, and curiosity by following these words of wisdom from Stephanie Harvey: "Celebrate the question and learning rather than the knowing."

Questioning in upper elementary classroom

How do you elicit wonder, curiosity, and questioning in your classroom?

Check out these other great ideas for inspiring wonder and curiosity with your upper elementary students!


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