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

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

In the elementary classroom, the beginning of a new school year often means that it’s time to focus on classroom rules, manners, 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 carefully strategized and calculated my next moves to elicit real change. It’s in that reflection that I quickly discovered even my fiercest rulebreakers would sit still and listen carefully to a good read-aloud. So, read aloud we did! I’ve since searched far and wide for my favorite books to teach rules, expectations, and build a strong classroom community, and here is a list of my top 10 picks!

1. You Get What You Get by Julie Gassman

Now five years removed from the classroom, 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.

2. 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 familiar 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.

3. David Goes to School by David Shannon

This story, as well as the familiar No, David! book, 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 both of 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.

4. 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 kid 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 can really leave an impression on your students.

5. 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!

6. 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.

7. What If Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick

As a teacher, you may have quickly realized that letting your guard down for one student meant you had more than 20 others who were repeating the same behavior. Using colorful illustrations and familiar situations, this story details how one little boy breaks the rules and how he is challenged to think about what it would be like if everyone did the same thing. By asking this powerful question, you can help your students understand why rules are in place and how breaking them—even once—can have an impact.

8. Cool Down and Work Through Anger by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed.
Students aren’t always rational and patient at a young age, but helping children get in touch with their feelings is a key component of social-emotional learning that will also support classroom management. A story like this one can help you share strategies that students might be able to try to control their anger and frustration when situations inevitably arise (ahem—group work of any kind). This story even includes a lesson plan. And, if you’re a fan of this book, guess what? The author has a whole series on other similar topics you might consider checking out.

9. The Worst Day of My Life Ever! by Julia Cook
The subtitle of this tale says it all: My Story About Listening and Following Instructions (. . . or Not). Meet RJ, a boy who thinks instructions are boring and listening is hard. That is—until he has the worst day of his life ever! With helpful tips on how to listen and follow instructions, his days ahead certainly improve. These student-friendly tips are perfect for supporting your classroom rules, which inevitably will include listening and following directions somewhere near the top of the list.

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 make one feel happy. 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!

madison.michell's picture
Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.