10 of My Favorite Read Alouds for Upper Elementary ELA and Social Studies
By Kirsten Hammond
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I’m thrilled to share with you my top picks for read alouds in upper elementary classrooms. As a teacher with six years of experience in upper elementary education, focusing on English Language Arts (ELA) and social studies, I’ve discovered a treasure trove of engaging books that can make a significant impact on your students.
The Power of Read Alouds
One of my favorite ways to enrich the classroom experience is through the magic of read alouds. Even when teaching fifth grade, I devoted 10 to 15 minutes each day to reading a chapter or a few pages from a captivating book.
Incorporating read alouds daily adding up to a huge impact on expanding vocabulary, comprehension, and rich discussions. My students loved this daily ritual! I usually read during their snack time, which made it a fun break and delightful part of our class.
Today, I’m excited to share my top 10 favorite read alouds for upper elementary students. These selections include both chapter books and picture books.
1. “There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom” by Louis Sachar
I absolutely have to start one of the read alouds I grew up with – “There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom.” This gem was first read to me by my third-grade teacher, and it remains a timeless favorite. This book is a great choice for upper elementary students as it portrays the transformation of the main character, Bradley Chalkers.
Bradley starts as a troublemaker, disliked by many, but the arrival of a new counselor, Carla, sparks a journey of change. The story is funny and engaging, with some memorable incidents, including a certain trip into the girls’ bathroom!
2. “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry
Another great read aloud for fifth graders (and even fourth graders) is “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry.
This historical fiction novel is set in Denmark during World War II, specifically in 1943. It follows the story of Annemarie, her friend Ellen, and their experiences during a time when the Rosen family has to go into hiding due to the tumultuous events of the war.
The book skillfully combines real historical events with a fictional narrative, beautifully depicting the bravery of these young girls and their family members in the face of adversity.
3. “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan
“Esperanza Rising,” written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is a captivating tale set against the backdrop of the Great Depression.
The story follows Esperanza, a young girl who experiences a dramatic shift in her privileged life in Mexico when her family is forced to flee to the United States, ending up in a Mexican farm labor camp.
Each chapter in the book is named after a fruit or vegetable in Spanish, offering a rich and symbolic narrative. This book is an excellent choice for students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades, and it teaches resilience and adaptation during challenging times.
4. “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi
Yangsook Choi’s “The Name Jar” is a wonderful picture book that’s perfect for the beginning of the school year.
It tells the story of a young girl from Korea who is apprehensive about how American children will perceive her and her name. She’s unsure about sharing her unique name, fearing that others may tease her for it.
The book beautifully conveys her journey to self-discovery, the true meaning of her name, and the importance of embracing one’s identity. This picture book and this book companion serves as a heartwarming addition to your upper elementary class.
5. “The Lemonade War”
“The Lemonade War” is a great read, particularly for late in the school year when you’re covering economics.
This book narrates the story of a brother and sister who initially enjoy running a lemonade stand together but soon find themselves in a competitive rivalry. Through their attempts to outdo each other in sales, the story offers valuable insights into running a business.
It’s an engaging narrative that can also serve as an excellent conversation starter for math and social studies lessons, particularly those related to economics.
6. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” offers a fascinating, real-life account of William Kamkwamba’s life in the village of Malawi.
Faced with a devastating drought that leads to famine, William’s interest in science and physics becomes a beacon of hope. His determination to bring electricity to his village, where there was none, by building a windmill is an inspiring journey.
A must-read for fifth graders, this autobiography bridges the gap between students’ lives and the captivating story of a young inventor.
7. “Creature Features” by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
“Creature Features,” written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, is a fantastic picture book that introduces 25 animals and explains the unique features that make them so intriguing.
The bookadopts an engaging question-and-answer format to highlight the animals’ fascinating characteristics. It’s a great choice, especially during nonfiction genre lessons, as it ties seamlessly into discussions about text features and informational text. Pair it with this book companion for even better results!
8. “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper
Sharon M. Draper’s “Out of My Mind” is one of my favorite read alouds and is centered around Melody Brooks, a bright fifth-grader with cerebral palsy. Unable to speak without assistance, Melody relies on a communication board.
This story takes readers on her incredible journey as she strives to break free from the limitations others impose on her. It’s a powerful narrative that can be enjoyed by both third through fifth graders, resonating with themes of determination, acceptance, and the power of the human spirit.
9. “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio is a perfect choice for the beginning of the school year. This novel features a boy born with a facial deformity who attends a mainstream school for the first time in fifth grade. The story revolves around his desire to fit in while facing challenges and misunderstandings from his new classmates.
One notable feature of the book is the unique perspective provided by different characters, adding depth to the narrative. “Wonder” is an excellent catalyst for discussions about kindness and empathy, making it an ideal choice for the start of the school year.
10. “Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson
Lastly, “Each Kindness” is a heartwarming short story focusing on the themes of kindness, inclusion, and empathy. It’s a valuable read aloud to introduce in the first week of school.
The story follows a new girl who doesn’t quite fit in, prompting students to consider how to respond to her differences. The story ends with a poignant twist, highlighting the importance of being kind to those who may be unlike us.
This book delivers a profound message and encourages students to embrace the values of empathy and understanding.
In summary, these are my top 10 favorite read alouds for upper elementary students. I recommend starting the school year with light and fun books that stimulate discussions about various character traits, conflicts, and themes. Some books are best kept for later in the year when they align with your curriculum.
To engage your students further, consider having them vote on the book they’d like to read after discussing the synopses for each one. This approach allows students to have a say in what they will be listening to and increase engagement.
I hope you find these recommendations valuable and that these books bring joy to your classroom! Let’s create a positive learning environment filled with curiosity, empathy, and a life-long love for reading through the magic of read alouds.
Looking for more tips and strategies to enhance your ELA and reading instruction? You’ll love these posts!
Kirsten is a former 3rd and 5th grade teacher who loves helping upper elementary teachers by creating resources and sharing ideas that are engaging, research-based, and TEKS-aligned. She is a work-from-home mama of 3 rambunctious little ones and loves running, true crime, and lots of coffee.