Engaging in Close Read-Aloud: Learning to Play with Others | EL Education Curriculum

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Engaging in Close Read-Aloud: Learning to Play with Others

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In the first unit of this model, students practice norms and behaviors for sharing and caring for classroom toys and interacting with peers. Students consider the unit guiding question--"What can we do to make playing together fun?"--as they explore classroom toys, engage in structured conversations, and read about playing together. Students receive a letter from the principal in Lesson 1, which gives them a compelling reason to explore their classroom toys and develop strategies for playing together. In the first portion of the unit, students engage in a series of close read-alouds of the anchor text Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney. For the Unit 1 Assessment, students use illustrations from the text to reflect on what the main character, Llama Llama, has learned about playing with others. (RL.K.1, RL.K.7, SL.K.1)

During the second portion of the unit, students document and synthesize their learning through structured discussions and shared writing experiences. Through these activities, students generate the Commitments for Playing Together anchor chart, which is a resource that will guide their play and interactions throughout the year. At the end of the unit, students collectively write a letter back to their principal and individually illustrate one of the Commitments for Playing Together as a way to share their learning from the unit. (W.K.2, SL.K.1)

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What can we do to make playing together fun?
  • People take care of materials that are important to them.
  • People use strategies to cooperate when they play together.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Learning to play with others
  • Task: Responding to Text: Thinking about Illustrations and Speaking
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RL.K.1, RL.K.7, SL.K.1
  • Text: Llama Llama Time to Share


Each unit in the K-2 Language Arts Curriculum has one standards-based assessment built in. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the integrated literacy block of the school day. The module also intentionally incorporates social studies content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies or science standards during other parts of the school day.)

C3 Framework for Social Studies:

  • D2.Civ.9.K-2: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions while responding attentively to others when addressing ideas and making decisions as a group.
  • D2.Civ.10.K-2: Compare their own point of view with others' perspectives.
  • D2.Civ.11.K-2: Explain how people can work together to make decisions in the classroom.

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this module, students work to become ethical people by treating others well. Throughout Unit 1, students practice respectful behavior as they engage in conversations and play experiences with peers and practice caring for one another and classroom materials.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend text is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across all three components of this primary curriculum: integrated module lessons, integrated Labs, and the Reading Foundations Skills block (see the module overview).

For Unit 1, during the independent reading in the Skills block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the integrated Literacy block:

  • RLK.1: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • Invite the students to point at a picture in a narrative text and then answer questions about the illustration.
    • Read aloud the first few pages of a narrative text and ask:

"What questions do you have? What are you wondering?"

  • RL.K.7: Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
    • When conferencing with students, ask them to explain how the illustration or details in the text relate to the key ideas in the text.
    •  Ask:

"How do these illustrations help you understand the text?"

Supporting English Language Learners

Whereas the Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are identified for ELLs in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 1-5 to support practice and mastery of the Think-Pair-Share protocol and to spend additional time on the close read-aloud. If necessary, place less focus and condense instruction on creating personal playing commitments during Lessons 6 and 7. While the playing commitments are valuable, students will draw greater benefit from more exposure to academic text and from participating in structured conversations about academic topics.
  • Language Dives: All kindergartners participate in their first whole-class Language Dive in Module 2. Kindergarten ELLs can participate in their first full, optional Language Dive in Module 1, Unit 3. To gradually immerse ELLs in the Language Dive routine, Units 1 and 2 offer optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. Language Dives are guided conversations about the meaning of a sentence from the central texts, models, or learning targets. The conversation invites students to unpack complex syntax, or "academic phrases," as a necessary component of building both literacy and habits of mind. Students then apply their understanding of language structure as they work toward the assessments and performance task. Language Dives follow a Deconstruct-Reconstruct-Practice routine, in which students discuss and play with the meaning and purpose of the sentence and each chunk of the sentence; put the chunks back together into the original order and any possible variations; and practice using the chunks in their own speaking and writing. A consistent Language Dive routine is critical in helping all students learn how to decipher complex sentences and write their own. In addition, Language Dive conversations can hasten overall English language development for ELLs. Avoid using Language Dives to lecture about grammar; they are designed to prompt students as they grapple with the meaning and purpose of the chunks and the sentence. For more information on Language Dives, refer to the Supporting English Language Learners Guidance on the Tools page.
  • Goal 1 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Conversation Cues, which are questions teachers can ask students to help achieve four goals: (Goal 1) encourage all students to talk and be understood; (Goal 2) listen carefully to one another and seek to understand; (Goal 3) deepen thinking; and (Goal 4) think with others to expand the conversation (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Talk Science Primer. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 1 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 3. Heightened language processing and development is a primary potential benefit for ELLs.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. Integrate this background into the classroom as students explore informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. This is the first unit of the year. Students, especially newcomers, may be reticent to speak and participate. Allow them time to settle in to the new classroom environment and culture. Invite students to participate, but avoid putting them on the spot if it makes them feel bashful or self-conscious. Some students may find some of the protocols strange or inappropriate because they are not accustomed to interacting with peers of the opposite gender. Allow them to observe and ease into the experience. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Strategic grouping: As students are invited to pair up for various tasks and protocols, seriously consider matching ELLs to a partner who has greater language proficiency. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic grouping will greatly serve the language development of both partners.
  • Language processing time: Give ELLs sufficient time to think about what they want to say before they share with other students or write.
  • Play and collaboration: Students will have time to explore toys in their groups. This unstructured, social interaction is beneficial for ELLs because it will allow them time to experiment and to discover classroom toys, as well as social skills, on their own terms. It may also pose a challenge for some students who have trouble verbalizing their thoughts. If there are students who speak the same home language, consider grouping them together and allowing them to discuss the activities in their home language. While circulating, facilitate ELLs' participation by suggesting activities they can do or phrases they can use to interact.
  • Close reading and identifying characters' feelings: Students will participate in a series of close reading sessions during which they will hone their comprehension and interpretive skills by determining key details and events within the text. Use illustrations and visual information as much as possible to support student comprehension.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Llama Llama Time to Share
by Anna Dewdney
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780670012336

Preparation and Materials

For basic lesson preparation, refer to the materials list and Teaching Notes in each lesson. The following are unusual materials that may take more time or effort to organize or prepare.

  • Lesson 1: Word Wall words: play, toy
  • Lesson 2: Three 3-pound tubs of play-dough
  • Lesson 3: Class set of pattern blocks
  • Lesson 4: Class set of dramatic play toys; Word Wall word: include
  • Lesson 5: Class set of whiteboards and whiteboard markers
  • Lesson 6: Photographs of students showing commitments; class set of whiteboards and whiteboard markers
  • Lesson 7: N/A
  • Index cards for Toys and Play Word Wall

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Drawings - Students draw online: Students can draw their responses online rather than on paper to share on classroom blogs or websites with families.
  • SeesawCreate student learning portfolios to share with other students, families: Video/audio record students at play to share with families and other students.
  • The National Museum of Toys and MiniaturesAdditional Research: Students view pictures of old toys for additional research (whole group, small group or independent)
    • "Collections."The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. N.d. Web.Accessed on 1 June 2017.
  • National Toy Hall of FameAdditional reading and research: Students read about and view pictures of old toys for additional reading and research (whole group, small group or independent).
    • 'National Toy Hall of Fame.' The Strong: National Museum of Play. Accessed on Jun 3, 2016.
  • Canada at PlayAdditional reading and research: Students explore the rooms of the play house to read about and view pictures of old toys played with in Canada for additional reading and research (whole group, small group or independent).
    • 'Canada at Play." Canadian Museum of History. Web. Accessed on Jun 3, 2016.
  • Victorian Britain: Toys and GamesAdditional reading and research: Students read about and view pictures of toys played with in Victorian Britain for additional reading and research (whole group, small group or independent).
    • 'Victorian Britain: Toys and Games.' BBC. Web. Accessed on Jun 3, 2016.


Labs are 1 hour of instruction per day. They are designed to promote student proficiency and growth.

There are 5 distinct Labs: Explore, Engineer, Create, Imagine, and Research. Each of the Labs unfolds across an entire module and takes place in four stages: Launch, Practice, Extend, and Choice and Challenge.

During their Lab time, students break up into smaller Lab groups and go to separate workstations (tables or other work spaces around the classroom). This structure creates a small collaborative atmosphere in which students will work throughout their Labs experience. It also supports the management of materials (since each workstation has its own materials).

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


If you have a number of English language learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs in their native language about playing with toys.


  • Invite the principal to deliver the Letter from the Principal and introduce himself or herself to the class.
  • Invite students from the upper grades to come and talk about how they liked to play when they were in kindergarten and how they learned to share.
  • Invite an employee from a local toy store to explain how they sort and organize the different types of toys they sell.
  • Invite a member of the historical society to come and talk and share pictures of toys from long ago. Invite families or school community members in to speak about favorite toys from their childhoods.


  • Take small groups of students to visit the principal's office or other classrooms in the school and ask individuals why they think playing is important.
  • Take the class to a school or local playground or other outdoor play area and generate ideas for how to play in ways that are safe and fun in that location.
  • Take small groups of students to visit classrooms around the school and conduct a survey of the different types of toys found at various grade levels.
  • Contact the local historical society to see if they have toys that students can come to see or that can be brought to the school.


  • Share ideas for having fun and being safe while playing on the playground (or outdoor play areas) with other classrooms in the school.
  • Share students' Commitments for Playing Together that they created in this unit with other classes in the school.
  • Visit a local retirement home and have students practice their interviewing skills by asking residents about the toys they liked to play with when they were young.


  • Invite school community members or families in to read a story or tell their own story about playing and sharing.
  • Have students create signs or labels with pictures and words for the toys around the classroom. These labels will support students during cleanup and when they write about toys.
  • Have students write letters sharing their favorite toys with retirement home residents after their visit.

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