Rigorous read aloud – Lincoln, A Photobiography


I’m analyzing the informational texts in Common Core Appendix B and just finished Lincoln, A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. This book is listed in Appendix B as an example of a read aloud for 2nd-3rd grades. This is a landmark book – Freedman was one of the first authors to include this many primary sources in a book for children. Two children – both fourth graders – have noticed this book on my desk and commented that they read this book independently and really liked it. It would definitely be a rigorous read aloud for third grade – but I’d try it – with third grade students.

Freedman narrates the life of Lincoln. His writing is clear and accessible. He writes about the main events in Lincoln’s life, but also about the everyday lives of people in this time and he includes small moments that will draw students in to listening. He begins the book just by describing Lincoln physically – which is a good way to pull these young listeners into the content because they can grapple with this concept cognitively.

Stretch yourself if you haven’t read something like this aloud to your students. The texts listed in Appendix B are just examples – not required reading, but I think reading this aloud to students would be a good exercise in thinking about whether the texts we choose to read aloud are rigorous enough to meet the CCSS.

While we want students to grapple with the content and figure some out by themselves as they listen, I think there’s some appropriate scaffolding that needs to happen. In other words, there are some supports you need to provide over the term of this read aloud to help students follow along. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create a timeline on butcher paper and mark the events that are highlighted in each section of your read aloud. Review the timeline and events before each read aloud.
  • Post a map of the United States as it was in 1861or as it is now. Mark locations on the map that are a part of the content in a particular read aloud. This will be important when discussing the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and which states were part of the Union and the Confederacy. You can also use this as a visual when Freedman discusses the different battles of the Civil War and the movement of the troops on both sides.
  • Start a t-chart regarding Lincoln’s character. This is a chance to list tier two vocabulary like perseverant, courageous, thoughtful, studious, informed in the first column and in the second column, list evidence from the text (events, actions) that reveal these character traits in Lincoln.
  • Start a mind map that helps students keep track of who is who.
  • Create a chart that describes the layers of government at the state and federal level – so students can understand the different positions Lincoln was in (or failed to win) as he worked his way up to the Presidency.
  • Take time to examine some of Lincoln’s quotes – and just facilitate conversation with students about what he meant. For example, on page 55, Lincoln makes a campaign speech when he is running for the Senate and says, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A 10-15 minute conversation regarding “What do you think?” and “Why do you think so?” will deepen students’ understanding of Lincoln as you read aloud the rest of the book.
  • Keep a vocabulary wall – adding words that are important to sustaining understanding. (There’s no way to explain every word the students may not know – we have to determine what is vital and what they might just need to get the gist of from listening.)

My final recommendation is that you read this book yourself prior to reading it aloud. I filled mine with sticky notes. Marking quotes, vocabulary I might need to explain, events that revealed Lincoln’s character, major points in the Civil War and so forth. I also kept in mind what I would have to do to support my students’ understanding. I cannot teach everything this book addresses and students might need – I have to prioritize of course.

Okay…I’m headed to a rural area on Idaho for a week – very few bands on my cell phone there – so I won’t be blogging from there. I’m taking the nonfiction 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner – Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. Started it yesterday – absolutely gripping.

devil in the grove


5 thoughts on “Rigorous read aloud – Lincoln, A Photobiography

  1. elizabethstavis

    I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never looked at the Common Core Appendix until now–thanks for the heads up! What a wealth of resources. My school has been working on developing quick performance assessments on our own, but it doesn’t make sense to reinforce the wheel! We should start with these, then grow from there.

  2. Linda Garcia

    The Lincoln book is great, but this sounds more like an entire unit. I was actually surprised to see this on the list since it is so complex. It didn’t seem to be on the same level as other recommendations. Is this what Common Core expects us to do with every read aloud? How do you fit in such a text when it does not connect to anything else you are doing and all the other things you are doing require their own huge chunks of time?

    1. sundaycummins Post author

      Good point. I would pick a book like Lincoln: A Photobiography that fits with your curriculum. I think the difference between this one and the others is significant in that we need to read aloud longer nonfiction to our students (books with chapters) so they can see how we work our way through these texts. I’m also thinking that my suggestions fit into a 20 minute interactive read aloud – each day over time. Maybe one day a week is 40 minutes and includes students writing in response. This is very different than the traditional read aloud of just reading the book in bits and pieces here and there (after lunch, at the end of the day and so forth). I’m going to blog about your question – thanks for pushing me to clarify further!

  3. Pingback: Lincoln: A Photobiography | Kid Lit About Politics

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