448050911201448 5 Favorite Upper Elementary Books with Really Thoughtful Essential Questions | Polka Dots and Protons - Interactive Science Notebooks & More

My goal is to make interactive science notebooks engaging for 5th grade and middle school science students while improving science test scores. NGSS expert, teacher, tpt author, mom, & widow

5 Favorite Upper Elementary Books with Really Thoughtful Essential Questions

Students with sweaty faces rush back to class after lunch and I spray them with a cool mist from a water bottle. There is audible relief from students as they return to the air-conditioned room and comfortably settle into their seats. It's time for a new chapter... or two if the students can convince me to keep reading. What are the best books to read? How can I make the most of this time? 

I have some of my favorite books based on their messages and themes complete with thoughtful essential questions. 

How can you do a novel study without a reading packet?

Packets are kind of boring and they interrupt the flow of the story. We don't do packets but we collect evidence for the essential question and write a response to literature (RTL) essay answering the essential question. (You will see essential questions for each book listed below.) 

I use the EB Academic method for RTL or response to literature writing with great success. We do three things to bring the story to life and dive into the plot, characters, and them

1. Tableaux

Six students are in front of the classroom portraying Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in their home feeding Lucy, Susan, and Peter who have just realized that Edmund (this actor is hiding within sight) is gone. 

I count to three. Those six students go sit down, and five come up. Then I read the description of the next scene where the White Witch has struck Edmund who has just passed statues of various figures. (4 of the students are statues.) And the tableaux continue.

A tableau is a frozen scene where actors don't move or talk but use a still position and a facial expression to communicate the action and emotion.  As we read, students suggest scenes to act out. I keep a list of our tableaux on a notebook page I pin to the wall for accessibility. I include a list of the actors in the scene. 

Students know to be ready on the sides when they are in the next tableau so we get through the tableaux quickly. Basically, we have a review of what we've read each day before we start and we add a new tableau to our list. Here is a great site explaining tableau.

2. Doodling

These are the days the pouches of colored pencils and vibrant markers come out. While some days the students read along with me other days I read to them while they draw a character or part of the story. I show each drawing on the projector, discuss it briefly, and add blue painter's tape to the back so it can be displayed on the door.

3. Using an evidence tracker

For each book, we have an evidence tracker. We write the essential question at the top. Each day, we are looking for something to add to our evidence tracker. Some days we don't find anything and that is okay. This keeps us focused on the essential question that students will answer in their response to literature essay. 

Here are the books I love, summaries, and an essential question for each one.

The One and Only Ivan

Great discussion questions Click HERE

Summary from site above: Ivan, an adult male silverback gorilla, has been living in captivity for 27 years, most of that time on display at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, along with Stella, a wise older elephant, and Bob, a sassy stray dog. Julia, the janitor’s daughter, helps Ivan with his artistic efforts. But when Mack, the owner of the mall, introduces a baby elephant named Ruby, Ivan sees his captivity for what it is. Realizing that Ruby needs more freedom, Ivan assumes his rightful place as a leader and secures a better future for himself and his friends.

Evidenced Based Writing Essay Question: Discuss the special bond between Julia and Ivan. Why is she different from all the other children who come to see his shows?

Endangered Animal Infographic Project works great with this book. Click to read my blog post about it.
Other projects: We study the four great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos) with our Safari Park partners. Students do trifold poster projects on what they learned. We learn about threats, their habitat and where they live, their diet, and their population status.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is great to read around Christmas. Students make a paper stocking for one of the characters.

Summary: When London is bombed during World War II, four siblings are sent to live with a professor in his large country home. Lucy finds a wardrobe that leads her to Narnia, a magical frozen land. Lucy returns to Narnia with her sister, Susan, and her brothers, Edmund and Peter. They meet beavers and other creatures and join with the lion, Aslan, to fight the evil White Witch, Jadis.

Evidenced Based Writing Essay Question: What mistakes does Edmund make? How does he change at the end of the story?

Affiliate Link to the book on Amazon

Out of My Mind

Summary: Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people—her teachers, her doctors, her classmates—dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow. (From Amazon) 

Evidenced Based Writing Essay Question: Who shows that they are a good friend to Melody and who doesn't?

Stem Steam Project:  I created a communication board project that really works to go with Out of My Mind using a Makey Makey and Scratch programming. Check out the blog post HERE.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Evidenced Based Writing Essay Question: Kyle's team chooses him as a leader. What makes him a great leader?

Summary: Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games—board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative game maker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot as one of twelve kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, hosted by Mr. Lemoncello and riddled with lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route! (from Amazon)

A great resource from the publisher HERE.

Affiliate Link to the book on Amazon


Evidenced Based Writing Essay Question: Auggie's teacher, Mr. Browne teaches precepts or quotes and challenges the kids: "When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind." Who in Auggie's life chooses to be kind and who doesn't?

Summary: August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Beginning from Auggie’s point of view and expanding to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others, the perspectives converge to form a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. (from Amazon)

I use the EB Academic format and graphic organizers for teaching response to literature essay writing. Here is a resource from TPT that I use in my classroom. Click HERE.