Culturally Responsive Teaching in Kindergarten: Read Alouds to Build Relationships

It’s Back to School time, and that means new resources here on the Lee & Low Blog! In the first post in our new series on Culturally Responsive Teaching, educator Lindsay Barrett shares ideas for read alouds that build relationships in Kindergarten.

Culturally Responsive Teaching in Kindergarten

Nothing evokes a sense of “back to school” like a snaking line of tentative-but-excited, freshly scrubbed Kindergarteners slowly making their way down the school hallway. There is so much for new Kindergarten students to learn—how to open snack and lunch items, where to find the restroom, how to care for and share materials; the list goes on and on.

But seasoned Kindergarten teachers know that all of this is secondary to (and made easier by) helping each child quickly develop a sense of belonging to a community of learners. One of the ways to achieve this is to use culturally responsive teaching strategies right from the start of the Kindergarten year. (What is culturally responsive teaching? Check out this post.) A culturally responsive mindset emphasizes relationships. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to establish these bonds.

Read aloud time is a key component of the Kindergarten curriculum, and it’s a natural way build classroom community. When selecting books to read aloud to your class in the first weeks of school, aim to:

Honor Students’ Experiences

Expect that your students will arrive with diverse home literacy experiences. Of course, many will be familiar with read alouds from preschool or hearing books read before bedtime; the higher students’ socioeconomic status, the more likely this is. But, dig deeper into your students’ experiences; for instance, some researchers suggest that though Latino families may be less likely to Cora Cooks Pancitread books with their children, they tend to encourage cognitive development by teaching children about shared tasks and family traditions. Some children may be used to hearing stories at church or as part of other religious practices. Some families have rich oral storytelling traditions.

Seek out books with elements that may feel familiar, even if book reading itself isn’t. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl who is finally old enough to participate in a family cooking tradition. In No Mush Today, Nonie attends church and a church picnic with her grandmother. In The Story I’ll Tell a mother weaves an imaginative tale about how her child joined their family, ending with a true account of his adoption from Asia. Ask questions like, “Do you ever help with jobs at home? Where do you go with your family? Does someone in your family tell you stories?”

Choose Books That Reflect Students’ Experiences

Select books in which students can glimpse their cultural, racial and linguistic identities, family structures, and home environments. Books that are “mirrors” for some will be “windows” for others; shared discussion of these books supports relationship-building.

Quinito Day and Night and Quinito’s Neighborhood portray a large Spanish-speaking family living in an urban setting. Moony Luna tells how parents comfort a young Latino girl who is nervous about starting school. My Steps recounts an African American girl’s experiences on her front stoop in different seasons. Ask questions like “Who is in your family? How does your family help you? What’s it like where you live?”

Introduce Diverse Authors and Illustrators

Students will connect to books more readily when they know that real people created them. Read multiple books by the same authorMarisol McDonald and the Monster and make connections between the texts, author’s background information and students’ lives. The Marisol McDonald series was inspired by the author Monica Brown’s own Peruvian-American heritage. Marisol McDonald and the Monster is particularly relevant to Kindergarten students, who may relate to Marisol’s fears of noises in the night. Show students photos of authors and illustrators on the book flaps and talk about the decisions each person made to create the book. Ask, “What stories from your lives would you choose to tell in words and pictures?”

Framing your book selection in these ways doesn’t need to be considered an “add-on” to your required curriculum. The Common Core State State Standards ask Kindergarten students to “identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.” What better way to help students begin to do this than by presenting stories in which these elements are familiar? The standards also ask students to “name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story.” Achieve this by connecting not just books, but the people who make them, to students’ lives.

Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, reminds us that, “culturally responsive teaching focuses on building students’ learning power.” Once the backpacks are hung and seats on the rug found, “power up” with intentional, diverse book selections.


Lindsay BarrettAbout the Author: Lindsay Barrett is a former elementary teacher and literacy nonprofit director. She currently works as a literacy consultant and stays busy raising three young boys. Find out more about her work at