Christmas is coming! It's the season of giving and spending time with family and friends. However, there are also lots of fun activities you can use to keep students engaged before the holiday break. One of these activities is a great novel study. Today I wanted to share how I target skills in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Literature Unit.
If you haven't already done so, now is the perfect time to start planning your seasonal novel units. In this article, I'll share five reading skills you can teach using the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
An Overview of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Maybe you've read this book…Or maybe it's new to you. Either way, you're probably looking at it from a different lens now that you're looking to use it with your class. This one makes my December book list, but with a few caveats, you'll want to check out.
Let's start with the basics – a quick plot summary, reading levels, and where to find the book.
Summary of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the first of three books by Barbara Robinson that features the Herdman family. It is the story of a town whose annual Christmas nativity reenactment is taken over by their rowdy family.
As the narrator points out, the six Herdman children are the worst kids in history. She then goes on to explain their crimes. In addition to smoking, cursing, bullying at school, and stealing, they even set fire to an abandoned toolhouse.
After making a quick visit to the local church in an effort to get some free snacks, the Herdmans decide they'll stick around and participate in the upcoming Christmas pageant.
Then the pageant's director ends up in the hospital. The narrator's mom steps in with a cast of rowdy Herdman kids in all the major roles.
Despite being unfamiliar with the story, the Herdmans are quick to learn and they have some pretty serious questions. For example, who brings oil to a baby?
Although there is a bit of an uproar about the unusual casting, the narrator's mother is determined to make this the best Christmas pageant ever, but will she succeed?
What reading level is the text?
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is 40 pages long and is listed as a Guided Reading level K. The book is listed as appealing to K-2. However, there are some behaviors and themes that make the story more appropriate for 2nd-4th graders.
The story is definitely a comedy. Your learners will enjoy all the hijinx the Herdman family cause around town and during the Christmas pageant.
You'll want to be sure you're prepared for some of the less socially acceptable pieces of the story – including smoking, vandalism, and other behaviors – that the Herdman kids engage in. (The book was written in 1972 when some of these topics were less taboo in children's literature.)
Obviously, the story has some religious connections, as it does take place in a church. Therefore, teachers should be aware of any rules about this before utilizing the text to teach.
That being said, if you need a more general holiday novel unit that doesn't touch as deeply on the religious aspects of Christmas, I recommend Horrible Harry & the Holidaze by Suzy Klein.
You can typically purchase The Best Christmas Pageant Ever via Amazon for under $6.
Top 5 Skills to Teach with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Now that I've given you an overview of the text, let's dive into the important part. What can you teach using this book?
The great news is that Barbara Robinson's writing is incredibly rich. It offers a number of connections to skills that students need to master. The novel's brevity is helpful because you can fit them all into a week of instruction with careful novel study planning.
Let's dive into my favorite reading skills to teach with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
1. Character Traits
Teaching character traits is an ongoing process, and while many books illustrate positive traits so well, the characters in this story capture both positive and negative traits.
In addition, there are opportunities to see the shades of some traits displayed by characters in this story. This makes it great for helping students recognize that some character traits they'll identify could be positive or negative based on context.
This is also a great opportunity to emphasize how important it is to cite text evidence that illustrates the points students are trying to make in their reading response.
There are so many great ways you can address this. I recommend giving students access to a character traits list. I'd also plan on spending some time working on character analysis through mini-lessons as part of this unit.
Enter your email to grab some of my favorite graphic organizers for teaching character traits and development. Use the free list of character traits in this download to help you get started.
2. Point of view
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is told from the first-person point of view. It offers great opportunities to introduce the important role the narrator plays in shaping the reader's experience.
You can introduce the idea that stories can be told from multiple perspectives. Students can examine point of view and consider how it influences their views of the characters. You might even push students to get creative and try to rewrite the events from the perspective of another character.
However, if you haven't introduced point of view yet, you'll definitely want to start there. Use this great interactive point of view anchor chart as part of your mini-lessons. It's a wonderful visual tool shared by The Elementary Nest
3. Story Mapping
Similarly, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a great book for teaching story mapping. Of course, this probably comes as no surprise considering it's such a great story for problem and solution.
When you are first introducing the process of story mapping, it can be overwhelming to use long texts. However, students are often ready to move on from picture books and need a good starting point with a short, clear-cut chapter book. This is it!
As you finish reading, you can create an anchor chart that outlines the characters, setting, and has a short retell.
4. Author's message
Finally, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is an amazing story for introducing the author's message. The narrator introduces the Herdman family as trouble-making antagonists. Yet by the end, it becomes clear that many of their behaviors are not purposefully naughty.
Finding opportunities to introduce this skill and making connections with social-emotional learning can really add to this unit's lasting impact.
While books are great for teaching SEL, as teachers we often miss these connections within the novels we read. However, this book lends itself so well to this topic because it is a critical part of the author's message.
Okay, so this is more obvious because I think you should be targeting vocabulary in your instruction with every book you use. However, for a short book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has some really strong vocabulary.
Personally, I like to avoid long lists of vocabulary words. Instead, I target one word per chapter and I teach it in-depth so that students get more than a surface-level understanding. That's one thing I love about this book! It has such great words to choose from.
Text-based vocabulary words, like sentiment, lend themselves to deep discussions and quick writes. Plus, some of the great choices in the book are also good Tier 2 academic vocabulary terms. Confer, for example, is the focus word for the final chapter because students need to know what that means beyond just this text.
For those concerned that I only focus on one word. Don't worry!
I might stop and talk about several vocabulary words within the context of reading the chapter. However, my expectations on these are surface-level. I wouldn't expect a student to master them from this context-based exposure.
Conversely, I expect that at the end of our lesson, my students have mastered the focus word. If they haven't I know I need to beef up my instruction and spend more time. This is the word that I hold myself accountable for teaching to mastery for the chapter.
Find no-prep activities for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Literature Unit
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever makes a great seasonal novel unit. I've put together a bundle of the resources I've used to teach it in an easy, no-prep format that you can use to help your students build reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.
Like many of my other novel study units, this one offers some differentiation options to allow you to accommodate the work to best fit the needs of your learners. I've even got an option for those of you teaching the novel study in online classrooms.
What's included in this literature study guide:
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Study Guide for teachers with instructional materials, comprehension objective, key Tier 2 & text-based vocabulary, and tips for using the print or digital version
- Comprehension activities provided in three formats – trifolds, reading journal prompts, & Google Slides
- Word of the Day text-based vocabulary flipbooks
- Answer keys for easy grading
- Access to the Google Slides version of the daily assignments for use in digital classrooms
Where to get the activities:
It is available in digital, print, or as a bundle of both. Grab it today to get started planning your holiday novel study with Barbara Robinson's hilarious series.