Book of the Month

Speak Like Us

Too often, students whose culture, ethnicity, or background fall outside the mainstream never see themselves represented in the texts they read in school. Asian-American author Cindy Pon explains it this way: 

“I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was only as an adult, looking back, when I realized that I had never read a book with a character who looked like me.”


Culturally responsive texts

All children deserve to see characters like themselves in the books they read. These books are known as mirror texts, since they reflect the reader’s identity and experience.

Students also deserve to read window texts, so called because they provide a window into the lives and experiences of others.

The same book can be a mirror text to some and a window text to others. 

Speak Like Us, our featured book of the month, is one of those books. It tells the story of Phone, a refugee from Myanmar, who comes to his new school having experienced the hardships of a refugee camp and speaking not a single word of English.

Stories like these help students understand and build empathy for the experiences of other students, family members, people in their community, and even themselves. 

JillE Literacy believes in providing all students with diverse texts that give them a mirror to themselves and a window to the world. 


Authentic social-emotional learning

From the earliest known stories to the present day, stories have served as a way of exploring human experience and teaching important values. Today’s stories are no different. Stories — whether fictional or true — are a time-tested and authentic means for social-emotional learning.

JillE Literacy believes every story is an opportunity for authentic social-emotional learning.

In Speak Like Us, Phone finds himself being ridiculed and bullied at his new school. Even though he can’t understand the words of his bullies, their meaning is clear. 

“Phone had no idea what they were saying, but he could guess from their body language. When he tried to speak, his words were either used as chants or spat back at him in strange tones. So he learned to say nothing.”

Imagine reading that as an English learner from another country — how powerful those words could be in making you feel seen and heard.

Now imagine reading those words as a student who has never given a second’s thought to the difficult and disorienting experience of being in a new country, surrounded by a new language. 

It’s texts like these that open eyes, minds, and hearts.

Just by reading these stories, students are building empathy through the simple process of putting themselves in the narrator’s shoes. But teachers can get even more from texts like Speak Like Us by taking advantage of the opportunity to talk about difficult topics that might otherwise feel too personal or too threatening. 

Instead of — or in addition to — talking about bullying in general (which can be too distant and abstract) or as a real incident that happened at school (which can trigger feelings of shame or defensiveness), students can talk about Phone’s problem with bullying and how it could be resolved. 

Talking about real-life topics in the context of stories provides a safe, nonthreatening, and authentic context for social-emotional learning.

Explicit support for reading and writing skills

Included with every six small-group texts for students is a separate Take & Teach Teaching Version just for the teacher. 

These unique instructional tools provide detailed notes for the teacher to use during the lesson to teach and help students immediately apply a wide range of reading skills, including decoding, word analysis, vocabulary, comprehension strategies, critical thinking, fluency, and the structure and features of different genres of text. 

The teaching panels minimize the significant and time-consuming preparation usually required for small-group instruction, while helping teachers take advantage of every instructional opportunity embedded in the text.


How does JillE Literacy support the science of reading?


A corresponding lesson card provides even more support for teaching decoding and word analysis skills, a social-emotional learning mini-lesson for every fiction book, strategies and scaffolds for English learners, and five activities for meaningful independent learning.

Inside the books, Partner Talk and Going Solo activities on the final few pages use a READ-TALK-WRITE approach to get students thinking, talking, and writing about elements of the text that they can apply to their own writing. 

Printable graphic organizers and other activities provide even more support for writing and other key skills. 

Speak Like Us comes from the Grade 3 Small-Group Resources kit. It can be used for small-group instruction for students at a Level T instructional reading level, for independent reading for students who are more proficient readers, or as a scaffolded small-group book or read-aloud for students at lower levels. 

Sign up or log in to read the book and to download the Take & Teach Lesson and Blackline Masters from the Related Resources section below.

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Check back next month for a brand-new JillE Literacy book to share with your students!

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