I love reading groups. I think that guided instruction is really the only completely effective way to differentiate. However, during my student teaching I always wanted to do author studies and other themed reading units that you can't necessarily do using the leveled readers and guided reading format. In order to get around that, I have created a 30 minute read aloud time slot to fill the time that we normally would go to recess but do not use on the two days a week we have PE.
My first unit is PIRATES. My classroom theme is pirates so I figured it would be fun to start out the year with it since the kids love my decor so much! We are reading any and every (appropriate) book about pirates. So far we have read "If I Were a Pirate" (a short story that is part of a SMART Board unit), Roger the Jolly Pirate, and Tough Boris. Tomorrow we will be reading How I Became a Pirate, which I am very excited about! We will also be reading Night Pirates and Pirates Past Noon (oooh a chapter book).
With our read alouds, I am having the students practice some reading response activities that they would normally do at a center during reading group time. Each month the students will get a menu of different activities that will show their comprehension on a more creative way than answering lower-level questions. Some activities that they are currently choosing from include making a comic strip of the important events in the story, making a Venn diagram comparing the main character of two different stories, creating an advertisement for the book, and writing a letter to the author to tell him or her what they liked or did not like about the book.
So far my students have really enjoyed all of the stories and they are excited about being able to choose the assignment that they do on each story. I haven't told them yet that I will be reading a chapter book but I am willing to bet that they are going to think it is the coolest thing in the world that they have "read" a chapter book!
I am currently laying out the whole year's worth of read aloud units--there will be about 1-2 per month. If I finish the pirate unit early, I may start an apple unit (idea stolen from my classroom neighbor, Kristina :) and then, of course, a pumpkin/Halloween unit in October.
I am definitely looking for cute themes that would work for other times in the year as well as more reading response activities to add to my menu!