January is the perfect time to begin a new unit in the classroom. Teachers and students are returning from a two week Christmas break rested and ready to learn. The weather is cold and the students are daydreaming about snow. I try to capitalize on this energy with a unit on polar bears. Here are some of my favorite books to read aloud and during small group time.
The Bear Report by Thyra Heder
This book is new to me, but I now know it would make a fantastic read aloud for introducing a polar bear unit to my students.
Sophie does not want to do her homework, a research report on polar bears. Bor-ing. They’re big. They eat things. They’re mean. What else is there to say about them anyway? As it turns out, plenty. And when a polar bear named Olafur swoops her away to the Arctic, she soon learns all about the playful bear’s habits and habitat—from glacier mice to the northern lights—and, despite her first reservations, she finds herself not just interested but excited about the Arctic. When the two are swept out to sea on an iceberg, Sophie’s new knowledge and knack for creative thinking pay off in a big way: she calls a whale to their aid! Inspired by her journey, she’s ready to return home and take another swing at her assignment, this time with gusto.
Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons
Gail Gibbons has a knack for writing nonfiction text that primary students love. This one is filled with illustrations and rich information about polar bears which makes it perfect for a read aloud.
The polar bear is the biggest and most powerful of the animals that are able to survive the hostile climate of the Arctic. Cubs are born during the cold dark winter, even though they start out with only a thin coat of fur and weigh a little over one pound. The mothers raise and teach them so they may grow and survive in the wild. Here is information about how polar bears swim and hunt, how they keep warm and dry, and the many other ways they adapt to their environment.
If I Knew a Polar Bear by Karen Sutula
This is a rhyming poem turned into a picture book. It’s new to me, but after reading I would type this up as a poem for fluency practice throughout the unit.
Does a polar bear have friends? Find out in this beautifully illustrated 20 page book that is a fun poem about a polar bear and his quirky friends. Like the arctic fox who is always losing his socks or the snowy owl whose breath is rather foul.
The Magic School Bus Arctic Adventure by Gail Herman
You can always count on The Friz to combine fiction with nonfiction to capture student interest! This book will give your students information about the polar bear’s Arctic habitat. If you’d rather use this with a guided reading group, it is a Level 2 reader.
Ms. Frizzle and her class are off to the Arctic to discover the different animals that live there, and other fascinating facts about this polar area.
Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne
I love how these chapter books weave nonfiction so seamlessly into the storyline. I think that’s why kids devour these books, too. After all, they get the best of both worlds! I use this pack to guide my instruction with my level M readers.
The Magic Tree House transports Jack and Annie to the freezing Arctic where they must solve Morgan Le Fay’s final riddle in order to become master librarians. But it’s not going to be easy — especially when they have cracking ice, a seal hunter, and a prodigious polar bear to deal with.
Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Polar Bears and the Arctic by Mary Pope Osborne
This is one I reserve for my higher readers due to the amount of vocabulary and text to tackle. It would also make a great read aloud. I use this pack to guide my instruction.
When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House #12: Polar Bears Past Bedtime, they had lots of questions. Why is the Arctic so cold? What did the first people of the Arctic eat? How do polar bears cross thin ice? What other animals live in the Arctic? Find out the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts.
Magic School Bus Chapter Book: Polar Bear Patrol by Judith Stamper
Like the Magic Tree House, these Magic School Bus Chapter Books use a fictional story line in which nonfiction text features and facts have also been included. I use this pack to guide my instruction with my second graders reading at a third grade level.
Hi, I’m Tim — one of the kids in Ms. Frizzle’s class. When Ms. Frizzle announced that we’d be studying the North Pole, I never thought it would lead us to the top of the world. I also never thought I’d get to see seals, caribou, musk oxen, and polar bears in person, but that was just the beginning. Find out all the bone-chilling facts of our Arctic adventure!
All of the texts above are great for my second graders reading at or above grade level. But what about my students who are still reading at a Kindergarten or first grade level? I have found a few texts:
Who Lives in the Arctic? by Susan Canizares
This would be a great nonfiction text for my lowest readers during guided reading. The text follows a predictable pattern with colorful photographs to offer text support.
Is the Arctic a cold and lonely place to live? See who has made this environment their home.
Polar Bears by Kate Riggs
The description for this one mentions kindergarten, but this book is better suited for first grade readers. There are 1-2 sentences per page with large, colorful photographs for text support. It would make a great read-to for even younger readers.
This kindergarten-level introduction to polar bears covers their growth process, behaviors, their Arctic home, and such defining features as their all-white fur.
Polar Bears by Marcia S. Freeman
This would be great for my students reading at a beginning first grade level (E or F). It includes photographs, a table of contents, and a glossary for discussing text features.
Text and photographs describe the appearance, behavior, and habitat of polar bears.
Polar Bears by Emily Rose Townsend
This is another great book for my beginning first grade readers. Like the book mentioned above, it includes a table of contents, glossary, and photographs.
Photographs and text introduce the characteristics and behavior of polar bears and their habitat in the Arctic.
Polar Babies by Susan Ring
This one is a fictional story that focuses on more on the activities of polar bears. It’s definitely a fun read for my beginning first grade readers.
Readers can spend a day with two polar bear babies and learn about the things they do.
Follow the Polar Bears by Sonia W. Black
This has a bit more text per page, but it would be perfect for those mid-first grade level readers. It has colorful illustrations and about four lines of text per page that reads more like a rhyming poem.
In this book, a mother polar bear, who has waited in her den for the birth of her twin cubs, teaches them how to hunt and to recognize danger. When they are grown, they set out on their own.
Polar Bears by Laura Marsh
This one is packed with information, colorful illustrations, and text features. It could be used with a higher level first grade group, but I often use it for a read aloud or read-to.
With their beautiful white fur and powerful presence, polar bears rule the Arctic. These majestic giants swim from iceberg to iceberg in chilling waters, care for their adorable cubs, and are threatened by global warming. In this level 1 reader you’ll learn all you ever wanted to know about polar bears and so much more. Complete with fascinating facts and beautiful images, National Geographic Readers: Polar Bears can’t miss.
If there are any other polar bear books you think I should take a look at, feel free to add them to the comments below. I’ll be back soon to share some of the other polar bear activities I use.