“The Trader Joes Bag”

Monthly Principal Read Alouds

A simple Trader Joe’s Bag has been one of the biggest culture-changers on my campus. How can that be? A reusable grocery bag? Yes! One of the best things I’ve done as a principal is to start Monthly Principal Read Alouds. What started as an idea I “borrowed” from someone in my Professional Learning Network (PLN) quickly  morphed into a huge culture-changer. Initially, my goals for starting read alouds in the classrooms, were for me to build stronger relationships with students, give me a chance to get my “kid & classroom fix,” and to give teachers a free 30-minute block of time for them to run to the restroom, grab a cup of coffee, run to make some coffee, or simply just to take a breather. 

The Trader Joe’s bag became a defining object for me after about a couple of months of reading to classrooms when a student who was returning back to class from the restroom asked me if I was coming to read to their class. I asked him how he knew that I was going to read to a classroom, since I had nothing in my hands, just a bag hanging over my shoulder. He said to me, “…because you have your ‘reading’ bag.” When I looked to see what “reading bag” he was referring to, I realized it was the Trader Joe’s bag. Two months prior, that bag happened to just be a bag I grabbed from my office to put my book, activity materials, water bottle, etc., into.  Never did I think that our students would associate “the bag” with me coming to read in classrooms. That’s when I knew I was making an impact on my campus. The bag=reading in classrooms=kids were excited. Needless to say, four years later, I still use that Trader Joe’s bag! 

So how does it all work? Simple. 


Working around my schedule, I create 30-minute appointment slots on our school’s Google Calendar every month. Teachers know the reading slots get posted at the beginning of the month. They find an available date and time that works best for them and sign up. If none of the slots work within their schedule, they could always email me and I do my best to fit them in to my calendar. If you are not sure how to schedule appointments on a shared Google Calendar, check out this YouTube tutorial. Setting up a simple Google Doc or Google Sheet sign-up works great too. 

Reading and Class Activities 

When I come in to read, the teacher has 30 free minutes. Some like to stay and hear the story; others use that time for a break or catch up on some work. It is completely up to them. After reading the story, we have a short discussion on the book’s theme or topic and then we do some kind of fun activity related to the theme. After four years of doing this, the kids know there will always be an activity and they can’t wait to find out what it’s going to be. This year, I ordered enough books to leave a copy in the classroom so they can add it to their classroom library. The students and staff have been so excited about this. It makes me just as happy to see their excitement when I tell them they will be keeping the book in their class. 

Choosing Books

Each summer, I put together my list of the upcoming school year’s read alouds. I am always looking for diverse and current picture book titles that have a great theme or character trait. My goal is to expose our students to picture books with characters that look like them as well as expose them to other cultures they may have never read about. I am very intentional on which books make it onto the upcoming year’s read aloud list. There are so many great book titles that it can be quite a challenge to choose. I have four different reading lists along with the activities I did for each book. Feel free to borrow, get inspired, and make them your own! 

Where to Start

Start with what you feel comfortable with. Maybe you just start by reading to one grade level. Maybe you ask a few teachers who you know would be happy to have you in their class. You don’t even have to do an activity with them. You can start by simply getting in a few classrooms and reading to kids. Wherever you start, just start! I promise you that you will not regret it. Before you know it, you will be impacting your school culture more than you ever thought. Kids and staff will see how much you value reading and that reading can be fun. 

I encourage you to just do it and have fun! Make this experience work for you and your school community. There is no right or wrong way of going about it. All you have to do is just start and let your creativity lead the way!

6 thoughts on ““The Trader Joes Bag”

  1. I appreciate all your ideas you bring to keep your school culture alive. I have just adopted this idea this month. I’m starting small with a read aloud focus on inferencing since this is a major skill our students struggle mastering. I’ve read in three classes thus far and it’s been rewarding to connect with my students and teachers through reading.


    1. Thank you! It’s so great to hear how you’ve adapted it to meet your needs. I love the idea of connecting it to a reading skill as well. I’ll have to think about incorporating that into the books I choose. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Jessica, I’ve been nervous about starting this and the impact it might have on my schedule and not knowing if I could keep it going. After reading your blog, I realize all I need is to start small and see where it goes. One class this week! That’s where we’ll start. 🤗 I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for sharing! ♥️


  3. This is amazing Jessica. Thank you for sharing these great ideas on how to build positive culture and ways to instill a love of reading in our students. I‘ve done a few read alouds and loved it. I now need to begin incorporating it more systematically! You ROCK!


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