If you are using a theme, talk about it with the children first and try to make connections to their own experiences. For example, ‘Today we are going to read some books about friendship. A friend is somebody who cares about us, and who likes to spend time playing with us. Can everybody who has a friend put a hand up in the air? What kinds of things do you like to do with your friends?’
Alternately, you could use a puppet hidden in a box to introduce the theme and stimulate curiosity. A session about mice started with the following introduction: ‘Today’s books are all about a very small animal. It has two ears, a long tail and whiskers. Can anyone guess what it is? That’s right, a mouse.’ The presenters then incorporated a factual book on mice and used selected pages from the book to talk about the different body parts of a mouse and its appearance (e.g. whiskers, the number of legs, tail and so on).
Another option is to bring in a prop to stimulate children’s interest in the theme. In a session about pirates, the presenter introduced the theme, and related vocabulary, through a puppet: ‘This is Pete the Pirate. Pete, can you teach us how to say some pirate words?’. Pete then taught the children various expressions such as ‘Aye’ and ‘Ahoy me hearties’. The information book 100 Things You Should Know about Pirates by Andrew Langley was also used to teach vocabulary associated with aspects of life on the seas (e.g. ‘hammock’, ‘tall ships’, ‘mast’, ‘sails’).
Before the session, you may need to research the theme in order to be able to introduce it well to the children. For example, if the theme is insects and you plan to read The Hungry Caterpillar, you may wish to read about the process of metamorphosis before the session, so that you can easily recall, and teach preschool-aged children, the names and functions of the different stages in the life cycle of butterflies – for example, immature stage (caterpillar) to an adult stage (butterfly); the function of the cocoon (to protect from predators); behavioural differences (most caterpillars feed on plants and butterflies on nectar from flowers). Include any interesting questions and facts you think relevant (e.g. Are caterpillars insects?) to promote the development of background knowledge.