University of Pittsburgh School of Education

How can I use a Story Sack Program to build home/school partnerships that support my students in their reading activities?

By Dr. Rae Tucker and Ms. Kim Simons, Pittsburgh LEADERS Staff

Recent research has emphasized how important it is to combine family, school, and even community resources to help children reach their educational goals. Both the family and the school share an interest in the child, share knowledge of the child, and share experience with the child (Conner & Epstein, 1995; Epstein & Dauber, 1991). Families and schools need to identify shared goals for their children and use these goals as a basis for working together to benefit their children. One of the more educationally significant partnerships of parents and teachers is parent supervision of a learning activity in the home (Becker & Epstein, 1982). One interesting and manageable partnership is a backpack program that brings three themed and leveled books home with suggestions for oral book responses and a written response journal, as well as writing and drawing materials and a list of backpack contents (Richgels & Wold, 1998). Since access to books is critical to any literacy program, loaning a weekend Story Sack to students can be a simple outreach strategy (Come & Fredericks, 1995).

The Story Sack Program


  1. Select a pile of books to be used for this program. The goal is to provide books that are likely to initiate positive parent-child interactions. Keep themes and leveling in mind (see below).
  2. Categorize the books according to reading ease. Use the following categories: easiest, in-between, and challenging.
  3. Sort books into sets of three books (each Story Sack will contain three themed and leveled books). Each set of three should include one easiest, one in-between, and one challenging book. Each set should also address a common theme (e.g. Reptiles, Family, Pets, Friendship, Birthdays, Weather, etc.). Pay attention to which themes seem to be most successful and make adjustments accordingly.
  4. Prepare support materials for each Story Sack. These materials include:
    • Letter to parents (sample letter)
    • Response journal (instructions)
    • Writing and drawing materials
    • Checklist of the Sack's contents
  5. Schedule time for students to report the results of their Story Sack experiences.


  1. Take time to show children how to use the Story Sacks.
  2. Show how to take care of the materials in the Sack.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the books (look at the books in one Story Sack).
    1. Give a book talk about each of the books in one Sack.
    2. Talk about how the books are alike.
    3. Talk about how there is one easy (read by myself), one in-between (read with me), and one challenging (read to me) book.
  4. Demonstrate reading strategies:
    1. Decoding Strategies
      • Using the think-aloud strategy with an unknown word.
      • Using picture cues.
      • Using familiar word families.
      • Using any other decoding strategies you have used with your students.
    2. Comprehension Strategies
      • Thinking aloud with the story.
      • Retelling the story.
      • Using any other comprehension strategies you have used with your students.
  5. Discuss and model suggestions for response journals with your students and in the parent letter. Suggestions include:
    1. Create your own journal page by writing or drawing a response to one or more of the books.
    2. Students can create a journal page about their favorite part of the story or how the story reminded them of something.
    3. Parents can create a journal page about something of interest to them or what they/their child learned from the story.


The University of Pittsburgh Reading Center has used the Story Sack program. They felt that the families of their young readers enjoyed and actually looked forward to the weekly Story Sacks. On a questionnaire, one mother reported that, "She could hardly wait to get home, run upstairs, and rip into her new Story Sack!" While not all of the Reading Center families shared their reactions so graphically, in questionnaires they wrote about the memories that a particular story brought to life for them.


  • Becker, H.J., & Epstein, J.L. (1982). Parent involvement: A survey of teacher practices. The Elementary School Journal, 83, (2), 85-102.
  • Come, B., & Fredericks, A.D. (1995). Family literacy in urban schools: Meeting the needs of at-risk children. The Reading Teacher, 48, (7), 566-570.
  • Epstein, J.L., & Dauber, S.L. (1991). School programs and teacher practices of parent involvement in inner-city elementary and middle schools. The Elementary School Journal, 91, (3), 290-305.
  • Reutzel, D.R., & Fawson, P.C. (1990). Traveling Tales: Connecting parents and children through writing. The Reading Teacher, 44, (3), 222-227.
  • Richgels, D.J., & Wold, L.S. (1998). Literacy on the road: Backpacking partnerships between school and home. The Reading Teacher, 52, (1), 18-29.
  • Shockley, B. (1994). Extending the literate community: Home-to-school and school-to-home. The Reading Teacher, 47, (6), 500-502.