A Book That Will Help Students Learn Why They Should Speak Out Against Hate

I’m writing this a few days after white supremacists marched around Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting horrible things.  Thankfully, I’ve seen many teachers post messages on Facebook saying they will help their students understand the importance of speaking up against white supremacists and the hate they stand for.  One of my favorite posts was written by Love, Teach which said,

#1 teaching objective in my class this year: Love is louder than hate, but only if we choose to open our mouths.  Clearly, the rest of my curriculum can wait.”

I have also seen teachers post the importance of using specific vocabulary when describing the events of Charlottesville, like this, by Digital Divide & Conquer.

Use Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry to teach students to speak up against hate.

Teachers can talk about this every day in their classroom, but we all know students learn much better through engaging lessons.  I love using books to teach students important lessons because kids can develop a strong connection to the characters of an awesome book.  Once that connection is made, the lesson you’re trying to teach can be learned much more effectively.

Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry is an excellent book you can use to teach your students about the hatred that white supremacists stand for and the importance of speaking up for people who are oppressed.

The book is set in Mississippi in the 1930s, but it’s important that students realize there are still many people who act like the hateful, racist people they read about in the book.  Curriculum often implies that racism is something that happened a long time ago.  Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry teaches students what it’s like for a black family to constantly be affected by hateful things racist people do.  It’s up to teachers to ensure their students realize this sort of hatred still exists.

Brief Synopsis of the Book

The main character is a young girl named Cassie.  She lives with her three brothers, mother, father, and grandmother.  They are very proud of the fact that they own land.  Cassie’s parents simply want to enjoy their land and take care of their children.  Unfortunately, they constantly hear stories of white people doing horrible things to black people they know.  This causes a lot of tension for the family throughout the book.  By the end of the story, the violence hits close to home for Cassie, whose father is forced to make a drastic decision in order to keep people safe.

Several events in this book are powerful teaching tools to help students understand the importance of speaking out against racism.  

Cassie’s family is amazing.  Your students will develop a strong connection with them.  Cassie experiences many things your students can relate to.  She argues with her siblings, but will do anything to protect them.  She has to help with lots of chores at home, but she loves her family deeply.  She has some difficulties at school, but she wants to get a good education.  It’s impossible for the reader to dislike Cassie’s family.

Since your students will develop a connection to Cassie and her family, your students will also feel the tension of the violence and racism that occurs in the book.  (Sadly, you may have students who can relate to it.)  While this may make students uncomfortable, it opens the door for many teachable moments.  For example:

Event #1:  Early in the book, when Cassie and her siblings are walking to school, a white bus driver swerves toward them and forces them to jump off the road into a muddy ditch to avoid being hit.  Your students need to realize there are still white people who would like to do this to black children.  Also, that bus was full of white students.  Ask your students what they would do if they witnessed something similar today.  Hopefully, they would tell their parents to call a school official and get that bus driver fired.  Teach students that someone on that bus should have spoken up against the bus driver for what he did to Cassie and her siblings.  Students must realize this is NOT Cassie’s responsibility.

Event #2:  In chapter five, Cassie helps her grandmother sell milk and eggs at a town market.  Cassie is angry because they have to set up their stand at the back of the market.  Only white people can sell at the front.  Even though Cassie is angry about this unfair rule, she knows she can’t say anything because someone would hurt her.  Your students need to realize there are still ways that black people are not given the same chances as white people to succeed.  Also, discuss with your students how amazing it would have been for some white people at the market to speak up and say that black people should not be forced to the back.

That’s a theme that keeps occurring throughout the book.  Terrible things happen to black people, but Cassie’s parents feel like saying something will only put their family in danger.  Emphasize the importance of speaking up for people who are the victims of racism.  Be sure your students understand things like this happen today.  Again, that won’t come as a shock to some of your students.

Event #3:  A white girl yells at Cassie for accidentally bumping into her at the market.  The white girl then says horrible things to Cassie.  The girl’s dad grabs Cassie’s arm and starts yelling at her too.  As a crowd starts to gather, Cassie’s grandmother is terrified that things could soon become violent, so she tells Cassie to apologize to the girl.  Cassie is furious that her grandmother made her apologize.  When Cassie gets home and tells her mother about it in chapter six, her mother says, “Baby, you had to grow up a little today.  I wish…well, no matter what I wish.  It happened and you have to accept the fact that in the world outside this house, things are not always as we would have them to be.”  The conversation continues for several pages.  Some of your students probably haven’t been forced to have conversations like this with their parents.  It’s important these students realize that many kids today, including some of their classmates, are forced to have difficult conversations similar to this with their parents.  Based on the Facebook posts I’ve read about conversations black parents must have with their children, too many kids today are forced to “grow up” far too soon.

There are several other events where racist white people do horrible things to the black characters in the story.  Students need to understand that these kinds of things still happen.  It’s also important for students to think about what they’d do if they witnessed something like that.

If you need more resources to teach Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, I have created writing prompts and quizzes that are available in my TpT store.  Click here to learn more.

If you’re looking for more lesson ideas, here are some websites and blog posts that may help.

Teaching Tolerance 

Their website states, “From film kits and lesson plans to the building blocks of a customized Learning Plan—texts, student tasks and teaching strategies—our resources will help you bring relevance, rigor and social emotional learning into your classroom—all for FREE.”

A Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice, by the Cult of Pedagogy

In addition to resources, this blog post offers helpful advice for teachers who are planning lessons about social justice.

Social Justice Book List (August 2017) compiled by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year

This PDF gives short descriptions of numerous books sorted by early learning grades, elementary, middle school, and high school.  You can definitely find an awesome book to read on this list.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for all that you do for your students.  Teaching becomes a more important profession every day.  I hope this blog post has given you a few ideas that will help your students understand the importance of speaking up against hateful people.

 

 

 

The Perfect Book for Teaching Growth Mindset

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

Hatchet is the perfect book to help students understand the benefits of developing a growth mindset!  The story is about a 13-year-old boy, Brian, who survives a plane crash.  Then through sheer will power and determination, he survives in the wilderness for months until he is rescued.  Reading Brian’s story of survival gives you plenty of ways to teach your students growth mindset because Brian never gives up.  He forces himself to keep trying even when he fails.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating how Brian talks to himself as he wills himself to accomplish tasks.  Brian is the perfect character for your students to read about as you teach them to develop a growth mindset.

In this blog post, I’ll give you three ways your students can learn why it’s important to develop a growth mindset after reading Hatchet.  After that, you’ll see three discussion topics that you can use with your students after they read Hatchet to reflect upon the growth mindset lessons they learned from Brian that they can apply in their lives.

Growth Mindset Lessons

Brian is never successful at first when he tries something new.  But the harder Brian works to achieve something, the more pride he feels when he accomplishes it.  

Brian finds berries to eat within a few days after crash landing.  Then he figures out how to catch fish.  But nothing compares to the pride he feels when he cooks his first bird and eats delicious meat.  Several chapters give details about Brian building tools to catch animals.  Then he improves those tools over and over again until they work.  In chapter 15, Brian starts craving meat.  So he figures out a way to finally catch birds that he calls “fool birds.”  It takes him a long time to figure out how to catch one.  Brian fails the first several times he tries to catch a fool bird.  But he never gives up.  When he finally catches one to cook, he says the meat tastes better than anything his mother has ever cooked.  Brian feels tremendous pride because he worked so hard to catch it.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating all the work that went into catching a bird and the immense pride Brian felt when he was eating it.  This is a tremendous example for your students to see that nothing compares to the satisfaction of working hard to accomplish something.

 

Brian is a normal kid, but he learns a lot about surviving in nature because he is willing to learn from his mistakes.

The text is clear that Brian is not a genius or expert outdoorsman.  Brian is used to living in the city.  He had problems doing simple bike repairs before the plane crash.  He survives because he keeps trying to learn new things and realizes that failure is part of learning. In chapter 14, a skunk sneaks into Brian’s shelter at night and steals food.  Brian realizes he was foolish to bury them in the ground where any animal can get it.  After this failure, Brian realizes he needs to store his food in a high place where animals can’t steal it.  He finds a place, then he has to use tree branches to build a ladder for him to reach this place.  Once he has his food out of reach, he feels extremely proud.  He never has any more food stolen for the rest of the book.  It’s an outstanding example of Brian learning from a mistake.  There are MANY scenes like this where Brian fails, then learns from it.

 

Facing problems head-on becomes a habit for Brian.

The story is full of challenges for Brian.  But instead of getting discouraged by them, he always forces himself to think of solutions.  In chapter 16, Brian was attacked by a moose.  Later that night, his shelter was destroyed by a tornado.  But the next morning, Brian started thinking about how he would rebuild his shelter.  He realized he was “tough in the head” because he had gotten so used to facing problems rather than getting discouraged by them.  It had become a part of who he is.  This is an outstanding lesson for your students.  Just like working out can make you stronger physically, forcing yourself to solve problems rather than getting discouraged can make you stronger mentally.

Discussion topics:

In chapter 18, Brian retrieves a huge bag of supplies from the plane that crashed into the lake.  The bag is full of incredible things that will help Brian tremendously.  But the text in chapter 19 said the pack “Gave Brian up and down feelings.”  Why would Brian feel “down” about the contents of this bag?

Possible response:  Brian had spent about two months surviving on his own in the wilderness.  Other than his hatchet, he built everything on his own.  He figured out everything on his own.   These supplies are like a bunch of shortcuts.  Nothing about the last two months has been a shortcut for Brian.  Students may also think Brian is sad that he didn’t have these supplies at first.  But I feel like most of the text evidence suggests that Brian is not fond of using supplies that will make things like hunting, catching fish, and starting fires, a lot easier.

 

At the beginning of chapter 8, Brian is attacked by a porcupine in his sleep.  Besides the pain of the needles in his leg, why does he start crying?  Then what makes Brian realize that crying accomplishes nothing and how does that help him during the rest of the story?

Possible response:  At the end of chapter 7, Brian falls asleep feeling more content than he has since the plane crash.  He has a shelter and he’s full from eating a lot of berries.  But in the middle of the night, a porcupine gets into Brian’s shelter and shoots several sharp needles into Brian’s leg.  The pain is bad, but Brian feels terrible because he hasn’t figured out how to make fire yet.  He wonders what will happen if a larger animal gets into his shelter at night.  Then he feels like he will never be able to survive and starts sobbing uncontrollably.  When he’s done, the text states, “Later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.  It wasn’t just that it was the wrong thing to do, or that it was considered incorrect.  It was more than that — it didn’t work.”  When Brian had problems later in the book, he didn’t cry.  He just kept thinking and trying new things until he found a solution.

 

After the rescue plane flies away in chapter 12, Brian feels like all hope is lost.  Then in chapter 13, the text states, “In measured time, forty-seven days had passed since the crash.  Forty-two days, he thought, since he had died and been born as the new Brian.”  Summarize what this means.  How has Brian become “the new Brian?”

Possible responses:  The rescue plane came a few days after Brian’s initial crash.  After Brian watched it fly away, he realized no one was coming for him.  He felt incredibly depressed and tried to kill himself.  But he didn’t.  The text states Brian returned to his shelter that night and realized, “He was not the same.  The plane crashing changed him, the disappointment cut him down and made him new.  He was not the same and would never be again like he had been.  That was one of the true things, the new things.  And the other one was that he would not die, he would not let death in again.”  This flashback that Brian has in chapter 13 happened 42 days earlier.  Students could also point to the fact that Brian never even thinks about quitting and never stops until he has figured out a way to accomplish what he sets his mind to.

I have created quizzes and writing prompts to help you teach Hatchet.  The prompts are excellent ways for your students to connect with the events in the book.  The quizzes are a quick way for you to ensure your students are comprehending the story.   Click the image below to see the novel study in my TpT store!

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

I hope your students enjoy this book and become more determined to get “tough in the head” just like Brian did!

 

The Key to Extraordinary — A Book That Will Spark Amazing Discussions

The Key to Extraordinary Discussion topics

Be warned:  You will pause many times while you read The Key to Extraordinary to ponder the words that you’ve just read!  I’ve never read a children’s book where I’ve stopped so many times to write down an awesome quote.

In this post, I’ve pulled out 10 excerpts that will lead to incredible discussions, or make excellent writing prompts, that are ideal for students in grades 4-7.  You’ll find PLENTY more as you read The Key to Extraordinary!!  I hope this post encourages you to read the book, which was published in January 2016!

Quick synopsis:  The story is about a 12-year-old girl named Emma whose family owns a business.  When Emma’s grandmother is forced to sell the business, Emma becomes determined to find a way to help keep it in her family.  Emma, like every other woman in her family’s history, has a dream that gives clues as to something extraordinary she will do in her life.  Emma is an extraordinary character, but she doesn’t realize how until the end of the story.

Here are some incredible excerpts for you to discuss with your students.  I’ve included the page number and the character who said it:

“In the eyes of many people, I may never live an extraordinary life.  But I will love in extraordinary ways.  And I hope I choose to always see the best in people.”   Emma, page 225

“Every creature in the world needs to be reminded that they aren’t alone.  That somebody cares about them.  That they have a friend to lead them out of the present mess.”  Emma, page 193

“Every day you live is a day for dreaming.  Every day is a day for adventuring.  And every day is a day for sharing with people you love, because love’s all that lasts.  It’s the only thing we carry out of this world.  It connects us all, in the end.”  Emma, page 224

“I think it’s kind of a cool way to live — to find something to celebrate every day.”  Emma’s friend, Cody Belle, page 111

“Fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.”  Emma, page 42

“I think about how nobody knows how long they have in the world.  And how we only get a certain number of words to say and share.  I’d hate for the last words that come out of my mouth to be mean ones.  I don’t want my words wasted.”  Emma, page 95

“My mama used to say that everybody you meet is a walking, talking broken heart.  Some people put the pieces back together better than others.”  Emma, page 113

“But in the moment Cody Belle told me Earl was missing, I came to an important conclusion:  My treasures weren’t just in the walls of that place.  My treasure was the people I loved.”  Emma, page 190

**You may want to delete the first part of that quote about Earl being missing if your students haven’t read it yet, as it does give away a dramatic event that happens.**

“I learned that courage and fear always come as a pair.  If you’ve got one inside you, you’ve surely got the other.”  Emma, page 200

In chapter 13, Emma reads a relative’s letter.  This relative’s house was burned down by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  The girl was blinded in one eye after the soldiers attacked her.  People wanted the girl to speak about this attack, but here’s how the girl responded:  “They wanted bloody details.  But I talked about forgiveness and family.  I talked about learning to rebuild a farm and a life, even though we started from ashes…sometimes, even doing the right thing will leave you with scars.  But beauty comes from ashes, too.  And I know that to be true.”  Rachel Miller, page 138

Trust me, there are MANY MORE thought-provoking words in Natalie Lloyd’s book!  I have eight more written down, but I didn’t want this post to go on forever!

I’ve created a novel study unit for this book because I want to make it easier for teachers to read The Key to Extraordinary with their class.  The writing prompts give your students more ways to respond to the book, in addition to the excerpts in this blog post.  The quizzes serve as quick comprehension checks after every two chapters.  Click the image below to grab these resources.

Key To Extraordinary Novel Study

I hope your students enjoy discussing what it means to be extraordinary!

 

Discussion Topics For 3 Books That Third Graders Will Enjoy

Books third graders will love

I taught third grade for nine years and it seemed that every one of my students loved reading books that involved animals!  All of the stories pictured include main characters who change because of a dog in the story.  These main characters also have to make difficult decisions based on their love for their dog.  There are also tons of great discussions you can have with your students as they read these books, so I’ve provided five ideas for each book.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo (AR level 3.9)

Plot:  The main character, Opal, has just moved to a new town and is lonely.  Her mother left when she was young, her dad is always busy as a preacher, and she is having a hard time making new friends.  But her life improves as soon as she brings home a stray dog, which she names Winn-Dixie.  Opal makes several new friends of all different ages and backgrounds as a direct result of things she is doing to take care of her new dog.

Third graders will enjoy this book because Opal loves talking about everything that’s on her mind when she’s around Winn-Dixie because she feels like the dog listens to her.  Many other characters fall in love with Winn-Dixie as the book progresses, which helps Opal make new friends.  Winn-Dixie seems to have a knack for gravitating toward nice people.  This helps Opal become friends with an older woman whom other kids call a “witch” and a man who people stay away from because he has been arrested.  Thanks to Winn-Dixie, kids learn why we shouldn’t judge people.

Discussion or writing topics:

–Which of Opal’s friends do you feel are the most unlikeliest friends she made?  Why do you feel this way about these two characters?  How did Winn-Dixie help Opal become friends with these two people?

–Why does Opal feel closer with her dad at the end of the book?  What three events do you think had the biggest impact on this?

–Would you like to have a dog like Winn-Dixie?  Explain why or why not.

–Why do you think Stevie, Dunlap, and Amanda started acting nicer to Opal at the end of the book?

–If Littmus Lozenges were real, do you think lots of people should eat them or not?  Explain why you feel this way.

I’ve created quizzes, writing prompts, vocabulary activities, cloze passages, and character-analysis pages to help you teach this awesome book.  Click the image to see this product in my TpT store.

Books about animals

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (AR level 4.4)

Plot:  The main character is a boy named Marty who tries to keep a dog (Shiloh) away from an owner who abuses the dog.  Marty has always wanted a dog, but his parents say they can’t afford to take care of one.  But when Marty realizes that Shiloh’s owner abuses him, he does everything he can to keep the dog away from this owner.  Marty’s family lives in a rural area, so he finds places to hide Shiloh from his family while keeping him away from the owner (Judd).  He sneaks food from dinner and gives it to Shiloh.  Marty feels terrible that he lies to his parents, but he justifies it because he is keeping Shiloh away from a terrible owner.

Third graders will enjoy this book because it shows a young boy going to extreme lengths to keep a dog safe.  Marty bravely stands up to Judd by telling him that the way he’s treating Shiloh is wrong.  The author also describes how Shiloh acts happier around Marty.  At the end, Marty agrees to do odd jobs for Judd in exchange for letting him keep Shiloh.  Marty’s parents are still nervous about affording this dog, but warm up to him because he brings so much joy to their family.

Discussion topics:

–Would you lie to your parents to keep a dog safe?  Why or why not?

–How would the story have been different if Marty had immediately told his parents that he was keeping Shiloh at their house to keep him away from Judd?

–At the end of the story, why do Marty’s parents feel better about keeping Shiloh, even though they’re not earning any extra money?  Is there something in your life you think is this valuable, even if it’s really expensive to keep?

–Reflect on all the things Marty did to keep Shiloh safe throughout the story.  What would you have done differently to keep Shiloh safe?  What do you think is one thing Marty did that was a really good idea?

–After reading this story, what have you learned about why it’s challenging to stand up for what’s right?

I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each chapter of Shiloh.  Click the image below to see more!

Books for animal lovers

White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan (AR level 3.1)

Plot:  The main character is a girl named Zoe whose family often keeps animals who need help.  A family moves in across the street with a mother who hates dogs and a young boy who does not speak.  As Zoe gets to know this young boy, she learns he doesn’t speak because he blames himself for some family problems.  But Zoe learns this boy also loves dogs.  The story ends with people doing brave things, the young boy talking, and the woman changing her feelings about dogs.  Zoe’s pets contribute to all of these events.

Third graders will enjoy this book because the young boy, Phillip, has a lot of troubling thoughts on his mind.  It seems like he will never speak.  But once he starts interacting with Zoe’s dogs, he opens up a bit — not by his words, but with his actions.  Zoe’s family are experts with animals and show a lot of love and care to all animals.  Her dad is a vet and her mom rescues dogs who need a home.  There are lots of examples of Zoe and her family treating animals extremely kindly and respectfully.  But it’s the care that one of their dogs shows to Phillip in a dangerous situation that causes this young boy to open up for good.

Discussion topics:

–How did Zoe’s dogs have such a tremendous impact on the way Phillip’s behavior changed?  Do you think it’s possible for an animal to have a huge impact on people in real life like that?

–What do you think is the biggest reason why Phillip started talking?  Explain why you think this.

–Near the end of the story, Phillip calls Jack (Zoe’s dog) a hero.  Do you agree with Phillip?  Why or why not?  How would you define the word “hero?”

–Have you ever known someone like Phillip who doesn’t say much?  What would you do to help someone who is really shy?

–Describe what Zoe’s house is normally like.  Would you like to live in a home like that?  Why or why not?

These are some quizzes and writing prompts I’ve created for this book.  Click to see this product in my TpT store, where you can download a preview.

Books for animal lovers

Four Books That Fifth Graders Won’t Stop Reading

Books Your Fifth Graders Won't Stop Reading

(Yes, that’s my daughter reading Hoot.  My legs are still sore!)

The best part of teaching fifth grade is watching kids get really excited about a good book.  It’s such a shame that reading “experts” in so many districts require teachers to use test-prep passages to teach reading.  Fifth graders are at an age where they crave relationships.  They love reading good books because they feel a connection with the story’s characters — something that’s impossible to do with a 2-3 page test-prep passage.

I’ve got about 8-10 awesome go-to books that I know fifth graders love.  But I always struggled to find time to read new books.  Then if I found a good book, I had to find resources to help me teach the standards using that book.

My goal with this blog post is to give you a brief description of four books and link you to resources I’ve created that can help you cover the standards while using quality literature.  I want you to be able to enjoy these books with your class, not worry about finding activities.

I know you can Google the synopsis of these books, but I will explain a few reasons why fifth graders will enjoy them.  Click the images if you’d like to see the novel study resources I’ve created for each book.

Ungifted, by Gordon Korman

This is about a boy (Donovan) who gets sent to a new school so he can avoid a huge punishment.  But then he surprisingly ends up enjoying this new school way more than his old one.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Donovan does not fit in at his new school because he’s not as smart as everyone else.  But he finds ways to fit in, earn the respect of his new classmates, and show that intelligence is not something that is only measured by grades on a report card.

–Donovan is very loyal to his family.

–Donovan is not afraid to take risks.  Here’s a response from one of my 5th graders who loves that Donovan is not a “normal” character.

Five Books Fifth Graders Will Love

 

Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen

This is about a boy named Roy who helps two other kids stand up to a major corporation so lots of animals will be able to keep their home.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Roy’s new friends delay this corporation’s project through some creative and funny methods, one of which involves putting gators in port-a-potties.

–They are protecting adorable baby owls.

–Roy stands up to a boy who is bullying him, but not by fighting him.

–At first, Roy has problems adjusting to his family’s move from Montana to Florida.  I’m sure you have students who have moved and miss their old home.

As you can see from the picture above, my daughter couldn’t put this book down!  Here are the novel study resources I’ve created that gave my students things to write about and discuss as they read Hoot.

Books fifth graders will love

 

Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

This story does a brilliant job of illustrating the life of an African-American family living in Mississippi in the 1930s.  Students will learn how racism affected the lives of African-American families during this time.  Students should realize how racist comments and actions have a devastating impact on people’s lives.  Hopefully, after reading about Cassie’s family, your students will think twice about making racist comments and/or posting hateful messages and images on social media.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Cassie is a very strong-willed young girl who stands up for what is right.  She has to make many difficult decisions.  Sometimes she regrets her choices.  But she always tries to do the right thing.

–Cassie’s parents and grandmother refuse to respond to racism with violence.  Instead, they come together in support of the entire black community.

–Your students have probably heard, or been the victim of, racist comments.  Cassie and her family will help your students learn the importance of standing up against racism, and ways of doing so without fighting.

–Your students will develop a STRONG connection with Cassie’s family.  They will feel angry and sad about the racist things that are done in the story.  Prepare for some deep questions and strong emotions as your students read this…which is exactly what we want when kids read, right?

There are LOTS of ways for your students to respond to this book!

Books Fifth Graders Will Love

 

Pie, by Sarah Weeks

This is a fun book about a girl’s mission to carry on her aunt’s legacy of baking wonderful pies as a way to unite her community.  The girl, Alice, also mends her rocky relationship with her mom, solves a mystery, and gains a lifelong friend.  If you’re looking for a new book to try with your class, I highly recommend Pie!

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Every chapter starts with a pie recipe!  Don’t read this book on an empty stomach!

–After Alice’s Aunt Polly (the famous pie chef) dies, many people try to get their hands on her secret recipes.  There are several mysteries that Alice attempts to figure out regarding this recipe.  Alice also has to figure out who is trying to steal these recipes.

–In the end, Alice learns to be content with whatever life gives you.  She gets along much better with her mom.  And she carries on her aunt’s legacy of baking pies to unite the community.

–This book was selected by Florida students in grades 3-5 as the best book on the state’s 2015-16 SSYRA list!  Every year, the SSYRA (Sunshine State Young Readers Award) committee selects 15 awesome books for students to read that year. Then  kids across Florida who read them vote on a winner.  It’s a really cool process!  I taught fifth grade in Florida for five years and always loved the books on the SSYRA list!

–Again, discussion and response topics are numerous with this book!

Four Books Fifth Graders Will Love

I know the pressure to teach test-prep passages is enormous.  It’s a shame that lots of teachers feel like they have to “sneak” good books in during their reading block instead using those boring passages.  But I hope you are able to read these books with your class this year.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each book.  For Hoot, I also have made vocabulary pages, cloze activities, and task cards with discussion topics.  Click the picture below to check them out!  They are available together at a discounted price, or individually if you’d prefer.

Novel studies for books that fifth graders love

 

 

 

Five Books About Determined Girls

Books about determined girls

I just finished reading five books that are awesome for the girls in your class!  Each book’s main character is a young girl between 10-13 years old who shows incredible determination in accomplishing an important goal.  These girls all overcome incredible challenges and don’t allow setbacks to keep them from accomplishing something they’ve set their mind to.  Even though they are hurt when people say rude things to them, they don’t respond with anger.  They are a great example of how to persevere when life gets difficult.   This drawing (not my original idea!) summarizes what each girl faces:

Five books about determined girls

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (AR level 3.7)

Main character:  Ally, who is dyslexic and a brilliant artist.

Problem:  Ally gets teased often at school because she has problems reading.  She does not like herself and gets in trouble often.

Ally’s class gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, in the middle of her sixth-grade year.  This teacher helps Ally realize that even though she has trouble reading, she is talented at many other things.  Ally starts to believe in herself a little more each day.  She starts working harder in school.  Mr. Daniels tutors Ally after school and uses many different techniques to help her learn to read.

Ally always assumed that her classmates hated her.  But by the end of the book, it is clear her classmates have noticed how hard Ally has been working.  They respect her artistic talents.  They appreciate the way that she treats people kindly.  By the end of the book, it’s clear that Ally is one of the most respected students in the class.  She still struggles with reading, but she is getting better.  Her determination has helped her gain new friends and a newfound respect for herself.  She realizes she is a person who has many talents.  She stops defining herself as someone who can’t read.

Serafina’s Promise, by Ann E. Burg (AR level 3.6)

Main character:  Serafina, a girl who lives in Haiti.

Problem:  Serafina desperately wants to attend school so she can become a doctor when she grows up.  But her family needs her at home to help with the daily chores.

Problem #2:  Once Serafina starts school, she starts to dislike it because they are required to learn French, a subject that Serafina feels is pointless.

Hopefully, your students will gain an appreciation for their ability to attend school every day after reading Serafina’s Promise!  Serafina wants to attend school more than anything in the world.  Serafina has to persuade her parents, but she also has to help her family rebuild after a life-threatening flood and earthquake.  After she helps her family build a new home after the flood, Serafina learns how to plant an herb garden.  Instead of complaining that her mother won’t let her attend school, Serafina becomes determined to use this herb garden as a way to earn more money for her family.  Her parents eventually allow Serafina to attend school.  Her mother says how impressed she has been that Serafina has earned extra money while keeping up with all of her other daily chores.

But once Serafina attends school, she gets discouraged because they have to learn French.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but by the end, Serafina becomes determined to do her best during these French lessons because that will allow her to accomplish her bigger goal of becoming a doctor.

All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman (AR level 6.0)

Main character:  Gladys, who is an incredible chef and a talented writer.

Problem:  Gladys has parents who don’t want her to cook because they feel like that’s not something kids should do.  Gladys also feels like her interest in food makes her an outcast at school.

Gladys is determined to write a restaurant review for a major New York City newspaper!  She mistakenly receives an assignment from an editor.  Even though she’s in sixth grade, Gladys feels like she’s talented enough to write this review. But Gladys feels like if her parents find out about this, they won’t let her write it.  Gladys goes to great lengths to secretly get to this restaurant, but her plan hits lots of road bumps.  Ultimately, her kindness toward a mean girl enables Gladys to get to the restaurant and write this review.  By the end of the story, Gladys’s parents respect her culinary and writing talents and encourage her to cook more.  There were several times during the story when Gladys could have given up her desire to cook and write, but her determination helped her achieve her goal.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners (AR level 5.4)

Main character:  Gabby, who is incredible with children and a talented musician.

Problem:  Gabby must take care of a child whose life is in danger.  Additionally, if Gabby can keep this job a secret, she will earn a lot of money that she can save to help her attend her dream college in London.

Gabby is a famous babysitter.  Celebrities around the world send limos and private jets so Gabby can babysit their kids.  But Gabby gets a unique job offer to take care of alien children.  Gabby is excited because this job pays extremely well.  She is being raised by her mother and knows the extra money would really help her family.  It will also allow her to save some money so she can attend an awesome music college in London.  But there’s one big catch — Gabby can’t tell anyone about this top-secret job of watching aliens.

This becomes even more challenging when Gabby is told to babysit an alien child during school.  Thankfully, the child can change forms.  But as the school day progresses, an evil person finds out and tries to hurt the kid.  Gabby’s love for this child puts herself in several dangerous and embarrassing situations.  But her determination to protect this child ends up saving the child’s life and helping Gabby accomplish her musical goals as well.

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord (AR level 4.5)

Main character:  Lucy, who is an amazing photographer.

Problem:  Lucy wants to use her photography skills to make a friend’s grandmother have a memorable final summer at their lakeside cottage.

Lucy’s family has just moved to a small cottage near a lake in New Hampshire.  Lucy becomes friends with her neighbor, Nate, whose grandmother suffers from a mental disability.  Lucy decides to enter a photo contest and donate the money to Nate’s grandma if she wins.  But there are many challenges for Lucy to even enter this contest, much less win it.  Lucy experiences many setbacks in her plan.  But through it all, she remains determined to help Nate’s grandmother have happy memories during her final summer at the lake.

Florida teachers — These books were on the 2016-17 grade 3-5 SSYRA list!

My goal is to help teachers read quality literature with their students.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for all of these books.  Click the image below to check them out!

Novel studies for books about determined girls

 

Your Students Will Love This “Loser”

Your Students Will Love Reading About This Loser

Most of my fifth graders say Donald Zinkoff is their favorite character of any book they read all year!  We have incredible discussions while reading Loser because my students like Donald so much.  I wanted to share some discussion topics that will impact the way your students act when they see kids being picked on.

Author Jerry Spinelli describes Donald’s life from a young boy through middle school.  Donald is very different from his classmates.  He has zero social skills.  He has terrible handwriting.  He doesn’t get good grades.  He is incredibly clumsy.  It’s easy for anyone to pick on him.  When he gets to 4th grade, classmates begin calling him “loser.”

But Donald is one of the kindest, most tender-hearted characters your students will ever read about.  He cares about everyone.  He assumes everyone has good intentions.  He doesn’t hide his emotions.  His family doesn’t have much money, but Donald never cares about that.

I hope you read this book to your class because once your students fall in love with Donald, they will be forced to think about how they treat kids who act like him.  By fifth grade, everyone has been around someone like Donald.  Everyone has seen a kid get picked on because they’re different.  We have incredible discussions about this while we read Loser.

Discussion topic:

“We all agree that Donald is an incredible person.  We are all sad when he gets teased.  So what will you do next time you see someone like Donald getting picked on?”

Students NEED to realize that kids like Donald deserve respect.  Students NEED to understand it’s wrong to tease a person, even if everyone else is doing.  It is so powerful for students to feel sad for Donald as he is being teased by all of his classmates.  Reading about Donald is far more effective than me saying, “Don’t pick on others.”  This is big in helping kids understand why treating people respectfully is so important.

Discussion topic:

One time, a student asked me, “Why doesn’t everyone else (in the book) realize what a nice person Donald is?”

This is exactly what I want my kids to ask while they’re reading Loser because I want them to think about this next time they see a kid being teased because he/she acts differently than everyone else.

Discussion topic:

“What would happen if these kids got to know Donald instead of teasing him?  Do you think they would enjoy being around him?”

There is not ONE classmate who tries to get to know Donald during the book.  He even has a few teachers who are annoyed with the way he acts.  His fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Yalowitz, treats Donald more respectfully than any teacher he’s ever had.  My students like the way Mr. Yalowitz accepts Donald for who he is.  Then we talk about how good we would feel if a classmate made an effort to get to know Donald.

One year I read this book with a guided reading group instead of the whole class.  The five kids in my guided reading group loved Donald so much that they told their classmates about him.  The other kids asked to read Loser when I wasn’t using the books in guided reading.  I eventually ended up reading the book to the whole class because EVERY STUDENT was dying to read about Donald.

I hope you will find time to read Loser with your class this year.  I’ve developed a 50-page novel study unit to help your students respond to the text.  Or this can simply to give you more ideas of things to discuss while you read this during a read-aloud time.

Loser Novel Study Unit

 

 

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Students can learn so much more from novels than test-prep passages.  I know you’re under a ton of pressure to get students to pass multiple-choice reading tests.  But I hope you will find time this year to read awesome novels, like Esperanza Rising.  In addition to teaching reading skills, your students can learn to face challenging situations instead of giving up.

Teaching Growth Mindset with Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a wonderful story of a young girl whose life changes dramatically after a terrible tragedy.  The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, does a beautiful job of developing characters that students feel an immediate connection with.  This can really help your students develop a growth mindset.  I’ve taught so many students whose first instinct is to quit when faced with a challenging situation.  I hope you teach your students that challenging school assignments can help them grow academically.  Facing difficult situations in life can help them grow as a person.  We all know students are far more likely to remember these ideas from characters they connect with during a story as opposed to us lecturing them.  So here are three ways you can use the characters and events of Esperanza Rising to foster a growth mindset with your students.

 1.  You can learn a lot about yourself during difficult situations

Chapter one paints Esperanza as a nice, but spoiled, rich girl.  Her father is a wealthy land-owner.  Esperanza spends time with her father in the fields but never has to actually do any of the work.  She has servants attending to her every need.  She lives in a beautiful home and has very nice things.  Esperanza has a wonderful, loving family.  But that all changes when her father is murdered. Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave everything behind and flee to the United States.

Esperanza’s new home in California is tiny and dirty.  She is thrust into a new life where she has to do many chores that servants had always done for her.  Esperanza is miserable.  Her father has just died.  She is living in a strange place.  She is going to have to work in a way that she’s never worked before.  It would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

Things get worse for Esperanza before they get better.  One of her first chores is to sweep, and she fails because she’s never had to sweep before.  Other girls laugh at Esperanza’s inability to perform such a simple task.  She refuses to leave the house for a day because she is so humiliated.  Later, she has to take care of babies.  She feeds them plums, not knowing this would give the babies an upset stomach.  She also burns food that she cooks.  She has given these tasks an honest effort, but has failed.  Again, it would be really easy for Esperanza to quit.

But Esperanza decides to ignore the taunts of others and continue cleaning.  She continues looking after the babies.  She continues cooking.  Day, after day, after day.  SLOWLY, Esperanza learns how to accomplish these tasks.  I emphasize the word SLOWLY with my students to help them realize success does not happen overnight, as Esperanza finds out.

Later, Esperanza’s mother gets really sick.  She has to stay in the hospital for several months.  Now, Esperanza is forced to work in the fields.  Esperanza promises her mom to take care of the family.  I tell my students that Esperanza is probably not the best field worker, but she does well enough to keep her job and provide a little bit of money that her family needs to survive while her mother is sick.

The book ends one year after her father died.  During that year, Esperanza has done things she never thought she could do.  I have the students reread chapter one and think, “Would Esperanza have ever dreamed she could accomplish these things (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, farming, etc.) just a year earlier?”

Also, kids need to realize that there are times when life will be challenging.  But it is possible to come out of these challenging situations a stronger person.  Emphasize to your students that Esperanza went from a spoiled, helpless girl to a strong, determined woman who provided for her family – all in one year.

This is awesome for students who are adapting to a new school, city, or country.  You can say:

“I know it’s hard adjusting to life in this new school/city/country.  Remember Esperanza.  She fought through lots of challenging situations and after a year, she started to feel better about her new home.”

2.  Accept help

When Esperanza arrived in California, a young girl named Isabel greeted her.  Isabel was in awe of Esperanza.  Isabel had heard all about Esperanza’s extravagant life in Mexico before her father died.  Esperanza, on the other hand, looked down on Isabel for being poor.  Esperanza saw Isabel’s meager home and possessions.  She wondered how Isabel could be so happy with so little.

SLOWLY, Esperanza realizes that Isabel is a kind girl.  Esperanza also realizes that Isabel knows how to do things like clean and babysit.  So Esperanza drops her ego and asks Isabel to teach her how to sweep and take care of babies, even though she thought Isabel was beneath her.  Isabel is a huge help as Esperanza starts to learn how to tackle the day-to-day chores of her new life.  Esperanza eventually becomes friends with Isabella.

This is an outstanding reminder to students that everyone needs to accept help.  It’s also a good reminder that the people we look down upon may be the ones who can help us the most.

Tell a student:

“I know you’re struggling to learn this science vocabulary.  And I know you’re not getting along with (insert name or names of students), but I think the two of you could help each other learn this vocabulary and do well on your quiz.  Remember how Esperanza accepted help from Isabel.  I think (name of student) could help you just like Isabel helped Esperanza.”

3.  Remember the things you have to be thankful for

Esperanza hears her mother singing a few hours after they arrive at their new home in California.  Esperanza is furious.  How can her mother possibly be singing during such a terrible time?   They have gone from living in luxury to living in poverty in a very short time.  But Mama tells Esperanza to focus on what they do have.  They have each other.  They have a place to live.  They have people there who can help them.  And Mama has a job.  Mama reminds Esperanza that Abuelita would want her to make the best of her new life instead of dwelling on all the negatives.  Mama is not saying their new life is going to be easy.  But she reminds her daughter they still have a lot to be thankful for.

In my 14 years of teaching, I’ve taught many kids who have a difficult time focusing on the positives.  This story of Mama singing is great for students to think about during challenges they face.  Students need to know that it’s ok to get discouraged during challenging times.  Don’t tell students that they have to be positive, happy, cheerful people 24/7.  But Mama’s attitude helps kids remember that it’s possible to find a little bit of joy even during the gloomiest of situations.

Tell a student: 

“Sure you’re struggling with this math problem.  It’s really hard and that’s no fun.  But think about Esperanza’s mom when they first arrived in California.  Remember you have people around you who are here to help.  Look at this as a chance to grow and learn perseverance.”

I really hope you can read Esperanza Rising with your students.  You can use the story’s characters and events to teach reading skills, but the life lessons your students can learn are even more powerful.  These three ideas can start some discussions with your students, but there are many more ways this book can help your students develop a growth mindset.  I have also developed several activities for each chapter so you don’t have to worry about planning activities.  Click the image below for more info.

Enjoy this book with your students and remind them of these characters throughout the year.

Esperanza Rising Novel Study

 

Teaching Growth Mindset With Wonder

Wonder is my favorite book to read with fifth graders! Students’ reactions during key moments are priceless. They pound their desks with frustration about Julian. They cheer when August wins an award at the end. Since students get so hooked on this book, my primary focus is to use the events in Wonder to teach important growth mindset principles. I teach many reading standards while we read this book, but I feel like those are secondary to the valuable life lessons kids can learn from the characters and events in Wonder.

Teaching Growth Mindset Using Wonder

1. Life is full of bad days, but I can get through them.

I’ve taught many students who get discouraged when tough things happen at school. I hate when students get a couple of assignments returned with low grades then immediately stop working. I feel bad for kids who get teased and feel like they will never make friends. When these things happen, I remind students about August. He wanted to quit school several times during the story. August felt horrible when he overheard mean things said by his best friend, Jack. August’s classmates would not touch him because they said he had “the plague.” August experienced so many challenging days, but he bravely marched to school every day and tried his best. Slowly (important word there), August’s classmates realized he had a great sense of humor. They saw the amazing way he handled the hurtful things people did to him. By the end of the book, August earned the respect of his classmates and teachers. He won an incredible award. He had several good friends. For the first time in his life, he didn’t think about his appearance. It took an entire school year to reap these rewards, so it’s a good thing August continued going to Beecher Prep, even on days he didn’t feel like it.

2. I will have arguments with my friends. But I will work hard to resolve these differences. Friendships with good people are worth it.

I love the story of Via and Miranda. Many of my students clap when Via invites Miranda over to her house after the play. I know students have arguments with their friends. I also know that I am probably the last person they would talk to about these arguments. So I periodically remind students about Via and Miranda. These two drift apart once ninth grade starts without ever having a big fight. Via feels awkward around her old friend because Miranda looks different and talks about different things. Miranda feels awkward around Via because she feels like Via is judging her. The girls never discuss these things and as a result, they spend most of the school year avoiding each other. During the school play, Miranda makes a huge sacrifice for Via and her family. After the play, Via realizes what Miranda has done and invites her over. Both girls realize how much they have missed each other. So I remind students that good friends are worth fighting for. Don’t allow unresolved issues to allow you to drift apart from a good friend.

3. I will think about the way I treat others.

Even the most reserved students show anger at the way Julian treats August. They can’t believe that Julian says rude things to August the very first time they meet. Kids can’t believe Julian would treat such a kind, funny boy like August so terribly. All kids realize that August’s appearance is no reason for Julian to say such horrible things to him. I remind students of their realization throughout the book. Eventually, I make the kids accept the harsh fact that they have probably treated someone badly at some point in their life. I ask them to reflect on that memory, and on Julian’s actions toward August. As fifth graders prepare for middle school, I remind them not to join a crowd of people who are teasing someone who is different. I remind them of their outrage over Julian as to why.

If you haven’t read Wonder with your students, I hope you will find a way to work it into your lesson plans. I know it’s challenging teaching novels because there are not always a lot of materials to use. So I hope these ideas have given you a few things to work with. There are MANY more events in Wonder that teach your students growth mindset. I’ve put together over 100 pages of activities that will help your kids connect with the incredible characters in Wonder.

Wonder Novel Study Unit