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 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 so many students who get extremely discouraged when tough things happen at school. I hate when students get a couple of assignments returned with low grades, then immediately want to 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 incredible pain 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. I also love how 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. But 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. But 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