This past Friday I attended a workshop with the educational consultant, Diane Cunningham. I have attended a few of her workshops and classes over the past few years and always walk away with valuable information. This session was on supporting student questioning. We explored four different questioning strategies.
Questioning is important in the classroom because we want students to ask questions and have their questions drive learning because questioning is a key skill of critical thinkers and promotes ownership and engagement.
When I am teaching both middle school and on a college level I might share a video for students to view and discuss. I have students create a chart in their ELA Notebooks or give them an organizer that requires them to jot down what they see, what they think, what they wonder. This strategy is great to use with images, videos, and even primary sources or text.
This thinking routine is from Project Zero (Harvard Education) and encourages students to make careful observation, stimulate curiosity, and set the stage for learning or inquiry.
Another questioning strategy that I use often is QFT from The Right Question Institute. The QFT process requires students to produce as many questions as possible in a specific amount of time about a quote, image, statement or problem. Back in 2018 I wrote a blog post about the QFT method titled, “THE ONE WHO FORMULATES THE QUESTIONS OWNS THE LEARNING.” The cofounder of the Right Question Institute, Dan Rothstein argues, “The rigorous process of learning to develop and ask questions offers students the invaluable opportunity to become independent thinkers and self-directed learners.”
Rothstein and Santana have their own Question Formulation Technique (QFT) – four rules for producing questions:
Ask as many questions as you can.
Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
Change any statements into questions.
Not only is this a great strategy for students to showcase their wonderings, but it can lead to a discussion about Convergent Questions and Divergent Questions. Convergent questions focus on a correct response whereas divergent questions allow for more than one plausible and reasonable answers.
A) Oral questions posed during classroom recitation
B) Written questions
Posing questions before a reading should be done with students who are:
A) Older/better readers
B) Younger/struggling readers
Increasing the use of higher-order questions to _____ percent improves student-to-student interactions, speculative thinking, length of student responses, and relevant questions posed by learners.
Should wait time differ when asking lower- vs. higher-order questions?
ANSWERS Answer 1: A, oral questions Answer 2: A, because young/struggling readers often read only the parts of the text that help them answer the questions. Answer 3: 50 percent. Answer 4: Yes. Wait time should be about three seconds for lower-order questions, and longer for higher-order questions.
When students are working in book clubs or literature circles I aways assign a different discussion director for each meeting. The role of the discussion director is to create questions around the big ideas or themes in the reading to help initiate a lively discussion about the text. Again, students are in charge of creating their own questions and sharing their thoughts, ideas, insights, and wonderings.
The one questioning strategy that was new to me was the question matrix designed by Andy Milne. Students are provided with the question matrix and an image, text, video, even an infographic and have to brainstorm the different questions using the stems on the question matrix. Diane had a poster size of the question matrix on the wall for students to add sticky notes with the question stems based on images viewed.
Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation states, “Questions stimulate discussion and creative and critical thinking, as well as determine how students are thinking. Questions help students retain material by putting into words otherwise unarticulated thoughts.”
Questions can diagnose student understanding of material.
Questions are a way of engaging with students to keep their attention and to reinforce their participation.
Questions can review, restate, emphasize, and/or summarize what is important.
Questions stimulate discussion and creative and critical thinking, as well as determine how students are thinking.
Questions help students retain material by putting into words otherwise unarticulated thoughts.
It was a few years back when I came across an image on social media with quotes from Shakespeare and Hip Hop. Then I found one that was Batman or Shakespeare. Recently @mrsorman posted Green Day or Whitman? I love these quotes for a classroom activity. My students are kicking off a mystery unit and I have immersed them in video and print texts of iconic murder mysteries. I thought Agatha Christie or Wednesday Addams would be perfect to use as a hook for this unit.
Whether you make your own (I use @Canva’s carousel templates) or purchase another teachers, you can use these in many different ways to engage active learning and critical thinking skills. Here are five ways to incorporate Who Said It? in your classroom this week:
Gallery Walk – Post the quotes around the room and have students walk around viewing and recording their answers. This technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. Students can work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to the quotes or work independently and they provide evidence to support their answers.
Bulletin Board – Looking for a low stakes activity but visual eye candy for your classroom wall? Post all the quotes on a bulletin board and you might even post the answers underneath for students to check their guesses.
Station Rotation – This can be one of your stations or learning activities that students rotate through. Kick it up a notch as a hot potato game and use that plush hot potato. First, all members of this station sit in a circle. Then, squeeze the Hot Potato to start the music and pass the spud to the player next to you or even across from you. Toss the tater back and forth, up high, down low, around and around. When the music stops the person holding the potato takes a quote from the jar, reads it aloud and then provides an answer aloud. Play a few rounds to have other group members answer additional questions in the jar.
4. Online Game – Choose an on line game platform like Booklet, Kahoot, Quizlet Live, or Quizizz to test your students literary knowledge. This can be played as a hook or bell ringer to start class or use as a wrap up after discussing elements of mystery.
5. Silent Debate – To help students practice argumentative writing, students can select a quote or randomly choose a quote and then have to defend their answer by writing a short response with two pieces of evidence to support their claims.
If you would like a copy of this Who Said It deck, please email me. There are about twenty quotes in total.
When rock and roll music made its debut there was hysteria that it would corrupt youth. Television was first thought to rot the minds of its viewers. In 1981 when MTV hit the airwaves there was the same debate over a 24 hour video music channel. If we look throughout history of the inventions that pivot our civilization there has always been some hysteria and backlash. The same skepticism goes for social media apps today.
ChatGPT is no different. In fact, when I was scrolling through social media I stopped to see a post by a edu-influencer state that “ChatGPT is a threat to teachers and the notion of school.” But before we go down the road how this might be a detriment to education, let’s look at some positives and how educators and parents might use this assistive technology to become better writers and critical thinkers.
ChatGPT is AI (artificial intelligence) that allows its users to generate text based on any topic and voice or style requested. Whereas this might sound like an amazing invention (it is!), there are also some flaws in the program. For example, the information that ChatGPT produces might not be accurate and that is where users need to be critical of the information produced and check over the facts. Here are three ways students and educators might consider utilizing this assistive technology to be successful readers and writers.
For a student with dyslexia or other learning differences, ChatGPT can be used to assist its users with outlining a long writing assignment or essay. Then, once an outline is formed from the program the students can use their knowledge and research to expand their writing and complete the assignments using the ChatGPT as for sentence starters and essay organizer. The key here is building on and making better what was produced.
Teachers might create an essay in front of students using ChatGPT. Then, students can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the writing produced. Is the piece accurate? Does the writing contain the elements of a great essay? What is missing? What can be added to improve the writing? How does the voice of the essay sound, artificial or human? Students might even give the essay a grade.
Need a study buddy before a big test or exam? Both teachers and students can use ChatGPT to create review questions. ChatGPT can even make a sample test if you ask it and it is a great way to practice and study to ace the test.
The possibilities are endless and consider ChatGPT to help assist its users in leveling up their written communication skills and savvy consumers of information.
One of my favorite New York Times series is Anatomy of a Scene, “A video series where directors comment on the craft of movie-making.”
Julie Hodgson of the The Learning Network at The New York Times writes “In these short clips, film directors narrate a scene from one of their movies, walking viewers through the decisions they made and the effects they intended them to have. These videos demonstrate to students how to step outside of their personal reader-to-text experiences and examine literature from a wider lens — to see a story, memoir, essay or poem from the perspective of its creator.”
As my students finish reading graphic novels and I thought it would be awesome to have students create their own scene analysis video break down for readers. I first introduced students to the film series and we watched about four in one period – each episode is no more than three minutes. Then, we used a window notes template to record things we learned about the scene, details the director shared, and how this illuminated our understanding about characterization and theme.
As a class we brainstormed the process of making our own Anatomy of a Scene:
Choose a key scene in the text.
Complete the graphic organizer to analyze and deconstruct the scene.
Use the script template to help write our the key ideas to be presented.
Curate the images and types of shots to help visually understand the literary analysis.
I am currently reading Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning (Corwin, 2021) after three recommendations. The book organizes “each chapter by exploreing one of the 14 optimal practices, beginning with a deep dive into what are the institutionally normative practices that permeate many classrooms around the world. It reveals how each of these practices is working against our efforts to get students to think, and then it offers a clear presentation of what the research revealed to be the optimal practice for each variable, unpacking it into macro- and micro- practices. These descriptions are punctuated by excerpts from the data, anecdotes from teachers, photographs from real K–12 classrooms, and responses to frequently asked questions (FAQ).” Each chapter provides micro and macro moves that I have been considering and implementing into my classroom. The first thing that I did was to decenter my classroom and randomize the seating daily. Every day, students sit with different classmates. Desks are arranged in pods of three. This has been the first game changer since there is no front of the classroom anymore and I am teaching from every direction. Secondly, I have no complaints about seating or collaboration.
The next pivot I made in my classroom was teaching vertically. Liljedahl states in the book, “One of the most enduring institutional norms that exists in mathematics classrooms is students sitting at their desks (or tables) and writing in their notebooks. This turned out to be the workspace least conducive to thinking. What emerged as optimal was to have the students standing and working on vertical non- permanent surfaces (VNPSs) such as whiteboards, blackboards, or windows. It did not matter what the surface was, as long as it was vertical and erasable (non-permanent). The fact that it was non-permanent promoted more risk taking, and the fact that it was vertical prevented students from disengaging. Taken together, having students work, in their random groups, on VNPSs had a massive impact on transforming previously passive learning spaces into active thinking spaces where students think, and keep thinking, for upwards of 60 minutes.” This means that the more time students are able to stand, think, and actively engage with the material the better.
How does this translate in the ELA classroom when students are reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening versus completing math problems? Here are four different ways to shift learning vertical that I have been utilizing to optimize learning.
Gallery Walk – This discussion technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. They work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts. Use a Gallery Walk at any point in the lesson to engage students in conversation, I tend to use them at the beginning of a lesson to showcase and examine mentor texts and model writing/reading passages. Teacher can also use gallery walks after reading a text to discuss ideas, themes, and characters. Gallery walks can be text based on visual texts.
Grafitti – Similar to a gallery walk, items are posted around the room: images, questions, ideas, concepts, or scenarios. Large sheets of paper or chart paper are placed on the walls of the classroom. Students write their responses, draw pictures and record their thoughts on the given topic on the graffiti wall. Students are encouraged to use colored markers to make the wall interesting and to identify each student’s work/response.
Use a Gallery Walk and the Graffiti format for students to get feedback on their work. Hang student products, such as drawings, visual representations, poster projects, and or one pagers. Students, individually or in groups, rotate around the room and provide feedback to the creator of the work. Students are required to record one thing they like about the work displayed, one thing they wonder about it, and one thing the creator could do next or improve.
Four Corners – Students are presented with a controversial statement or are asked a question. In each of the four corners of the classroom, an opinion or response is posted. Students express their opinion or response by standing in front of one of four statements, and then talking to others about why they have chosen their corner. Four Corners promotes listening, verbal communication, critical thinking, and decision-making.
Question Trails – My reading specialist and colleague introduced me to these on your feet activities last year and I am obsessed. A question trail is an engaging activity that allows students to move around the classroom and complete different tasks. Students follow the “trail” of multiple-choice questions that will show what they have learned from unit of study, a text, or reading. Question trails can be collaborative or individual. It is really up to you the teacher to make that choice. The basic premise of the question trail is for students to understand the material the teacher has provided. The students answer a series of multiple-choice questions. If the questions on the trail are answered correctly, students will be prompted to move to the next question. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will end up at a question they have already answered which means they will need to backtrack to see where they made an error. They will need to determine where they went wrong. To learn how to make your own question trail you can visit Creative ALS Teaching.
Tomorrow when my students walk into the classroom we will begin class with a gallery walk of questions about feedback for them to read and respond to on big chart paper. Then students will watch Austin’s Butterfly and take notes about what effective feedback is and is not. We will discuss as a whole class what good feedback look and sounds like before we meet with writing partners to get feedback on the writing we are working on. There are a few teaching moves that I am implementing from Thinking Classrooms to allow students to actively engage in the lesson and use their mind for thinking deeply.
Point of View is the standpoint from which a story is told. First Person is told from the view point of one of the characters using the pronouns “I” and “We.” Third person limited the narrator is an outside observer that focuses on the thoughts and feelings of only one character. Third person omniscient the narrators an outside observer who can tell us the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in a story. Third person objective the narrator reports the facts of a narrator as a seemingly neutral and impersonal outside observer.
I want students to be able to identify and write with different points of view. After a short mini lesson on point of view I give students a photography from Diane Arbus. Diane Arbus was an American photographer from the 1960s. She photographed a wide range of subjects including in New York City including, carnival performers, people with dwarfism, children, mothers, couples, elderly people, and middle-class families. “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know,” she once mused.
Students look at the pictures and select one to write a narrative based on the point of view selected. You can make a copy of the activity here.
Another way to teach point of view is to view this short film “plastic bag” (2010) by Ramin Bahrani.
How is it different than how you see the world? How is it the same?
Why does the filmmaker chose to tell the story this way?
How does the filmmaker see the world?
What message is being communicated?
A longer point of view activity might be to have students imagine they are a plastic bottle being thrown away in the trash instead of being recycled. Maybe you are a candy wrapper tossed in the hallway, a textbook full of scribbles or a library that can’t stand noisy kids.
Create a story from the point of view of an object in your school that has a problem.
Get into a group of 4-5 other students and brainstorm issues in your school. Choose one and develop a stance or viewpoint you want to take. What is the issue and how do you want to help.
What object could help tell your story. What is the problem the object has? How can it be fixed? Perhaps you want to create a slogan or tagline to make other students aware of the problem and how they can help.
Create a storyboard to communicate your message through actions and images. Who has the problem, how do they try and solve it? How can others help?
If students are reading a book they might use this point of view checklist to help identify and analyze the point of view the text is written in.
What point of view is your text written from? Use examples from the text to support your answer.
How would the text change if it was written from a different point of view?
Whose viewpoint is missing from the text? What effect does that have on the text?
Create a journal entry for one day from the main character’s point of view. What information will you choose to include?
What can you infer about the author’s interest or attitude towards the topic in the text you read?
If the text was rewritten to be a news article, what details would have to be taken out to make it unbiased?
Choose two quotes that show the author’s point of view.
Here is one more video to help teach point of view.
Scrolling through social media I came across some posts where book influencers post images or video unboxing a publisher’s influencer kit. A book influencer is someone with more than 5,000 followers promoting books and reading. Publishing companies develop an influencer kit in order to market and promote a new book and title. An influencer kit includes a copy of the book, nicely designed press materials, and a few small gifts or products that complement the content of the book.
Oh, I would love to be unboxing some of these amazing publishing book kits!
Inspired by the images, I designed this book influencer kit summer reading assignment for my students. Students will create their own influencers box based on their summer reading. For additional fun, you can have them create TikTok like videos unboxing and showcasing the influencers kit for others. The objective is for students to make the book’s content come to life. Students will have to think of creative ways to pull the book’s content off the pages and into something fun and tangible.
Consider creating a print showcasing your favorite quote or phrase.
Make the package personal by including a letter or handwritten note.
Include products that will help a reader put the concepts in your book into practice. Maybe include bright glow in the dark stars if the protagonist is fascinated with the universe and the possibility of UFOs. Or atomic fireball candy if the book is Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Even simple items like themed socks, buttons, and stickers can add a little something extra to your package.
Design the box so that it is visually appealing. Choose colors and fonts that connect with the story.
The influencer’s kit should contain 4-5 items including the book to market the book to other readers.
I am so excited to see what my students put together.
I am a big proponent of graphic organizers to help students organize and visualize information. Graphic organizers are helpful to outline a writing task or showcase understanding during reading. Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver write in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020), “The use of graphic organizers enhances meaning making and promotes deep understanding of critical content – especially when reinforced through questioning and summarizing.”
In 8th grade I begin the school year providing graphic organizers for all students to utilize and access to organize content information. I share and utilize different organizers with each assignment. Sometimes I might demonstrate filling out the organizer and use think aloud to show students the process of making meaning using graphic organizers. Slowly, using gradual release, I encourage students to create their own graphic organizers in the second semester of the school year. The first twenty weeks of school students have curated a toolkit of strategies and organizers for to choose which are the best to create based on the assignment and learning goals.
Here are four different organizers that are the go-tos for note making and organizing information.
It Says, I Say, So What – Taken from Smoky Daniels, this three column organizer helps students record the literal details of a text, make connections and inferences. Inferences are hard for many students, especially struggling readers, because the text does not explicitly say. To make an inference students combine what the text says with what they know to come up with the answer. They need a scaffold, something that visualizes and helps students internalize the process of how to infer. The It Says—I Say chart helps students finally see a structure for making an inference.
2. Window Notes/Organizer – Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver introduced this type of note making in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020) “Window Notes at its core is an invitation to think actively, to express curiosity, and to use prior knowledge and personal feelings to help construct meaning during note making process. Students use a window shaped organizer that encourages them to collect four different kinds of notes: 1. Facts: What are the important facts and details? 2. Questions: What questions come to mind? What am I curious about? 3. Connections: How does this relate to my experiences or to other things I have learned? 4. Feelings and reactions: How do I feel about what I am learning?”
3. Know. Question. Reflect. New Questions (KQRN) – I am over KWL charts. I think they work well in elementary school but when I see them utilized in middle and high school, we are not asking students to use higher level thinking. Here is a blog post I wrote ten years ago with alternatives to the KWL. What are some other organizers that are alternatives to the KWL and activate schema at the same time? The KQRN. This is another note making organizer that helps students extend their thinking about an idea or concept. Now with any of these organizers, the teacher wants to model for students how to complete these graphic organizers with examples and think alouds.
4. Character Traits Organizer – Characterization and theme are two key elements we study when reading literature in 8th grade English. Characterization refers both to the personality of a character and the way in which an author reveals that personality. A character’s personality is made up of different qualities, or character traits, that the reader discovers as the work unfolds. An author often gives characters several different traits to make them seem real and believable. Helping students develop the language to describe character traits and read to identify character traits is necessary to work on throughout the school year. Characterization leads to insight and inferences about theme. I have a stand alone organizer for character traits but also have created a hyperdoc based on the short story Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara that scaffolds the entire process of curating character traits then building out a written response about characterization as it impacts theme.
Writing is a powerful thing. If we want to inspire students to write, we can use young adult fiction with protagonists who write to encourage and arouse the writers within all our students. I just finished reading Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light and found myself dog-earing so many pages with powerful passages and statements about a writer’s life.
“We think language as this tame thing that lives in neat garden beds, bound by rules and fences. Then someone shows it to you growing wild and beautiful, flowering vines consuming cities, erasing pavement and lines. Breaking though any fence that would try to contain it. Reclaiming. Reshaping. Reforming. In my life, I’ve never known anything else that felt so full of infinite possibility. Words make me feel strong. They make me feel powerful and alive. They make me feel like I can open doors. (Zentner (2021:264)
Here are 13 young adult books that offer teen protagonists who write:
Cash Pruitt is the protagonist in Jeff Zentner’s In The Wild Life by (2021). Cash loves his rural Tennessee hometown, his grandparents who raised him after his mother died of an overdose, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a science genius whose boundless knowledge of the natural world fills him with wonder. Both children of an opioid-addicted parent, Delaney and Cash have a deep bond and when Delaney’s scientific discovery – a mold with powerful antibiotic properties – both are awarded scholarships at a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. Cash worries his grandfather, who has emphysema, will die while he is away at school, but accepts the scholarship. At school he takes a poetry class that shows him the power of language to reshape experiences of pain and fear into beauty. As in Zentner’s earlier works, grief is a central theme explored in many forms.
In the YA novel Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink (2021) Angel and Isaiah are two young Black teenagers living in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the days leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot and massacre. The two come together for a summer job running a mobile library, delivering books to poorer black areas. Despite early contention and philosophical differences (Angel is a follower of the more conservative Booker T. Washington; Isaiah prefers the teachings of the more revolutionary WEB De Bois) the two fall in love as the world around them begins to catch fire. Isaiah writes poetry throughout the story and it is great to see a young man use poetry as a form of expression.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone(2018) using letter writing and journaling to understand Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend. None of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Jaqueline Woodson is an amazing young adult author who has powerful stories to tell. In her book From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (2010) addresses what it means to be a family. Melanin Sun has a lot to say. But sometimes it’s hard to speak his mind, so he fills up notebooks with his thoughts instead. He writes about his mom a lot–they’re about as close as they can be, because they have no other family. So when she suddenly tells him she’s gay, his world is turned upside down. And if that weren’t hard enough for him to accept, her girlfriend is white. Melanin Sun is angry and scared. How can his mom do this to him– is this the end of their closeness? What will his friends think? And can he let her girlfriend be part of their family?
The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020) has won the National Book Award and the Printz Award. The book is told in poetry. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (2018), Cath is a Simon Snow fan. For Cath, being a fan is her life―and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words.
Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead (2015) begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more–though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was–lovely and amazing and deeply flawed–can she begin to discover her own path
Newbery Medal Winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) begins shortly after a fall-out with her best friend. Sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone. It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it.
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea in Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (2019). When a new boy at school tempts Eliza to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble. In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
In Riley Redgate’s Final Draft (2018) the only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced–by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed. At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval.
Natalie’s best friend, Zoe, is sure that the novel Natalie’s written is good enough to be published. But how can a twelve-year-old girl publish a book? Natalie’s mother is an editor for a big children’s publisher, but Natalie doesn’t want to ask for any favors. The School Story by Andrew Clementsis 20 years old but a perfect read for 5th and 6th graders. Zoe’s brilliant idea is that Natalie can submit her manuscript under a pen name, with Zoe acting as her literary agent. Can Natalie and Zoe pull off their masquerade?
What happens if your notebook ends up in the wrong hands? Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1964) is about Harriet M. Welsch, a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Despite being written decades ago, there are some key themes about friendship that are worth noting.
Students are reading books with themes of identity as our last unit this school year. Student outcomes include
Recognize how people and characters define themselves as individuals through multiple complex factors, including culture, family, peers, and environment, and that defining oneself is a complex process
Read texts of various lengths to analyze content and structure, and cite evidence
Respond to texts (orally and in writing) coherently and thoughtfully
Develop and support claims with textual information
Participate in small-group and whole-class discussions
Students selected from five (5) choice novels:
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Newbery Honor
Acclaimed author Renee Watson offers a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her. Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, which Jade has. Every day she rides the bus away from her friends to the private school where she feels like an outsider. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help or someone who people want to fix.
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin
Libby and Jack get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – A National Book Award Winner.
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. She has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy. (Some mature topics throughout the book.)
The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor – National Book Award Finalist
Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.
Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – 2021 Michael Printz Award
An autobiographical novel, middle-schooler Daniel, formerly Khosrou, tells his unimpressed and at times cruel classmates about his experience as an Iranian refugee. Modeling his storytelling on Scheherazade and not beholden to a western mode, Daniel Nayeri writes a patchwork of memory and anecdote. He layers stories upon stories to create a complex, hilarious, and devastating understanding of memory, family, and perspective. This book is a complex read due to the interweaving of stories in past and present and suggested for advanced readers.
I created this identity playlist to help student meet learning targets and draw connections text to self, text to text, and text to world.
This is just a highlight of some of the slides. To get a copy of this playlist you can access HERE.