This is the latest in a series of The Planning Department articles that suggest ways to organize a school-wide literacy event around a single book title. Find more articles like this under Articles under the category Literacy on the Canadian Teacher Magazine homepage.
For the last six years our school’s September start-up routines have been built around specific themes. We start out by choosing a book that highlights goals and/or skills that we want to focus on at that time of the year. We then plan a sequence of lessons and events that focus on those goals for the first two weeks in September.
The book we chose for September 2011 was Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder. This lyrical and beautifully illustrated book begins by building an awareness of the multitude of creatures who share the world around us:
Watch out for spiders
dangling in their webs,
for snakes who coil and slither in the grass,
for toads who lurch and leap across the road—
please stop and let them pass.
Look out for wriggling worms and creeping snails,
for darting bees who dip among the flowers,
for streaming ants who streak the dusty trails—
please step around their sandy towers.
As the pages turn, the reader encounters animals from a wide range of ecosystems and at different seasons of the year. At the end of the book the author encourages us to treat all living things with respect and care.
Watch out for every living thing,
for all beasts fine and free,
who grace the earth and ride the
skies and glide within the sea.
Be aware of them.
Take care of them.
Let them be.
Bringing a respectful and caring attitude to the school environment seemed to be a good starting place for the school year and led to forming the following inquiry questions:
What do all living things have in common?
How can we help to protect living things?
What Resources Were Needed?
- multiple copies of Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder (ISBN 978-0-15-201898-6)
- lesson plans and instructional materials (Before, During and After Reading activities that are appropriate for this title for all grade levels) developed and organized by the literacy committee in June
- teacher planning teams (literacy committee)
- guest speakers. We had two volunteers from the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association (NIWRA). Visit their website for information on their school programs and to see the work they do with wildlife on central/north Vancouver Island (www.niwra.org).
What Was the Sequence of Events?
First Week of September
Students were organized into grade groups each day but were not assigned to permanent classes until Friday afternoon (this is standard policy at our school as the school population changes so much over the summer). Each student engaged in Before Reading activities with the teacher they were with that day. The lessons and activities included an assembly, banners to decorate the gym and artwork to decorate the hallway bulletin boards.
Second Week of September
All students were now placed with their classroom teachers. A variety of During Reading and After Reading activities took place. These lessons all focussed on some aspect of the two inquiry questions. Each grade group enjoyed a half hour visit with the volunteers from NIWRA.
A Before Reading Activity That Works Well With This Book
This lesson uses questioning and partner talk as two effective strategies for brainstorming ideas and information. The lesson could easily be spread over a number of days.
To introduce and discuss the inquiry question: How can we help to protect living things?
- copy of the book Each Living Thing
- guided reading questions per student
- pencil, glue stick, scissors and a piece of lined paper for each student
- large pieces of chart paper
- felt pen
- Photocopy a list of 10 questions (some possibilities are provided here for you). Cut them apart so that you can distribute 2 questions to each student.
- Print each question at the top of a piece of chart paper. Post the 10 charts around the classroom.
1. Why do you think we should care about endangered animals?
2. Why are some animals disappearing from our planet?
3. What do you think extinct means?
4. What do you think the author meant when she said “Be watchful. Let them be.”?
5. How can we be more aware of the living things around our own school?
6. How do you feel when you see others throw trash on our school grounds?
7. Do you think that recycling paper, plastic and tin cans can help our earth? Why?
8. What do you think a food chain is?
9. How could we help to protect animals that are endangered?
10. Does your family have a compost bin or bucket?
Part One: Introducing the inquiry question to the class
1. Introduce the book by having the students look closely at the front and back covers. Count and list the number of living things (plants and animals) in the illustration. Have each student talk to a partner about the characteristics that the living things have in common. Have some of the students report out to the larger group. Record their responses. The list might look like: Living things need air, water, food, light, warmth and shelter. They grow and have a life cycle. They reproduce. Animals are aware of their environment (senses). Animals move.
2. Introduce the inquiry question: How can we help to protect living things?
3. Ask the students to listen to the story for ways that people could help to protect plants and animals. Read the story to the class, stopping to look at the pictures and to discuss the details.
4. Have each student talk to the same partner and share ideas that they might have for protecting living things.
Part Two: Working with the 10 questions
1. Draw the attention of the students to the 10 charts posted around the classroom.
2. Read the question at the top of each chart. Check to see that the students have a clear understanding of the vocabulary, and the meaning of each question.
3. Distribute 2 printed questions and a sheet of lined paper to each student.
4. Have each student glue one question at the top of the lined sheet and the other question in the middle of the sheet. When they are finished there should be enough lines under each question to provide space for an answer.
5. Have the students read their questions to the same partners.
6. Read the story again. The students are to think about their questions as they listen.
7. Have the students re-read their questions and discuss their possible answers with the same partners.
8. Have the students record their answers on the lined paper.
9. Have the students share their answers again and give them enough time to make any changes that might have resulted from the discussion. The 10 questions are meant to help students infer and apply ideas from the story. As they begin to see connections to their own experiences they may transform their thinking to support the inquiry question.
10. After the partners have shared, have the students cut their papers in half to separate the two questions and answers.
Part Three: Class Discussion
1. Focus the attention of the students to the 10 charts posted around the classroom.
2. Re-read the question at the top of each chart.
3. Have the students glue their 2 questions (with answers) to the corresponding charts.
4. Read the student answers for the question on the first chart.
5. Add any further comments, ideas or details that the students might have to the chart.
6. Continue this process for each of the charts.
7. Bring the discussion back to the inquiry question: How can we help to protect living things? Brainstorm any ideas that the students may now have.
Thanks go to Terril MacDonald for this lesson plan format.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brenda has 35 years of classroom experience. She has presented workshops on literature based themes and literacy strategies, and has written a number of resources for teachers. She remains passionate about matching up kids with books.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2012 issue.