One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2018 was presented by a group from Richardson ISD. #4CoresonFire focused on some cross-curricular activities using tools that I’ve used before. However, I got some great integration ideas I hadn’t thought of – which makes the session a success in my book.
One of the teachers described how she had used StoryCorps and Newsela to start a unit about the Civil War. (Here are my previous posts on StoryCorps and Newsela.) I starred my notes wildly as she spoke; this is my secret code for, “USE THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL!” My 5th graders were about to read the chapter in The Giver that describes Jonas’ first introduction to the concept of war, and I knew these would be great connections.
In the lesson described at TCEA, the teachers posed the question, “When do the costs of war outweigh the benefits?” Their students discussed this, and then watched, “The Nature of War” on StoryCorps. After a post-video discussion, the students read an article about the Civil War in Newsela (you do need to register for free to read the articles). Then they launched into a study of the Civil War in their history class.
I tweaked the lesson to use with The Giver. I used Pear Deck to give an interactive, student-paced lesson. Here is the link. If you want to use the presentation as intended, you will need to register for Pear Deck. You can find out more about Pear Deck, as well as a link to get a premium code that lasts the rest of this school year, here. Also, the StoryCorps video link is embedded. Do to our district filters, students had to log in to YouTube on a separate tab before they were able to watch the video on their own devices.
I chose to use an article from Newsela about, “Just War Theory.” Student responses at the end of the presentation varied widely from their initial ideas about whether or not war is ever justified. Many of them agreed with the quote I posted at the end about war being banished from the earth – until I brought up The Giver. There is no war anymore in this dystopian world, but there is also no freedom.
Is it possible to banish war without giving up most of our freedom?
That was a discussion that definitely engaged the class!
If you haven’t been formally introduced to Hyperdocs, you may want to check out this post from last year. Michele Waggoner tweeted out a link this week to an incredible Hyperdoc using Google Slides. The Hyperdoc is to be used for a literature circle activity based on the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It embeds Depth and Complexity into this collaborative presentation using David Chung’s ideas for literature circle frames. This doc is 139 slides long, and gives students many opportunities to do meaningful reflections, activities, and discussions. It looks like Michele put weeks of work into preparing this, and I, for one, am grateful she is sharing it with the world!
I think that we spend a lot of time in school teaching students right from wrong, but we forget to tell them that not everyone agrees on what is right and wrong. It can be shocking to a child to discover that her own judgment differs from someone else’s when it comes to morality, and it’s important for kids to learn to question the “obvious” and consider other perspectives.
Trayers also recently posted, “In Defense of Grinch,” which was a lesson where her students explained why the Grinch should not be put in jail for stealing the gifts. With older classes, you could have students argue both sides.
Another good holiday ethics lesson could be done with the video, “The Snowman.” Asking if the snowman should have saved the rabbit would be too simple, but “Should the snowman have kept the carrot at the end or given it to the rabbits?” could probably generate some good controversy in your classroom.
Of course fiction does not have to be your only resource. Newsela (free to register) has lots of great news articles that I have used in the classroom for ethics discussions. When we discuss the juxtaposition between freedom and safety in my class, I like to use, “Some Cities Say Sledding Too Dangerous.”
It is not uncommon for GT students to dislike writing. I was intrigued recently when I saw the article, “Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate to Write?” Although the article does not give any scientific evidence, it does suggest that it can sometimes be difficult for gifted students to gather thoughts that make perfect sense to them and go through the excruciatingly slow process of organizing and communicating those thoughts on paper (or screen). I like to compare it to asking an adult to write down the instructions for tying a shoelace or walking. Sometimes we just know things, and we don’t find it pleasant to try to tease out the details.
The above article suggests a writing exercise that turns the task into more of a challenge. I haven’t tried it with my students, but I have learned that giving them unusual rules or restrictions often seems to motivate them more than unlimited freedom (which usually just paralyzes them). This article from Alice Keeler also recommends adding constraints to writing, and she provides a spreadsheet template to help this process.
Unexpected topics can also stimulate ideas. You can find some fun video writing prompts here. “Writing Sparks” from Night Zookeeper offers random topics. (Click on “Create Spark.”) Different perspectives can also galvanize student writing. And one of my favorite online tools that has never failed to intrigue my students with its incredible illustrations has been Storybird.
Writing can be a challenge for anyone. Students with high I.Q.’s are not immune to academic difficulties. What may be perceived as laziness can often be just a matter of fear of failure. With a bit of creativity and lot of support, students who “hate” to write may discover a strength they didn’t know they possessed.
When my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, one of the groups of hexagons I usually use includes the themes of the story we are discussing. However, I have always struggled with how to help students identify the themes. It is difficult for them to discern the difference between theme and main idea. Yesterday, I found this great free video from BrainPop (no subscription needed to watch this one) that explains “Theme” using Star Wars. My 4th graders really enjoyed it. When we finished watching it, they were immediately ready to call out the many themes they observe in Tuck Everlasting. It was surprisingly easy, resulting in my lesson time being half what I had planned. Later, I found this great free printable from Minds in Bloom to help reinforce what they have learned about themes for next week’s class. Next topic to tackle: symbolism!
By the way, a great resource for themes, though the book selection is limited, is LitCharts‘ Theme Tracker tool.
Last Thursday, Richard Byrne shared an absolute treasure trove of Google Drive templates created and shared by Darren Maltais. You can click the link above to read Richard’s post. One of the templates that you may want to consider using in the near future is “ELA 12 Days of Christmas,” which offers 12 different creative writing ideas, along with examples. Whether you plan to use some or all of these, you should definitely make a copy of this to help you and your students make it through this occasionally overwhelming time of year! (I particularly like the Facebook example with comments from Buddy the Elf and Rudolph!) By the way, if you would like math activities for the 12 Days of Christmas, you can try this.