Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 37: Books that can be used in multiple classrooms

As promised last week, today I have a book for Black History Month, another for Chinese New Year (I know, I'm just getting these in on the tail end of both of those), and another for Lent. These books can all be used in multiple K-12 lessons.

Picture Book Resources

Unspoken: a Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

This is a completely wordless book. Using incredible pencil illustrations, Cole tells the tale of a girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family's corn crib. Instead of exposing him, she decides to help him by slipping him food. Reading the author's note at the end of this book is a must. Cole explains why he chose to tell this story and in the wordless format.

Activity tie-ins:
  • Writing: Any grade and any language class (even foreign languages) could use this book as a writing prompt. The author's note actually invites readers to do just this, write their own words to accompany the story or continue the story (it does not show what happens to the slave after he leaves the farm). Students could write the story from either the slave's perspective, the little girl's perspective, or a narrator's perspective.
  • Civil War: This could be included in history lessons on the American Civil War. (There are soldiers searching for the slave on the farm at one point in the story.) Of course, slavery was just one of the issues involved in the war. Have students figure out some of the other causes. An excellent resource for exploring all those various causes is The Gettysburg Address: a graphic adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey. But that's a book for another post.
  • The Underground Railroad: Obviously, this is an excellent book to incorporate in studies of the Underground Railroad. Incidentally, we have several other books on the Underground Railroad that could be used in conjunction with this, but the one I'm most excited about (and the students are too) is coming out April 21. Keep your eyes open for The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale. Sorry, sidetracked by another book, but can't help sharing the excitement.
  • Current social issues: Many students are unaware that slavery is still a problem in various places in the world today. This could be used to bring awareness to this current issue, and even start students brainstorming how they could help people in these horrible situations. Here's an interactive map showing where slavery is currently an issue.
  • Unselfish Acts of Kindness: The people who helped on the Underground Railroad, like the little girl and her family in this story were often endangering their own lives. Have students discuss why we uphold such people as heroes. What are the character qualities these people model that they admire? Perhaps have students write in a journal or discuss in small groups whether or not they would be brave enough to do something similar.
  • Art: The ability to tell a story only through pictures requires a bit of skill. Have students study the illustrations and try to figure out how Cole was able to convey emotions like fear, uncertainty, gratitude, etc. Why do you think he chose to do the sketches in black and white with pencil? 
Mulan: a story in English and Chinese story and illustrations by Li Jian, translated by Yijin Wert 

Li Jian retells this ancient Chinese folk tale about a girl who goes into the army in place of her aging father and through her great skills, becomes a heroine. There's a nice note in the back about the original Chinese poem from which we get the tale of Mulan.

Activity tie-ins:
  • Chinese practice/ESL reading: The text in this book is in both English and Chinese, making this an opportunity for students taking Chinese to practice their Chinese reading or for Chinese second language learners to practice their English reading.
  • Chinese folktales: This could be just one of several stories included in a unit of Chinese folktales. Students could see if they can find common themes, or if the stories help them understand currently practiced traditions. (Especially at a time when Chinese decorations are up everywhere for Chinese New Year.)
  • Compare/Contrast: Many students will be familiar with the Disney movie version of this tale. Have students compare and contrast the two versions.
  • Legendary Figures across the World: Discuss how folk tales originate and have students brainstorm other legendary figures from folk tales like Mulan but from their own culture or other cultures. (Some examples may be Aladdin or Robin Hood.)
  • Ancient China: Many classes study ancient China at some point. This would be a great classic tale to incorporate into those studies. Discuss who Mulan may have been fighting, methods of conscription into the army and how the land was ruled at that time, dress/hairstyles for that time period, armament, transportation, etc.
  • Poetry: Since this tale is based on a poem, it's a nice opportunity to include some Asian poetry into poetry lessons. The University of Columbia has a version of the "Ballad of Mulan" translated into English. They've even got some historical background and discussion questions with it.
  • Honoring Parents: Mulan's heroism is motivated by her love for her father. Have students brainstorm some ways they can bless their parents.
  • Translation: Our multicultural students are pretty used to translating things every day whether they realize it or not. This is a good opportunity to discuss different ways things are translated (word for word, or thought for thought) and pros or cons of both. Also could talk about the career opportunity of being a translator and the pros/cons of that profession.
Nonfiction Resource

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright (if you get a British publication, it will say Tom Wright)

Let me tell you a little story (I promise it's related). When I lived in Korea I went to see Shrek when it first came out in theaters. I went with a fellow American teacher, and we were the only foreigners in the entire packed out theater. 80% of the time we were the only ones laughing at the jokes in the movie. Why? It wasn't because Koreans don't have a sense of humor (they do). It was because the Koreans just didn't get the American pop cultural references and so they didn't understand the jokes to begin with. To get them to fully appreciate the humor in Shrek they would have needed a crash course in American pop culture prior to the movie to even begin to understand half the references. My friend and I got those references immediately because we had grown up in America and soaked up those things without even realizing it.

In the same way that the Koreans watching Shrek missed a lot of things the creators fully expected the American audience to get without any explanation, the Gospels are full of cultural references 1st century readers would have understood immediately without any explanation, but that we modern readers, deeply separated by centuries of time and culture, don't even realize we are missing. In this book, N.T. Wright gives a crash course in 1st century thinking. He tries to help us modern readers step into the shoes of a Hebrew living in the Roman empire and see Jesus through those eyes. He takes us back and sets the tone politically (as those living at the time would have seen it). And it is amazing the things we modern readers miss just because we are so separated from that culture. 

Activity tie-ins:
  • Lent & Easter: This is a great resource for better understanding of who Jesus was, who the disciples and crowds understood him to be, and the significance of his life, death, and resurrection.
  • Literature & Historical Background: If you need examples for why it is important for students to understand the historical background of various pieces of literature, this book has numerous great examples of phrases that are missed or misunderstood without some historical information.
  • Personal Reading: If you're looking for a read that will stimulate both your heart and your head, this is a good one and it's very readable.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 36: Books that can be used in multiple classrooms

I was away on school trips the past two Fridays, so the posting schedule has been a little out of whack. My plan is to do a new post this week and another new one next to make up for the missed week.

Next week, I'll have three titles in honor of Black History month, Chinese New Year, and Ash Wednesday. I know, they might be more fitting this week. But this week I wanted to share three titles that will help students in this tropical climate sympathize with family members and friends back in Canada and the United States buried under loads of snow and can also be used as lesson tie-ins.

Picture Book Resource

Blizzard by John Rocco

After a snow storm that dumps mountains of snow in one day, a little boy and his family at first enjoy the winter wonderland and break from school and work. But after several days with no plows, they start to worry about food. Thankfully, the little boy has thoroughly studied up on arctic survival so he knows how to put together snow shoes and save the day for his family and several neighbors by forging through the snow to the store.
This is a fun adventure, that is all the more exciting since it is based on the author's real life experiences from childhood. I love the illustrations, so bright and cheery and wintery, and Rocco is very clever in how he keeps readers up on what day it is in the story.

Lesson tie-ins:

  • Acts of kindness. The little boy in the story turns out to be very helpful to his neighbors. You could talk with students about what other things the boy could have done in the time he spent helping others. Was it worth it? Have students brainstorm ways they could help others in their free time.
  • Emergency plans. The little boy turns out to have been quite prepared for this emergency situation. We don't have snowstorms here in Thailand, but what are some other events that it might be good to have plans for? A good segue into safety for natural disasters, such as flood days or thunderstorms.
  • Debate. Along the same lines, students could debate how much prep is a waste of time. Should John's family have stockpiled loads and loads of food? Should he have studied all those winter survival books or was he maybe neglecting other important things? Is it better to be surprised or over prepared or is there a happy medium?
  • Water. Since snow is a main topic, this can easily tie-in with a study of water, the properties of water, water molecules, and why the design of the solid form of water is so important to life on earth. (It is miraculous that ice floats, it's the only solid that is less dense in solid form than liquid, and if it were more dense all water creatures would freeze solid every winter.)
  • Friction. Ice and snow provide a great demonstration of low friction. Tie this story in with a lesson on friction, and have students brainstorm activities that would be easier with lower friction (like on ice) or easier with higher friction.
  • History and current events tie-in. Have students research the Blizzard of 1978 that inspired this story. Where did it happen? How did it affect people? (You can find stories online, I even found entire websites dedicated to stories and events of this particular blizzard in one simple search.) Currently, there are several places that have had recent snow storms. Have students research current events and find out where someone might be having a similar experience to John Rocco this week.
  • Seasons. The town John grew up in gets 4 seasons. Thailand does not get the same seasons. Tie this story in with a discussion of seasons, how the sun's position relates, and what are the various seasons for different places on the earth.
  • Physics. Take a closer look at snow shoes. Have fun working out how and why snow shoes allow people to walk on top of the snow and why normal shoes wouldn't work as well.
  • Writing. Have students imagine they are stuck in their house for five whole days with their family and not able to get out. What kinds of activities would they do?

Nonfiction Resource

Blizzard by Jim Murphy

Murphy tells the tale of the 1888 blizzard that evaded prediction as it was caused by not one but two storms sweeping in to create a unique and extreme weather event. Murphy tells the story by focusing on people of all ages and social standings in the city who lived (and a few who died) during this event. The readable text is accompanied by historic pictures and illustrations of the events, and Murphy works in many firsthand accounts of the blizzard. What I never realized before reading this book, and what really makes this tale stand out is how this storm helped spur legislation to clean up cities, bury wires, build the subway, encourage cities to have workers on staff, and to have disaster plans in place. (Click the link on the title to see my full review on if you're concerned about content and which students this would be appropriate for.)

Lesson tie-ins:

  • Government. This is a great discussion starter for government classes on what kinds of things cities have to think for in disaster planning measures. The history of having workers employed by the city is also interesting, and students could further research how it developed from this point. If students were to set up their own city, have them brainstorm some of the things they'd have to have at least a written plan for or would have to think through as the city was created. 
  • Meteorology. Weather men often get teased, but this is a great book to talk about what kind of impact they can have. Also, you could discuss the history of meteorology and what kinds of tools and science are used now to predict such storms.
  • Homeostasis & First aid. Several people in the story were in danger from extreme cold. You can talk about how the body regulates temperature and the dangers of extreme temperatures. Go over first aid steps for someone experiencing hyperthermia or hypothermia.
  • Sibert Award. This book won a Sibert Honor, an award given to books for being excellent nonfiction for kids (K-12). Have students find other Sibert Award and Sibert Honor books, they tend to nonfiction books that read more like an exciting fiction story than a dry boring textbook.
  • Writing. Have students write a fictional story of someone caught in this blizzard or journal entries as if they were there.
  • See all the ice/snow suggestions above for the other blizzard book.
  • Research/Bibliography & Indexes. Sibert books almost always have great notes in the back from the authors on how they went about doing the research for the book. They also usually have good exemplary bibliographies and indexes. This one doesn't have a superb bibliography, but it does have an interesting, multi-page note on research from Mr. Murphy, and an extensive index that could be used to teach students how to use such things.
  • Author. Jim Murphy is an excellent nonfiction writer who occasionally delves into fiction writing too and has actually won several Sibert and Newbery awards for his books. Encourage kids to research this successful author or hunt down some of his other interesting historical books.
Chapter Book Fiction Resource

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

If you're looking for an exciting read aloud or an adventurous book for a reader 3rd-12th grade, this might be just the thing. Victoria Secord is a teen musher, a sled dog racer. She grew up doing with this her dad and she's determined to win a race in his honor since he isn't around to win his own this year. When Victoria hears that Mr. Cook is possibly going to sell his sled dogs, she decides she can't miss the opportunity to snatch up some of his champions. Her mom won't drive her over, so she quickly decides to take a small team of dogs on some back trails. She throws in basic stuff she might need for an afternoon run and is off. Her plans for a quick trip are thrown for a loop when she comes across a teen guy who just wrapped his snowmobile around a tree and obviously needs help. She hauls him into the sled and listens to his directions to his place, only to be stopped by a blizzard bearing down on them quickly. Victoria gets them squared away to weather out the snow storm, figuring they'll be able to find Chris's place in the morning. But come morning, she finds out that Chris just moved to Alaska from Ontario yesterday, he couldn't find his way without blazing lights, oh, and he managed to get her only map caught on fire last night. Obviously Chris isn't going to be any help, so it's all up to Victoria to get them back to warmth and shelter. Without the map and in an area with no cell phone reception, though, that is going to be tricky. It'll be a battle against all the Alaskan winter wilderness can throw their way to see if they can survive. (And no, it doesn't get very mushy or gritty, this is a pretty safe and clean survival story.)

Lesson tie-ins:

  • People's worth. Chris starts off in the story as pretty much dead weight and nothing but trouble. It takes a while for Victoria to see that he also has things to contribute to their little survival team. Have readers discuss what lack of skills might turn them off to a person (sports, arts, quick wits) and how to root out and value other talents.
  • Sled dogs. Obviously, this book just screams to be tied in with more info on sled dog racing and the premier sled dog race, the Iditarod (which starts next month, March 7). Also, there are lots of parts of sled dog racing that Chris (and most readers) never would think of; have readers discuss what parts surprised them and if they'd like to try sled dog racing after reading this book, why or why not.
  • Transportation. Transportation methods can vary a lot by location, biome, and culture. Students could brainstorm other methods of transportation, compare and contrast them, or even categorize them (animal/machine, water/land/air, etc.).
  • Guilt/Grief. Victoria has to process some grief issues she has after her father's death. Have students discuss whether or not Victoria's guilt was justified, and whether they've experienced anything similar. It's a good book to use as a discussion starter for the myriad of ways different people grieve.
  • Alaska. This little adventure is just a small peak into what life is like in Alaska. Students could do further research on the area and write about whether they'd like to live there or visit or neither based on what they learned.
  • First Aid. Victoria's first aid training comes in very handy in this story. Encourage students to get first aid training and discuss why it can be important even if you don't race sled dogs.
  • Dogs in literature. Numerous books have dogs in the stories. Have students compare and contrast different dogs they've read about and discuss why people might like dogs in stories. 
  • Adventure/Survival stories. Have students discuss or write about why readers like adventures like this one in stories and even crave them, but maybe not be so happy if it happened in real life. What does that say about people?
  • Virtual travel. This story takes readers where many of them will never go. What are some other stories that transport you to a new and different place or time? What may be some of the benefits of reading about places very different from where you live? Are there hazards?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 2 (revamped): Books that can be used in multiple classrooms

This Biweekly Brainstorm was originally posted internally for ICS Oct 16, 2012.

Picture Book Resources

Just Another Ordinary Day by Rod Clement

This is the story of a little girl’s ordinary day. It includes things like being woken up by her alarm (a man with a gong), going down to breakfast (done by gliding), normal school activities, a normal ride home from school on the family off road vehicle (an elephant), and a snuggle with her kitty (lion) before heading back to bed. This was one of my favorite books to read to elementary kids when I worked in the elementary library. The students loved it and would get so into the story. They would gasp, laugh, and without prompting would start talking about how that's not a normal way to do ___ as the book was read.
This book has several ways it can be used in K-12 classrooms:

  • The actual text in this book gives absolutely no clue as to the craziness of the ordinary day Clement creates. It sounds normal, but the pictures are wonderfully imaginative and humorous. Obviously, that lends well to talking about how words and pictures work together
  • If you want to have fun with students, you could read the text without showing any pictures, have them make their own illustrations to go with each phrase, then read them the story showing them Clement's illustrations, and then of course compare and contrast their ordinary days both with the book and with each other.
  • Of course, even without doing the reading minus illustrations, classes could read this and discuss how their ordinary may be extraordinary for someone else.
  • You can use this to segue into talking about the ordinary days/customs of different cultures that may seem strange to others.
  • At our multicultural international school, this is a great book to kickstart a conversation about how each student may have different customs, traditions, and even daily habits in their homes. 
  • Also, this can help third culture kids talk about how they're daily routine is different in this country from what it may be in their passport culture, or how their family has mixed traditions making their customs somewhat different from both the country where they live and the country of their passport. If they need to, discuss with them how this makes them feel like they don't quite fit in in either culture 100%.
  • If you're looking for a nice Thanksgiving activity, this book can also be used to talk about how we sometimes take for granted for everyday blessings
  • And as a funny note, I also almost had a fight one year when the 2nd graders started arguing over whether the elephant was Asian or African, and the debate got a little heated. It was one of those "only in Asia" moments and so very hard to keep a straight face while settling the kids down. But based on the argument, you could evidently use this to talk about the physical differences between Asian and African elephants too.
The Empty Pot by Demi

It seems fitting to be re-sharing this one right now. I wish I could say I planned to share this in coordination with the re-release of this book as a storytime set tomorrow, but I didn't. It just worked out nicely. Demi retells a folktale about an Asian emperor looking for a successor. The emperor holds a contest. He gives all the children a seed and asks them to bring the plant that grows. Ping cannot get anything to grow in his pot so he wrestles with putting in a different plant or just bringing the empty pot to the emperor. It turns out the emperor gave everyone boiled seeds, and an empty pot was exactly what he was looking for. And Ping is the only one honest enough to bring a pot without a growing plant.
Ideas for K-12 classroom use:

  • Regardless of what age you teach, you probably have students who struggle with honesty and being willing to stand out from the crowd to do the right thing. Talk with students about Ping's struggle and how they identify. Asian students especially seem to struggle with saving face or risking bringing shame to family. You can discuss whether or not they would have done the same thing, and the benefits of doing the right thing even if it is hard.
  • If you're looking for a multicultural folktale, this is a great Asian pick.
  • It is pretty easy to pick out the moral of this story, so if you are discussing theme in literature, this would be a good one to practice with.
  • Have the students brainstorm what kind of character qualities they would want in a successor if they were emperor and what types of tests they would design to find out who has those qualities. They could even write this up as their own folktale.

Chapter Book Resource

The Wolf of Tebron by C.S. Lakin

Working at a Christian school, so I'm always on the lookout for good, quality Christian literature I can offer to students, teachers, and parents. It's not an easy task. Anyone who talks books with me knows that a common lament of mine is the woeful lack of good, quality Christian literature available, especially for young adults. Most of it makes me want to get out a red pen and start marking it up (for example, Ted Dekker’s adapted Lost Books series for teens...painful). So it was like a breath of fresh air to come across this book. Is it perfect? No. Will all of you love it? No. But it is the best example of Christian allegory I’ve seen from a modern writer, reminiscent of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis. The story is loosely based on both "The Enchanted Pig" fairytale  according to Lakin (which has strong resemblances to "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" too). A young man embarks on a journey to find his missing wife and discovers himself accompanied by a wolf. There are many things which make the journey difficult, not the least of which the man finds are actually within his own heart, such as bitterness. (Click on the title to read my full review. If kids like this book, it is part of a series that can be read in any order.) I would recommend this as a read-aloud for 4th-6th grades. 6th on up could probably read it aloud no problem.
Here's some ideas of talking points/ways to use this for 4th-12th:

  • What do you think of the writing style Lakin chose for the book? 
  • Discuss what an allegory is and why people might choose to write in this way.
  • What are the challenges involved in writing a book filled with dream sequences?
  • Lakin uses exceptional vocabulary throughout the book. Did you see/hear some words you were unfamiliar with? What were they? Were you able to figure out what they meant? How?
  • The wolf's wise sayings are primarily quotes of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. Discuss some of the things both of those men are well known for OR discuss how to use quotes properly in writing and give proper acknowledgement.
  • Joran struggles with several things, but primarily bitterness. What are some of the dangers of harboring bitterness?
  • Joran also struggles with jumping to conclusions. What are some of the dangers of jumping to conclusions, and how can we avoid doing so?
  • Joran's love for his wife is quite amazing. He goes on a horribly long journey and makes so many sacrifices for her. What are some of the different ways we use the word love, and how do you know what true love is?
  • Read the original fairy tales "The Enchanted Pig" and "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" and compare/contrast them with each other and this story.
  • There are other books which rewrite "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" such as Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, East (published overseas as North Child) by Edith Pattou, and West of the Moon by Margi Preus, students could read one or several of these and compare and contrast them.
  • Have students talk about which wise wolf quote they liked the best and why. (You could have them keep a journal of their favorite wolf quotes and best big words they come across to help facilitate this.)
  • Have students discuss what they think the most important lesson Joran learned was.