Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

Recommended Grades: 2-5

Wesley, a somewhat different child whom nobody will play with at school, decides to make a summer project.  His project consists of creating his own language and backyard civilization.  Will the other kids come around and become friendly, or will they continue to think he’s different?



Lesson idea:  This book has many instructional opportunities.  One way Weslandia can be useful in the classroom is to model asking questions.  The book can be extremely confusing to students and I think monitoring comprehension through questions is one great way to use the book.  This can be done though a classroom chart labeled, Questions Before Reading, Questions During Reading, and Questions After Reading.  As you read aloud the book, ask students to indicate when they have questions.  Write their questions in the appropriate column in the class chart.  Later, go through the questions and determine if they can be answered directly from the text.  If not, re-read the text to the class and determine if the questions may supply an opportunity to model making inferences.  This lesson is extremely multi-layered and could take several days to complete.

©2011 by Dawn Little for Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson

July Theme: Using Picture Books to Teach Reading Strategies

Reading Strategy: Asking Questions to Build Background Knowledge

Recommended Grades: 4th-6th grade

Everyone has heard about the men of the American Revolution.  But what about the women and girls?  Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution answers the question through thoughtfully researched information.

Lesson Idea: Teach students to ask questions to help build their background knowledge before reading a text.  Show students the cover of the book.  Discuss the term, “dames.”  Discuss the important male figures of the American Revolution and their accomplishments.  Then ask, “What about the women?”  Ask students to write down any questions they have regarding the women of that time period.  What did they do?  Are there any familiar historical women of that time period?  Why don’t we hear as much about the women?  Then read aloud the book and determine if you can answer any questions.                    

©2010 by Dawn Little for Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

January’s Sparrow by Patricia Palacco

January Theme:  Patricia Polacco picture books

Patricia Polacco is another author whose books became touchstone texts in my classroom.  Her ability to write stories that children can relate to makes it easy to see why her books became model texts.

Comprehension Strategy: Asking Questions

Polacco’s most recent contribution to the kidlit world, January’s Sparrow, is a touching and semi-true story of a family of runaway slaves. With the help of abolitionists, the Crosswhite’s leave Kentucky for Canada.  They make it to Michigan and decide to settle down there (just a couple of miles from where Patricia Polacco grew up), but they are always looking over their shoulders.  Will the slave catchers find them?  Will they make it to Canada?

A fantastic story with surprises along the way, I would recommend this book be read to upper elementary or middle school students in a Slavery or Underground Railroad unit.  It’s a lot longer than your typical picture book and it has some scenes that may not be appropriate for kids younger than 9 or so.

January’s Sparrow is a great model text to use to teach students how good readers ask questions to help them understand the text.  There are many occasions on which a child may have questions related to the reading.  For example, “Will the Crosswhite’s get caught?”

Lesson idea: A great resource to use when teaching students about the Underground Railroad, provide an opportunity for students to record general questions they have about the Underground Railroad and slavery before reading.  As you read, stop at various opportunities and allow students to record questions they have specific to the text.  Finally, after reading, allow students to record any questions they still have about the Crosswhites, slavery, and the Underground Railroad.  Then take time to determine if any of the questions can be answered.  Use a T-chart to record questions before, during, and after reading and their answers.  Remind students that not all answers may be found in the text, and that activation of background knowledge, additional research, or discussion may need to occur to find the answers.

If you are teaching a unit on the Underground Railroad or slavery, you may want to check out this lesson I posted on Henry’s Freedom Box.  I think both books would be an excellent addition to your unit.

What touchstone texts or touchstone authors do you use in your classroom?

**Note** I provide these lesson ideas under the assumption that you are familiar with teaching comprehension strategies.  If you are not, and would like more information about teaching students to Ask Questions or any other comprehension strategy, please feel free to contact me at Dlittle[at]linkstoliteracy[dot]com.  I am happy to provide more specific lessons if necessary.**

©2010 by Dawn Little for Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

January Theme:  Patricia Polacco picture books

Patricia Polacco is another author whose books became touchstone texts in my classroom.  Her ability to write stories that children can relate to makes it easy to see why her books became model texts.

Comprehension Strategy: Asking Questions

A sweet story about a childhood friendship.  Winnie and her neighbors Stewart and Winston spend Sundays together going to church with their “gramma” Miss Eula.  Miss Eula always admires a hat in Mr. Kodinski’s store window.  The kids decide they want to buy it for her for Easter, but they need to earn money.  Before they can inquire about a job with Mr. Kodinski, they are accused of throwing eggs at his shop.  Will they earn the money in time to purchase the hat?  Will Mr. Kodinski realize they didn’t throw the eggs?

Chicken Sunday provides an opportunity for students to practice asking questions before, during, and after reading.

Lesson idea: Prior to reading aloud the text, ask students to write down any questions they have based on the cover picture.  As you read aloud, stop about half way through the book (around the time the kids go to ask Mr. Kodinski for a job) and have students list any questions they have.  After you finish reading, have students list any further questions they have.  As a class, chart the questions, and determine if they can be answered by the text, by background knowledge, by making inferences, or not at all.

What books do you use to teach asking questions?  Do you have any touchstone texts or touchstone authors in your classroom?

©2010 by Dawn Little for Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

December Theme:  Nonfiction

A true story of Henry Brown, a run away slave on the Underground Railroad, who found an ingenious way to find freedom. . . he shipped himself in a box.

Henry’s Freedom Box (Caldecott Honor Book) is a wonderful book to use as part of a unit on The Underground Railroad. You can use this book to activate your students’ background knowledge about slavery and The Underground Railroad. It’s a fantastic read with an inspirational story.  I previously wrote a post about using this book to teach students about asking questions.  I would also use the book to teach a lesson on making predictions.     

Lesson Idea: Making Predictions

Before beginning a unit on The Underground Railroad, read aloud this book.  Prior to reading aloud the book or showing the book to the class, ask students if they can determine what a Freedom Box is.  Ask them to draw a Freedom Box.  What does it mean to them?  Next, ask students to make predictions based on the title and the cover picture.  After reading aloud the book, ask if any predictions were confirmed.  Were students able to determine what  Freedom Box was?  Use the book to begin a historical inquiry into the topic of The Underground Railroad.

©2009 by Dawn Little for Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

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