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Lesson Plan

Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Critical Discussion of Social Issues

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Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Critical Discussion of Social Issues

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Six 45-minute sessions, plus additional time for students to read a book outside of class
Lesson Author

Joy F. Moss

Joy F. Moss

Rochester, New York


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



Students read and discuss a series of picture books that highlights social barriers and bridges of race, class, and gender. Prior to a read-aloud of each picture book, students participate in activities, such as research or independent reading, that help lay the context for critical discussion of the read-aloud. Throughout the series of readings, students respond to each book in a writing journal. After all the picture books have been read, students use their journal responses to help them synthesize the themes they encountered in the books. They discuss how they can take action to break barriers they have identified in their own worlds and to build bridges from what is to what could be. Finally, students read the novel Maniac Magee and discuss how the novel relates to the picture books they have discussed.

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In their article "Critical Literacy," Leland and Harste argue that "teachers who want to reimagine [the read-aloud] as an opportunity to engage children in critical conversations about power and social justice can help them begin to understand that every text is written from someone's perspective" (468).  The use of picture books, which take little time to read, allows students to explore  multiple perspectives around the theme of social bridges and barriers. Picture books can invite students to engage in critical discussion of complex issues of race, class, and gender. They "show how people can begin to take action on important social issues . . . and help us question why certain groups are positioned as 'others'" (Harste, 2000, p. 507). When they are read aloud, picture books enable students to engage in dialogue as they consider the narratives in terms of historical contexts, the nature of the implied barriers, and how individuals can take action to promote social justice and equity.

Further Reading

Leland, Christine H. and Jerome Harste. 2000. "Critical Literacy." In K. M. Pierce (Ed.) Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for Pre-K-Grade 6 (pp. 465-487). Urbana, IL: NCTE.


Harste, Jerome. 2000. "Supporting Critical Conversation in Classrooms." Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for Pre-K-Grade 6. K. M. Pierce (Ed). Urbana, IL: NCTE.


Moss, Joy. 2002. Literary Discussion in the Elementary School. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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