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Lesson Plan

Literature as a Catalyst for Social Action: Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

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Literature as a Catalyst for Social Action: Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Seven 45-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Joy F. Moss

Joy F. Moss

Rochester, New York


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Picture books engage students in critical discussion issues of race, class, and gender, challenging them to examine how prejudice and stereotypes sustain social barriers. After a read-aloud of passages from The Story of Ruby Bridges, students listen to and discuss The Other Side. Students discuss both texts, which deal with race and segregation issues. In following read-aloud sessions, students discuss The Royal Bee, the story of a Korean boy who breaks socioeconomic barriers, and Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, which deals with gender issues in the post-Civil War South. After each read-aloud, students record their thoughts in journals. Next, students read biographies dealing with "breaking social barriers" and write related questions that students who read this book subsequently will respond to in their journals. Finally, students come together as a class to discuss their journal responses and make connections between the stories and their own lives.

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Story Map: Using this online tool, students can complete and print a character map, conflict map, resolution map, or setting map after reading a story or as they plan their own piece of writing.

Interactive Venn Diagram
: Use this online tool to organize ideas for a compare and contrast essay, or while reading to compare and contrast two works of literature

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Discussing critical issues such as prejudice and gender discrimination in intermediate grades can have a powerful impact across disciplines. The subject matter, however, may be entirely new to students of this age. Both teachers and students should be prepared to allow critical conversations to flow openly and honestly in the classroom. Joy Moss writes, "Teachers introduce questions to build bridges between the story world and the child's own world of reality, imagination, and dreams. Children are invited...to identify with a character's feelings and concerns. They are given opportuinities to gain insights into their own lives" (p. 76). This literature-based lesson provides students with the opportunity to explore the impact of race, gender, and class issues both in the past and present, as well as in their own lives.

Further Reading

Robertson, Judith P. ed. 1999. Teaching for a Tolerant World, Grades K-6: Essays and Resources. 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.

Read more about this resource


Saunders, Sheryl Lee. 1999. Look-and Learn! Using Picture Books in Grades Five through Eight. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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