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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|
Rochester, New York
- engage in critical discussions of shared texts and engage in independent reading of biographies to extend the literary experiences in read-aloud sessions.
- analyze and compare these shared texts in terms of genre, social and historical settings, conflicts, character development, and themes.
- explore the craft of the authors and artists, and discover the potential of the picture book for presenting complex ideas about the human experience.
- use intertextual links to build understanding as they read each new text in light of previous texts.
- confront injustices and inequities in the past and present as they discover the realities of social barriers then and now, and learn how literature can become a catalyst for social action: breaking barriers and building bridges.
- respond to shared texts and to independent reading experiences in group discussions and in Response Journals.
- learn to formulate their own questions to generate critical study of literary texts.
Read aloud relevant segments (for example, the first twenty pages with photographs) in the autobiography of Ruby Bridges, Through My Eyes, as well as The Story of Ruby Bridges (Robert Coles), a picture story book about this African American who, as a six-year-old child, became a pioneer in school integration when she broke a racial barrier to enter an all-white school in New Orleans in 1960. Ruby Bridges’ story introduces students to the meaning of segregation and “barriers” that have separated American citizens from one another and to individuals who helped to break these barriers. It is important for students to explore the concept of social barriers, since it is this central concept that links the stories selected for this unit. The Story of Ruby Bridges provides an historical context for the picture book that will be read aloud in the second session of this instructional unit: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Students are invited to search online for background information about Ruby Bridges and Jacqueline Woodson or use the recommended Web resources.
In the second session, the students listen to and discuss The Other Side, a picture story book by Jacqueline Woodson. This story is told from the viewpoint of Clover, an African American girl who lives in a town with a fence that separates the black side of town from the white side. Clover tells the story of the summer she becomes friends with Annie, a white girl who lives on the other side of the fence.
Questions to initiate critical discussion:
- What do you notice about the front cover? What do you think the title means?
- Who tells the story in this book? Why do you think the author used this viewpoint?
- What is the connection between the “barrier” that Ruby Bridges encountered and the fence in The Other Side?
- What is a “racial barrier”?
- Why did Clover’s mother warn her not to climb over the fence?
- How did Clover and Annie work out a way around this racial barrier? How did they manage to “build a bridge” to the other side?
- Why do you think Jacqueline Woodson wrote this story? What did you learn about this author that would help you answer this question?
- What is the difference between this book and Through My Eyes? [Focus on genre.]
- How did Ruby Bridges’s story help you figure out the setting for The Other Side?
Responding to Literature
After the students discuss this story, they are given time to record their thoughts in their Response Journals.
The reading experiences prior to this session are intended to prepare the students for the study of The Royal Bee, a picture story book by Frances and Ginger Park. In addition, the students are invited to work with partners to search for information about Frances and Ginger Park on the Internet before this third read-aloud session. The Royal Bee is the story of Song-ho, a poor peasant boy who is determined to learn how to read and write. He lives in Korea over a century ago, when only the sons of wealthy families are allowed to go to school. Song-ho finds a way to break this barrier and to take control of his own destiny.
Questions are introduced to initiate critical discussion:
- Examine the front and back covers, the title pages, and the Authors’ Note. What do you learn about the setting, the central character, and the authors? [Note: Students can experiment with narrative elements such as character and setting using the interactive Story Map provided.
- What kind of barrier is featured in this story? How is this barrier different from the ones featured in Ruby Bridges’s story and The Other Side?
- What action does Song-ho take to break through this barrier?
- What action does the teacher take to stand up against injustice and help Song-ho build a bridge out of a life of poverty? What role do the students play in this story?
- Compare Song-ho’s response to the final question at the Royal Bee with the response of the other finalist in the national academic contest. [Note: Students may choose to use the Interactive Venn Diagram for this and other comparing activities in this lesson.]
- Compare Song-ho with Ruby Bridges and with Clover and Annie in The Other Side.
- Why do you think the authors of The Royal Bee included their note at the beginning of this book?
Responding to Literature
After the students listen to and discuss The Royal Bee, they are given time to write in their Journals about their personal responses to this story, the nature of the barrier in this story, and the connections between the authors and their work.
The reading and writing experiences prior to this fourth read-aloud session serve as preparation for the study of Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys, a picture book by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, who was inspired to write this story by childhood stories of her grandfather. Students also work together with partners to search for information on the Internet about the author.
Set in the post–Civil War South, Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys is the story of a girl who is determined to go to school with her brothers who attend a Quaker school for freed slaves. Although her brother tells her “girls don’t need school,” her parents finally decide to allow her to go to school with her brothers. Her father tells his children, “All free people need learning—old folk, young folk . . . small girls, too” (unpaged). The author includes a note at the back of the book to provide information about the historical context for this story as well as its connection to her own family.
Questions are introduced to initiate discussion:
- Examine the front and back covers. What do you think is the setting? What clues about this story do the title and picture provide?
- Who tells this story? Why do you think the author chose this viewpoint?
- What is unusual about the way this story is told?
- What barriers are featured in this story?
- How do individuals in this story break barriers caused by racial and gender stereotypes and prejudice?
- Why do you think the author described the long walk to school in such detail?
- What did you learn from the author’s note at the back of the book and from her dedication?
- Did this note change the way you viewed this story? How? Why do you think this note was not included in the front of the book as in The Royal Bee?
- Compare this story with the other books we have read as part of this unit: Compare Virgie’s father with the teacher in The Royal Bee. Compare Virgie and Song-ho. What different kinds of barriers have you discovered so far?
Responding to Literature
After the students listen to and discuss the book, they are given time to write in their Journals about their personal responses to this story.
The purpose of this session is to introduce the students to a collection of biographies featuring “barrier breakers” and to invite them to select at least one book to read independently. The teacher presents a brief book talk about each title. The collection includes picture books, early chapter books, and books for advanced readers. Some titles on the list are
- Teammates (Golenbock and Bacon), a picture book about Jackie Robinson who broke a racial barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first black player in modern Major League baseball.
- The Story of Jackie Robinson, Bravest Man in Baseball (Davidson and Cooper), a longer book [102 pages] for more experienced readers.
- If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks (Ringgold).
- Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Rappaport and Collier).
- When Marian Sang (Ryan and Selznick) introduces Marian Anderson, the first African American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.
- The Ballot Box Battle (McCully) is a picture book that introduces readers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
- Babe Didrikson Zaharias: All-Around Athlete (Sutcliffe) is intended for beginning readers too.
At the conclusion of this “book talk” session, the teacher introduces Cracking the Wall: The Struggles of the Little Rock Nine (Lucas). Explain that, like Ruby Bridges, the nine children featured in this book were the first black students to enter an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. The last lines in the Afterword are particularly appropriate: “The Little Rock Nine helped to crack the wall. Now it is up to each of us to continue to tear down the walls that keep people apart” (47).
Responding to Literature
After selecting and reading one or more books in this collection, the students record their personal responses in their Journals and write about the nature of the barriers they identified, connections with shared texts, and insights and discoveries derived from their independent reading experiences. They also formulate two or more questions that call attention to what is of most importance in the book they selected. Each set of questions is then copied on 3" x 5" cards and placed in the pocket of the appropriate book. The next student to select this book will respond to the questions in his or her Journal.
Students bring their Response Journals to this whole-group session and share some of their entries about the series of shared texts and the biographies selected for independent reading. Key ideas, discoveries, intertextual links, and questions are recorded on a chart next to the discussion circle. After the students have an opportunity to discuss these ideas and discoveries and to address the questions on the chart, they are asked to identify connections between these stories and their own lives.
Finally, the teacher rereads the last lines in Cracking the Wall and asks the students to write in their Journals responses to two questions: “What barriers do you see in your own world? What can you do to help break down these barriers and build bridges?”
The students bring their Journals to this final session and share their responses to the questions posed in the previous review session. As a group they explore ways that they could take action to break barriers they have identified in their own worlds and to build bridges from what is to what could be.
Assessment is ongoing throughout this cumulative lesson. Objectives that are used to guide the development of the lesson plan also provide criteria for assessment of the students’ involvement and understanding as readers, writers, and thinkers in response to literary experiences as the plan is translated into practice.
The teacher monitors the students’ participation in the group sessions, their contributions to literary discussions, their responses to independent reading selections, and their Response Journal entries. Literary discussions provide opportunities for students to think out loud as they explore ideas together, discover new perspectives, and move toward deeper levels of understanding. As students think out loud, they provide teachers with a window into their cognitive processes.
At the conclusion of Session Six the students were asked to respond to two questions in their Journals. Student responses to these specific questions provide relevant information about what they have learned from this literary experience, their ability to move from analysis to synthesis in response to multiple texts, and their readiness to think beyond these texts to reflect on the realities of their own world and their personal responsibility to engage in social action as active participants in the community in which they live.