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Lesson Plan

Making Personal and Cultural Connections Using A Girl Named Disaster

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Making Personal and Cultural Connections Using A Girl Named Disaster

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 60-minute sessions, plus time for students to read the book and respond in their logs
Lesson Author

Kathleen Benson Quinn

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Before reading

During reading

After reading


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Make predictions about the story and develop questions about what they are interested in learning

  • Use the book and other sources to write responses to their own questions

  • Share personal connections to the story and characters

  • Compare and contrast aspects of African culture with their own culture and beliefs

  • Create a personal response to the text based on Gardner's eight intelligence areas (see Multiple Intelligences: A Theory for Everyone)

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Before reading

1. Introduce the book A Girl Named Disaster and tell students that this story is about a young girl who travels from Mozambique to Zimbabwe on her own.

2. Ask students to predict what kinds of things might happen to this girl on her way to Zimbabwe. Record their predictions on chart paper and have students also record their predictions in the "What we think will happen" column of the Prediction log. Based on the title of the story, students might predict that the girl experiences "disasters" along the way. Ask them to predict what kind of disasters she might run into and what they think will happen during the story.

3. Reflecting further on the title of the story, have students explore the meaning of their own names using the website Behind the Name. Discuss whether events in their lives have any connection to the meanings of their names.

4. Using a K-W-L chart (Ogle, 1986), ask students what they already know about the countries, geography, people, and customs of Africa. Use HRW World Atlas to find and display a map of Africa. If possible, arrange for students to view the map online. Help students to notice that Mozambique and Zimbabwe are countries in Africa. Record the things that students already know about Africa in the K column of the chart, making sure to discuss any comments that might be questionable and labeling them as a "maybe" to check later.

5. Ask students what they would like to know about Africa, specifically about its countries, geography, people, and customs. Also ask students what they would like to know about the main character in the story, Nhamo. For example, if a student wants to know what it is like to live in Zimbabwe, explain how they can read about what it was like for Nhamo to live in Zimbabwe. Record questions in the W column of the K-W-L chart.

6. Have students work with a partner to record at least four questions about Africa or Nhamo that specifically interest them. Try to match students who have similar interests. They can record their questions in the W column of the K-W-L chart.

7. Before ending the session, point out the glossary and information that appears at the end of the book. This part of the book may help students in answering some of their fact-based questions.

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During reading

This part of the lesson may require several class sessions, depending on the reading level of your students and the number of questions that they developed.

1. Have students partner read the story A Girl Named Disaster and respond together to the questions they have developed.

2. At various points during the reading (again, depending on your students, either after each chapter or sets of chapters or at the end of each class session), allow 10-15 minutes for students to share and discuss the story as a whole class. As students share their questions and answers, make sure that they are adding new questions and answers to the W and L columns of the K-W-L chart.

3. Since there is so much more to this text, your students will likely engage in discussions about a variety of identity and cultural issues.
  • Identity issues. After the first few chapters, students will learn that Nhamo is an "orphan" living with her Aunt and her extended family and that she is not always accepted for who she is. Students will also learn that Nhamo has a special relationship with her deceased mother and a secret hideout where she goes to talk with her mother and have "tea." You can help children identify with Nhamo by sharing special family traditions that they have and talking about how they would feel if they were in Nhamo's situation.

  • Cultural issues. Students will find out that Nhamo lives in an extended family, in a tribal-like community with a very different belief system than the one that they may have. Discuss students' beliefs and how they are the same (perhaps including belief in an afterlife) and different (perhaps they do not go to a Mavuki or "witch doctor" for advice) from the characters in the story. You may also want to stop to discuss the stories that Nhamo tells her mother. These stories are traditional Shona folk tales.
4. Survival is a key theme to this book. Discuss with students what it takes to survive in a wilderness area. During the reading, follow Nhamo's adventures as she travels to Zimbabwe by river on a canoe and discuss the things that Nhamo does to survive. It can be especially engaging for your students to compare her experiences with things that have happened in their own lives and with other survival stories that they have been exposed to on television (e.g., Survivor) or in books (e.g., Hatchet by G. Paulsen or Julie of the Wolves by J.C. George).

5. At the end of each sharing segment, review the K-W-L chart together as a whole class and add any new questions that may arise. Students should also take a few minutes to update their own Prediction log by adding information to the "What happened" column.

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After reading

1. Gather the whole class and have them reread their Prediction log to review their initial predictions and the K-W-L chart to review their own questions and answers. They should see that they have learned a great deal. If there are still unanswered questions and if your curriculum allows it, you can then pursue further interests by seeking information from other sources. [See suggested Extensions for this lesson.]

2. Using Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences model, have your class respond to the novel by creating something related to the story that they would like to share with Nhamo as she starts her new life in Zimbabwe. Students can select from the following projects and work with a new partner or on their own:
  • Verbal-Linguistic: Write a review of the book for Scholastic Book Central: A Girl Named Disaster.

  • Logical-Mathematical: Calculate how far Nhamo traveled and map out her journey from Mozambique to Zimbabwe.

  • Kinesthetic: Create and demonstrate a Shona tribal dance based on descriptions found in the book.

  • Visual-Spatial: Create a replica of Nhamo's village.

  • Musical: Create a song about Nhamo's travels.

  • Interpersonal: Share a story about yourself or your family and relate it to an event in Nhamo's life.

  • Intrapersonal: Tell how you are similar and different from Nhamo. Consider using the interactive Venn Diagram.

  • Naturalist: Create a report on the habitat and/or behavior of baboons, and show how the baboons that Nhamo encounters fit this information.
3. Have the whole class share their projects with one another or as part of a multicultural celebration at your school.

4. Have students work together on a class summary of their projects and submit it to Global Book Club for publication on the website.

5. In closing, have students again discuss the title of the book A Girl Named Disaster and connect it to the adventures and misadventures that Nhamo experiences in the story. Invite students to create their own books using the interactive Stapleless Book that tells something about their lives and relates to the meaning of their names. They can title the books A Named , and explain how and why they decided on their titles.

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  • Global Book Club lists three other activities for the book A Girl Named Disaster.

  • Visit the HRW World Atlas to find more information about Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The World Factbook 2002 also has information on Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

  • PBS Kids' Africa is another website that students can use to find information about Africa and its countries.

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  • Do your students actively participate in the before, during, and after reading activities and discussions? Keep a class checklist for participation during each lesson. If you find that a student is not participating during a session, actively intervene to engage that student in the next session.

  • Are your students able to develop relevant questions and find sufficient evidence in the text and from other sources to adequately answer the questions? Review the students' Prediction logs and K-W-L charts for evidence.

  • Are your students able to work well with their partners during reading and writing? Observe your students as they work together and keep anecdotal notes on their behavior. If you note that a particular team is not working well together, intervene and ask them how things are going and how they might improve. Give specific feedback as needed.

  • Are your students interested in the book and do they actively respond to the character's dilemmas, experiences, and feelings? Again, observation or anecdotal notes are valuable here. If you note that some students are not actively engaged, reflect on what modifications you can make to help them in this area.

  • Are your students able to make personal and cultural connections to the book? Review their Prediction logs and reflect on their oral responses. Write notes on specific students' responses that are especially good examples of these connections and share some of them with your class.

  • Do your students' projects meet the standards and your expectations? Look at each standard and examine students' Prediction logs, K-W-L charts, and oral responses to see if you can provide a clear, specific example as to how students are performing. For example, for Standard 7, you should be able to examine each student's K-W-L chart to see if he or she has posed good questions and located relevant information to adequately communicate the answers.

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