Tim O'Brien, author of the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home and short story collections and novels such as Going After Cacciato (for which he won the National Book Award) and The Things They Carried, is known as America's preeminent writer of the Vietnam War era. A veteran of the conflict, O'Brien writes about the experience of the Vietnam War and Vietnam Era with both specific realism and artful imagination. After his tour of duty in Vietnam, he enrolled at Harvard for graduate work but left to pursue an internship at The Washington Post.
Students who read Tim O’Brien’s stories, particularly The Things They Carried, are intrigued by his flexible literary concept of “truth.” He suggests that the truth of fiction, as revealed by a story, can be more true than what actually happened. After reading O’Brien’s story “A True War Story” from The Things They Carried, have students choose a powerful event from their own lives. Using the Timeline Tool, have them map out the events from real life. Then, with the emotional impact of the full story in mind, encourage them to create a fictional version that remains true to the facts of real life but moves toward O’Brien’s notion of the “story truth.”
This site offers a collection of research links about Tim O’Brien for students and a list of his works and related resources.
In this 2010 interview, Tim O’Brien discusses a number of topics related to his work and their relevance today.
Here you’ll find an audio archive and transcript of O’Brien’s talk on the challenges of writing.
Alice Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple, writes about racism and related themes, as well as feminist issues. In 1983, she became the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her portrayal of a poor black woman's struggles in The Color Purple. Walker is also the author of dozens of books of poetry, novels, short stories, and memoirs.
Have your students explore Walker's use of dialect in The Color Purple and then extend their understanding through experimentation in their own writing. First, have your students read the novel. To start the discussion on dialect, select a passage from the novel and rewrite it using standard or formal English. Share your revision with students and have them compare it with the original. Have students find and discuss additional examples of African American dialect in the novel, and then explore the following questions:
- How does Walker's use of dialect affect the story?
- Would the story have the same impact if passages were rewritten in formal English? How would the impact be different?
- Does the use of dialect challenge the reader? Why or why not?
Invite students to write a short piece of fiction or poetry using the dialect of their peer group. Have them rewrite the piece in formal English, and then ask them to compare the two and select their favorite.
Read a sample chapter called "Where Life and Art Intersect" from the book Alice Walker in the Classroom: "Living by the Word", published by the National Council of Teachers of English.
The BBC offers this collection of audio interviews with Alice Walker. In them, she discusses her life, the Civil Rights movement, her work as an author, and more. Biographical information is also included.
The Academy of American Poets offers this biography on Walker. Information about her major literary works and links to related information are included.
Katrina was one of the costliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history and was the third strongest hurricane to touch down on U.S. soil to date. Katrina devastated New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas and is estimated to have killed over 1,800 people.
The anniversary of Katrina is a good time to plan for local weather emergencies, especially since it occurs at the beginning of the school year. Explore the weather-related and other natural disasters that your geographical area is prone to; then review your school's emergency procedures with students.
Extend the lesson to students' homes and other places they may visit (religious buildings, for instance), asking students to explore a location outside of the school for its emergency preparedness and then report their findings back to the class.
This NASA page includes details on hurricanes in general, with graphics that explain how hurricanes are structured.
NOAA offers this resource on hurricanes, including information about hurricane strength, hurricane safety, and how storms are named, as well as hurricane photos and satellite imagery.
Visit the homepage of the Air Force squadrons who fly into the eye of hurricanes that threaten the United States' coast.
The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank uses electronic media to collect, preserve, and present the stories and digital record of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
John Newbery, an 18th-century English children's book publisher and seller, was born on July 19, 1713. The American Library Association's Newbery Medal, awarded to the most distinguished children's fiction book each year, honors Newbery's work.
Your class can publish books and other documents just like Newbery. Have each student choose a book that is special-it could be a favorite book or a book that reminds him or her of something special-then write a short story about why the book was chosen and why it deserves special mention.
Using the Stapleless Book Planning Sheet, students can plan the pages of their own stories before entering the information in the Stapleless Book tool. For longer projects, students can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.
The American Library Association awards the Newbery Medal annually. This site includes information about the award, the application process, and a complete list of the distinguished books.
This section of author Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord's site includes instructions for such projects as making accordion books, index card books, wish scrolls, and stick and elastic band books.
The Newbery Video, Part I written by Mona Kerby and funded by the International Reading Association highlights favorite Newbery Award books and authors. Authors include: Lloyd Alexander, Sharon Creech, Sid Fleischman, Karen Hesse, Lois Lowry, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Katherine Paterson, and Jerry Spinelli. Part 2 of the video continues the discussions with authors and includes student projects and commentary.
Each year, the Hannibal Jaycees sponsor National Tom Sawyer Days during the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the town's most well-known citizen, Mark Twain. The highlight of the event is the fence-painting contest, which begins on July 4 with local competition and advances to state and national contests over the next three days.
Mark Twain uses great detail to capture the locations of his tales. Readers feel as if they have actually traveled with Twain to the settings of his stories and novels. Choose a particular scene in one of Twain's works and do a close examination of the setting. First, have students map the story setting, using the interactive Story Map. Then discuss the setting using these prompts:
- How does Twain use extended description, background information, and specific detail to make the setting come alive for readers?
- How do the main characters fit into the setting-do they seem at home or out of place?
- How do their reactions and interactions with the setting affect the realism of the location?
Discuss the techniques that Twain uses to make the settings in his stories vivid and real to the readers and the extent to which these techniques are effective.
Visit this PBS site to learn about Twain through his writing and view his scrapbook.
Visit Hannibal, Missouri, where Sam Clemens and other children who influenced characters in Tom Sawyer grew up.
Visit this archive, produced by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia, to find pictures, transcriptions, and analysis of Twain's writing, and information about the marketing of his books.
The RMS Titanic, a British luxury passenger liner, sank en route to New York City, and some 1,500 of its passengers perished. The ship had been designed and built by William Pirrie's firm of Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Ireland. A credulous public had believed that design innovations such as its 15 "watertight" bulkheads would make it "unsinkable."
Your students probably had some background knowledge about the Titanic even before the release of James Cameron's movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett. A nice way to begin your study is with the Internet Workshop model. You might use the recommended Websites from this calendar entry as part of the Internet Workshop.
Some questions you might ask students to explore are:
- Could this disaster happen today?
- What could have been done to prevent the disaster at that time?
- What really sank the Titanic?
- Did anything good happen as a result of this disaster?
Visitors to this website learn about Halifax, Nova Scotia's role during the tragedy's aftermath. Included is a transcript of Robert Hunston's wireless document The Titanic Disaster as Viewed from Cape Race.
This exhibit includes hyperlinks to facts about the Titanic and a large collection of historical photographs.
The Anderson Kill & Olick law firm offers this interactive mock trial of the Titanic's operators, the White Star Line.
The BBC's site contains 13 audio recordings of survivors relaying their experiences. The collection also includes six primary source documents.
This site has a collection of fifteen short videos about the Titanic. Included in that collection is an interactive infographic from History.com called "Titanic by the Numbers". The timeline starts with the construction of the Titanic and ends in 1913 with stories from survivors.
National Grandparents Day, first proposed in 1970, was officially proclaimed in 1978. This holiday occurs the first Sunday after Labor Day, and is intended not only to honor grandparents, but to remind young people of the "strength, information and guidance older people can offer." What a nice topic to start off the school year!
Help students learn about their personal and community histories through interviews with their grandparents or other elderly community members. See the ReadWriteThink video Helping a Teen Plan and Conduct an Interview for tips and suggestions. Students can use what they learn to create a presentation honoring the person they interviewed. Presentation ideas include:
- Writing acrostic or biographical poems about their grandparents. See the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Acrostic Poems: All About Me and My Favorite Things for additional resources on writing personal poems or use the Acrostic Poems interactive or Mobile App.
- Working with a grandparent to create a scrapbook of their family/community history.
- Working with older family members to create a family tree.
More ideas are available on this page from the National Grandparents Day website. Students can illustrate their poems on paper or publish their work using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press or Stapleless Book.
Grandbuddies is an intergenerational project created by Pattie Knox, an online museum educator for the Franklin Institute. Students in her school district participated in aging-simulation activities designed to help them understand the aging process. Visitors can view a case study of this experience and learn how they can replicate the project.
Reading Rockets offers this annotated list of books featuring grandparents, appropriate for children ages 0-9.
Have students read about the history of this holiday, join a contest, and explore the activities and resources on this site.
This is an online Kidlink book in many languages. The content was created by students for students. A beautiful tribute to grandmothers around the world!
Every fall, monarch butterflies in North America travel south for the winter. Unable to survive in cold temperatures, monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains travel to forests in Calfornia and those east of the Rockies travel to Mexico.
After exploring the way that monarch butterflies react to the change of seasons, have students complete an inquiry study to examine other ways that animals (and humans) change because of the seasons. Remember that changes are not limited to moving from one geographic area to another. Some animals stay in the same area, but change physically.
Using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press, invite students to develop and publish a class anthology of animal changes or a "survival guide" to show how animals face the change of seasons.
This website developed by the University of Kansas Entomology Program tracks the migration of monarch butterflies and includes links to a variety of related educational resources.
This Science Museum of Minnesota site invites students and families to join in on an investigation of the migration of the butterflies.
This page from the University of Kentucky Entomology Department offers images and information about the monarch butterfly.
Part of the Journey North project, this page follows the spring migration of monarchs each year and allows students to report monarch sightings. Also offered are lessons, questions and answers, and additional information about monarchs.
Since it became a national observance in 2004, Constitution Day has commemorated the date of the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution. Constitution Day offers students a chance to learn about this important document, from the Preamble to the seven articles to the twenty-seven amendments.
Help students deepen their understanding of one aspect of The U.S. Constitution by asking them to explore The Interactive Constitution. From the section on the articles, students can choose from among the Preamble, the branches of government, and more. Alternately, they can explore each of the twenty-seven Amendments (currently the first fifteen amendments are fully developed). Each section provides a common interpretation followed by Constitutional scholars’ discussion of a debatable issue.
Let pairs or small groups choose what they will learn about. After they read and discuss the entry, direct them to the Trading Card Creator, where they will select the Abstract Concept template. After they complete their Card, have groups present informally to share what they have learned.
The online presence of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, this site offers background about the Constitution as well as lesson plans, activities, and resources.
More appropriate for older students, this collection of official government documents and journal articles can enhance inquiry into the nature and function of the Constitution.
This site of the National Archives offers activities designed around artifacts from their collection, as well as a link to their document-based workshop on teaching the Constitution.
Novelist and poet Paul Fleischman was born in Monterey, California, in 1952. He is the author of the Newbery Award-winning book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, and numerous works of fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry, as well as picture books. Fleischman won the Scott O'Dell Award, which is awarded to the year's best work of historical fiction for children or young adults, for his Civil War novel Bull Run.
Fleischman grew up in a home where reading and writing were very important-his father, author Sid Fleischman, won the Newbery Award for the novel The Whipping Boy. Paul Fleischman has fond memories of his father reading books aloud to the family, of listening to the radio with his mother, and exploring the many books in his father's study. Share some of Fleischman's memories with your class by reading his essay "My House of Voices."
Invite students to brainstorm a list of the voices that fill their own homes (or another location, such as their school or a community building). With their lists for inspiration, ask students to write a descriptive essay, similar to Fleischman's essay, that gives a tour of the voices in these places. Younger students might write a collaborative essay, with individual students or small groups cataloguing the voices of different areas of a place that they have all visited, such as the school or a nearby park.
In addition to reviewers' comments, this site includes excerpts, biographical information, and articles, including "From Seed to Seedfolks," which provides background on Seedfolks.
Candlewick Press offers this guide to Fleischman's first published play, Zap. Included are discussion questions and activities.
This teacher's guide to Fleischman's Seedfolks includes an interview with the author and specific activities and curriculum connections.
EduPlace offers this brief biography of Paul Fleischman, in which the influences of his childhood and of music on his work is highlighted. Also included is a selected list of Fleischman's books.