Crit Lit for Kids: From Critical Consciousness to Service Learning

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Nine to eleven 60-minute sessions
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Students are introduced to concepts of social justice, such as diversity, tolerance, equity, and equality, through a literary text, class discussions, and guided research. Students plan a service-learning project, then work in small groups using Photo Story software to produce a multimedia presentation designed to foster community support for the project. Students also use the ReadWriteThink.org Printing Press to create informational fliers about the project. The lesson concludes—and the service-learning project begins—with a showing of the Photo Story productions for parents and other community members.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Using literature students enjoy, teachers can help students develop critical awareness and discuss social justice issues.

  • Through the literature students read and subsequent discussions, teachers create the opportunity for middle-level learners to investigate themselves and their connections to the world.

  • Literature about other cultures and other times provides a venue for both students and teachers to question their assumptions about themselves and the world.
  • A successful service-learning project involves "a great deal of preparation by the teachers and volunteers, motivation from the students and parents, and support from the community." (p. 14)

  • The Books on Tape for Kids project provided previously reluctant readers with an intrinsic motivation to improve their literacy skills.

  • Introducing a service-learning project to other students and community members offers additional opportunities for students to develop skills in "new literacies," through authentic use of information technologies.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow, 1982)
  • ELMO Visual Presenter (projects book pages onto a big screen; optional)
  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability
  • LCD projector
  • CD-R/W discs
  • Disposable cameras (optional)




1. Download Photo Story 3. Familiarize yourself with the Instructions: Using Photo Story 3 to Create Persuasive Slide Shows handout, and practice the steps involved so you can demonstrate the process to students. You may also wish to refer to Create Your First Photo Story. Make a copy of these instructions for students.

2. Bookmark the Persuasion Map and the ReadWriteThink Printing Press on your classroom or lab computers. Familiarize yourself with these tools and be prepared to assist students, particularly if the class has not used them previously.

3. Decide how you will gather images for the Photo Story slide shows and make the necessary arrangements for these activities [e.g., an Internet search for appropriate images (Session 5) or a field trip to take original photos (Session 6)]. If you plan to have students conduct an Internet search, bookmark any search engines and Web directories you would like them to use on your classroom or lab computers (see Search Engines and Web Directories in the Resources section).

4. Schedule access to an LCD projector for Sessions 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Schedule access to individual computers with Internet access for Sessions 4 through 9.

5. Familiarize yourself with the book A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. Practice reading the book aloud. The book lends itself to a discussion of poverty and collaborative efforts toward a goal. A different children’s literature title may be substituted if you wish to focus on other topics (see the Booklists in the Resources section).

6. Make two copies for each student of the Quad Entry Journal handout. Familiarize yourself with the format of this handout:

  • 1st quadrant: What happened in the story?

  • 2nd quadrant: What is my interpretation?

  • 3rd quadrant: What is my impression following the small-group critique?

  • 4th quadrant: How do I feel after the whole-class discussion?
This format is a modification of the double-entry journal. In the Quad Entry Journal, a third entry is added following group literature circles, and a fourth entry is written following a whole-class discussion. Students compare their personal perspectives with those of the small group and the whole class.

7. Decide on the formation of small groups for work on the Photo Story project. You may choose to use existing literature circles, or assign group membership based on your knowledge of your students’ strengths.

8. If necessary, review with students the importance of attributing the sources of the facts and images they gather in the course of their research. Also review your preferred format for attributing electronic sources.

9. Select a date, time, and location for the showing of the class Photo Story productions for parents and other community members.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Examine persuasive writing techniques and practice writing persuasive texts

  • Develop visual literacy skills through the creation of a multimedia presentation

  • Develop digital literacy skills through the use of various software tools

  • Practice consensus building through discussion and cooperative planning

  • Develop critical thinking skills as they view complex social issues from various perspectives

Session 1

1. Explain that students will be exploring the concept of social justice through the issues raised in a children’s picture book A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (or other chosen title). Point out that many picture books contain “big ideas” or themes in a relatively short text. Mention that you are using a children’s picture book rather than a chapter book to develop students’ visual literacy, so students should be aware of how both pictures and text can convey meaning.

2. Introduce vocabulary words that could be used to discuss the social justice issues raised by the story. Examples include social justice, poverty, equity, equality, tolerance, power, rights, and responsibilities. Ask students to brainstorm additional words, and continue to add to this vocabulary list throughout the project. Encourage students to use these words when writing in their journals.

3. Using an ELMO (if available) to project the book on a big screen, read A Chair for My Mother aloud to the class. Ask students to think about the “big idea” in the book in terms of social issues, and to be sure they can answer these questions:

  • What was the problem?

  • How did the characters solve the problem?

  • How do the pictures add to the meaning?

  • How does the text add to the meaning?
4. After reading, write the following questions on the board and discuss as a class:

  • What was the “big idea”?

  • Can you think of a situation from your own life that connects to the idea in this book? (text-to-self connection)

  • Can you think of a situation from a book or movie that reminds you of the idea in this book? (text-to-text connection)

  • Are there any current events you have heard about that remind you of the idea in this book? (text-to-world connection)
5. Distribute the Quad Entry Journal handout and explain that these journals will be used to reflect on the reading. Have students fill in the first two quadrants of the journal as described in the Preparation section (Step 6). In the first quadrant, students write what happened in the story, and in the second quadrant, they write their impressions of what happened.

Session 2

1. Have students gather in literature circles to compare their impressions of the story A Chair for My Mother. Ask them to discuss their own perceptions of the story (referring to the first two entries in their Quad Entry Journals), and to compare their responses to the questions written on the board (see Session 1, Step 4).

2. Following the small-group discussion, ask students to fill in the third quadrant of the Quad Entry Journal, noting their impressions of the literature circle discussion. Stress the importance of not falling into a group-think mentality—students should use the journal to critique the discussions rather than changing their opinions.

3. Conduct a whole-class discussion of A Chair for My Mother. Some examples of issues to discuss with this text include:

  • How could Rosa’s family have been better prepared?

  • What if they couldn’t afford insurance?

  • Do you have any friends or family members who have lost everything due to a disaster?

  • Do you remember Hurricane Katrina and all the children who lost everything they owned? How do you think they felt?

  • How could community members help in this type of situation? How could students in a classroom help?
4. Following the discussion, ask students to record their thoughts in the fourth quadrant of their journals. Remind them that they should not change their own opinions just to conform to ideas expressed by their classmates, but instead should use the journal to critique the discussion.

Session 3

1. Using an LCD projector, examine the Life on the Streets: Sample Slide Show, created by middle school students in San Diego.

2. Have students use their Quad Entry Journals to record their responses to the slide show, filling in the first two quadrants.

3. Working in small groups, have students compare their reflections about the homelessness slide show.

4. Following the small-group discussion, ask students to complete the third quadrant in their journals.

5. Working as a class, ask students to consider what kind of community they live in. In what ways is it similar to Rosa’s community in A Chair for My Mother? In what ways is it different? In what ways is it similar to the slide show about homelessness? In what ways is it different? What social justice issues seem most important in their community? Have students reflect on these issues in the fourth quadrant in their journals.

6. Following the reflections, conduct a whole-class discussion of topics relevant to your community, trying to focus in on an issue that would lend itself to a workable service-learning project. If time permits, use the LCD projector to share information on other student service-learning projects, such as Books on Tape for Kids and the Earth Day Groceries Project.

Session 4

1. Explain that the class will be creating persuasive texts to promote their service-learning project. Describe different ways in which people can be persuaded:

a. People may make generalizations and draw cause-and-effect conclusions from facts.

b. People can be persuaded by an appeal based on expertise or character (we trust someone based on apparent knowledge or reputation).

c. People can be persuaded by an appeal to their emotions (their concern for the well-being of other individuals).

d. People can be persuaded by fears and the need for peer acceptance.

2. Using an LCD projector, show the Life on the Streets: Sample Slide Show again. During this viewing, ask students to watch for elements of persuasive texts.

3. After the presentation, ask students what features of the production (e.g., images, words, sounds, other effects) they found particularly effective in conveying the message.

4. Return to the issues identified in Session 3 as possible service-learning projects (Step 6). Working as a class, decide on one topic to serve as the starting point for a service-learning project.

Note: Depending on the nature of the service-learning project, you may wish to add an additional class session (or sessions) for students to conduct research into the relevant social justice issues. For projects involving local issues, students may already have sufficient background information.

5. Have students use the Persuasion Map to plan a persuasive text that could be used to introduce the proposed project to the community. Remind them to list facts, appeal to character, and appeal to emotions. Have students print out their persuasion maps.

Session 5

1. Working as a class, use a computer with Internet access and an LCD projector to conduct an Internet search on the topic chosen in Session 4 (see Search Engines and Web Directories listed in the Resources section).

2. Select and save appropriate images for use in the Photo Story project. Remember to record citation information for all images selected. Also have students make note of supporting information to add to their persuasive texts.

Note: Alternatively, you can do the Internet search yourself prior to the session and provide links to the most appropriate sites, so students can work individually to collect relevant facts and images from these sites.

Session 6 (optional)

1. Conduct a photo excursion in the community. For example, if students decide to beautify an area on the school grounds or close to the school, the class could walk to that area to take photos. If students plan to work with a specific community group, the class could meet with that group to take photos.

2. If possible, have the students themselves take the photos, using digital or disposable cameras. (If digital cameras are not used, request film processing including a photo CD, so the photos can be copied and distributed as digital files.)

Sessions 7 and 8

Prior to Session 7, create a CD of about 20 appropriate images from the Internet search and photo excursion for students to use in creating their Photo Story projects. Include one photo of a black piece of paper for use as a spacer between photos or a background for additional text. Make a CD-R/W copy of your collection for each small group.

1. Explain that the class will be working in small groups to create Photo Story slide shows designed to gain support for the planned service-learning project from parents and other community members. Explain that these shows should include no more than 10 photos, and should be no longer than 2 minutes.

2. Distribute a copy of the Instructions: Using Photo Story 3 to Create Persuasive Slide Shows to each student, and give each group the CD-R/W containing the collection of images.

3. Using an LCD projector, create a sample Photo Story presentation as groups create their own presentations. Demonstrate each step and then have students complete that step before continuing. As students work through the process, circulate around the class and offer assistance.

4. Begin by importing the photos for the project. Choose about 10 photos from the CD-R/W, decide on an effective sequence of the images, and import the image files into Photo Story. It is advisable to import the “black paper” photo at the beginning and the end, so there will be room to write important text explaining the project. You can also add additional “black paper” photos throughout the slide show as necessary.

5. Once students have imported their photos, demonstrate how to add text to the photos. Instruct students to use their persuasion map printouts to provide ideas for the shared writing of the text.

6. Remind students that they can change the font, size, position, and color of the text, and demonstrate these options. Point out that in a slide show presentation, as in a picture book, the images carry much of the meaning. The text is used to further enhance the slide show.

7. Explain that Photo Story allows for special effects that can add to the presentation. Demonstrate the available effects, such as panning across a screen, or zooming in on an image. Also demonstrate how to change the amount of time each screen is displayed. Guide students as they add desired special effects.

8. Demonstrate how to choose transitions between screens, and show how the transitions can add to the meaning of the text. For example, a star transition could emphasize the focus on an important person. A wheel transition could add to the feeling that something seems out of control. Guide students as they work in their groups to choose effective transitions.

9. Demonstrate how to enhance a slide show using the Create Music option. Provide examples of types of music that Photo Story can create, and allow students to make choices as a group.

10. Remind students to save their Photo Story project on the same CD-R/W that contains the photos. (Click on the Save Project button on any of the screens and follow normal saving procedures.)

11. When the projects are completed, have students save them on the CD-R/W using the option Save your story for playback on your computer. This action will create a .wmv file of the slide show that can be shown on any computer equipped with Windows Media Player.

Session 9

1. Using a computer with projection capability, demonstrate the use of the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to create a flyer. Point out that the layout calls for a heading and three distinct blocks of text. Remind students that the flyer must include the date, time, and location of the presentation.

2. Have students revisit the persuasion maps they printed in Session 4 and work individually to develop a three-part persuasive text for a flyer about the service-learning project. Remind them to use the persuasion techniques discussed in Session 4—list the facts, appeal to character, and appeal to emotions. Also remind them to use vocabulary learned throughout the unit, since demonstrating their expertise will lend credibility to the text.

3. Have students create flyers incorporating their persuasive texts. When students have printed out their flyers, they should add an appropriate image (either an original drawing or a printout of a photo gathered during the project).

Session 10

1. To prepare for the public presentation, have students get together in their small groups and watch their slide show. After watching their show, have them fill in the first two quadrants of a Quad Entry Journal.

2. Have students discuss their ideas for presentation with their small groups. Groups should plan how they will introduce their slide shows, and record their ideas in the third quadrant of their Quad Entry Journals.

3. As a class, discuss the practical preparation for the service-learning project: What support should students be seeking? Are they looking for funding, volunteers, materials, or mentors? Ask students to record their thoughts and ideas in the fourth quadrant of their journals.

4. Have the groups practice their slide show presentations in front of their peers. Following each presentation, ask students to complete either a self-assessment or peer evaluation, answering the following questions:

  • How did the slide show appeal to character and emotion?

  • How was the text used to convey meaning?

  • How were the pictures used to convey meaning?

  • Did the transitions and effects contribute to the persuasive quality? Why or why not?

  • Rate the overall slide show in terms of effective persuasion. Would you want to provide assistance/materials/funding to this project if you were an outside viewer? Why or why not?

Session 11

1. Welcome the invited guests (parents and community members) and offer background information on the slide shows and service-learning project.

2. Have the small groups of students introduce and present their own Photo Story projects.

3. Following the presentations, invite audience members to join with students in their small groups. In these groups, have students discuss their plans for the service-learning initiative with the parents and other community members, and ask for assistance, materials, or funding ideas. Remind students to record the ideas discussed for use in further planning of their service-learning initiative.


  • Complete the service-learning project.

  • Post a slide show about the service-learning project on the GlobalClassroom website Come Blog With Us, which uses blogging software to encourage conversation among school children and teachers around the world.

  • Read additional literature with social justice themes, choosing titles from the Booklists websites in the Resources section of this lesson.

  • Continue to incorporate photography into instructional activities using ideas from the webpage Using Digital Cameras in the Classroom.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the Rubric for Evaluating Persuasive Texts to assess students’ persuasion maps, digital literacy skills, and flyers.

  • Collect and review students’ self-assessments and peer evaluations following Session 10.

  • Take anecdotal notes during small-group discussions, large-group discussions, and individual work times to assess the following:

  • cooperative group work and planning

  • use of topic-related vocabulary

  • understanding of persuasive writing techniques

  • understanding of media techniques
  • Using students’ completed Quad Entry Journals and your notes, assess students’ use of critical thinking skills as they discussed the issues and planned their projects. Pay special attention to the third and fourth quadrants of the journals, noting whether students maintained their own perspectives and how they were able to integrate their ideas with the views of others in the class.

  • Following your evaluation of the journals, discuss any issues you noted with the class. Did you find too many students changed their views when faced with different perspectives? Did students maintain their own convictions even when confronted with other perspectives? Use students’ answers to guide your further work with these types of discussions.