Exploring Friendship With Bridge to Terabithia
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Katherine Paterson's novel Bridge to Terabithia follows the relationship of fifth graders Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke as they meet and become friends. The book can be used as a means for students to understand and explore the value of friendship. In this lesson, which is most appropriate for use in fourth- through sixth-grade classrooms, students make predictions about the book and its main characters, complete character studies as part of an in-depth look at Jess and Leslie's friendship, and relate the characters' experiences to their own as they define friendship and identify ways to make and keep friends.
Character Trading Cards: Have students use this interactive tool to create a trading card for either Jess or Leslie, capturing information that highlights each character’s search for friendship and role as a friend to the other.
From Theory to Practice
In "Enhancing Literature Experience Through Deep Discussions of Character" Karen Smith writes that "Great characters in children's literature entertain us. They fill our lives with laughter, mystery, and wonder. But equally important, these characters validate who we are and offer us possibilities for whom we may become" (132). Smith has students read an entire book before study begins, checking in with them to answer any questions and ensure they are keeping pace with the reading schedule. She follows the reading week with three or four discussions about the book's characters, looking at their motivations and comparing their lives and perspectives to the students' own.
In the same book, Caitlin McMunn Dooley and Beth Maloch explain in "Exploring Characters Through Visual Representations" that students can effectively use graphic organizers to visually represent their understanding of characters. Charting details helps students explore and apply meaning to multiple perspectives.
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.
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
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 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.
- 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.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins Trophy, 2003)
- Chart paper and markers
- LCD projector (optional)
|1.||Obtain and familiarize yourself with Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. You will need copies of this book for each student in the class. For background information about the author, including an interview in which she discusses her career, body of work, and her real-life inspiration for this book, visit Terabithia.com: The Official Site of Author Katherine Paterson.
|2.||Assign the reading of the book on a timetable of your choosing. Break up the reading into three sections (Chapters 1 to 4, 5 to 9, and 10 to 13). Plan checkpoint discussions at the end of each section (see Sessions 2, 3, and 4).
|3.||Visit and familiarize yourself with the Character Trading Cards tool. You may want to make two sample trading cards for your own reference for the student activity. These should describe Jess and Leslie and focus specifically on each character’s search for friendship and role as a friend. See Session 5 for appropriate adaptations to the card’s questions. You may also wish to make a sample trading card for use when modeling the tool for students (see Session 5 for ideas).
|4.||If you do not have classroom computers available for students to use, you will need to reserve one 45- to 60-minute session in your school’s computer lab (see Session 5). Make sure the computers you will be using have Flash 8 (visit Technical Help for more information about free downloads). Add the tool to the favorites list on the computers your students will be using. If one is available, arrange to use an LCD projector when demonstrating how to use the Character Trading Cards tool. Alternatively, you can use the Character Trading Cards Planning Sheet to introduce students to and prepare for the online activity.
|5.||Make a copy of the What Is Friendship? Worksheet for each student in your class. Copy it and the Ways to Make and Keep a Friend Chart onto pieces of chart paper.|
- Access prior knowledge by making predictions about Bridge to Terabithia
- Improve comprehension by reading and discussing the story, focusing on the main characters' relationship
- Apply what they have learned about character development by completing character studies of the main characters
- Extend and analyze what they have learned from looking at the main characters by discussing what it means to be a friend
- Apply and connect this knowledge to their own lives by brainstorming ways to make and keep friends
|1.||Introduce the book Bridge to Terabithia. Ask students to label a sheet of notebook paper “Bridge to Terabithia Predictions.“ Then pose questions A–D below, adapting them as necessary to apply to the specific edition you have available. Make sure students know there are no right or wrong answers. Discuss student responses in class and tell each student to record his or her own predictions on the sheet. Make sure, too, that they save their sheets for use at the end of the unit.
|2.||Have students respond to these questions to help introduce some of the themes they will encounter in the book:
|3.||Next, talk a little bit about the book and its author, drawing from information found on Terabithia.com: The Official Site of Author Katherine Paterson. Share that Katherine Paterson wrote the book, in part, to help her make sense of the tragic death of one of her young son’s friends. Tell students that Paterson wanted the book to explore a similar tragedy and that to do so she needed to portray two very close friends. Drawing on her own experiences with and observations of friendship helped her do that.
Explain that you will be examining the friendship between the two main characters in the book, Jess and Leslie. Tell students that the strength of this relationship — which includes one character’s reaction to losing the other — is a great “bridge” to understanding the power and value of friendship in real life. Explain that much can be learned from the characters about the art of making and keeping friends.
Homework: Students should read Chapters 1 to 4 before Session 2.
Note: The discussions here and in the two sessions that follow are meant to check in with students to make sure they understand what they are reading and that they continue to view the characters of Jess and Leslie in the context of a friendship. These discussions will also help you prepare students for reading about Leslie’s death and Jess’s grief at the end of the book.
|1.||Begin this session by giving students a chance to ask questions about what they have read in Chapters 1 to 4.
|2.||Ask students to talk briefly about Jess and Leslie, sharing their initial impressions of these two characters.
|3.||Have students look at the following passage near the end of Chapter 4: “;For the first time in his life, [Jess] got up with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self — his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.” Ask them the following questions:
|4.||Ask students to think about their own friendships. Questions for discussion include:
Homework: Students should read Chapters 5 to 9 before Session 3.
|1.||Begin this session by giving students a chance to ask questions about what they have read in Chapters 5 to 9.
|2.||Encourage students to briefly recount the main events from the reading.
|3.||Invite students to discuss the following questions:
|4.||Have students recall Jess’s thoughts in the final passage of Chapter 9. Ask them to discuss the following:
Homework: Students should read Chapters 10 to 13 before Session 4.
|1.||Begin this session by giving students a chance to ask questions about what they have read in Chapters 10 to 13.
|2.||Ask students to discuss the questions below. Be sure to allow plenty of time for this discussion and to make students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts about Leslie’s death, how Jess handles the loss, and how students think they might act if one of their friends died.
|1.||Introduce students to the Character Trading Cards tool using an LCD screen and a computer with Internet access, if available. (The printable Character Trading Cards Planning Sheet is a useful offline alternative.)
|2.||Show students how to navigate the tool and fill out the card. Ask them to recall that they have learned a lot about friendship during their reading of Bridge to Terabithia. Explain that further character exploration using the cards can help them record great reminders of what made Jess and Leslie’s friendship so special — and they can also help spark ideas that will help them foster and value the friendships they have in their own lives.
|3.||Have each student create a trading card for either Jess or Leslie. They should count off by twos so that half the class works on a card for one character and half works on one for the other. When filling out the card, student focus should be on capturing information that highlights each character’s search for friendship and role as a friend to the other. Walk students through each screen in the tool to create a card, adapting the questions as follows:
|4.||Have students print their completed trading cards. Encourage them to draw pictures of each character in the designated space.
|5.||Have students who created “Jess” cards pair up with those who created “Leslie” cards. Ask them to exchange their trading cards and briefly discuss the similarities and differences among the information they recorded for each character. Where are there differences? Do they agree or disagree about them?
|6.||Invite students to take back their original cards and switch partners — but this time, they should pair up with someone who created a trading card for the same character. Have them exchange their cards and briefly discuss the similarities and differences among the information they recorded. Where are there differences? Do they agree or disagree about them?
|7.||As you close the session, ask students to consider some of the characters’ actions specific to their friendship in the story and think about any similarities and differences they see when comparing Jess and Leslie’s friendship to their own friendships.
Homework (due at the beginning of Session 6): Students should fill out the What Is Friendship? Worksheet, writing the first several things that come into their minds for each question.
|1.||Discuss the What Is Friendship? Worksheet. Invite volunteers to share a few responses to each question and write their answers on the chart paper you have prepared. Assure students that all responses are valid and important to the discussion.
Examples of responses might include:
|2.||Show student the blank Ways to Make and Keep a Friend Chart. Ask them to think about the responses they have just shared and brainstorm ideas for each topic. List their ideas on the chart as they go.
Examples of responses might include:
|3.||Discuss with students which strategies from the chart Jess and Leslie used as they first got to know each other. Which ones did they use as their friendship developed over time?
|4.||Have students apply what they have been discussing to their own lives and experiences by reflecting on the following questions either as a whole class or in small groups:
- Display the Ways to Make and Keep a Friend Chart in your classroom. Periodically prompt students to look at it and think about the things it says (for example, first thing in the morning, when they are on their way out to recess, just before school gets out for the day, or whenever one of the behaviors on the list is exhibited in the classroom).
- Have each student use the Letter Generator to write a letter to Leslie as Jess. Using the friendly letter template, Jess should write to Leslie and tell her how losing her friendship has affected him. Invite volunteers to read their letters in class.
- Have students read and discuss the lyrics to the Simon & Garfunkel song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in relation to the book and its characters. Ask students, “How is the bridge over troubled water in the song like the bridge to Terabithia in the book?” Have a girl volunteer read aloud the first verse, instructing the class to imagine that they are listening to Leslie speaking the words to Jess. Then have a boy read aloud the third verse, asking the class to imagine they are listening to Jess speaking to Leslie. Who else in the book besides Jess and Leslie might the song lyrics fit? Could the song lyrics apply to you and a friend of yours?
- Encourage students to explore the It’s My Life - Friends website. Have students locate the “How to Make Friends” topic in the “You Said It” pulldown menu. They can read through other kids’ ideas and add new ones to the How to Make and Keep Friends Chart.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Check how well students are able to make predictions by having them refer to the “Bridge to Terabithia Predictions” sheets they made at the beginning of the unit. For each of the four predictions, ask for a show of hands from students who think they made a correct prediction in the beginning. Have volunteers from that group share their answers and determine—as a class—which predictions held up and are supported by the story. Keep this discussion open and encourage students to share any viewpoints they have or reasoning they used to arrive at their conclusions before the group selects the “right” predictions.
- Check individual What Is Friendship? Worksheets for completeness and effort.
- Observe student pairs as they discuss their Character Trading Card examples. Make sure students are able to identify the similarities and differences among their information sets and that they are listening to each other as they discuss the differences. Step in and help refocus partner discussions as necessary.
- To assess students' responses on the trading cards, you could develop a checklist similar to the following:
- Did I answer all the questions on the trading card?
- Did I answer the adapted questions as presented?
- Did I focus my thinking on friendship and the character’s role as a friend in the story?
- Does my trading card accurately represent the character in the story?
- Is this my best work?
- Did I answer all the questions on the trading card?
- Assess how well students understand the concepts you have been discussing by asking them to write down responses to the questions you asked at the end of Session 6. You might choose to have students do this as an essay or in their journals. Review students' answers to see how well they are able to connect the ideas about friendship reflected in the book with their own experience.
Have students self-assess their cards using the checklist before you review all trading cards for completeness. You will want to use the same checklist and provide students with feedback. You may wish to share samples of students' trading cards that meet your expectations. Ask students to revise their trading cards as needed.