Moving Toward Acceptance Through Picture Books and Two-Voice Texts

3 - 5
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Eight 50-minute lessons
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Connecting literature to students' lived experiences in the school and classroom, this lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about situations of intolerance and discuss ways to move to a more ideal world in which acceptance is the norm. Starting with the picture book Whoever You Are, students discuss embracing diversity. The class then compares the ideal to realistic situations that they face in their own school as well as those portrayed in the books Weslandia and Insects Are My Life. Students then study, create, and perform two-voice texts that shows how they can move closer to the ideal of accepting all types of diversity.

This lesson plan was developed as part of a collaborative professional writing initiative sponsored by the Illinois State Writing Project (ISWP) at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

"As language arts teachers," note Mary E. Styslinger and Alison Whisenant in their Voices from the Middle article "Crossing Cultures with Multi-Voiced Journals," "we have the opportunity to transform students through literacy experiences" (26). The authors find measurable value in having students participate in the particular activity of writing from varied perspectives, seeing the "potential to change [students'] relationship with individuals, heightening sensitivity to issues of diversity such as race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation" (26-27). This lesson modifies the type of writing, but its multi-perspective approach still provides the same opportunities to enrich students' understanding of the diversity of the world around them.

Further Reading

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.
  • 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.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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

  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

  • Multiple copies of Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

  • Multiple copies of Insects Are My Life by Megan McDonald

  • Multiple copies of Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

  • Transparency of a two-voice poem or a two-voice poem written on poster board or butcher paper

  • Computer with Internet access and printer

  • Index cards

  • Reading/writing journal

  • Online Audio Version of Example Two-Voice Poem



  1. Consult the Tips for Confronting Bullying and Intolerance and some of the Web resources referenced in the Extensions section for ideas on handling the topics of tolerance, bullying, and acceptance with sensitivity.

  2. Obtain copies of the texts Whoever You Are, Weslandia, Insects Are My Life, and Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.

  3. Make sure that students have access to computers Session Two. Test the Venn Diagram interactive and familiarize yourself with the tool to ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

  4. Review small group discussion procedures with students.

  5. Review the Sample Venn Diagram to get ideas you may want to suggest as students complete their own diagrams.

  6. After Session Two, write each situation from the "Our School Right Now" section of the Venn Diagram the class created on a separate index card. For Session Four, these cards will need to be put in a bag or box to be drawn by student pairs.

  7. Make necessary copies of handouts.

  8. For Session Four, arrange for a colleague, administrator, or parent volunteer to read examples of two-voice poetry with you.

  9. On a transparency, poster board, or butcher paper, prepare a poem of your choice from Joyful Noises so the class can examine the poem visually and annotate its features.

  10. Prepare a blank Venn Diagram and T-Chart on a transparency or butcher paper for use in full class discussion.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • read a variety of texts to compare and contrast situations presented in literature to situations in real life.

  • demonstrate understanding of the concepts of acceptance and intolerance.

  • create a class definition of two-voice poetry by reading samples.

  • compose, edit, and present a two-voice text of their own.

Session One

  1. Begin the lesson by asking students to answer the question, "What makes you different from everyone else in the world?" in their writing journals.

  2. Have students share their responses with a partner or with the class.

  3. After students have shared what makes them unique, have the class brainstorm ways that all people are basically the same (general human needs, emotions, physical features, and so forth).

  4. Introduce the book Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. Ask students to think about the author's message as you read.

  5. After you finish the book, ask students to summarize the main idea of the book, focusing on which the author thinks is more important:  the things that makes people unique and different (as they wrote in their journals) or the things that everyone shares in common (from the class discussion).

  6. Shift the focus of the discussion to life at your school.  Ask students to think about the way they see people being treated at their school.  Do most students treat each other based on how they are different or how they are they same?  How close is your school to the kind of universal acceptance Mem Fox talks about in Whoever You Are

    Note: Be sensitive at this point of the discussion because you do not want students to think that uniqueness and difference are not important; rather, you want students to understand that everyone is human and deserves respect and kindness regardless of how they differ from one another.

  7. Ask students to observe the ways people treat one another at school, thinking about what they read and discussed in this session.

Session Two

  1. In this session, student pairs will use the Venn Diagram interactive tool to compare and contrast the ideal version of acceptance from Whoever You Are with the reality of acceptance and intolerance at their school right now.

  2. Demonstrate the functions of the Venn Diagram interactive tool as you provide instructions for the activity.  Have students label the first circle "Ideal World" and the second "Our School Right Now."  Explain that the space in the middle is for overlap-ways in which your school is close to, or working toward, the ideal world already.

  3. Ask student pairs to begin by describing the "Ideal World" from Whoever You Are. See the Sample Venn Diagram for ideas or concepts that might go in that, and other, sections. Some of the ideas may come directly from the book, but students will have to infer other characteristics of the ideal world.  

  4. After they describe the "Ideal World" in the first circle, they should use the second circle to describe what is different from the ideal in their school right now.  Ask them to think about what they observed between sessions.

  5. They should then use the space in the overlap of the circle to show ways in which your school is close to, or working toward, the ideal world already.  Remind them that the tabs are moveable, so they should feel free to change the position of an idea if their thinking changes.

  6. Give students time to complete and print their Venn Diagrams.

  7. Coming back together as a class, discuss the students' diagrams. Display the large Venn Diagram, filling it in with what students have written on their personal ones. The situations that are in the "Our School Right Now" section will be used in Session Five.

Session Three

  1. Begin this session by reviewing the Venn Diagrams from the previous session.  If the specific words acceptance and intolerance have not yet come up in discussion, this would be an appropriate time to introduce them to ensure a common vocabulary.  Use concepts from the first circle to clarify the idea of acceptance and items from the second circle to exemplify intolerance.

  2. After this review, tell students that they will be exploring two more books, Weslandia and Insects Are My Life, to better understand acceptance and intolerance.  The main characters are not accepted for who they are; actions of the other characters in the book show intolerance of the main characters.

  3. Divide the class into small groups to read and discuss one of the books per group.  Half the class will read Weslandia while the other half reads Insects Are My Life.

  4. Before grouping the students, show them the T-Chart for Book Groups that they will use to find examples of intolerance that were in the book as well as examples of acceptance.

  5. As groups are reading, discussing, and putting relevant examples on their T-Charts, circulate the room, conferring with groups and answering questions that students may have.

  6. After small group discussion, bring the class back together as a whole to discuss the books as well as the charts they created. As students share information from their charts, add their ideas to a class T-Chart, comparing the information to the Venn Diagram from the previous session.

  7. After students have shared their responses to the books, ask them if any of the situations in the books are like real life at their school right now. Add those to the class Venn Diagram from the previous session.

  8. Close the session by asking students to respond in their journals to the following prompt: "What connections are you able to make with any of the characters from Weslandia and/or Insects Are My Life?" Remind students of the different types of connections they can make: text-to-self (students connect the book to something from their personal lives), text-to-text (connections to another book, movie, song, or television show), and text-to-world (connections to situations in the world beyond their own personal experiences).  Students should complete the journal entry for homework if necessary.

Session Four

  1. Remind students of the books they read in the previous session.

  2. Introduce Fleischman's book, Joyful Noise, pointing out that it is by the same author as Weslandia, but it would be a book that would appeal to the main character of  Insects Are My Life because the poems are all about insects.

  3. With the reading partner you arranged for in Preparation, read two poems from Fleischman's book that exemplify the kind of two-voice poetry students will be writing: "Honeybees" and "Waterstriders."

  4. Open up the discussion of two-voice poetry and ask them to discuss some of its features.

  5. Continue the discussion by displaying an overhead or written section of a poem on chart paper.  Talk about the visual features of the text in addition to the things students noticed when they read the poems.  You may wish to annotate the poem as students make their observations (see the sample annotated poem for ideas).

  6. Elicit from students a class definition of two-voice poetry, focusing on the fact that it is meant to be performed with alternating or simultaneous voices and usually has two columns-one for each voice.  Some words or lines are spoken together, to varying effect.

  7. Put students in two groups and allow them to read the poem that is on the chart, practicing the two-voice technique and understanding the alternating and simultaneous vocal patterns.

  8. After they have practiced in a group, allow for further practice by distributing additional copies of Joyful Noise for students to read through and perform.

Session Five

  1. Review discussions of previous sessions and ask how two-voice poetry might relate to their study of acts of intolerance and acceptance as seen in Whoever You Are, Weslandia, and Insects Are My Life

  2. In pairs, students will create a two-voice poem that illustrate situations of intolerance at their school and suggest a step toward acceptance.  Have one student per pair choose from the note cards you prepared with the ideas from the "In Our School" part of the Venn Diagram (preparing enough multiples of the concepts to be sure every pair gets one).

  3. Share the Two-Voice Poem Example: "The Lunch Room" in printed format as well as in online audio format. Reinforce for the class how a simple gesture can make someone feel accepted and point out that for this assignment, the two-voice nature of the assignment is more important than the poems looking or sounding exactly like the poems from Joyful Noise or other poems they have seen or read.

  4. Share the Two-Voice Poem Rubric with students so they understand the expectations of the assignment.

  5. As they plan their poem using the Two-Voice Poem Planning Sheet, ask them to think about these questions:

    • What does it feel and sound like to be the one who is different, alone, excluded?

    • What does it feel and sound like to be the one doing the excluding or being hurtful?

    • What does it feel and sound like when people reveal their feelings and motivations for their actions?

    • How can we move closer to the ideal of universal acceptance?
  6. These questions should help students choose the personas for their poem (a lonely student, a student surrounded by friends, a new student in school, a student who is different from the others, and so forth). Remind them that their poem can be an internal conversation by one person thinking through conflicting feelings he or she may have.

Session Six

  1. After class discussion of some ideas from their Two-Voice Poem Planning Sheet, share the Two-Voice Poem Drafting Sheet with the students. The organizer is set up as a rough draft template that helps them separate the voices.

  2. Put students in pairs to begin their poems. As they write, the teacher should be moving around and conferencing with pairs.

  3. Give students time to work on their drafts.  They should be complete by the next session.

Session Seven

  1. Begin the session by checking that drafts of the poems are completed.  Tell students they will be responding to each others' poems today using the Two-Voice Poem Peer Review Sheet.  Go over the expectations for this process and answer any questions students might have.

  2. Put two pairs together to read and respond to each others' poems using the Peer Review Sheet.

  3. Pairs will take their peer reviews to revise their poems in preparation for public presentation.

Session Eight

  1. Give students time at the beginning of the session to rehearse their revised poems.

  2. Have pairs present their poems to the class.

  3. Give students time at the end of the session to discuss and reflect on how they can make a difference in their school.  Use the Reflection Questions to trigger discussion.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Check for student understanding and progress as they complete the journals, Venn Diagram, T-Charts, and planning sheets associated with the activity.

  • Use the Two-Voice Poem Rubric to provide specific feedback on student work.

  • Use the Reflection Questions to give students a chance to solidify their learning and turn it into positive action.
Erin Beamon
K-12 Teacher
Great plans and activities. Everything is included from introduction through wrap-up. The only drawback is the lack of inclusion of books used for the lessons. When I plan on a Sunday, there is no opportunity to go to the library and many books are not available in either the school library or local public library.
Erin Beamon
K-12 Teacher
Great plans and activities. Everything is included from introduction through wrap-up. The only drawback is the lack of inclusion of books used for the lessons. When I plan on a Sunday, there is no opportunity to go to the library and many books are not available in either the school library or local public library.
Erin Beamon
K-12 Teacher
Great plans and activities. Everything is included from introduction through wrap-up. The only drawback is the lack of inclusion of books used for the lessons. When I plan on a Sunday, there is no opportunity to go to the library and many books are not available in either the school library or local public library.

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