A Portrait of Our World: Making Connections and Developing Comprehension
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Engage middle school students in a meaningful study of the lives of students from across the globe through the use of contemporary nonfiction and fiction. Students create personal autobiographies, sequence story events, and prepare well-crafted summaries while learning to use higher-level comprehension strategies such as Question-Answer Relationships and the Bio-Cube. Additionally, students conduct a critical study of the NCSS Notable Tradebook Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter, comparing and contrasting their own lives to Nasreen's and expanding their geographical knowledge of the Middle East.
Bio-Cube: Bio-Cube is an interactive tool that helps students to organize and synthesize information for use when writing an autobiography.
A Guide to Question–Answer Relationships: The Question–Answer Relationship strategy develops higher-level comprehension skills with both narrative and expository texts by teaching students how to answer the four levels of questions and to even create their own questions.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Books, 2009): This book teaches students about a different life and culture and exposes them to the narrative format they need to use when creating their autobiographies.
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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- Computers with Internet access
- LCD projector and screen
- Copy paper and construction paper
- Sticky notes
- Seven copies of Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Books, 2009)
- Afghan artifacts (e.g., maps, kites, documents that show the language, currency, household items)
- Collect a series of artifacts based on the Afghan culture for use in the initial classroom carousel walk. These artifacts should include such items as maps, various Afghan kites, copies of different nonfiction and fictional texts about Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, photos of notable sights in Afghanistan, a copy of the Dari alphabet and the Pashto alphabet (the two official languages of Afghanistan), articles of clothing, household items, the currency of Afghanistan called the afghani, and any other items of interest.
- Prepare learning logs for use in the carousel walk by stapling together plain sheets of copy paper with a construction paper cover.
- Obtain seven copies of the text Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter for use throughout the lesson. One copy of the book should be provided to each group of students; the last copy is for you. Divide the book into six natural stopping points with sticky notes for use when you teach the students how to sequence the story using the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity handout.
- Preview Nasreen’s Secret School, and use the A Guide to Question–Answer Relationships to develop a series of questions based on the text that follow the four levels described in the Question–Answer Relationships comprehension strategy. (Sample questions are provided on this handout to encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of the Afghan culture and the gender issues women and girls face in this society.) Place your questions on sticky notes at the appropriate stopping places in the instructor copy of the text and make note of the type of question each is so that you can ask students to identify the question type later in the lesson.
- Bookmark the Bio-Cube tool on each of the classroom computers so the students can create a Bio-Cube in which they detail the characteristics of one of the main characters from Nasreen’s Secret School. Download and print enough copies of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet for every student.
- Preview the Afghanistan Culture Project on TeacherTube.
- Prepare a copy of the Narrative Story Retelling Rubric for each student to preview to assist them in preparing their own retelling of Nasreen’s Secret School.
- Make one copy of the Cooperative Group Scoring Rubric for your use and a copy for each group in the class. Each group will complete this sheet after the group assignments found in Session 6.
- Print out the Multigenre Autobiography: Contextual Essay Planning Sheet, which can help your students write their own autobiographies. Make enough copies of the handout for each student in your class.
- Make a copy of the Autobiographical Incident Rubric for scoring each student's autobiographies in Session 9.
- Develop background knowledge on the Afghan culture, geography, history, clothing, and written language after participating in a carousel walk in small groups and documenting their findings in their learning logs
- Learn content area vocabulary and how to sequence story events using the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity
- Construct a retelling of a story by sequencing events
- Develop a picture of the main character in a story and a deeper understanding of that character’s qualities using the interactive Bio-Cube
- Create literal and inferential questions in small groups based on the four questioning levels of Question–Answer Relationships
- Write a personal autobiography in a narrative format following the textual genre from the book
Sessions 1 & 2: Activating Background Knowledge
- Prior to reading the text, have students engage in a carousel walk in which they go to five or six stations around the classroom containing artifacts from the Afghan culture. Students should be given 5–10 minutes at each station to touch, observe, draw, and write in their learning logs about the items found at that station.
- After the carousel walk has been completed, hold a whole-class discussion regarding the information that students recorded in their learning logs. Ask probing questions to help them discern what the items are, where they came from, and how this information can be useful to them as they begin the new unit of study.
- Using the LCD projector, show the Afghanistan Culture Project presentation. Share the presentation with your students, stopping to discuss essential elements within the presentation.
- Allow your students 10 minutes after the presentation to add some new and interesting facts about Afghanistan to their learning logs.
Session 3: Developing Content Area Vocabulary and Making Predictions
- Use your copy of the book Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan and conduct a book talk. During the book talk, mention important vocabulary as you elicit responses from the students regarding the title of the book, the pictures in the book, and the selected snippets from the book that you read to them.
- Before reading the first three pages of the book to students, pass out the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity and ask them to take out their learning logs from their carousel walk. Based on the book talk and the information recorded in their learning logs, each student should record at least eight vocabulary words they expect to see in the text in the Expected Vocabulary section of the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity handout. Additionally, ask them to write down a short story prediction in the box labeled Prediction #1.
- After all students have made their initial story predictions and have recorded their expected vocabulary, ask them to share their vocabulary words with the class. Record all of their responses on a piece of chart paper at the front of the class. (You should save this information for use in subsequent sections of the lesson.) Ask students to read through the list of vocabulary words and see if they would like to add any additional words to the list. Remind them that you are going to come back to this list as you progress through the unit of study.
- On a separate piece of chart paper, begin to record some of the initial story predictions. You don’t need to record all of them, but select a few predictions from volunteers for the prediction chart.
- Read aloud the first three pages of the book and then ask the students to write their revised predictions on their Directed Reading–Thinking Activity handouts. Again, elicit a few revised predictions from the group and record them on chart paper. Ask students if any of the expected vocabulary has appeared in the text and circle those words that have appeared.
- Now read the book aloud one time without stopping for questions or comments so that students are able to take in the entire content of the story in an uninterrupted fashion. Next, read the story aloud for a second time, stopping to ask the prepared questions to further the students’ understanding of the story.
Sessions 4 & 5: Sequencing and Summarizing the Story
- Ask students to silently reread the expected vocabulary written on the chart paper at the front of the classroom. Next, have them read the vocabulary aloud with you as you point to each word. Remind them that they are going to listen for these words as they hear the story read aloud to them.
- Tell students that they are going to listen to the story for a different purpose during this reading. They are going to divide the story into six main sequential story events in order to help them write a story summary. The first time you read the book to them, they need to listen for story vocabulary as well as to develop an understanding of the gist of what happens in the story.
- Read aloud Nasreen’s Secret School, emphasizing fluency and prosody. After reading the story, hold a discussion with students in which they provide you with the main idea or gist of the story. Next, ask them to identify any expected vocabulary that they heard in the story.
- Tell students that when they listen to the story for the second time, they are going to be asked to break it into six sequential pieces using the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity. Then read the story aloud, stopping at the predetermined points that you marked with sticky notes. When you stop, have each student write one or two sentences or draw an image that represents the main idea of that section of the book. These should be written in the sequencing boxes on the Directed Reading–Thinking Activity handout.
- Have students use the information they’ve written in the sequencing boxes to prepare a more detailed retelling of the story. These retellings should later be scored using the Narrative Story Retelling Rubric.
Session 6: Delving More Deeply Into the Main Characters
- Open up the interactive Bio-Cube tool on the classroom computers so that each group has access to the program. Hand out copies of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet to each group member.
- Review the Cooperative Group Scoring Rubric and hand out a copy to each group leader. Remind them that they are being assessed on their ability to cooperate, their ability to complete the task, and their ability to stay on task. Walk around the classroom as they are working to monitor their progress and complete your version of the scoring sheet.
- After dividing students into six cooperative groups, have them engage in a reading of the text. Students can elect one group member to read the book aloud to the group, or they can take turns reading two pages each. This allows them to have time to read through the book, view the pictures, and spend time discussing the two main characters.
- After reading through the book, have students in each group use the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet to map out the information needed to complete the online Bio-Cube interactive for either Nasreen or Grandmother. All group members must agree on the character to be discussed and work together to develop a character study of that character. At the end of this session, each student should have an individual copy of the completed planning sheet for use when filling in the information on the computer. Once the planning sheets have been completed, each student prints out his or her own Bio-Cube. Collect and assess the Bio-Cubes.
- After each group has finished this assignment, ask the whole group to get together to complete their copy of the Cooperative Group Scoring Rubric. Lead a debriefing session in which you and each group share your assessments of the group process.
Sessions 7: Planning Our Own Autobiographies
- Work with students as they write their own autobiographical stories using the Multigenre Autobiography: Contextual Essay Planning Sheet.
- As a model for students’ essays, complete the sheet using some event from your own life. This assists students in understanding how to use the planning sheet and then move into developing a full autobiographical essay. You can recreate the planning sheet on chart paper or on an interactive whiteboard at the front of the class.
- For the remainder of the session, have students work individually to complete their planning sheets, which they need later to produce a rough and a final draft of their own autobiographical essays.
Session 8 & 9: Sharing Our Stories
Have students use their planning sheets and prepare a rough and then a final draft of their own autobiographical essays. Collect and score these using the Autobiographical Incident Rubric.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Collect students’ learning logs and informally assess their observations of the artifacts from Afghan culture.
- Collect students’ completed Directed Reading–Thinking Activity and assess vocabulary entries and comprehension of main ideas.
- Collect students’ completed Bio-Cubes to assess comprehension of character traits.
- Score students’ group work assignments using the Cooperative Group Scoring Rubric. Review each group’s self-assessment using the team copy of the sheet. The scores should be combined to determine an overall grade for the activity.
- Score students’ autobiographies using the Autobiographical Incident Rubric.
- Use the Narrative Story Retelling Rubric to provide each student with a percentage score on his or her written story retelling. This also provides you with information that can be used to reteach the important aspects of a good story summary.