Using Children's Literature to Develop Classroom Community
- Preview |
- Standards |
- Resources & Preparation |
- Instructional Plan |
- Related Resources |
These lessons use children's literature to provide students with an opportunity to explore the concept that all individuals have strengths, abilities, and talents. Through whole-class and small-group dialogue, students determine what each story means in the context of their classroom and themselves as individuals. Students also develop the necessary skills for cooperative learning.
From Theory to Practice
- The value of having students interact with one another has theoretical roots in the social constructivist perspective of Vygotsky (1978) who maintained that the way students talk and interact with one another helps them to internalize new information and shapes the way they think and learn.
- By collaboratively discussing text with others, students are encouraged to develop an open attitude to listening that allows for multiple points of view.
- Collaborative activities provide students with a language-rich environment in which they teach one another and learn from one another within a social context that shapes engagement.
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).
- 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
- "What's in the Sack" in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1974, p. 111)
- The Name of the Tree by Celia Barker Lottridge (Groundwood Books, 1989)
- The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (Nord-Sud Verlag, 1992)
- Chart paper
- Magazines, scissors, and paper bags
- Personal reflection journal (for each student)
- Posted notes
Sessions 1 and 2: Preparation (before school begins)
Review the Cooperative Learning article, which provides a good overview of the benefits of using cooperative learning structures in the classroom and helps to develop an understanding of the foundations of cooperative learning.
|Assemble a mailing list of the students in your class. A couple of weeks prior to the commencement of school, send each student a letter (see sample letter to students), and include a copy of Shel Silverstein's poem, "What's in The Sack." [Note: If you are unable or uncomfortable sending a letter to students prior to the start of school, you may introduce this activity on the first day of school and assign it as homework (see Preparation, step 3).]
|Have students read the poem "What's in The Sack" and assemble a sack (i.e., a paper bag) with three or four items that represent themselves. Alternately, students can look though magazines and cut out pictures that represent themselves. Students will be introducing themselves to their classmates by sharing the objects or pictures in their sacks.
Session 3: Preparation
|Obtain a copy of the book The Name of the Tree by Celia Barker Lottridge, which is based on an African legend. After a long draught, the animals are hungry. They know there is a tree that can provide nourishment; however, they can only obtain the fruit if they know the name of the tree.
|Ensure that the Skills for Group Work chart is accessible and visible throughout this lesson.
|Make a list of all the animals cited in the book on chart paper, including a gazelle, giraffe, monkey, rabbit, zebra, ostrich, lion, elephant, old tortoise, and young tortoise.
|Have students complete the Time for Partners activity sheet. Students are to set up appointments with different students in the class for the purpose of working with a partner on a given activity. Based on a time provided by the teacher, students can quickly and easily identify their partner for an activity.
Session 4: Preparation
|Obtain a copy of the book The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, which tells the story of a beautiful fish who has many shiny scales and many friends. When the friends ask her to share her scales, she refuses, but then becomes lonely and sad. Only when she learns to share does she understand what it means to be a real friend.
|Ensure that the Skills for Group Work chart is accessible and visible throughout this lesson.
- Interact with children's literature that highlights individual differences
- Reflect on the image they have of themselves as learners within the classroom community
- Develop the skills required for cooperative learning, with a particular focus on how to engage in dialogue and sharing in a group setting
Session 1 and 2
|Read aloud the poem "What's in the Sack" to set the context for the activity. Ask students to think about the following question as you read the poem: "What is the author trying to say to the reader?"
|Have a class discussion to answer the question. Lead students to an understanding of the key concept that there is a natural curiosity for people to want to know what's in the sack, but the author is also disturbed because everyone is more concerned about what's in the sack than about him as a person.
|Explain that students are going to have an opportunity to learn about their classmates as individuals by seeing what they have in their sacks.
|Before beginning the activity, establish the expectations for cooperative group work. Copy the information from Skills for Group Work onto chart paper. Explain that the class is going to be involved in a significant amount of cooperative work this school year. For cooperative work to be effective, each person in the class must follow the rules. Draw students' attentions to the first three items listed (i.e., use quiet voices, listen without interrupting, and take turns). Ask students, "Why do you think it is important to follow these rules?"
|Gather students into groups of four. Since the goal is to have student get to know one another, an informal grouping structure is appropriate. Simply counting heads is a quick and informal grouping structure. Have each group of four come together. They need to bring their sacks with them.
|Provide instructions for the activity.
|As students are working in small groups, circulate and provide positive reinforcement of the three group skills being assessed (i.e., using quiet voices, listening without interrupting, and taking turns). Take note of students who will need extra support or modeling of the skills or appear to be uncomfortable in the group situation.
|Have each member of the group present a student to the full class. Student #1 (first birthday) will introduce student #2, student #2 will introduce student #3, student #3 will introduce student #4, and student #4 will introduce student #1.
|Debrief the activity once all the introductions are complete.
|Have students complete a personal reflection of the activity in their journals. You may consider providing students with sentence starters for their journal reflections.
Optional: As a way to decorate your classroom, you may wish to use the bulletin board to showcase the community of learners in your class. Students can create name cards on which they draw the items contained in their sacks.
This session uses a cooperative learning strategy called Think-Pair-Share. In this strategy, a problem is posed, students have time to think about it individually, and then they work in pairs to solve the problem and share their ideas with the class.
|Determine student partners, either randomly or by using the Time for Partners activity sheet that was completed prior to beginning this session. For example, tell students to "Please take out your completed Time for Partners sheet. Find your two o'clock partner and sit close to one another. If your two o'clock partner is not here today, please come to the front of the room." You can then pair students who are standing at the front of the room.
|Direct students' attentions to the Skills for Group Work that you have copied onto chart paper. The first three skills have already been introduced in the previous sessions. Remind students that they need to continue using these three skills, but that in this session, they will also be practicing the fourth skill (i.e., encouragement).
|If your students are not familiar with offering encouragement, you may want to complete a T-chart to help them better understand what this skill looks like and sounds like. For example:
|Introduce the title, author, and illustrator of the book The Name of the Tree. Ask students to examine the cover and predict what the story will be about. Implement the Think-Pair-Share strategy by having students first think about their answer individually, and then spend a couple of minutes discussing their thoughts in pairs. Remind students that there are no right or wrong answers, but that they must have a reason for their logic. Then ask several volunteers to share their predictions along with the logic behind their answers with the class. Praise students who take the risk to answer. Be sure to model encouragement as students provide their responses, such as "Thank you for your willingness to share. I know it is not easy to be the first person to open the discussion."
|Direct students' attentions to the list of animals involved in the story. Ask them to determine which animal they consider themselves to be most like. Repeat the Think-Pair-Share strategy, reminding students again that there are no right or wrong answers to this question, but that they must be able to provide reasons for their choices. Ask a few students to share their animal choices with the whole class.
|Begin to read the story aloud, stopping on page 7 after the sentence, "We must send someone to ask him." Repeat the Think-Pair-Share strategy, asking students to predict who will be sent to complete this task and to provide a rationale for their predictions. Then invite several volunteers to share their answers with the whole class, making sure to praise those who provide a well-developed rationale and prompting others who have not.
|Continue reading the story, stopping again on page 12 after the sentence, "'We will need to send someone else', they said. 'Someone who will not forget.'" Ask students to complete a Think-Pair-Share again, readjusting their original predictions if necessary. What is the logic for changing their predictions?
|Continue reading through the end of the story. Reinforce the Think-Pair-Share strategy by having students think about and discuss what they learned from the story. After partners have had a chance to discuss the story, open up the discussion to the whole class. You may wish to record students' responses on the blackboard or chart paper.
Key concepts from the story:
|Ask students the following question, "How can we apply what we learned from this story to our classroom?" Lead students to the conclusion that we all have talents to share, and that some people may have skills that they are not even aware of. We have a better chance of solving a problem if we work together. In addition, we should not be afraid to ask for information or help when we need it.
|Have students take out their personal journals and answer the following questions:
This session uses a variation of the cooperative learning strategy from Session 3 called Think-Pair-Square. In this structure, a problem is posed, students have time to think about it individually, and then they work in pairs to solve the problem and share their findings in a square (i.e., with another pair of students).
|Determine student partners, either randomly or by using the Time for Partners activity that was completed prior to Session 3. Make sure to choose a different time than was used in Session 3 so students will be working with a new partner.
|Direct students' attentions to the Skills for Group Work that you have copied onto chart paper. The first four skills have already been introduced in the previous sessions. Remind students that they need to continue using these four skills, but that in this session, they will also be practicing the fifth skill (i.e., inviting members to make a contribution).
|If your students are not familiar with this skill, you may want to complete a T-chart to help them better understand what the skill looks like and sounds like. For example:
Inviting members to make a contribution
|Arrange for students to sit with their partners, with each pair having one sheet of paper and two pencils.
|Introduce the title and author of the book The Rainbow Fish. Begin reading the story aloud, stopping midway on page 7 after the sentence, "Get away from me!"
|Ask partners to generate as many adjectives as they can to describe how the little blue fish would feel (e.g., shocked, angry, disappointed, hurt, lonely, resentful, furious, upset). Both students should be writing on the same piece of paper. At the end of the designated time, ask partners to read their list of adjectives to one another.
|Ask each pair of students to turn to another pair sitting near them. Have one pair read their list, while the other pair listens and checks off any adjectives that also appear on their list. When the first team is finished, invite the second pair to share any adjectives that they listed that were not already cited.
|Randomly choose students to provide one adjective that describes the little blue fish. Record students' responses on chart paper.
|Use the Think-Pair-Square strategy to have students think about and discuss how people react when they feel the way the little blue fish feels. The key concept is that people react differently when other people hurt them. Some become physical, others become withdrawn, and others are unable to trust the person again.
|Open this discussion to the whole class and make a list of people's reactions on chart paper.
|Ask students to predict how the little blue fish will react to these feelings, again using the Think-Pair-Square strategy.
|Randomly choose students to share their ideas with the entire class, prompting them to also provide the reasons to support their answers. Remember to model how you invite someone to make a contribution. For example, you might say, "Marcus, you seem to be thinking. Would you like to share your thoughts." "Kendra, I am particularly interested in knowing your opinion."
|Continue reading the story through page 20, stopping after the sentence, "A rather peculiar feeling came over Rainbow Fish."
|Repeat steps 6 through 13, this time having students brainstorm adjectives to describe how Rainbow Fish would feel (e.g., proud, happy, pleased, satisfied). Discuss as a class how people react when they feel fulfilled. The key concept is that these feelings make people feel safe and accepted. They are more likely to have high self-esteem and want to be friends.
|Finish reading to the end of the story. Ask the question, "How can we apply what we learned from this story to our classroom?" (Use the Think-Pair-Square strategy.)
|Ask students to brainstorm the talents or skills they have to share in the classroom. At the end of the designated brainstorming period, ask students to share their talents with their partner.
|Have students turn to another pair of students sitting nearby to share the talents and skills that their partner has. For example, "John shared with me that he is very good in math. He understands word problems..."
|Have students answer the following questions in their personal journals:
You may consider providing students with sentence starters for their journal reflections.
- After completing this series of lessons, you may wish to have students explore the Multiple Intelligence Theory, which was designed and put forth by Howard Gardner. Lessons are available at the Multiple Intelligence Lesson Plan Index, and involve having students identify their predominant intelligence, understand how their predominant intelligence impacts perception, and practice using a different intelligence other than their predominant one. Students may also be interested in completing a survey at Multiple Intelligences Inventory to identify their predominant intelligence.
- Encourage students to continue developing the remaining skills identified on the Skills for Group Work chart. In these lessons, children's literature was used as a springboard for discussing the skills. At this point, you can engage students directly in a class discussion about each of the remaining skills, using the T-chart to help students understand what each skill looks like and sounds like. Then allow students time to practice using the skills and to reflect on their learning through class discussion and journal reflection. The Group Skills Tracking Sheet can be used to assess students' use of each skill.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Assess students' use the skills required for group work (see the Group Skills Tracking Sheet). This data will allow you to
- Determine if students need more practice
- Identify which students are strong/weak in which skills
- Determine when the class is ready to begin working in independent group situations (e.g., reading coaches)
- Group students heterogeneously (i.e., group students who are strong in a particular skill with those who need more practice and support)
- Evaluate students' journal entries to determine
- Diagnostic information regarding the students' readiness to work in groups
- Evidence of the students' understanding of the key concepts explored with each story
- Evidence of the students' abilities to make connections between the story and their personal experiences