When I Was Young In...A Literature to Language Experience

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Seven 40- to 60-minute sessions
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English-language learners (ELLs) are best served when provided with the same authentic literacy experiences as their English-speaking peers. Aimed at ELLs and also appropriate for students in third through fifth grades, this lesson will help all students develop an understanding of the experiences students bring from their native communities. A read-aloud of When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant triggers memories and helps students discover the appropriate use of the past tense. Students then explore the story further by researching the author before writing and sharing their own stories based on the same format.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • English-language learners (ELLs) are best served by accelerated language instruction in both the context of the regular classroom and during sessions with ESL teachers. Teachers should have the same expectations of ELLs as of other students, but should scaffold their learning and differentiate their activities to give them the support they need.

  • Lessons for ELLs should be literature based to provide them with information, language patterns, and vocabulary; facilitate the enjoyment of literature; and give opportunities for conversations.

  • ELLs should be expected to use English in relevant and grammatically correct ways.


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

  • 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.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • 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

  • When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant (Puffin, 1993)

  • Composition paper

  • Art supplies

  • A jackdaw




1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. Practice reading the book aloud with expression. Write questions on sticky notes and place them in appropriate places so that you know when to pause and ask students for their contributions. Questions for discussion include:

  • Why would Grandfather be covered with black dust?

  • Why do you suppose the Crawfords smelled of sweet milk?

  • Who can act out shivering and giggling for us?

  • What do you remember most about meals when you were young?

  • Did older members of your extended family live with you when you were young?

  • In the story, the snake was scary to the girl. Do you remember things that scared you?
2. You will also want to make a list of past-tense verbs from the book to use as a reference during Session 2.

3. Prepare a jackdaw, which is one way to introduce a unit or book because it encourages discussion, helps students access prior knowledge, and gets them to use predicting skills. Use a box (such as a shoebox) containing items related to the story you wish to share with the class. Items for this book might include photos of a general store or a johnny-house, a recipe for cornbread, a toy snake, a lump of coal, or a cocoa can. You might also include objects from your past that are important to you (e.g., a piece of cloth from an article of clothing, a book, or a knickknack).

4. Visit the websites related to Cynthia Rylant that are listed in the Resources section so that you are prepared to discuss her background with students (see Session 1, Step 2). Questions and points for discussion include:

  • How can you tell Cynthia Rylant loves animals?

  • Why are most of her books set in Appalachia?

  • What do we mean by the term " Appalachia"? (Be prepared to show students the area of West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland where the Appalachian Mountains are on the map).

  • Many of Cynthia Rylant's books have won awards. What do you think are characteristics of an award-winning book? (Be prepared to list students' suggestions on the board and include descriptive sentences, interesting vocabulary, and colorful illustrations).
5. Your students will be using computers to write a story and make a book in the same format as the Rylant book. Visit the Flip Book tool and familiarize yourself with its use so you are prepared to help students use it as well. Review the Sample "When I Was Young" Text and use it to help you prepare a flip book of your own to share with the class showing your expectations for them. You might mention some of the objects you included in your jackdaw in the story.

6. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve one 40- to 60-minute session in your school's computer lab. Bookmark the Flip Book tool on your classroom or lab computers.

7. Familiarize yourself with the Think-Pair-Share, strategy. This strategy works as follows:

  • Think: Allow students time to individually form a thoughtful response to a question and write it down.

  • Pair: Put two students together to share their thoughts.

  • Share: Lead a whole-class discussion of responses.
8. Make one copy of the Using Past-Tense Verbs Assessment, the Writing Rubric for When I Was Young In... Flip Books, the Speaking Rubric for When I Was Young In..., and the When I Was Young... Rough Draft Template for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Listen to correct English and develop vocabulary through a read-aloud of When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

  • Practice writing in English by recording and editing their own stories

  • Practice reading aloud their own writing in English by sharing stories of their past they have written based on the format of the Rylant book

  • Learn about and practice using the past tense through a quiz, discussion of its use in the Rylant book, and using it in their own writing

  • Learn about each other's cultures by listening to and discussing each other's stories

Session 1

1. Begin by sharing your jackdaw with the class and talking about how the things in it remind you of when you were younger. Ask students if they have special things they have saved from childhood. What do these things make them think of? Why?

2. Show students the cover of When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, reading aloud the title. Talk a little bit about Rylant, using the information and questions you have prepared (see Preparation, Step 4).

3. Read the book aloud, pausing to ask questions and discuss the book (see Preparation, Step 1).

4. Ask all students to share some experiences from when they were young. Write their responses on the board or chart paper. Questions for discussion might include:

  • What is the earliest experience you remember from your childhood?

  • Did you ever visit someone in a different town?

  • What is the happiest memory you have from your younger years?
5. Review the past tense with the whole class, using students' responses to the questions you have just asked. Ask students to tell you what the verbs are in the sentences on the board or chart paper. Underline the verbs as they tell you or have students volunteer to do it. Discuss what tense is used in the sentences and how they know they are past tense verbs.

Session 2

1. Use the Think-Pair-Share strategy to explore past-tense verbs in When I Was Young in the Mountains. Begin by rereading the book and asking students to write down the verbs they hear in the past tense while you are reading.

2. Have students share the verbs they have written down with a partner.

3. Bring the class back together to discuss their lists of verbs. You should record the verbs on the board or chart paper. Discuss any clues that helped them recognize the past tense (words like yesterday or last week). Write down these clues.

4. Have students complete the Using Past-Tense Verbs Assessment to assess whether they are ready to write their own stories or still need more practice.

Note: Assessments should be graded and returned to the students by the beginning of Session 3. The Using Past-Tense Verbs Assessment Answer Key has the answers and some additional suggestions for discussing the past tense if you feel your students need further review.

Session 3

1. Begin the class by sharing the Flip Book you made (see Preparation, Step 5) as a read-aloud. Students usually find this interesting and will have questions for you. You can ask them questions also, such as:

  • What was your favorite food as a child?

  • What did you do after school in kindergarten?

  • What is the title of your favorite book?

  • Who is a special person you like to visit?
2. Distribute the Writing Rubric for When I Was Young In... Flip Books and review it, using your book as an example of how it is applied.

3. Tell students they will be writing a story about when they were younger. On the board or a piece of chart paper, write down the following requirements for students:

  • Include five experiences/memories (these might include a visit to a special person, an outdoor activity, an indoor activity, a favorite food, or a favorite story).

  • Write a rough draft before they create their final drafts on the computer.

  • Check their spelling.

  • Underline the past-tense verbs in their rough drafts.

  • Illustrate their final books and write a title that includes the phrase: When I Was Young In.
You can leave these requirements up for students to refer to during Sessions 5 and 6.

4. Distribute the When I Was Young... Rough Draft Template. Students should spend the rest of the session filling it out.

5. Circulate while students are writing; this is an opportunity for you to ask and answer questions, check work, and share examples with individual students as they work.

Homework (due by Session 4): Students who do not complete their stories in class should do so for homework. All students should underline the past-tense verbs in their stories in a different color.

Session 4

1. Remind students of peer-sharing guidelines. They should make positive comments (i.e., "this was really interesting" or "I like the page about..."). They should also circle words they think are misspelled and make notes if they think something could be added.

2. Students should pair up, read each other's rough drafts, and give feedback.

3. At the end of the session, collect the rough drafts to underline any remaining spelling or grammar errors before final copies are made. Do not make the corrections for students.

Session 5

1. Return the rough drafts.

2. Have students work with a peer to clarify and correct any questions about the corrections you have suggested. Circulate while students are working to provide assistance as needed.

Session 6

1. Demonstrate to students how to use the interactive Flip Book tool.

2. Invite students to create their own books using this online tool.

3. As students finish their work, have them check each section of the Writing Rubric for When I Was Young In... Flip Books to make certain they have not forgotten something. They should then print off their books. The rubric and the rough draft should be folded and placed inside the back cover of the booklets, which should be handed in.

Note: Before Session 7, you should grade and return the books to students, explaining that they will be sharing them with the class.

Session 7

1. Distribute the Speaking Rubric for When I Was Young In.... Stress the importance of reading clearly, pronouncing words correctly, and making eye contact. Explain that you will mark this rubric while students are speaking and that it will count for a separate grade.

2. Invite each student to present his or her book to the class. You might also invite staff and parents who are able to attend.

3. After all students have had time to share, they should reflect on the project to evaluate and discuss what they have learned and enjoyed using the following questions:

  • What did you learn about yourself as you wrote the story?

  • What did you learn about your classmates during the sharing?

  • What part of the assignment did you like best?

  • What part of the assignment was the easiest and most difficult for you?

Have students write their reflection responses before sharing them with the class. These questions help students recognize what they have learned and give them a sense of pride in what they have accomplished.


  • Students can write another story using a similar format (e.g., When I Was in Kindergarten or When I Moved to the U.S.A.).

  • Students can use the websites about Cynthia Rylant to complete an author study. Students might also choose to look at different books by this author such as The Relatives Came or Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story.

  • Display students' final flip books in the school or public library, and offer a time for your students to share them with a younger group of students.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Informally assess students' understanding of When I Was Young in the Mountains during the discussions in Sessions 1 and 2.

  • Assess students' understanding of and ability to correctly use the past tense with the Using Past-Tense Verbs Assessment (see answer key).

  • Use the Writing Rubric for When I Was Young In... Flip Books to assess students' final books. You can also look at the progress students make from their rough drafts to their finished versions and use your observations of students' work to assess the finished product.

  • Use the Speaking Rubric for When I Was Young In... to assess students' presentations.

  • Have students review each other's work, use the Writing Rubric for When I Was Young In... Flip Books to assess their own work, and perform a metacognitive assessment of the lesson's activities at the end of Session 7.


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