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Although I've always maintained the philosophy that every month is black history month (by including black authors, poets and materials that tell the story of a diversity of people in my classroom on a regular basis rather than just one month), I still feel it's important to acknowledge Black History Month somewhat more formally in February, and so we are continuing our conversation from the fall, about the civil rights movement, and are talking about the underground railroad.
Interestingly, the story's main characters happens to be deaf, which the author uses to develop particularly rich descriptive language. We've spent some time during Literacy discussing descriptive language that helps the reader visualise, so this text is a nice link to that strategy, as it provides several excellent examples of that.
Here's how I hope things will unfold:
- begin a KWL chart about the Underground railroad and/or a prediction chart based on the title of the book and students' schema
- preview a short video about ASL or discuss how signing is used by the deaf to communicate; practise making a few signs
- stop and think:
- Why do you think Mama soothed the dog instead of letting Ellie attack the intruders?
- How do you think Luke will deliver the message?
- Why did Luke crumple up the painting of his family and paint a farmhouse instead?
- How did Luke know that the girl had understood the secret sign?
- point out or have students track the author's use of alliteration, personification and/or powerful adjectives
- pause at different points in the story and have students write in role a diary entry from Luke's perspective, i.e. how he is feeling at different points of the story
This time, I'm planning to do things a little differently. Last year, I worked hard to develop a group of students that could dialogue respectfully and challenge one another one a wide variety of rich topics. Early in the school year, I spend several weeks explicity teaching conversational norms. Then, after each mentor text, I provided time for small groups in my classroom to have a "grand conversation". It's been somewhat challenging to carry on with that this year, seeing as how I only have two students in my class. :)
So, I've made contact with some teachers from my school back home in Canada, and we are hoping to engage with some grade 5 students later this week or early next to have a post-text conversation about the underground railroad, via Skype or some other online method.
- Why do you think the author chose to use a character who is deaf? How might the story have been different if Luke had been hearing?
- Why do you think Mama soothed Ellie instead of letting the dog attack the intruders?
- "Sometimes is takes courage to do what needs doing", says Luke to himself. What do you think he meant by this? Tell about a time when there was something that "needed doing" in your own life that took courage. How do you decide when something "needs doing"?
- Luke feels like painting eases his mind. What sorts of things help you when you are feeling anxious? What activities or hobbies do you like to do that help you relax?
- How might you have described Luke's character at the beginning of the story? What words would you used to describe his character at the end of the story? How has Luke's character changed, and why?
Once that is done, we'll revisit our KWL or prediction chart, and of course also post the book cover and "big idea" on our rich mentor text wall.