Monday, August 3, 2020

Picture Book Lesson for the First Week of Middle School

Merry Monday, everyone! I hope you all had a fabulous weekend and you're ready to take on the world...or at least your own little corner of it.

Today I thought I'd share a back-to-school lesson I have used for several years based on one of my favorite picture books. If you've read my previous posts about picture books, you know that I normally read them at the end of class and use them for a quick review of literary elements. However, I do occaisonally like to use them to introduce writing assignments. Students sometimes don't make the obvious (to us) connection between reading and writing, so I like to demonstrate that relationship from the very first week.

Although I usually do this lesson with 8th graders, I have also used it with 6th and 7th graders with some minor adjustments.

I say "lesson", but it's really kind of like when your grandma says "recipe"'s just a loose list of ingredients and instructions that you tweak to fit your taste or circumstance.😊

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague puts a spin on the tired, cliché back-to-school assignment most of us grew up doing (and dreading) the first week of school. If you've never read the story, a young boy tells how his summer vacation took an unexpected turn when he was recruited to join a group of cowboys. What starts out as an ordinary trip to his aunt's house, quickly becomes a wild tall tale out on the open range.

I like to place my copy of the book under the document camera so everyone in the room can see the illustrations and the words. This is generally our first read aloud, so I like to set the ground rules for the entire year.

1. Everyone pays attention to the book. No one is doing homework, talking, drawing, or sleeping. 

2. I read the entire book the first time with NO interruptions. I don't stop to ask questions or make comments (usually) and students shouldn't either. Most of us don't like our television programs interrupted by commercials, so we're not going to do that when we read.

This makes me sound cranky, but trust me, if you don't firmly establish the norms, it can become a mess-around time. If everyone knows and follows the rules, everyone can fully enjoy the experience.

Teacher tip: Read through the story at least once so you know when to effectively pause, stress words, etc. This book is written in rhyme, so you'll want to make sure you have the rhythm down.

NOW we get to talk about the book. For the writing assignment I'm going to eventually give them, I want to discuss the following with students:

* Hyperbole. How/what did the author exaggerate to make the story more interesting?

*Tall Tale. We quickly discuss the elements of tall tales and some famous tall tale characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. We compare and contrast this story with a traditional tall tale. (I also work the term genre into this conversation.) We usually end up concluding this is a tiny tall tale. 😉

*Rhyme Scheme. With the book once again under the document camera, we closely examine the text of the story from the beginning. The book is mostly written in an aa, bb, cc rhyme scheme with a pattern of a quatrain followed by a couplet

At this point, my 8th graders are usually thinking, "Holy cow! There's a lot more to that little kids' book than I thought!" And that is EXACTLY what I want them thinking. Muhahaha!

Other topics you could discuss, but please don't ruin the book by pointing out every little thing: 

*The teacher's reaction. Flip through each page to look at the teacher. Have students infer what she is thinking and how her reaction adds to the story.

*Vocabulary.  Discuss the meaning of the following words: wrangler, stampeded, charging, matador, and buckaroo. You could also discuss cowboy attire pictured such as chaps, bandana/kerchief, etc.

*Plot development. Discuss the exposition, rising action, climax, etc. of the story and place it on the plot diagram.

*Visualization.  Explain that readers should "see" a story. Point out how the illustrator shows Wallace envisioning his story as he reads.

The moment of truth! It's now the students' turn to write about their summer vacation using hyperbole AND rhyme! Because someone always asks...wait for long it has to be:

It needs to be at least 4 sets of the quatrain + couplet pattern (24 lines).

Folks, I won't kid you, this is hard for some of them! I give them a week to do the assignment and some really struggle with it. They'll come in before or after school for help, and it's a great opportunity for us to develop a connection.

Between you and me, I like that they find it rather difficult. It sets the tone right away that picture books are NOT "baby" books. Trust me, after this assignment, they never look at our books in quite the same way!

The years that I've taught sixth grade I've just had them incorporate hyperbole into their narrative. They could certainly try their hand at rhyming, but most of them couldn't do it consistently throughout the entire piece.

For seventh grade, I've had them write about their summer vacation using hyperbole and couplets. 

Of course, it goes without saying, I've also added other accommodations and modifications as needed.

If you'd like to read the book but don't want to do the writing assignment, here are a couple of other ideas I've tried:

The great debate. Was Wallace Bleff bluffing about his summer vacation? Have students decide YES or NO, and then defend their position citing evidence from the text and illustrations.  

Some years, this has turned into quite the lively debate! Key piece of evidence for Team YES: the phone booth and Aunt Fern supposedly calling it.  Also Wallace's own words at the beginning of the story: "Your imagination," they said, "is getting too wild..."

Team NO usually counters with the illustration on the last page: the teacher's hasty retreat and the tipped vase. 

Postcard Puzzler. Wallace's postcard in the story gave a few clues about his adventure, but it was rather vague. Have students create a postcard that gives clues about one of their summer events without actually giving it away. (P.S. The stamp they draw on their postcard should also be a clue.)


I hope this offers you some fun ideas to kickstart your year! Remember that the whole goal is to share a love of books with your students and to enjoy the journey together.

Until next time, friends!

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