Here I am on the eve of another visit to Karen’s class, just now writing up our last fun-packed foray into writing. Karen kicked off the last class I went to with new greetings choices:
The clear favorite was the heel greeting:
Again, Karen had a theme for all warm ups—friendship! Many of the activities centered on the song, “Lean On Me”
After the students wrote their commitments, we began our reading-writing day analyzing books that blended science and story. The exception was Tony Johnston’s The Harmonica(Charlesbridge, ages 9 and up). I read this in response to one class’ comment that “there wasn’t enough that happened” in Johnston’s newest book, the lyrical Sequoia. The Harmonica is stylistically similar, but tells the poignant story of a Polish boy whose family loves the music of Schubert. When his father gets him a harmonica and he learns to play, his parents dance joyfully. That’s until the Nazis enter Poland, separate the family, and send the boy to a concentration camp. There he must play Schubert for the cruel commandant. As I suspected, the children were struck by how her style was the same and yet having a strong story changed everything.
Christine Ieronimo’s A Thirst For Home: A Story of Water across the World (Walker Books, ages 9 and up), illustrated by Eric Velasquez. It begins with the heroine, Alemitu, who lives in Ethiopia where “the sun was always smiling down on me and whispered my name with its hot, sticky breath.” When drought and hunger make a “fierce lion roar” in Alemitu’s belly, her mother sends her to live at an orphanage where she’s adopted by “a lady the color of the moon.” Then, the young girl lives in a new land where there is plenty of water and “the wind whispers my name with its crisp cool sigh.” We talked about the interplay of figurative language and the theme of drought. We were studying motivation and the students were quick to see how the mother’s motivation was stronger even though Alemitu was the main character.
H. Joseph Hopkins’ The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever (Beach Lane Books, ages 8-10) is the biography of Kate Olivia Sessions, a woman who loved trees, fought gender bias to study science and used her knowledge to create tree-filled parks in the desert environment of San Diego. We discussed prejudice, habitat, and the use of the refrain in the writing (variations of “but Kate did” appeared to show Sessions’ risk-taking.)
Barb Rosenstock’s Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention (Boyds Mills Press, ages 7-10) writes about Franklin’s scientific leanings during his boyhood. I’d been dying to read this book aloud because the abundant use of alliteration fascinated me. How would it sound out loud? The children loved hearing it, but I found the complicated sentence structures had a tongue-twister quality that made reading aloud difficult. We all agreed, however, that the succinct view of scientific process was very strong.
While I’d been away Karen had been leading the students in selecting our main character finalist. We announced the main character (imagine the drumroll!): the cricket that could tell the future of the ecosystem.
Our mission for the day was character development and we moved our story along with the help of two games. All four classes began with “Questions, No Answers” in which of us imagined as many questions as we could about our future-seeing cricket. During this activity, the students focused on trying to guess “the magic question.” Our writing word study focus was on “motivation,” the element that leads from character to story and so, of course, the “magic” question was: What does the cricket want more than anything? Several classes managed to guess the answer.
We answered many of the questions we’d devised with a second game called “Yum.” The students were allowed to eat the one “Starburst” they were given if they contributed an idea that was strong enough to make a difference in our story . See below some of the questions and answers we came up with.
Examples of our Questions and Answers:
Where does he live? At the base of a sequoia, they grew up together
How does he tell the future? He looks at clues in nature to tell the future
What is his motivation? At first he wants to please his father, then when he’s ancient, he helps others
Wat does he look like? hairy, light brown, big wings, leaf cloak, strong sensitive cerci, unique pattern on his body, the size of a pointer finger
Does he have friends? One. The cricket is about to eat the moth, until moth says something that turns them into friends (we don’t know what this is yet).
We are now in the most chaotic, crazy-making part of story because the ideas and the story are nebulous and almost refuse to take form! Our worst problem in this story? What is his name?
When I left there were several possible suggestions: (none of which seems strong enough). They included: predictor, teller, sequoia, teller, sequoia, john greene, positive, reader, saver, see-er, spotter, helper, believer, wizard, fortune, green, seen, crick, seek.
This evening I heard from Karen and she says the students decided the cricket’s name is Chirp, but he sometimes goes by the nickname, “C.”
Tomorrow we’ll play another round of “Yum” and hopefully the story will evolve!