Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Metaphor: Day Two

As I do every time I have introduced a new literary device, I began day two reviewing the device. W e had a short discussion on metaphor, the children readily recalling what it was, and began reading a short, sweet little story.

Dragon Scales and Willow Leaves is a lovely, simple little story about a set of twins. Ben is more fanciful, while Rachel is more practical. As they walk through the forest, Ben encounters a number of mythical beasties, while Rachel just sees the nature all around her. The book is filled with simple metaphors that are easy to pick up on. When entering the forest, Ben meets up with a "dragon". His sword is like an angry bee and his shield like a wall as dragon scales go swirling through the air around him. Meanwhile, Rachel enjoys the loveliness of the willow leaves as they fall through the air to carpet the ground in a blanket of green and gold.

Sometimes, it takes a short, simple story to more easily demonstrate the literary device you are teaching. A small number of kids remained uncertain/unclear about metaphors yesterday. After today's simple lesson, they all really seemed to get it! Yay!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Metaphor: Day One

Boy, we've been so busy trying to finish up our atmosphere, foreshadowing and Thanksgiving writings, I haven't had an opportunity to introduce another literary device.

We began today's lesson by reviewing the literary devices we have already studied. The kids really remembered them both and were able to provide examples for each. We then moved on to metaphor. I read the Carl Sandburg poem "Fog":
THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches 5
and then moves on.

The children were quickly able to identify the metaphor comparing the fog to a cat. We tried to come up with our own metaphors, and I then began to read White Socks Only. I told the kids there were passages that had easily identifiable metaphors, but that there was also far more complicated one that was very subtle.

The story is about a young, black girl growing up in Jim Crow Mississippi. She makes a trip to town by herself, a girl on a mission. When her mission is completed, she is hot and thirsty and sees a water fountain with a sign reading, "Whites Only". Knowing what that means, the little girl takes off her black patent leather shoes and steps up to the fountain wearing her clean, white socks.

Of course, the girl finds herself in trouble when a bore of a white man appears and threatens to "whup" her. Other members of the black community come to her aid, taking off their shoes before stepping up to the fountain to drink. Their socks are a rainbow of colors which bewilders the young girl. And yet, it is okay. The story ends with the sign eventually being removed from the fountain.

Now, there were the obvious metaphors, comparing the angry white man to a bull, and saying his face was as red as fire. And then, there was the subtle one of the white and colored socks and the desegregating of the water fountain. The kids got it! I was so impressed!!

As we have done before, we moved onto writing. The kids had a difficult time with this assignment. I told them they needed to write something, anything, and include at least two metaphors. I left it open ended, letting them write fiction or non-fiction. I also encouraged them to remember the other literary devices we have studied and try to include them in the writings. Many of the kids decided to write about their pets, and I told them they needed to make up a story about the pet. I have found a number of the kids are going to put forth very minimal effort with their writing, giving me only a paragraph and saying they can think of nothing else to write.

I have informed the kiddos, that as fifth graders, this is no longer acceptable. The thing is, so many of these kids have such amazingly creative ideas. Additionally, you should hear the buzz (today, it was more of a ROAR!) in the room as the kids toss ideas back and forth and help each other generate more and more. It is a beautiful sight to see and hear. Unfortunately, the mechanics of actually writing these ideas down stymie some of the kids. Others come to me and ask how many paragraphs they need to write. When I ask how many they have, they'll usually reply, "five or six". Um, yup, that's

I told the kids I want the stories to be exciting and interesting to read. And, from what I read of their proposals, and from what I heard them tell me, the stories are going to be pretty fun! :o) I have asked the kids to have their sloppy copies to me by Friday so I can spend my weekend editing them. Doesn't that sound like fun???

I confess to being delighted the kids are enjoying the creative writing so much! Very few of the children have come to me complaining about writing and not having any ideas. Yay!! Since my goal was to not only work on English and grammar skills, but to have the children practice writing and enjoy what they are doing, I think I'm on the right track! :o)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Foreshadowing Days Two and Three

With Halloween last night, I didn't have an opportunity to reflect on yesterday's lesson. We once again reviewed foreshadowing and what it involved. We talked about the fact that foreshadowing can be very in-your-face and obvious, and that in some situations it can be more subtle.

Such is the case in "Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild" (just so everyone knows, I KNOW you're supposed to underline titles, I'm still trying to figure out how to do so). The book opens with, "Harriet Harris was a pesky child. She didn't mean to be, she just was." With that bit of foreshadowing, we are led through a typical day in the Harris household; a day in which Harriet finds herself in one jam after another, from spilling her juice at breakfast to dripping paint on the carpet, to pulling off the table cloth at lunch. Harriet's mother doesn't like to yell (so says the story) but when Harriet was supposed to be napping and instead tore open her pillow, thereby releasing "thousands of feathers" everywhere, she snaps. The text reads, "There was a terrible silence."

How's that for foreshadowing? I paused there and had the children predict what was going to happen next. Most of them said, "Her mom's gonna yell!" And, they were correct. The book ends with Harriet and her mom apologizing to each other and them picking up the feathers. As I read yesterday, I would point out the instances of foreshadowing because they were so subtle.

After the story was finished, we had a discussion about foreshadowing. We discussed all the places it was and how foreshadowing helps move the story along. I asked each child to then apply this idea to their writings.

As with the previous day, we had a quick review about foreshadowing, and discussed the fact foreshadowing involves providing clues for the reader as to what is going to happen next in the story. We also talked about how foreshadowing can be both overt and subtle. I told the kids today that this story had very subtle foreshadowing, that it was there, but I wasn't going to point it out. It was going to be their job to identify the foreshadowing in the story.

"Swan in Love" is the story of a swan that falls in love with a swan-shaped boat named Dora. Although he is ridiculed by the other animals, and although they tell him to find another swan to love, he is true to his one true love. The seasons pass and swan gets older. In fact, one passage reads, "The winters were colder than Swan remembered. He found he was stiffer and slower than he used to be." Eventually, Dora is no longer sea-worthy and she and Swan move die. However, the death is never actually spelled-out, nor is it particularly sad.

When I had finished the story, I had the children reflect on the story and discuss in groups where the foreshadowing was. They identified a number of passages, including the two I felt were most important--the one with Swan noticing the cold of winter, the other describing how Dora was aging.

Through our discussion, the kids figured out that every story has some sort of foreshadowing. We also talked about the ways author's can use foreshadowing to throw you off the scent, so to speak. Many children made some nice observations, one said that "The Westing Game" (one of my favorite mysteries as a child!) was full of foreshadowing and red herrings. It was great!

The kids are still very enthusiastic about their writings, but are concerned because foreshadowing is a difficult device to use (according to them). I have reassured them we will be studying foreshadowing for another week and that their writings are just fine. :o)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A New Literary Device

We began foreshadowing today. I had prefaced the lesson by telling the children yesterday we would be beginning foreshadowing today. It was my sorry attempt at humor by foreshadowing the foreshadowing. :oP

I began the lesson the same way I began atmosphere. I had the kids predict what they thought foreshadowing is, then, I read the explanation from the book as its language and description are far more precise than mine would be. I then introduced another favorite Patricia McKissick book, "Flossie and the Fox". The story is a "Red Riding Hood" story with little Flossie Finley outsmarting a fox.

I began by having the children make predictions as to Flossie's age and when and where the story took place. I then read the Author's Note, which explains the rich dialect in which the story is written. We had a discussion about the fact I'm not making fun of the story or the characters when I read it with my mountain twang, that I am instead honoring Ms. McKissick's granddaddy and his heritage. The kids of course had tales to tell of family members who speak with Southern drawls and all were open and receptive to the tale.

As I read, I pointed out the foreshadowing, as it can be such a difficult concept at first. As I moved into the story, the kids were more and more enthusiastic. They laughed, the predicted, they had comments to share with what I was reading. What a fun story! They particularly enjoyed the ending when Flossie has out-foxed the fox. :o)

When the story was finished, I reread the passages that foreshadowed the story. I then had the children do small group discussions as to how the book would be different without the foreshadowing. We talked about how the foreshadowing made the book more exciting and that without it, we wouldn't really want to read much more than the beginning.

I then told the kids we would be using the foreshadowing in our writing to make it more interesting. I used examples from scary movies and books, reminding the kids that in those situations, someone is usually told, "Don't look in the closet" and they of course, look in the closet. That warning was foreshadowing. I challenged them to come up with a topic and then tell me how they were going to foreshadow the story.

The kids were given time to brainstorm ideas within their groups and then I walked around and conferenced with them as they worked on their circle maps. In one group, two of the children realized they were writing similar stories and decided to have the same setting and have their characters meet up in their individual stories. Their excitement was palpable! When I mentioned this to the other class, quite a number of children decided they needed to create similar stories! :o)

The kids were SO into this creative writing and brainstorming they were very unhappy when class time was up! I promised them I would be willing to listen to the "pitch" their ideas during my recess duty today and I actually had a number of students come up to me to share their stories! I was shocked!

During my conferencing, I reminded the children they could use atmosphere to help us "feel" the creepiness of their haunted houses, that they shouldn't forget the literary device they have already studied. The levels of excitement these children feel generates excitement in me as well! :o)

I know this lesson is going to stretch into two weeks as there is NO way these writings will be ready by next Monday. There are just too many details that need working out. I want these writings to be excellent, and I can tell more time is going to be necessary in order for them to be successful.

I look forward to tomorrow's foreshadowing lesson! :o)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Atmosphere: Day Three

I feel so good about today's lesson! We discussed yesterday's lesson on different locations having different atmospheres, and then, I read "Goin' Someplace Special". Before I opened the book, I told the children how I happened to own it. I LOVE Patricia McKissick's work. When I saw a book by her, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, one of my all-time favorite illustrators, I knew I had to have the story, even knowing nothing about it.

I then asked the children to predict where they thought "Someplace Special" might be. We looked at how nicely Tricia Ann was dressed and discussed the possibilities: Grandma's house, a party, church.

I then turned to the title page and had the children look at the illustration and determine what time period they thought the story took place. They narrowed it to the 1950's based on the bus and the car in the picture. Probing further, I asked them what they knew about African Americans in the 1950's. The children were well informed and we had a nice review of the Civil Rights movement and Jim Crow. I had the children try to put themselves into the role of an African American in the 1950's South and asked them how they would feel if faced with segregation.

Then, I began to read. I would stop periodically as I read, to discuss the atmosphere in a particular scene. The first few pages are filled with excitement as Mama Frances allows Tricia Ann the privilege of going Someplace Special by herself for the first time. As Tricia Ann moves through the pages, the atmosphere changes from one of excitement to despair to anxiety to pain to peace.

As I approached pages I knew were more atmospheric, I would tell the children I wanted them to pay particular attention to the page and identify words that helped convey the atmosphere. As always happens when I read this story, whether aloud or silently, I found myself becoming teary as I neared the end. You are emotionally wrung out by the time you finish the story, cresting Tricia Ann's highs and trudging through her lows. The end is such a surprising relief it leaves me sobbing. I always apologize to my students for getting choked-up and explain the atmosphere in the story allows me to become emotionally involved.

There is an additional surprise at the end of the story, as there is an Author's Note. Borrowing from Lissie, I told my children I'm extremely nosy and have to know everything that is happening and if the author saw fit to include some information, it must be important. The Author's Note begins with the line, "This is my story." You should have seen the kids' eyes as I read those lines! They were shocked! I think they really connected with Tricia Ann and it brought home the injustices of Jim Crow to realize they applied to everyone, not just adults.

We moved into small group discussions about the different atmospheres found throughout the book. I moved around the room listening in on the conversations and was fascinated with what I heard. One group decided to divide them into "Good Atmosphere" and "Bad Atmosphere" and came to the conclusion there were actually more "good" ones than "bad" ones.

Another group identified there were two different forms of "excited" atmosphere. There was Tricia Ann's excitement in going "Someplace Special" and her anticipation of the visit. Then, there was the excitement in the hotel lobby and it was a very negative excitement as Tricia Ann was singled out and yelled at when she found herself somewhere she had no intention of being.

Another group was intent on identifying their favorite atmospheres. Overall, it was a very effective discussion session and we debriefed and moved on to the writing portion of our lesson. The atmosphere in our classroom was electric at this point, the kids were SO wrapped up in what we were doing.

We have written two non-fiction pieces this year and the writing they are preparing can be fiction. The kids are very enthusiastic about this, and couldn't wait to get to their circle maps to record all their ideas. I had them put their idea in the center of the map and then fill in with descriptive details, focusing in particular on the five senses.

I circulated, looking over circle maps and discussing the importance of a good "hook" sentence for the opening of their paragraphs. One child wanted to open with "Do you want to know about Duck, NC?" His group and I all agreed he needed something with a little more "gotcha". He came up with "Every summer we vacation in Duck, NC." Much better.

Another child is writing about playing in a football game and his opening is, "Hike!" The kids are throwing themselves into these writings whole-heartedly and I LOVE it! One fellow is writing about NYC and he explained to me there are two types of people in NYC, true New Yorkers, and those that are tourists. I asked which perspective he was going to take and he decided to challenge himself and write from each point of view. For children who chose to write about sporting events I asked when does the action start? In the car in the parking lot? On the way into the stadium? In fact, as I conferenced with each child, I asked them when the action started, where did their writing begin? I encouraged them to make it interesting and exciting and I'm pleased with what I was seeing and hearing!

I can't WAIT to read the rough drafts!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Atmosphere Day Two

Today I reviewed literary devices and atmosphere with the kids. I asked them what each was and was pleased when they were able to answer correctly and have a decent discussion about atmosphere. We talked about "It's Fall" and what words conveyed atmosphere. We also began to think about books and authors who have "sucked us in" through their use of atmosphere.

This led to me to the point of asking, "Are all atmospheres the same? What are some differences?" The kids obviously knew there are differences in atmosphere, but I decided to take it one step further. The book we read yesterday immersed them in Autumn, but not necessarily into a situation. I wanted the children to appreciate the fact there are scenes and situations that lend themselves to atmosphere.

I had them close their eyes (there were some who wanted to peak, of course :oP) and imagine they were in a stadium of their choice, at the end of a game. I suggested football, baseball or soccer and had them think about how they were feeling, knowing their team was behind, but in the last seconds of the game, they had an opportunity to win. I had them "look" around and take in the sights. I had them "smell" and "feel" and "listen to" what was happening. Then, I told them, with three seconds left, their team scored and won!! How did they feel now?

I had them open their eyes and we discussed the feelings of anticipation, excitement, fear. We talked about the smell of food in the air from the vendors, the press of bodies jumping in joy as their team won. We heard the roar of the crowd as their team came away victorious. We felt the chill in the air and saw the people wearing body paint. It was exciting and thrilling and the kids were anxious to share everything they "experienced".

I reminded the kiddos that game day is Saturday, but that it was now Sunday and they needed to close their eyes again. I told them they were now sitting in church and I wanted them to pay attention to those same details as before, the sights, sounds, smells, and the way they were feeling.

It was interesting how this simple exercise brought them back down. The enthusiasm and excitement the kids were bubbling over with was more subdued once we "went to church". Although they were still excited by the activity, they were no longer running on "adrenaline" from the thrill of the win.

Most of the kids mentioned the feeling of peace, quiet and reverence. A couple mentioned boredom and some mentioned a feeling of spiritual uplifting. We also talked about the smell of the candles and of the hymnals and Bibles and the sounds of the choirs and the pastor/minister/priest's voice.

We were able to compare the two atmospheres and once again thought of some books that have been particularly appealing and why. We moved from this little mini lesson to our lit circles where I continued the discussion based on the book each group was reading.

I feel this lesson went very well and I can't wait to read tomorrow's book to them. It's Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack and it is POWERFUL! The story is about a young girl named Tricia who is being raised in the Jim Crow south. All she wants to do is get to her "someplace special" but to do so she must first hold her head high and deal with all the racial inequalities she encounters along the way. The book always leaves me in tears by the end as it is SO beautiful. The atmosphere of this story is so potent I sincerely hope the children are able to feel it as deeply as I.

(For those of you interested in Mom's take on the story, you can read it here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day One: Atmosphere

It is a well known fact I adore picture books. I have used them throughout my years of teaching to entertain, to instruct, to reinforce skills. I was afraid that by moving to the fifth grade, I would be giving up any opportunities to read picture story books to my students.

Oh ho ho, not so, sayeth Lissie. She recently gifted me with two books, the first, Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices to Children and Young Adults is a wealth of resources and information on just that. The second book is written explaining how to use pictures books to instruct your writing lessons and is written for grades 4-8.

Both are amazing resources and I happily pored over the first Saturday afternoon, determining which literary devices I was going to teach each quarter, and then pacing them throughout the rest of the school year.

I began today with "Atmosphere". I told the children we would be learning about literary devices and then had them try and reason out what those could be. We had a class discussion about "literary" and I told them "devices" were items people used. They determined literary devices must be items or ideas authors use to make thei writing more interesting.

From there I moved on to "atmosphere".
"What is atmosphere," I asked the children. This lead to a discussion on atmosphere. Some of the children were quite literal and gave me the meteorologic definition of atmosphere. We were able to expand it to anything that is around you. From there I read the definition of "atmosphere" found in the book. I then told them I was going to read them a passage and I wanted them to tell me how they were feeling as I read it, what was the mood, what kind of a day was it, etc.

The passage was from "Alice in Wonderland". It was a hot, boring afternoon. The children explained what words helped them "feel" the heat and the boredom. I then told them I was going to read a book that evoked Autumn. I told them that as I read, I wanted them to identify words that helped them "feel" or "see" or "smell" or "hear" what the author was experiencing.

I read, It's Fall by Linda Glaser. The illustrations are fantastic--cut paper collages. The words are amazing. Listen to these:

"I skip and swish through Autumn leaves. They crunch and crackle under my feet and whoosh and whirl all around me. Red, orange, yellow, gold and brown. A wind swoops up. More leaves fall down."

As I read, I would ask the children how they were feeling or what words were particularly meaningful to them. When I was finished, the children all agreed the book really did help us "experience" Fall. I then told them they were going to use this literary device in their writing. I had them take a few minutes to discuss writing possibilities with their group and then share with the class what they were planning on writing about.

I then had them create a circle map on which they recorded everything they could about their chosen topic. I had them close their eyes and imagine they were there, and I wanted them to use their five senses to explore their environment. I wanted them to then record all those feelings on their map. There was an excited hum and buzz throughout the room as the children began to record their "experiences". They were VERY disappointed when time was up and they had not even begun to scratch the surface.

I told the kids an author is always writing for an audience, and that their audience was going to be my mother. She is someone unknown to them, so I knew they would strive harder to create an excellent atmosphere in their writing. I also told them their writings may be selected to be used as models and examples at a conference at which I may be presenting. They were very excited at that prospect as well. :o)