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!


Anonymous said...


This book looks simply amazing, and I am so impressed by your passion. I can tell from your post how enveloped you are in what you are doing and what your kids are doing. You are a true inspiration and to top it off, this book brings a new level to that.

I pray my kids have a teacher (or hopefully many) like you one day.

I need to check the library for this one.

Kelly said...

It will be a treat to read all those drafts! I LOVED reading my students' writing, especially creative writing. So many middle school teachers focus on essay writing in preparation for the state writing tests. I made a point to teach creative writing as well. Some of those kid-does turned in 30+ pages of writing! After reading 102 stories, my eyes were sore (and a week of free-time was gone.) However, it was a JOY!

You lesson was inspirational, Rach! Thanks for being such a dedicated teacher.


MrsGrumpy said...

Oh how I wish, yet again, that you were my son's teacher.