As a lead in to the picture book about mistaken interpretation, Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay, ask the kids to think of when they've used an item for something other than what it's intended. Using 3x 5 cards, they write a few uncommon uses for the items. A class example: Paperclip: can be used to close a chips bag, as a zipper pull replacement, for hanging ornaments, to unlock some kinds of doors, dot fingernails with polish.
The kids share their results with the class.
CCS RI.5.10 challenges students to become proficient at the high end of 4-5 text complexity by year's end. Although a picture book, this one is at an advanced reading level for elementary students. I jumped this hurdle by selecting literary text from the book that would challenge, yet not frustrate, and then transformed it into the archaeologist's "confidential files" which are manila file folders. The students are captivated by the wonderful illustrations and eager to read the text that accompanies them. They're able to comprehend the concept of an archaeologist's interpretations (which turn out to be misinterpretations) and clearly see through his eyes as he takes the reader on a tour of the excavation of Tomb 26.
Before disclosing Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay as the name of the picture book-inform the class that the year is 4022, and the land we know as the North American continent has virtually no inhabitants on it any longer. Each group is given a file marked confidential, but told not to open it. See File Folder example.
I set up the scenario by reading relevant passages that lead up to archaeologist, Howard Carson, discovering "Tomb 26" and preparing to excavate it. At this point, I give them the ok to check out their confidential file and determine what "Tomb 26" is. As it turns out, "Tomb 26" is actually Room 26 in an ancient motel called the Toot 'n C'mon. The illustration shows the entrance to the tomb and all of the excavation work that's been done there. The text that accompanies creatively explains the various things the students are looking at while challenging them to comprehend the enhanced vocabulary. They become engaged in this activity instantly when they read the archaeologist's notes such as the peep hole is "the all-seeing eye" and the room service lids left outside are "sacrificial gifts to the gods". It's evident that they're about to read an unique book.
The students take notes and read through files about what they see at three different sites which included the TREASURES file too. These "confidential files" include narrative text and illustrations that the students view, analyze, and use to take notes. The favorite file is definitely TREASURES and is an anthology of the different material items discovered. I had my students rotate excavation sites only three times to answer questions about the confidential files due to the a time constraint. The text must be read carefully, and I don't want them to rush through it. If time isn't an issue, they can rotate through many or all of the files- and mine really wanted to.
This lesson concluded with all groups going back to their original tables and briefly reviewing the findings from the files.
With the uniqueness of this book, it's a good time to ask the kids to think creatively about the world around them. What other cases of mistaken identity can they think of? How can we avoid making such mistakes in the future?
They think of a familiar item. They draw a picture of it from the view of a future archaeologist. At the bottom they write how it might be misinterpreted. I give them cream colored, "Archaeologist Paper" for this. It's simply paper from a sketch book, but looks a little different than the standard 8 x 10 copy paper.
Finally, I show them the picture of the actual archeological excavation of skeletons and ask, "What do you think about this picture?" Reponses range from: pile of bones the archaeologists are collecting to a family was buried together at the same time for some reason. It's a basic way to bring the original idea back around that we are always speculating when it comes to Archaeology.