The lessons housed within this unit all provide practice on specific skills or strategies. Some lessons were written to see what students remember and/or can do at the beginning of the year. Others were used to re-teach groups of students who hadn’t quite mastered the chosen skill when it was first introduced. Still others were designed to give students meaningful practice while I conducted required testing.
All lessons used texts that were familiar or easily decodable so that students’ energies were spent on skill practice rather than trying to just make sense of the text itself. Many lessons include reproducibles that were made with graphics from Kevin and Amanda’s Fonts, Teaching in a Small Town, and Melonheadz Illustrating.
In these next seven lessons, we tackle identifying fictional elements, describing main characters, summarizing, and making connections between texts by comparing and contrasting characters. The texts we are using are The Pain and the Great One (Blume, J. (1985). The pain and the great one. Bantam Publishing: New York, New York.) and My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (Polacco, P. (1998). My rotten redheaded older brother. Simon and Schuster: New York, New York.).
Today’s lesson focuses on identifying the narrator and setting of The Pain and the Great One. I simply love this book! As a child, it was one of my favorites. I am the oldest of four and when I first read this book I thought Judy Blume had written it just for me. Surely she must have seen my struggle and written a book all about it! While I wasn’t the kind of older sister to flat out call my siblings pains, I was definitely the kind who always seemed ignored or put upon by my parents.
Kids love to complain about their siblings! Whether they are the oldest, youngest, or “forgotten middle,” they love talking about how their siblings make their lives more difficult. I typically start the lesson by asking, “How many of you have siblings who are a real pain?” Hands fly up at record speed. Before they can start sharing, I tell my own story of having to deal with not one, not two, but three younger siblings! I go on and on about how awful it was and ask if anyone else can relate. A few students share their horrific tales. Then I ask if anyone is the baby of the family and have to deal with know-it-all older brothers or sisters. This too gets hands to shoot up in the air. I let a few students share their struggles as well. Then I tell the class that today’s text is all about two characters who know exactly how they feel. As they listen to the story, try to determine who is telling the story and have examples from the text ready to support their answers.
I read the first half of the story (narrated by the sister) and stop to talk about the narrator. I have students partner share their thoughts about who is telling the story. When asked to share their ideas I am surprised at the range of responses I get: the author, Judy Blume, you (me), etc. Very few students understand the difference between an author and a narrator. I help them determine the narrator by giving a real-life scenario that gets them thinking about first vs. third person point of view. I ask: If you come up to me and ask me how my weekend went, would it be normal for me to say, “Well, first Mrs. Martinez went out to eat with Mrs. Martinez’s family. Then Mrs. Martinez went home to grade Mrs. Martinez’s papers from the week.” No! You would expect me to say something like, “First, I went out to eat with my husband and then I went home to grade my papers from the week.” I would use words such as I, me, we, my, etc. that show I’m talking about myself rather than another person. Many times, authors write in this way to show that a character from the text is telling the story. Let’s take another look at one scene from the text and see if the author gave us these types of clues.
We went back to a part of the book that gave a great example of this, such as when the brother interrupts the sister while talking on the phone or when he knocks down her blocks. I point out how it uses words such as I, my, he, my brother, etc. Using those clues, I can tell that the sister is telling the story.
I move on and read the second half of the book and repeat the exercise. This time when students share their thinking, they are able to identify that the brother is telling the story. We record this in our packets.
I then start a discussion about how each narrator influences the way events are told in the text. We point out parts of the story where each character sees events in his or her own way and how we might see them differently.
To finish the lesson, we filled in details about the setting and proof for our answers.
For today’s independent practice, I gave students a choice in their responses. If they really felt a connection today’s topic, they could write a response in their readers’ notebooks about their own experiences with their siblings. If students didn’t feel a strong connection, then they could begin reading their independent reading books. They were to determine the narrator of their texts and look for clues to support their thinking marking each with a sticky notes.
At the end of the workshop time, I looked for two types of students to share: one who chose to respond to the text in the notebook and one who found great support for determining the narrator of the text. An overwhelming majority of them chose to write about the book, which I loved. It’s always a great feeling when students respond positively to your choices and perhaps even add the text to their own list of favorites.