In the previous lesson, students read the complete text of The Story of Ruby Bridges, asked and answered questions about the text, and identified the story’s theme. This lesson will continue to focus on theme.
I open the lesson by telling students that I’m going to play for them a video of a songwriter named Lori McKenna performing a song she wrote.
After playing the video, I read the song’s lyrics aloud, asking students to listen carefully and to try to make connections to the words in the verses. Somewhere around the second or third verse, students usually start making the connection to The Story of Ruby Bridges.
I ask volunteers to share the connections they made to the lyrics. Some may be personal, but most students will simply connect the song and book. If they don’t make the latter connection, I think aloud, saying that I recognize the character of Ruby Bridges from Robert Coles’ book in the song. I ask students to name one or two other specific similarities between the book and the song. (the angry crowd, Ruby’s isolation and determination, etc.) Then I tell them that today we will be comparing and contrasting these two texts to figure out ways in which the events they describe and their themes may be similar and/or different.
I ask students to recall and share what they identified as the theme of The Story of Ruby Bridges and write some of their responses on the board. Then I ask them to reread the song lyrics silently and signal when they are done.
I ask, “How did Lori McKenna help you understand the difficulties Ruby faced each day when she went to school?” (image of the crowd screaming, use of the word of words hated, hatred, bigots, image of Ruby alone in the classroom)
Then I ask, “How do you think Lori McKenna felt about Ruby and what happened to her?” Students will probably note that McKenna sympathizes with Ruby and may possibly consider that the writer feels angry on Ruby’s behalf.
I want to steer them toward thinking about McKenna’s message and ask, “How does the song make you feel about what happened to Ruby?” I might also ask, “Do you think Lori McKenna believes that praying helped Ruby?” This question may spark a debate between students who think that Ruby should have responded to her situation with active anger and those who think that praying was a good response. Any involvement on students’ part is good here. I want them to understand that McKenna wrote the song not just to tell a story but to get listeners to sit up and take notice and be emotionally involved.
I ask, “Who do you think Lori McKenna wrote this song for? What audience did she imagine?” and prompt students to support their answers with text evidence. (voice, word choice, etc.)
Then I return their thoughts to the Coles book and ask, “In The Story of Ruby Bridges, how did Robert Coles help you understand the difficulties that Ruby faced in going to the all-white school?” (illustrations showing the angry crowd and Ruby’s isolation, use of words like kill, hate, etc.)
Again, I want to steer students toward thinking about theme and ask, “How do you think Robert Coles felt about Ruby? Why do you think he wrote this book for children? What did he hope children would learn by reading it?”
I close this part of the lesson with small group discussion or partner discussion, asking students to talk further about the similarities and differences between the book and song with particular focus on the authors’ messages and how each text made students feel.
Now students will work independently, evaluating both texts to identify similarities and differences and recording their findings in a Compare and Contrast chart. After distributing the charts, I go over the headings in the left hand column and the type of information that should go in each row. I write the guiding question from the worksheet on the board and tell students that there are no right or wrong answers to this question – their goal is to arrive at an answer that is supported by information in the chart. I also post or display the Common Themes in Books chart as a reference for filling out the last row of the Compare and Contrast chart. This is helpful to those students who continue to struggle to articulate a work’s theme.
After whole class and small group discussion, filling out the Compare and Contrast chart helps students pull together all of their thoughts about the texts and requires them to clearly support their thinking with text evidence. For me, these charts act as formative assessment and help me identify areas I may need to reteach with another book in a later unit.
If students make good time completing the independent practice, we’ll review responses in the same classroom session, but I might also hold this over until the following day. I ask volunteers to share some of their chart entries and add responses to a class chart for reference in a later lesson using the same format. Then students share responses to the guiding question.
My closing point for this lesson is threefold: 1) an author’s perspective on his or her subject will show in the writing; 2) an author’s perspective on their subject will influence readers’ thoughts and feelings about the subject; and 3)most writing carries a message or theme to readers.
To wrap up the lesson, I distribute copies of a “Biography of Ruby Bridges.” Students love to read about the real Ruby Bridges and to learn that she continues to be involved in the on-going struggle for racial equality.