Visuals are a great way to introduce students to the unfamiliar vocabulary they encounter in this story about a family living during the Ice Age. Spend the first 10-15 minutes of class showing a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of items encountered in the story, such as reindeer, an ice floe, bison, voles, etc. I prefer to just show pictures without text because it gets students talking. There is always someone who knows something about each photo. They share background information and make connections that help their peers and sometimes even take the conversation in unexpected directions. It turns that one student actually visited the National Bison Range in Montana this summer and another ate bison ate a local restaurant recently! Of course, the photo that generates the most reaction is of the grubs – the students are fascinated to that Maroo and her siblings consider them a delicacy.
This strategy works with any text in which students are confronted with unfamiliar items—well, nouns really—people, places, and things they may not encounter in their day-to-day lives. I started out by choosing terms on my own but over time the collection grew based on student input.
Now that we have read and annotated the first two chapters together, students are now ready to move through this process with greater independence. They work in small groups of 4 or 5 that include a couple strong readers and a few weaker readers. This way no one is left behind and no one is unchallenged. However, there is one stipulation. In order to take part in group work, assigned work must be completed. This is usually a great motivator because the students look forward to working together.
Groups spend time reviewing their annotations. They discuss the events that took place in the chapter and how the family interacts with the environment. They respond to one another’s questions and share connections. During this time, I circulate among the groups checking on homework completion and keep groups on task. One of the assignments for this chapter is to answer a few comprehension questions, which the students also review in their groups. Yet, I notice that many students provide a skimpy response to the final question. They are to draw a picture of a hilltop showing what it was like when Maroo and her brother reached it. I read that section of the chapter aloud and challenge the students to add every detail possible so that the sketches ‘read’ the same way as the text. Next time they encounter a question like this we will turn it into a contest to see who creates the most accurate depiction. Also, they now realize that rereading the text is a must for an activity like this. This activity is the visual equivalent of citing text evidence in an open response question or essay.