Where the River Runs - One Families Emigration to America

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SWBAT...describe and analyze the difficulties faced by the emigrant family in "Where the River Runs".

Big Idea

Compassion is created through understanding and connections.

Creating the Purpose

5 minutes

I love the book, "Where the River Runs" for a few reasons - first it is written in easily defined chapters with realistic pictures that are at the fifth grade lexile level, second it offers honest but optimistic perspectives of what immigrating and adapting to our country is really like, and third the children are at a similar age to my students so deeper connections are made to their lives. See my reflection for a more thorough review of reasons for this book choice.

I open by introducing the book cover and asking students to predict what the book is about. The picture of the river threw them off because many thought the book was about as family who lived near a river. (always a good reminder that kids are such literal thinkers!)

I introduce that we are going to read the book "Where the River Runs" and that it is about a family who had to leave their house in Cambodia because they feared for their lives. I don't share more until we complete the prediction chart together to gather evidence from the front and back covers because I want students to get a deeper understanding of the ways authors introduce topics and the purpose for their words and pictures chosen. 

Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

My focus for this unit is the feeling of hope and how this is central to immigrants lives. I will consistently refer back to this in different ways to build understanding through the unit. I'm going to  begin by focusing on the vocabulary used in the book and the different reasons people come to America. This really ties in with our school theme of "cultures around the world" and with our Common Core history focus on the development of our country.

I open by asking students to describe the word "hope". I take their responses and write them on the board. 

I now share the words "emigrant", "immigrant" and "refugee" and ask how all these words are related. Students were quick to guess that all had something to do with coming from another country but they don't really know what the difference is between the meanings. I ask them what the difference is and I get blank stares and off topic  answers. That's ok because it is the purpose of my first lesson to educate them on the different reasons people come to our country.

I share that people come to America for a variety of reasons - some because they have to because of civil unrest or wars in their countries and these are called refugees and they are people who are here temporarily and  hope to go back to their homes some day. Some have to leave their countries because they don't have jobs or have dangerous fighting and these are called emigrants - people that move here because they have to. Some leave their countries because they choose to come here to live new lives and these are called immigrants. The family in this story were emigrants and had to leave their country to make a new life here.

As we share I have students help me create an understanding chart to visualize the difference between the three words and reasons for leaving their country. Once understanding is created I have them draw their own chart in their journals. A few added pictures but most copied what we had created on the board together.    

I now pass out the student copies of the book "Where the River Runs" - (I wait to do this because I want them to focus on the vocabulary they will be expected to know and use in the unit and because I want their predictions to come from first impressions rather than peeks into the book pages) Students are also given the Prediction Evidence worksheets  I share that we are going to look at the front cover to see what evidence they can identify to help them predict the main ideas in the text. Students partner share what they see and what they predict - then we do an all share. I take student responses and we add it to our charts for the first section. I review that we will not complete the "adjustment to our thinking" section until we read further and can locate facts in the book.


Independent Learning

20 minutes

My students caught on quickly to how to complete their charts so I released them to continue working and sharing with their partners to determine predictions for the back cover. They completed the prior knowledge section independently and gave supporting evidence from their past books, lessons or sharing on why and how they knew these things.

Here is a sample of a student's completed chart

To close the lesson I have some students share their predictions and what evidence or background knowledge supported their thoughts.  Here's a video of students sharing.


The concept of the river really threw them into a variety of directions so I am planning on adding a lesson to this unit to evaluate the symbolicness of the river in the story.

I share that they will be asked this afternoon during silent reading time to read the first chapter in a quiet voice. I share that I want them to think about the central theme of "hope" while they read and to identify some questions they have on the story events or characters as they read. They write these on small Post-it notes to be shared together in the next lesson. I do this so that students will have some connection to the text while I read it aloud in the next lesson and to give them a central focus for their discussions during the next days. I have quite a few students who have come or have parents who have immigrated from different countries. I'm sending out a letter explaining our unit and requesting them to share their experiences with the class to build a sense of reality into the lessons and story events.