A Math and Reading Lesson: The Story Behind a Very Famous Building!

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SWBAT use short passages about Charlemagne and Aachen Cathedral as reference for literal, inferential, and open-ended questions about an authentic text.

Big Idea

This reading lesson is a companion lesson to Searching for Shapes in Architecture Day 1.

Notes for the Teacher

This is not intended as an inclusive lesson on Charlemagne!  It's a brief introduction meant to whet the appetite of students.  I recognize the limitation of the site I chose for the information about Charlemagne but chose to use it as it is free, accessible, accurate and on the appropriate reading level.  I chose the UNESCO site as a source because students need to know how to pull out relevant and comprehensible bits of information from an above-level text.  Everything they encounter as a source will not always be at their level!

I recommend the map tab (just links to Google Earth).


5 minutes

"Since we are studying the mathematics of architecture, it's a great opportunity for me to give you a tiny taste of the fascinating history of a few of the world's great buildings.  The one we're going to read about today, Aachen Cathedral in what is now Germany, is linked a a historical figure whose legend has been passed down through the ages.  His name was Charlemagne an he was a pivotal figure in history because he made some significant changes to the way things were going at the time.  As we read through theses passages today, I want you listening for the major changes that Charlemagne made in his kingdom.  I also want you to think about how one of his core beliefs is reflected in the Palatine Chapel, which is at the core of what is now a much larger cathedral complex."

Students will not necessarily make what to us is an obvious connection - he built the chapel because of his Christian faith and his desire to spread it.  The other two things that I chose to point out where his interest in the arts and education (unusual for that time in history) and how he replaced trial by ordeal with trial by panel/jury.  

Of course, when the students look at the pictures, I also have them make mathematical observations.  

Guided Reading

12 minutes

I have provided two options for the guided read-aloud.  The first passage is from the UNESCO site on Aachen Cathedral and is very high level and technical.  

The second passage, titled "The Historical Charlemagne" by its authors, is a link from a Spanish class at UCLA.  I read the first four paragraphs together with my class, and then we moved on to the other sections of the lesson.  I believe in exposing them to high-level text but a little bit can go a long way!    

The twofold emphasis in either read-aloud is vocabulary development and developing a meaningful understanding of non-fiction content.  With the vocabulary, I focus on both basic skills such as phonetic pronunciation and chunking, and deriving meaning from context.  For the context, depending on the passage, I focus on the skills of identifying key words and reading on to make connections as aids to comprehension.

Included here are detailed plans for teaching the on-level read aloud, and the enriched read aloud.

Partner Reading

15 minutes

Prior to partner reading, I prepare my students' thinking by showing a powerpoint of images of Aachen and Charlemagne. The images of the cathedral show many examples of varied polygon and 3D solid combinations, as well as paintings of Charlemagne.

Then, I pair students in reading this passage about Charlemagne. One child reads a paragraph and the listener is responsible for following along and retelling what is heard.  In a text such as this one, that has a lot of content specific (and not relevant to 3rd grade) vocabulary I encourage students to derive the meaning from contextual clues.  

Independent Reading

10 minutes

Students independently read this passage about Charlemagne, from the Middle Ages for Kids website.

Teacher walks the room and assists/guides students with any/vocabulary and content questions and, time permitting, calls over one or two students to read a paragraph 1-1.  


If the students are fatigued from concentrating on the other two passages, you can show them the cathedral using Google Earth.  If you enter "Aachen, Germany" Google Earth will take you right to a plaza in the cathedral complex.  If you type "Aachen Cathedral", it will take you there but the words block the dome!


Have students watch the Aachen Cathedral video (by UNESCO/NHK). It is about 2.5 minutes long.

I've included some Questions related to the video.

Questions About the Text - Written and Oral Response

20 minutes

I follow a certain structure for reading groups at my school to align with the school's reading program even though I create my own materials.  It is as follows:

Students are in groups of 4.  They are assigned numbers which change every few weeks.  #1 reads the question and makes sure everyone hears it.  #2 Rereads the question and answers it. #3 Agrees with the answer and tells why, adds on, or disagrees and explains why. #4 Restates the answer of the group and makes sure that all students in the group can explain the answer.

As needed, especially for English Language Learners, I provide oral or written sentence stems (when applicable) to help them answer the following questions:

Reading Passage Questions for Group Work

I choose one of the questions for students to write out as a written response and it is always a higher-level thinking question.  I made have a struggling student answer a more literal question.  

After about 15 minutes, I randomly call on a number and for each question that number stands up and some of the students share their answers with the class.  We listen for question stems, complete and clear answer, and evidence from the text to support the answer.