My students are in the throes of writing a story, using a line from Jack London as their first sentence. To nudge the process along (they have several days to work on this independently, apart from our time together), after our last peer editing activity, I asked them to write down the first change that they are going to make.
For today's warm up, they share their plans with each other. With 28 kids in a class, I rarely have an "everyone shares" kind of activity. However, I think it is really important for students to hear what their peers are doing.
This story is pretty exciting, so I like to play the recording for my students. My anthology has a good recording on CD. If you don't have it, there are a few versions on the internet, including this one.
This year, I don't have any real "struggling" readers, so I do not use recordings as much as I have in the past. The great thing about using the recording is that the students get exposed to a piece of literature read by a professional who reads with appropriate expression and emphasis. The bad thing about it is that the kids can zone out. While the students are listening, I often walk around and just ask "random" students where we are in the text, just to make sure we are all staying together.
After listening to the story, I ask the students to consider the story's antagonists. I put a cloze
sentence under the document camera that says,
"Walt Masters is the protagonist of the story. The two antagonists are
_____________________ and ______________________."
The students raise their hands to fill in the blanks. Very quickly, we determine that the blanks should be filled in with "claim jumpers" and "harsh physical environment." I leave that up on the screen while I reveal the second part of the assignment. In it, I ask students to evaluate which of the antagonists is the most threatening, both to them (if they were in the situation) and to Walt Masters. They have to write a paragraph, explaining their choice and using text to support their answers.
From my perspective, the question is almost too easy. The story goes into depth about how Walt Masters grew up in the harsh conditions and how he had never had shoes (just moccasins,) and how he had never been to school, etc. London also describes his decision-making and fast thinking when dealing with the sled dogs.
However, many of my students said that the harsh conditions were more threatening. So, I had them discuss their choices as a class. One student made a really good point by citing text support that indicates that Walt's familiarity with the land actually gave him an advantage. I really prefer that students debate ideas, rather than having me intervene and just "give" the answer. It was an interesting discussion, and -- while I think the answer was pretty clear -- the arguments on the other side were thoughtful.