I cannot avoid making connections between a book I am reading, and others I've already read. CCSS require students to do the same (RL.1.9). The new standards also require them to show clear understanding of a selections main idea or central theme (RL.1.2). In this lesson, I brought the two together and asked my students to make connections between the central themes of books.
I had often modeled such connections during read alouds. After reading a story, I would make comments such as: "This book reminds me of .... because ...."; or " Oh, I just remembered another book we read; do you remember ....? Why do you think I thought of that book?" A few students had started to make such connections by themselves, and with this lesson I wanted to make the strategy explicit. Developing the habit of making these connections will help them develop deeper understanding of new texts. Another benefit is that being able to make connections between themes will also help them understand new concepts in science, social studies and visual arts.
I began the lesson by reading Whistle for Willie. I then told them that they were going to listen to another story and that I wanted them to think of ways in which the two stories were similar. Then I read The Little Engine that Could. While I read each story, I made some comments to myself about the ways the characters persevered in the face of challenge.
A key part of this lesson is choosing read alouds strategically. Not only do you want to engage your students in a complex read aloud that will capture their attention, but you also want to ensure that the read alouds have time-honored themes that can connect on some level. The connection should not be too obvious or too obscure, and the themes should be common enough that there are many examples of books that connect. These two classics, with their very different characters but similar emphasis on perseverance, fit the bill!
I gave the class white paper and asked them to fold it into quadrants. They copied the title of each story on the top quadrants. Then I asked them to write a sentence explaining what they thought was the same in both stories. After a few minutes I called on volunteers to share their connections with the class. You can see some examples in the resource section. Most students were able to identify and compare the central themes. A few, like the girl in the video who said both stories happened outside, made only a superficial comparison.
I told the class that now they had to think of two books or stories they knew that had the same theme as the two we had just compared. As they had done in the guided practice portion, they had to write a title and a sentence explaining how that story was like Whistle for Willie and The Little Engine that Could, on each of the remaining quadrants.
At this point in the year, we had read many many read alouds about the theme of perseverance, so the students had lots of ideas.
Inevitably, someone asked if they could draw a picture. I said they could only do it when they had finished their sentences. This proved useful since it gave me more time to circulate checking on students that seemed confused.
You can see a range of student work in the resource section.