Dream Something Big--Building Background Knowledge

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The SWBAT compare two versions of the same event.

Big Idea

The children will be building background knowledge for building their own tower later in the unit by comparing and contrasting two versions of the same event. They will also learn that people build towers using design principles.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

Watch the super short video for a description of the activity.


NGSS/Common Core Connections

We will be discussing what Rodia used to make his structures strong and stable.  The students will be comparing and contrasting two informational books about the same topic.  They will be building their background knowledge for building their own towers.  


book titled Dream Something Big by Dianna Hutts Aston

venn diagram-1 per student


5 minutes

I try to engage the students by reviewing what we learned yesterday to get them ready for new learning.

In yesterday's lesson we learned about a creative man named Simon Rodia.  Who can tell me what he built?  Why did he build them?  What materials did he use?

Today we are going to be learning more about Simon Rodia, but from a different perspective.  When we read this story, I want you to be thinking who is "telling" the story, or from whose viewpoint is it.  I also want you to think how this story is the same as The Wonderful Towers of Watts, and how it's different.

Setting up the stage for what we will be learning is very important.  It gives them a clear focus and direction for our learning. 

Then I show my kiddos the cover of the book Dream Something Big.  It is a beautiful book with a gorgeous cover.  I just think there is something mesmerizing about it, so I ask the children some questions to help draw their attention to this cover.

Look closely at this cover.  Knowing what you already know about the Watts Towers, why do you think the illustrator chose to create a cover that looks like this? Why does the title look like it's made of tiles? What do call this form of art? (mosaic)  What are your thoughts about the cover?  Do you like it?  Why or why not?

I try to ask them questions that I know will conjure up some interesting thoughts and ideas.  It helps them think about what they have learned and also asks them to connect their learning. They also have to evaluate their thoughts, which is a higher order thinking process.


Guided Practice

15 minutes

I call the children back to the reading corner and read the book Dream Something Big.  Along the way I stop and ask them about the differences and similarities to the book The Wonderful Towers of Watts that we read in this lesson.  We also talk about how this story is told from a neighbor's point of view to make the story more personal and interesting.


Partner Work

15 minutes

After reading the book, we focus our discussion comparing and contrasting the two versions of the story.  I quickly split the children into partner groups by using My Clock Buddies.  Click here for the directions, and click here for a short demo of the it in action.  

After they are in partner groups, I ask them to discuss the following questions.

What things did you notice that were the same in the two stories?

The books were about the same man and the same towers, but there were differences.  What were some of the differences that you noticed?

After the partners discuss their ideas for a few minutes, I hand out a Venn diagram recording sheet.  The partners work together to fill in the Venn diagram.  Venn diagrams are used when you want to compare two things.  The children write the titles of one of the books at the top of one of the circles, and the other title at the top of the other.  Then they write the differences in the outer circle.  I make sure to tell the children that when you write something on one side, that you need to write about the same characteristic on the other side.  Then they write the things that are the same in the middle where the circles overlap. We have done Venn diagrams during our reading groups, so I don't need to explain how to do them.  If you have not done them before, you might want to stop and explain the diagram to the children.  Click for student sample 1 and student sample 2.

Then we discuss their ideas collectively as a class (see sharing differences video).  



10 minutes

We have learned about Simon Rodia and his towers in three different formats. The knowledge the children have gained really helps lay the foundations for knowing about part of the building process.  

Then I have them make some inferences from the knowledge that they have gained.

 How do you think that Rodia knew how to build towers, but did not learn about it in school?

Thinking about the process that Rodia went through helps them think like an engineer.  Not everything needs to be taught, we certainly can learn valuable lessons by trial and error.  Perhaps this is how Rodia knew what he did, since he did not have any formal schooling in engineering.  

I pull up the Essential Question on the Smartboard to end our discussion.  

Take a look at our essential question.  After having read both books about the Watts Towers, do you think you have learned anything more about what makes a tower strong and stable?  What design principles do you think Simon Rodia knew?

After we have finished our discussion, the children glue their venn diagram in their science notebooks.

In the next lesson, we will elaborate on the ideas and knowledge gained to form some ideas about structures and building.