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Grades 3-5: Perfect Pairs

Pair fiction with nonfiction—and watch comprehension soar.

  • Grades: 3–5

Animal Activism

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, and Colo’s Story: The Life of One Grand Gorilla, by Nancy Roe Pimm

After reading the books together as a class, have students compare the lives of the two gorillas. Create a simple table on the whiteboard, overhead, or blackboard where students can fill in information for each animal, including living conditions, social relationships/friends, and food. Next, research a local or international animal rescue group or zoo. Brainstorm ways to raise money to donate to the organization or to “adopt” an animal. Have the students create brochures to hand out with facts about and illustrations of the animals. Extension: Have students write a short story from an animal in the zoo’s point of view.

Mapping Washington, D.C.

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: The Kid Who Became President, by Dan Gutman, and How the U.S. Government Works, by Syl Sobel

Discuss what it would be like if kids ran the country. Invite students to share what their goals would be if they were elected president. After reading the paired texts, divide students into small teams and have them work together to create a large class map of Washington, D.C. (Each group can work on one section of butcher paper, and the sections can be taped together when they’re finished.) Have each team illustrate and label places such as the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Supreme Court. Students should include a brief description of who works at each building and what kind of work goes on there. To take learning further, include important landmarks such as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and a brief description of how they came to be.

“Welcome to Our State!”

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord, and 50 States: A State-by-State Tour of the USA, by Erin McHugh

In some books, setting is a key component of the story. Touch Blue, which takes place on an island off the coast of Maine, is one such book. After reading the book as a group, discuss how a writer can use a sense of place to create a richer story or how the setting might affect the plot. For example, Touch Blue includes rich details about the island’s lobster industry and how it permeates life there. Next, have students create a class magazine about their state. They can include fun facts, geographical information, bios of famous citizens, crossword puzzles, or newspaper stories they write about goings-on in their state. Make copies of the magazine to share with other classes.

It Was a Dark and Twisty Ending . . .

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (poem), by Roald Dahl, and Who Was Roald Dahl?, by True Kelley

Perennial kids’ favorite Roald Dahl was known for his dark humor and unexpected endings. After reading Kelley’s biography of Dahl, share Dahl’s poem with the class. Discuss how its ending is different from the traditional ending of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and how and why fairy tales often give a simplistic, one-sided view of a conflict. Read other twisted fairy tales that turn classic stories on their heads. Next, invite students to rewrite the ending of their favorite fairy tale or nursery rhyme, giving it a Dahl-like twist, and then share their stories aloud. Have students study the illustrations by Dahl’s longtime illustrator, Quentin Blake, then illustrate their own stories and publish them for the class library or the next open house.

Report From the Stars

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, by Nathan Bransford, and 13 Planets: The Latest View of the Solar System, by David A. Aguilar

Nothing captures the imagination like space travel. This is especially true since the rover Curiosity landed on Mars. After kids go on a space caper with Jacob Wonderbar, have them switch gears by reading or watching accounts of the landing on Mars and then reading Aguilar’s book. Then, have students break into small groups and research Mars or another planet and prepare a “documentary” about landing on their chosen planet. They can interview “experts” and create models of their planet and the spacecraft—or even give reports from the surface. Videotape the presentations.

I Have a Dream

Fiction-Nonfiction Pairing: The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine, and We March, by Shane W. Evans

Though the civil rights movement has transformed life in the U.S., there are still injustices in our country and elsewhere. After sharing the paired texts and listening to (or reading) Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, invite students to pick something they’d like to change about the world. Then, challenge them to write their own speeches. For example: I have a dream that someday everyone will recycle. Encourage them to use facts and personal stories to support their cause. End with students reading their speeches aloud.

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  • Subjects:
    Reading, Science, Social Studies
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