- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
Students will identify sensory details while reading Gary Paulsen's memoirs.
- Demonstrate the ability to read independently for extended periods of time to derive pleasure and to gain information.
- Draw conclusions and make inferences about the text.
- Use skimming and scanning techniques.
- Analyze figurative language: imagery.
- Use graphic representations such as charts, graphs, pictures, and graphic organizers as information sources and as a means of organizing information and events logically.
- Classify and organize information by categorizing and sequencing.
- Excerpts from a Gary Paulsen memoir, like Woodsong, Older Run, or My Life in Dog Years.
- Post-it note pads
- Paper and pencil
- Sensory Details Diagram (PDF) printable
Set Up and Prepare
- Read the memoir(s) to identify excerpts that exemplify imagery that you will want to provide for the students.
- Prepare student copies of the excerpts of Paulsen's memoir.
- Gather a Post-it notepad for each group.
- Copy the Sensory Details Diagram printable for each group.
- Determine groups of students based on your own criteria and student needs.
- If desired, gather multiple copies of Gary Paulsen's books so that the students can independently read a variety of his work. See my Booklist for suggestions.
Part I - Introducing Sensory Details / Imagery
Step 1: Begin by having the students name the five senses: seeing, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.
Step 2: Review with students that a memoir is a personal narrative describing an event in the author's life.
Step 3: Explain to the students that they will be reading an excerpt of a memoir written by Gary Paulsen. Ask the students if they have ever read a book by Gary Paulsen. Remind the students that most of Paulsen's books like Hatchet, Dancing Carl, and The River are fictional accounts of events that occurred in his life.
Step 4: Distribute the excerpts and allow students time to read. They may need to finish either as homework if you are using multiple copies or during the next class period, if necessary.
Part II - Classifying the Information
Step 5: Remind the students that sensory details can be written in two different ways: literally and figuratively. If the story says, "I tasted the soup that was hot," the detail is literal. If the story says, "I tasted the soup that burned my tongue like a flame," the detail is figurative as the speaker is not eating fire, but the reader can actually picture how hot the soup is. Explain to the students that the goal is to identify imagery, which is a sensory detail used metaphorically.
Step 6: While assembled in their groups, direct students to the Post-it notepads. Instruct students to reread each excerpt and decide which selections are examples of figurative language. Explain that every time they read a description that helps them to actually see, hear, taste, smell, or feel what is being described, they must take a Post-it note and attach it to the quote on the page.
Step 7: Encourage students to work collaboratively within their group to help each other clarify and analyze the language to determine if it is literal or used figuratively. After they have identified all the sensory details flagged by the Post-it notes, then they need to copy the actual detail from the excerpt onto the Post-it. Upon completion, they should have a collection of Post-it notes.
Step 8: Distribute the Sensory Details Diagram printable to each group.
Step 9: Instruct the groups to review each Post-it with the sensory detail and do one of two things:
a. Discuss the quote as literal and discard the Post-it note.
b. Decide the detail is figurative and place the Post-it on the following areas of the Sensory Details Diagram:
i. on the eyes for details using sight
ii. on the ears for details using sound
iii. on the nose for details using smell
iv. on the tongue for details using taste
v. on the hand for details using touch
Step 10: If every student read the same excerpt, have each group share one detail for sight, then one detail for sound, then one detail for smell, and so on while the class questions or confirms the choices. This would further reinforce the acquisition of this skill. If all the students read different excerpts, then have each group rotate from table to table to observe and discuss details on the group's completed Sensory Details Diagram.
Supporting All Learners
Struggling readers may need to read selections on an easier reading level, while advanced readers may need a more difficult reading selection. In either case, try to make sure to use texts written by Gary Paulsen as all of his writing is rich with sensory details.
- Using a large sheet of butcher paper or a piece of poster board, have the groups draw the top half of a person, similar to the Sensory Details Diagram. Then, have students copy the quotes from the sticky notes onto this hard copy. Afterwards, display these imagery people around your classroom as a reminder of the skill, which will help students complete the culminating activity in Lesson Two.
- Song lyrics, especially from ballads written in the 1970s and 80s, are rich in sensory detail. Bring in recordings of this music, play the songs, and have students complete an individual Sensory Details Diagram by placing an "X" on the sense when they hear the detail. Afterwards, give the correct tally to the students, and offer a prize for the student with the correct number in the correct places.
Have students complete a sensory details chart or journal for homework. In this journal, students write down examples of what they hear, see, smell, taste, and touch. At the beginning of the next class period, students then use this information to write a poem, including similes, metaphors, and other examples of figurative language as a review.
- Read a Gary Paulsen excerpt.
- Identify sensory details within an excerpt.
- Identify sensory details using a Sensory Details Diagram.
Did the Post-it notes help students better engage in the lesson? Sometimes this technique encourages active reading in a way that adolescents cannot resist. How was the discussion in the groups? Did everyone participate? Why or why not? Did the students have an opportunity to see how other groups selected sensory details? How did that go? Did you observe most of the students accurately identifying sensory details? What will you do with the students who did not complete this assignment successfully before the next stage of the lesson? Since the next lesson is also group work, would it help to put these students together so that you could work with them separately from the students who can work independently?
- While collecting the Sensory Details Diagram from each group, place each in a sheet protector to protect the Post-it notes and their place on the diagram. Check for accurate placement of the notes either informally or formally to determine whether or not the students have attained the skill.
- Observe students while discussing in groups and ask questions that will direct students to correcting assumptions about their examples. Be careful not to answer the questions for them as the self-discovery will help the students better understand the skill.