Teaching With Out of My Mind
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Out of My Mind, written by multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper, is a story filled with life lessons. Eleven-year-old Melody, who cannot walk or talk, takes on life's biggest challenge as a fifth grader — being "normal." Readers will be enthralled by Melody’s journey towards self-understanding as well as discovering a way to simply be heard.
Draper’s words are brilliant. She brings to life a fictional character who students can draw a picture of in their minds. Every page is written with vivid details and beautiful imagery. Draper shares a story that connected my students to themselves and others. So many teachable moments were inspired by the words in this book.
Below are only a few of the many ideas available for you to think about when exploring this wonderful read:
Write "cerebral palsy" on chart paper. Students can research what it means and share their thoughts on the chart.
Invite students to share their feelings on words. Ask, "What role do words play in our lives?" "Are words valued more verbally or written?" "What makes you say this?" This can be a journal topic and a pre-reading activity for students to start thinking about how we use words. Additionally ask the question, "If you could not talk or hardly move your body, how would you communicate your words?"
Have students research the author and then create blog posts that they share to the world. Classmates can read and comment on each other's work.
There are a number of websites that offer great resources for during the book while your students are reading. There are questions to reflect upon, activities for students to complete, and comprehension quizzes for assessment. A resource I found to be most useful was Sharon Draper’s website. There you will find a study guide with discussion questions, reading projects, prompts for writing, and so much more.
One of the most powerful activities my kids engaged in came from one of the writing prompts. Students were asked to craft a persuasive piece on their perspective of Melody. Do students believe Melody is just like the other fifth graders? Do they believe she is different? What evidence from the text could they use to support their answers?
The writing that was shared was powerful. From reading student papers and seeing the connection, the empathy my class felt for Melody was apparent. I highly suggest looking into the site and finding a few activities of your own to try with your class.
After the Reading
As I mentioned earlier, the empathy that students felt for Melody became apparent while they were reading this novel. Because Melody could not talk or hardly move, she had no way of communicating her thoughts until she receives a device called the Medi-Talker, a keyboard that allows Melody to “speak” through punching keys on a screen. The challenge I gave my students was to take what they knew about Melody and create a Medi-Talker for her.
Where to Start
Students started with notes they took on character traits using a Scholastic resource. I saw this on Top Teacher blogger Genia Connell's post, "Teaching Character Traits in Reader's Workshop" (a great read if you haven't seen it yet). The students introduced their topic with this checklist. They pointed out the traits they felt Melody had and shared examples in a class discussion. The checklist was a good visual for students. It made them think of a variety of traits rather than them all sharing the exact same one.
We then went more in-depth with the character analysis chart. Keep in mind both of these charts were used over a period of time. We would revisit them before and after we read. The further along we got into the book, the more we could really analyze Melody as a character. I loved that this chart included "figurative language used by the character." Draper's ability to drizzle just the right amount of figurative language throughout the book was amazing. Students were able to chart and analyze the many examples of figurative language that Melody used.
After studying Melody, students were able to design a Medi-Talker based on their beliefs of what she needed. Instead of having students share first, my teaching partner and I decided to partner our students up and have them role play a couple of scenarios using their Medi-Talkers.
We couldn’t believe our eyes as we walked around two classes of silent fingers pointing. Students were engaged and at times discouraged. They couldn’t get to the words they wanted or point to them fast enough. Many things they wanted to say they couldn’t because they didn’t have it on their board. If they couldn’t spell the word correctly their partner might have misinterpreted what they were trying to say. This activity lasted only 15 minutes, so there was enough time left for partners to critique each other.
After the activity students went back to their notebooks to reflect. I wanted them to share their design process and how their Medi-Talker came to be, so I asked:
What was something in your design that would benefit Melody?
After working with their partner and being critiqued, might revisions be needed?
What might have been difficult for you?
Watching the kids connect with a character and really work at creating a device that would improve her life was really enjoyable for me. It showed that they were kids of character. It showed that they understood Melody and how much it mattered to make something that she could benefit from.
Out of My Mind is available through Scholastic Reading Club. I highly recommend you read this book if not for your class, then for the love of reading.
Have you read this book with your class? I’d love to hear how you incorporated it into your classroom.
Thank you for reading!