Tale of Two Stories

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.3; RL.5.3; SL.4.5; SL.5.5; ISTE Standards for Students 7: Global Collaborator

What You Need: Text showing the same situation from different points of view (e.g., Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume); Internet access; Flipgrid or other video communication program

What to Do: To help his students understand character development and point of view, sixth-grade teacher Brian Cook has them create and share video journals based on characters.

First, the class reads and discusses a shared text. “We’ll talk about ‘What does a character see?’ ‘How would he or she react?’” says Cook, who teaches at Pocomoke Middle School in Pocomoke City, Maryland. He challenges students to use clues from the text—including descriptions of the characters and the way they handle various situations—to infer how a character might react in a given scenario.

Cook then assigns partners. He likes to pair his students with their peers in another classroom or city to give them the opportunity to learn from those with different knowledge and experiences. He has students collaborate via Google Docs and Flipgrid, a video program that allows them to record and share responses. Each student takes on the role of a character in the text and creates a video journal involving an incident from the book.

If you’re using Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, for example, one of the partners would reenact a scenario from the point of view of Peter, the older brother. The other student would create a made-up response as Fudge, the younger brother, based on what he or she knows about the character. Finally, classmates view and critique one another’s video journals, watching for word choice, eye contact, expression, and hand gestures; together, the class discusses how those details reveal character.

Creative Communicators

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1; ISTE Standards for Students 6: Creative Communicator

What You Need: Video clips of commercials; digital recording equipment; Action!: Writing Your Own Play, by Nancy Loewen; various Readers Theater scripts

What to Do: Instead of assigning a persuasive essay, fourth-grade teacher Kelly Malloy has her students watch, analyze, and create their own commercials.

“We watch some commercials to see how they persuade consumers to buy a particular cereal or toy. We talk about how they persuade you their product is cool,” says Malloy, who teaches at Fernley Elementary School in Nevada. Students then work in groups to create commercials.

After discussing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating commercials and videos (gathering props, planning scenes, and so on), students work together to brainstorm their arguments and supportive details, and then write a script. They use Readers Theater plays as mentor texts to explore what needs to be included in a script, and Malloy shares the book Action!: Writing Your Own Play with the class. Students also take on various roles as they work to produce the commercial: One or two serve as director, while others take on acting parts or serve as film crew members.

Student engagement soars when she teaches persuasion this way, Malloy says, in part because so many of her students avidly follow various YouTube personalities and want to create their own videos. “I point out that they don’t just film something and [put] it up online,” she says. 

Talk of the Town

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2; RL.5.2; RL.4.9; SL.4.3; ISTE Standards for Students 6: Creative Communicator

What You Need: Various texts with strong themes (e.g., Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell; The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo; Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff); video clips of talk shows; digital recording equipment

What to Do: Show a brief clip of a student-friendly talk show, such as The Ellen Show. Discuss the conversational question-and-answer format, noting that the host’s questions lead the guest to share information with the audience. Have students think about the host’s pre-show prep, which may include watching, listening to, or reading the guest’s latest work.

Then, divide the class into small groups and assign each one a text; they will use this to create a talk show that will reveal the theme of the text. The group picks a host and decides which “guests” (characters from the text, portrayed by other group members) to feature on the show, and they work together to write interview questions (about plot, character interactions, motivation, etc.) and guest responses. Possible questions include: “Why did you respond to [a particular character] the way you did?” “If you were to do it over, would you react differently?” and “What was the biggest obstacle you faced, and how did you deal with it?” When groups present their talk shows, the rest of the class—the “audience”—must watch and listen carefully to determine the theme.

Find Your Voice

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.6; RL.5.6; ISTE Standards for Students 1: Empowered Learner

What You Need: Various texts featuring at least two characters, such as Messing Around on the Monkey Bars: and Other School Poems for Two Voices, by Betsy Franco, or “The Lunch Room,” a two-voice student poem from ReadWriteThink; digital tools such as Google Docs and Google Hangouts

What to Do: To help students understand point of view, Cook starts with a baseball analogy. “In baseball, you have a pitcher and a batter,” he tells his students. He asks them what the pitcher’s goal is: to strike out the batter. And the batter’s goal: to hit the ball. Students realize “they’re looking at the same topic through different lenses,” he explains.

Cook then helps his students apply that insight to the texts. He shows them performances of two-voice poems, and pairs each student with a peer in another class elsewhere in the country. The pairs are assigned a text (e.g., Messing Around on the Monkey Bars) and are asked to think about how two characters respond to the same situation.

Students then collaborate via Skype or Google Hangouts to discuss character similarities and differences, as well as details that reveal their responses. (If the text doesn’t include specific details, they are encouraged to make inferences based on clues.)

Each pair then writes a two-voice poem to portray their characters’ responses and points of view. Cook reminds them that similarities—moments when characters are feeling the same thing—are unison lines, to be read together. Differences in point of view and perspective are expressed via solo lines.

Final performances of the poems are projected and are critiqued by students in both classes.



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Photo: Courtesy of Brian Cook