Painting a Picture

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2; CCRA.W.5

Mentor Text: Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales

What They’ll Learn: Word choice in informational writing

What To Do: Viva Frida is a colorful exploration of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s life, as well as a great example of the power of verbs. Read the story aloud, pausing to emphasize the dreamlike illustrations and strong verbs on every page. Point out that verbs are such powerful tools that this author was able to tell a story primarily using action words and images.

Then, share some of Frida Kahlo’s paintings. Works suitable for children include her famous self-portraits with monkeys, as well as Me and My Parrots and Fruit of Life. Have each student write a descriptive paragraph about one painting using vivid, powerful verbs and adjectives. Instead of writing “A parrot sits,” they could say that the parrot perches, rests, or clings; instead of saying “Frida looks,” they could say that Frida stares, glares, or gazes.

Encourage students to use a thesaurus to replace words in their writing when they’re stumped. To complete the assignment, display the finished paragraphs around the paintings described, pointing out how each student noticed something different about each painting.

Persuasion You Can Taste

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1

Mentor Text: Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, by Laurie Halse Anderson

What They’ll Learn: Persuasion in opinion writing

What To Do: Students in Melissa Dalton’s class discovered that persuasive techniques may have created their most delicious holiday. After reading Thank You, Sarah, Dalton, a third-grade reading specialist at New Kent Elementary School in Virginia, has her students discuss Sarah Hale’s character traits (hint: She tried for 38 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday), and then make a list of what Hale did to convince President Lincoln. Students then talk about the elements of a good persuasive letter.

Dalton, who blogs at Don’t Let the Teacher Stay Up Late, extends the activity by reading aloud Hale’s actual letter to President Lincoln (available at this, which is full of persuasive goodies like a clearly stated topic sentence, reasons and details to support her claim, and a call to action.

Dalton then has her students follow Hale’s lead and write letters about something they’d like to see happen. “We wrote letters to the superintendent, principal, CEOs,” says Dalton. “The students felt so empowered.”

Braille Biography

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2

Mentor Text: Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle, by Holly M. Barry

What They’ll Learn: Time-order transitions

What To Do: To begin, read Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle aloud, pointing out time-order phrases like “Six months later” and “When Helen was six years old.” Tell students you’ll write a class summary together—in Braille! Ask small groups to share an event in Keller’s life with the class and write it on construction paper in a complete sentence. Pass out photocopies of the Braille key in the book, and have groups draw the appropriate Braille dot pattern underneath each letter of each word. Next, have them use the end of a pencil tip to gently poke a hole into each dot from the back of the paper, creating raised bumps.

Help students tape their projects to a wall, arranging the events from top to bottom in chronological order. Then, have volunteers read aloud a part of the summary while following along in Braille with their fingertips. Wrap up by having students add time-order transitions to the summary. 

Dancing Through Descriptions

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3; CCRA.L.5

Mentor Text: Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, by Maria Tallchief, with Rosemary Wells

What They’ll Learn: Voice

What To Do: Keith Schoch, who taught third grade for a decade and blogs at Teach with Picture Books, has found many great books for Women’s History Month, but Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina has “words as lyrical as dance itself.” (Schoch now teaches sixth grade ELA in New Jersey.)

Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina, has filled her autobiography with original similes and metaphors: “The secret of music is that it is something like a house with many rooms” and “My first simple exercises were like the frame of a house before it is built.” Her inventive descriptions are an excellent springboard for students’ own autobiographical projects, says Schoch. Invite kids to use Tallchief’s language as a model as they write autobiographies about discovering their own talents or passions.

Dialogue of Change

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3; CCRA.W.7

Mentor Text: I Am Rosa Parks, by Brad Meltzer

What They’ll Learn: Dialogue and point of view

What To Do: Read aloud the main narrative of I Am Rosa Parks, inviting various students to read the speech bubbles with expression. Then, ask them to share ways this biography is different from others they’ve read (dialogue, first person, comic book–style illustrations). Have students point out specific examples of realistic speech, such as “Uh-oh” or “C’mon.”

Then, invite students to find three to five events from another famous woman’s life and describe each event at the top of a sheet of paper from that woman’s point of view, using the pronoun I. Students can illustrate each event and add speech bubbles with realistic dialogue. Remind them that their dialogue should include words people might actually say, as well as reveal important emotions and historical details. Have students title their stories “I am ______,” and add them to a class biography library. 

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