Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1; SL.1
What To Do: If you walked into Wendy Raymond’s classroom while her students were reading Tuck Everlasting, you might wonder if you had accidentally stumbled into a courtroom. That’s because Raymond’s students’ in-depth study of the novel culminates in a mock trial.
In the activity, students learn about the trial process and take on roles from prosecutor to witness to juror. “The trials make it easy to differentiate instruction due to the variety of tasks and skills,” says Raymond. The sixth- and seventh-grade ELA teacher at Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has even had a “judge” (an assistant dean from a law school) preside over the proceedings.
In the mock trial, the defendant is Mae Tuck, who is accused of killing the “man in the yellow suit.” (In the novel, Mae delivers a lethal blow to the man to protect her family and their secret of immortality.) As part of the trial, Raymond says, her students often choose to explore the idea of whether Mae Tuck is a hero or a murderer.
Raymond doesn’t confine the mock trials to just Tuck Everlasting. She has done the same activity with other books, including Max the Mighty and The Outsiders. “Over the years, the mock trials have served as culminating events for the study of literature, persuasive writing, public speaking, drama, and law,” Raymond notes. “Former students frequently remark that being part of the mock trials was the highlight of their time in middle school.”
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3
What To Do: Stacy Nockowitz, a middle school librarian at Columbus Academy in Gahanna, Ohio, ties in her students’ study of The Outsiders with a unit on peer relations. She uses a quadrant activity to help her students explore the book’s characters and their relationships. Nockowitz begins by making a four-quadrant grid on the floor using masking tape. Then, she labels each axis. On the horizontal axis, she labels one side good person and the other bad person. On the vertical axis, she labels one side makes good choices and labels the other makes bad choices. When you introduce the activity to students, you should show them which quadrant represents a good person who makes good choices, which one represents a good person who makes bad choices, and so on.
“It gets students thinking about how people are multidimensional and how two seemingly opposite characteristics can exist in the same person,” Nockowitz says.
Next, Nockowitz calls out the name of a character from the book—Ponyboy, Darry, Dally, Cherry, Johnny—and tells students to move to the quadrant where they think the character belongs. She then asks students to explain their decisions, as well as how these characters influence other characters in the book.
Nockowitz says the resulting discussions often lead students to change their minds about how they originally classified a character. “This kind of activity lends itself to the students writing some great reflections about themselves and their peer relationships,” she says.
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3
What To Do: Erin Cobb, a middle school teacher at Our Lady Queen of Heaven School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, says The Giver is the perfect novel for teaching symbolism.
After reading the book, Cobb discusses symbolism with students and assigns them to make Jonas’s Memory Scrapbook. “Students have to choose symbols to represent the novel as a whole, individual characters, the climax, and other parts of the novel,” Cobb explains. Students dedicate one page per symbol, including a picture of the symbol and a paragraph describing it. These symbols include a robot to stand for Jonas at the beginning of the novel and a bird to symbolize the story’s resolution. “So that the project isn’t too overwhelming, I give students a very detailed planning guide and rubric,” Cobb says. To download these free materials, which can be used with any novel, visit Cobb’s blog at imlovinlit.blogspot.com/.
Where the Red Fern Grows
Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2; SL.1
What To Do: Determination is a strong central theme in Where the Red Fern Grows. Lauren Kane Eskovitz, an arts integration coordinator at Takoma Education Campus in Washington, D.C., designed a lesson to pre-teach this theme prior to reading the novel.
Eskovitz begins by inviting students to explore what determination means to them, including what causes someone to be determined to reach a goal, what might prevent someone from succeeding, and how that person would overcome those obstacles. From there, Eskovitz launches into a number of group activities, including one she calls “frozen images.” She puts students in groups of four and tasks each group with arranging themselves in a freeze-frame tableau to show what determination looks like. Groups have only a few minutes to do so, and all group members have to be included.
Afterward, the groups share their freeze-frames with the class. Eskovitz asks questions to help students process the activity, including the following: What did these images have in common? How did they differ from the definition of determination discussed earlier? What were some of the obstacles seen in these images? The activity is a fun way for students to fully understand determination—both as it relates to their own lives and how it might apply to the characters in the novel.