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January 19, 2018

Struggling Middle School Readers Thrive With I Survived Series

By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 by Lauren Tarshis is the newest spectacular book in the I Survived series. Like all the I Survived booksI Survived the American Revolution, 1776 is a great literary resource for engaging reluctant readers with complex tasks, while scaffolding toward grade-level complexity in my sixth-grade classroom.  

    I designed the before, during, and after reading activities below with middle school students who read and write below grade level in mind. Feel free to complete these activities in sequence, or select one focus skill that targets your students’ needs.

    Scholastic has many resources to augment the I Survived series. For the American Revolution book, I'm pleased to announce an upcoming virtual field trip! You and your students are invited to join I Survived series author Lauren Tarshis for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum of the American Revolution as she explores real stories of resilience and courage on and off the battlefield. Sign up now to receive additional activities and reminders of the webcast.

    Fellow blogger Genia Connell has created great supporting materials to use in your classroom to bring real excitement to the virtual field trip. Check out her post, "An I Survived Virtual Field Trip."

     

    Scholastic Scope magazine's play, Girl. Fighter. Hero, is a story that thematically connects to I Survived the American Revolution, 1776. Use this play to target fluency and intonation skills while setting students up for text-to-text connections. Normally only available to subscribers, this play is available now for free!

    (Play courtesy of Scope, November 2015)

    Digital Dialogue Journals

    Digital Dialogue Journals are used with most of the activities below. Students work in pairs, and teachers can join in the fun too. Click through for more details, but basically, the way a dialogue journal works is like this: Using a shared file, students (and teachers) communicate online, writing letters to each other about a topic and responding back, asking new questions of each other. It is easy to manage by selecting 5 or 6 students a day to journal with, rotating through a group of 20-24 students by the end of the week. Dialogue journals have many benefits:

    • The digital platform motivates middle school students to discuss literature.
    • Students transition from group discussions to individual accountability.
    • Struggling writers express their great verbal ideas in writing.
    • Teachers monitor student comprehension and clarify confusion.
    • Teachers model correct grammar usage or more succinct writing.
    • Teachers pose questions to inspire deeper thinking.

    Download the Dialogue Journal Teacher’s Guide for more detailed instructions, including a printable for teachers who prefer to use classroom journals instead of digital journals.

    BEFORE READING ACTIVITIES

    Building Background Knowledge

    Thanks to the folks at Scope your students can view Time Machine: American Revolution: 1776-1783, an engaging video that builds background knowledge of the colonial period — essential information that struggling readers need to better comprehend the historical period portrayed in the novel.

     

    (Video courtesy of Scope, November 2015)

    Dialogue Journal Activity #1: Discuss how the colonial times are similar to and different from your life today.

     

    Using Grammar to Teach Vocabulary

    If your students struggle from a vocabulary deficit, try infusing rich academic terms that go beyond those used in the book. Download the word wall and a student handout version of the list: “Useful Words to Know When Discussing the American Revolution.”

    Merging vocabulary and grammar improves comprehension and writing skills. Use the “I Survived: Mentor Sentence Bell Ringer” to analyze Tarshis’s use of em dashes when defining challenging words in her writing. If you are not familiar with teaching grammar with mentor sentences, check out my September posts: “Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences: Part 1” and “Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences: Part 2.” 

     

    After completing the bell ringer, students practice their grammar knowledge to complete the I Survived Vocabulary student handout, defining the words and using them in sentences that mimic the author’s sentence structure.

    And, to make your life easier, you can use the printable word wall to post your classroom for quick reference. Before long, students will be using rich vocabulary in class discussions and in their writing.

    DURING READING ACTIVITIES

    Determining the Underlying Meaning of Figurative Language [RL.4]

    Tarshis’s style of writing is full of figurative language. The imagery grabs students’ interest, seamlessly transporting them into historical periods. However, many of my developing readers are literal readers, so my goal is to encourage my literal readers to pause and think about what the author is “really” saying.

    Use the Figuratively Speaking handout to guide students through the process of analyzing different types of figurative language and to determine the author’s underlying meaning when making these comparisons.

    Dialogue Journal #2: Reread the sentence from page 15: Storch and Marston had finished their cake and were puffing on cigars. Rewrite the sentence using figurative language to create imagery, emphasizing how the men eat and how they puff on cigars.

     

    Analyzing the Characters We Love to Love [RL.1, RL.3]

    Many struggling readers do not stop to think about why they like or dislike a character much less consider whether or not the author creates believable characters. This activity focuses on character development. Begin by asking students to list what they like about their favorite characters. If they struggle with identifying a character, show an excerpt from the Disney movie Holes based on the book by Louis Sachar. They should conclude that believable, interesting characters are not perfect; they are real — with real flaws.

    Often, when analyzing character traits, students select irrelevant details to support their ideas. For example, a student might claim a character is courageous. However, the detail selected demonstrates perseverance, not courage. This activity double-dips, exploring characterization, the art of creating realistic, believable characters. After, they use relevant details to support their ideas.

    Students work independently to complete the Characterization handout and then shift to group work to compare their answers. Answers will vary depending on the perspective. Nathan can be described as trustworthy. Eliza would agree, but Uncle Storch may disagree. If they have relevant details, either idea can be supported. Enjoy the rich discussions.

    Dialogue Journal #3: According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resilient is “tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Would you describe Nathan as resilient? Explain why or why not.

     

    Analyzing Suspenseful Text Structure [RL.3; RL.5]

    All of the I Survived books are great for analyzing text structure, an area that many of my students struggle with. The opening chapter is a climatic flashback that immediately grabs the students’ attention. It opens in the middle of a raging battle, and then ends with a six-word sentence: “And then the world went black.” Wow! What just happened?

    (Excerpt from I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 by Lauren Tarshis)

    Have students identify how the author signifies the shift in time with the chapter headings, something struggling readers often skip. Don’t stop at identifying the shifts. In small groups, students discuss why the author would start a book with an exciting, climatic scene, and then shift to the past.

    In addition to flashbacks, varying sentence structure contributes to the increasing suspense in this chapter. Take a look at the unusual sentence structure in the first chapter: a string of one-sentence paragraphs. One-word paragraphs! Who does this? Students learn that when authors bend or break a rule, it is for a reason. The first chapter is a playground for learning how to create exciting, fast-paced scenes in their own writing.

    Sometimes, students overlook the significance of a particular chapter. In chapter 10, Paul describes war strategies including the advantageous setting that the Americans have in the battle at Boston, which poses a question: Why does the author interrupt Nathan’s story to reveal a story from Paul’s past? Explain that these are questions a good reader ponders while reading. Encourage them to think about this as they read further.

    After reading chapter 14, the beginning of the Battle of Brooklyn, reread chapter 10 and discuss how the chapters relate. Chapter 10 foreshadows the disadvantage the colonists have against the British during the Battle of Brooklyn. The description of the setting in chapter 10 contributes to the conflicts, increasing the suspense in chapter 14, the climax.

    Dialogue Journal #4: Nathan often reflects upon the stories of a pirate named Slash O’Shea as told to him by his father. Why does the author weave details of the pirate’s life into Nathan’s story?

     

    AFTER READING ACTIVITY

    Exploring Different Perspectives [RL.6]

    Explain that the novel is written in a third-person point of view, from the perspective of colonist and patriot Nathan. Because of this, Nathan is viewed a hero. But, what about the British perspective? A British narrator would consider Nathan a traitor, the enemy.

    Use the Point of View handout to prompt student thinking beyond the text, to consider the advantages and disadvantages of war from both the British and Nathan’s perspectives. Use historical details woven throughout the novel and the author’s notes, Tarshis’s research journey, found in the back of the book.

    Dialogue Journal #5: After considering the advantages and disadvantages from both the colonists and the British perspectives, debate who you think should have won the war.

    Increasing Text Complexity

    As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 scaffolds toward grade-level complex text. Below are thematically paired resources for increasing text complexity as you move forward in your classroom.

    • Girl. Fighter. Hero. (Scope, 2015) is normally only available to Scope subscribers, but the folks at Scope are giving you this priceless resource for free to use in your classroom. It is perfect for focusing on fluency and intonation. The exciting historical fictional drama is based on the true story of Sybil Ludington, who in 1777 went on a Paul Revere-like ride to warn the militia that "The British are coming!" It is perfect for comparing Nathan and Sybil’s character traits while exploring the female roles in the fight for independence.
    • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is a wonderfully illustrated book of the classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere's Ride, that students will really enjoy. The previous passages provide crucial background knowledge supporting an in-depth comprehension of this complex narrative poem.
    • Heads up, Scope subscribers! Tarshis wrote “Blood, Smoke, and Freedom: A True Story of the American Revolution," a thrilling nonfiction article for the upcoming March 2018 issue of Scope. In the narrative, nonfiction feature article, your students will experience the Battle of Brooklyn through the eyes of a 16-year old soldier. You will swoon over the awesome teacher resources. If you don’t have a subscription, try Scope in your classroom for free for 30 days

     

    I Survived series resources:

     

    I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 by Lauren Tarshis is the newest spectacular book in the I Survived series. Like all the I Survived booksI Survived the American Revolution, 1776 is a great literary resource for engaging reluctant readers with complex tasks, while scaffolding toward grade-level complexity in my sixth-grade classroom.  

    I designed the before, during, and after reading activities below with middle school students who read and write below grade level in mind. Feel free to complete these activities in sequence, or select one focus skill that targets your students’ needs.

    Scholastic has many resources to augment the I Survived series. For the American Revolution book, I'm pleased to announce an upcoming virtual field trip! You and your students are invited to join I Survived series author Lauren Tarshis for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum of the American Revolution as she explores real stories of resilience and courage on and off the battlefield. Sign up now to receive additional activities and reminders of the webcast.

    Fellow blogger Genia Connell has created great supporting materials to use in your classroom to bring real excitement to the virtual field trip. Check out her post, "An I Survived Virtual Field Trip."

     

    Scholastic Scope magazine's play, Girl. Fighter. Hero, is a story that thematically connects to I Survived the American Revolution, 1776. Use this play to target fluency and intonation skills while setting students up for text-to-text connections. Normally only available to subscribers, this play is available now for free!

    (Play courtesy of Scope, November 2015)

    Digital Dialogue Journals

    Digital Dialogue Journals are used with most of the activities below. Students work in pairs, and teachers can join in the fun too. Click through for more details, but basically, the way a dialogue journal works is like this: Using a shared file, students (and teachers) communicate online, writing letters to each other about a topic and responding back, asking new questions of each other. It is easy to manage by selecting 5 or 6 students a day to journal with, rotating through a group of 20-24 students by the end of the week. Dialogue journals have many benefits:

    • The digital platform motivates middle school students to discuss literature.
    • Students transition from group discussions to individual accountability.
    • Struggling writers express their great verbal ideas in writing.
    • Teachers monitor student comprehension and clarify confusion.
    • Teachers model correct grammar usage or more succinct writing.
    • Teachers pose questions to inspire deeper thinking.

    Download the Dialogue Journal Teacher’s Guide for more detailed instructions, including a printable for teachers who prefer to use classroom journals instead of digital journals.

    BEFORE READING ACTIVITIES

    Building Background Knowledge

    Thanks to the folks at Scope your students can view Time Machine: American Revolution: 1776-1783, an engaging video that builds background knowledge of the colonial period — essential information that struggling readers need to better comprehend the historical period portrayed in the novel.

     

    (Video courtesy of Scope, November 2015)

    Dialogue Journal Activity #1: Discuss how the colonial times are similar to and different from your life today.

     

    Using Grammar to Teach Vocabulary

    If your students struggle from a vocabulary deficit, try infusing rich academic terms that go beyond those used in the book. Download the word wall and a student handout version of the list: “Useful Words to Know When Discussing the American Revolution.”

    Merging vocabulary and grammar improves comprehension and writing skills. Use the “I Survived: Mentor Sentence Bell Ringer” to analyze Tarshis’s use of em dashes when defining challenging words in her writing. If you are not familiar with teaching grammar with mentor sentences, check out my September posts: “Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences: Part 1” and “Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences: Part 2.” 

     

    After completing the bell ringer, students practice their grammar knowledge to complete the I Survived Vocabulary student handout, defining the words and using them in sentences that mimic the author’s sentence structure.

    And, to make your life easier, you can use the printable word wall to post your classroom for quick reference. Before long, students will be using rich vocabulary in class discussions and in their writing.

    DURING READING ACTIVITIES

    Determining the Underlying Meaning of Figurative Language [RL.4]

    Tarshis’s style of writing is full of figurative language. The imagery grabs students’ interest, seamlessly transporting them into historical periods. However, many of my developing readers are literal readers, so my goal is to encourage my literal readers to pause and think about what the author is “really” saying.

    Use the Figuratively Speaking handout to guide students through the process of analyzing different types of figurative language and to determine the author’s underlying meaning when making these comparisons.

    Dialogue Journal #2: Reread the sentence from page 15: Storch and Marston had finished their cake and were puffing on cigars. Rewrite the sentence using figurative language to create imagery, emphasizing how the men eat and how they puff on cigars.

     

    Analyzing the Characters We Love to Love [RL.1, RL.3]

    Many struggling readers do not stop to think about why they like or dislike a character much less consider whether or not the author creates believable characters. This activity focuses on character development. Begin by asking students to list what they like about their favorite characters. If they struggle with identifying a character, show an excerpt from the Disney movie Holes based on the book by Louis Sachar. They should conclude that believable, interesting characters are not perfect; they are real — with real flaws.

    Often, when analyzing character traits, students select irrelevant details to support their ideas. For example, a student might claim a character is courageous. However, the detail selected demonstrates perseverance, not courage. This activity double-dips, exploring characterization, the art of creating realistic, believable characters. After, they use relevant details to support their ideas.

    Students work independently to complete the Characterization handout and then shift to group work to compare their answers. Answers will vary depending on the perspective. Nathan can be described as trustworthy. Eliza would agree, but Uncle Storch may disagree. If they have relevant details, either idea can be supported. Enjoy the rich discussions.

    Dialogue Journal #3: According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resilient is “tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Would you describe Nathan as resilient? Explain why or why not.

     

    Analyzing Suspenseful Text Structure [RL.3; RL.5]

    All of the I Survived books are great for analyzing text structure, an area that many of my students struggle with. The opening chapter is a climatic flashback that immediately grabs the students’ attention. It opens in the middle of a raging battle, and then ends with a six-word sentence: “And then the world went black.” Wow! What just happened?

    (Excerpt from I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 by Lauren Tarshis)

    Have students identify how the author signifies the shift in time with the chapter headings, something struggling readers often skip. Don’t stop at identifying the shifts. In small groups, students discuss why the author would start a book with an exciting, climatic scene, and then shift to the past.

    In addition to flashbacks, varying sentence structure contributes to the increasing suspense in this chapter. Take a look at the unusual sentence structure in the first chapter: a string of one-sentence paragraphs. One-word paragraphs! Who does this? Students learn that when authors bend or break a rule, it is for a reason. The first chapter is a playground for learning how to create exciting, fast-paced scenes in their own writing.

    Sometimes, students overlook the significance of a particular chapter. In chapter 10, Paul describes war strategies including the advantageous setting that the Americans have in the battle at Boston, which poses a question: Why does the author interrupt Nathan’s story to reveal a story from Paul’s past? Explain that these are questions a good reader ponders while reading. Encourage them to think about this as they read further.

    After reading chapter 14, the beginning of the Battle of Brooklyn, reread chapter 10 and discuss how the chapters relate. Chapter 10 foreshadows the disadvantage the colonists have against the British during the Battle of Brooklyn. The description of the setting in chapter 10 contributes to the conflicts, increasing the suspense in chapter 14, the climax.

    Dialogue Journal #4: Nathan often reflects upon the stories of a pirate named Slash O’Shea as told to him by his father. Why does the author weave details of the pirate’s life into Nathan’s story?

     

    AFTER READING ACTIVITY

    Exploring Different Perspectives [RL.6]

    Explain that the novel is written in a third-person point of view, from the perspective of colonist and patriot Nathan. Because of this, Nathan is viewed a hero. But, what about the British perspective? A British narrator would consider Nathan a traitor, the enemy.

    Use the Point of View handout to prompt student thinking beyond the text, to consider the advantages and disadvantages of war from both the British and Nathan’s perspectives. Use historical details woven throughout the novel and the author’s notes, Tarshis’s research journey, found in the back of the book.

    Dialogue Journal #5: After considering the advantages and disadvantages from both the colonists and the British perspectives, debate who you think should have won the war.

    Increasing Text Complexity

    As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 scaffolds toward grade-level complex text. Below are thematically paired resources for increasing text complexity as you move forward in your classroom.

    • Girl. Fighter. Hero. (Scope, 2015) is normally only available to Scope subscribers, but the folks at Scope are giving you this priceless resource for free to use in your classroom. It is perfect for focusing on fluency and intonation. The exciting historical fictional drama is based on the true story of Sybil Ludington, who in 1777 went on a Paul Revere-like ride to warn the militia that "The British are coming!" It is perfect for comparing Nathan and Sybil’s character traits while exploring the female roles in the fight for independence.
    • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is a wonderfully illustrated book of the classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere's Ride, that students will really enjoy. The previous passages provide crucial background knowledge supporting an in-depth comprehension of this complex narrative poem.
    • Heads up, Scope subscribers! Tarshis wrote “Blood, Smoke, and Freedom: A True Story of the American Revolution," a thrilling nonfiction article for the upcoming March 2018 issue of Scope. In the narrative, nonfiction feature article, your students will experience the Battle of Brooklyn through the eyes of a 16-year old soldier. You will swoon over the awesome teacher resources. If you don’t have a subscription, try Scope in your classroom for free for 30 days

     

    I Survived series resources:

     

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