Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One Leg at a Time

The focus of my quarterly reading class is theme. Reading several mini-memoirs, the students work to uncover the answer to the question "How can we learn from the experiences of others?" To do that, they must first learn that the theme of a story is the universal truth about life that it reveals. It's a new concept to many sixth graders, but it's one they take to, although the idea of universal is a little tricky at first. Kids want to make the lesson case-specific.

So, to introduce the whole idea I start with what has got to be one of the strangest Dr. Seuss stories ever. What Was I Afraid Of? is buried in the back of the Sneetches collection, and I swear the 8-year-old me had nightmares about the creepy olive green pants and the weird nocturnal yellow bear-like protagonist wandering through the bizarre aqua night of the pages. It's one of his lesser-known works, though, and so most students approach it with fresh eyes and open mind.

I emphasize how odd it is, too, and that makes it engaging, as well. Anyway, for those who are unfamiliar, the title is a big hint as to the lesson of this story. It's basically that there's no need to fear unusual or different people.

Oh, we get to that eventually, but first I have students write their ideas on index cards and I share them anonymously with the class. As a group we talk about universality and text support, and in that way we find our way.

Those first attempts can be pretty amusing, though, and today we had a great one:

Have fun with pants!

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