English teachers—and writers—often talk about point of view. From whose POV is the story students are reading or writing told? Does the POV character change throughout the story?
In this lesson, the POV “character” is every one of your students (and you probably have a few characters in your classroom), and it’s their POV that changes—from the big picture of what’s going on in the world to the little picture of how world events affect individuals.
Through the experiences of four young black activists, my nonfiction middle grade book WE’VE GOT A JOB (Peachtree Publishers, 2012) tells the true story of how children desegregated what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the most racially violent city in America. Many works of fiction can be used in conjunction with it, including THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM by Christopher Paul Curtis, ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor, A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS by Shana Burg, and RUTH AND THE GREEN BOOK by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss.
For this lesson, all of the students can read both fiction and nonfiction OR you can divide the class so that half read a novel and the other half read WE’VE GOT A JOB. With thanks to teacher extraordinaire Christa Armantrout of Round Rock (Texas) Independent School District for her inspiration, here’s how it works: The Telescope
The point here is to help students understand the broad context of the text they’re reading. Although events may take us by surprise and seem unprecedented, in retrospect, we can see, if not a chain, then, at least an archipelago of related situations. And, just as you want your students in English class to make connections among texts and between themselves and their readings, you also want them, in social studies, to be able to compare and contrast related historical events.
To help promote these skills, have students do the following big-picture exercise:
- Assign one year, between 1933 and 1963, to each student. (Start earlier or later, depending on the number of students in your class.)
- Give students a limited time, say15 minutes, depending on available resources, to find at least one event related to human or civil rights that occurred that year, in either the United States or the world.
- Ask students to write the event, including dates and locations, on a poster sheet. Post the sheets around the room for students to view.
- Discuss the extent to which they see possible connections or trends among the events, times, and places.
(OK, it doesn’t end in “scope,” but a periscope is too narrow!)
The point here is to draw the students’ vision closer to their texts by connecting what they’re reading with national or international history.
- Have students write (1) the name of the fiction book they’re reading on the sheet with the date that is closest to the one in which the book is set and (2) a major plot event that takes place then. If the book takes place over several years, students can write on multiple sheets.
- Using WE’VE GOT A JOB, have students write true events on at least two of the sheets that happened during those years.
- After students have time to observe and think about the listed events, discuss possible relationships between the events listed on the sheets and their books.
- Have them write a paragraph summarizing these potential relationships.
Here students beam in one person and see the world through her/his eyes.
- If the entire class is reading both fiction and nonfiction, divide the class in half. (This step will not be necessary if students are reading either a novel or WE’VE GOT A JOB.) Have half of the students choose one of the children featured in WE’VE GOT A JOB and the other half choose a fictional character from their reading.
- Looking at the many events, dates, people, characters, and relationships posted around the room, have students write a first-person narrative statement, from the POV of their chosen person (or character), about what she or he might say about an event.
- Have students identify their character, read their statement, and post it on the appropriate sheet.
A final perspective: Just as astronomers shift their gaze and train their telescope on different parts of the night sky, consider moving your students’ point of view to a different perspective. The lesson above focused on civil rights. The books they’re reading probably deal with multiple themes. WE’VE GOT A JOB, for instance, addresses other issues as well, including non-violence, civil disobedience, and leadership. You might have several groups of students peer at a variety of target topics simultaneously and then share them. That way, you could address a galaxy—well, at least, a solar system—of big-picture issues and bring them right to their desks.
For additional suggestions, including curriculum guides, Common Core ELA standards connections, lesson plans, discussion questions, primary-source documents, and more for WE’VE GOT A JOB, please visit http://www.cynthialevinson.com or to http://www.wevegotajob.com/ or to http://pinterest.com/peachtreepub/weve-got-a-job-the-1963-birmingham-childrens-march/. Cynthia Y. Levinson is the author of WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University and also attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. A former teacher and educational policy consultant and researcher, she has published articles in Appleseeds, Calliope, Cobblestone, Dig, Faces, and Odyssey.
© 2013 Cynthia Levinson. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.