Sunday, September 26, 2010

Anything But Typical

When you think of diversity...
chances are you envision lots of different people with different skin colors, different cultures, different beliefs...

But in Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, we are reminded that diversity does not end with skin color or holiday celebrations. Diversity extends to those students who may have special needs too. Anything But Typical gives us a first person account of a 6th grade boy who has Autism. Jason Blake is a normal 6th grade boy in that he wants a girl friend, wants to succeed in school, and wants to keep his parents happy. However, Jason is autistic and struggles with always wondering what will go wrong next? As well as the problem of trying to fit in with all the "neurotypicals." His story revolves around a website called Story Board where he meets PheonixBird and is worried that if they ever meet in person all she will see is that he is autistic and that she won't really see who he is. A must read for teachers and an excellent choice for students to read, especially in any class with an autistic student where awareness is key.

Autism Speaks: This website is probably the most well known website regarding Autism. It includes lots of information about Autism that may be helpful or simply very interesting to you as a teacher.
Understanding Autism: This link will take you to a website dedicated to educating people about Autism. There is a wonderful powerpoint explaining the basics of Autism. This is a website you as a teacher may want to explore before reading this novel with your class so that you can answer questions students may have about Autism.

 Teachers: Here are some resources & ideas to help you to teach this novel...

Web Resources:
  • Nick News Video: This video is a segment of a Nick News special with Linda Ellerbee from Nickelodeon entitled "Kids with Autism." In this video a boy with Asperger's (on the Autism spectrum) is interviewed about what it is like to have autism. This video could be used in teaching students about autism by showing them an example of someone their age with autism.
  • Time to Listen Video: This video is from, it is a short video with some important facts about autism. It could be a good lead in to Anything  But Typical and a lesson about autism.
Key Vocabulary Words: While reading I made a list of some words that may need to be pretaught.
autism, repulsed, neurotypicals, validate, confluence, abstract, chromosome, gene, vaccines, fertilizers, hormones, fontanel, adjudicate, resonance, diphthong, schwa, digraphs, regurgitate, halogen, careens, metaphorically, lexicon, probation, irony, appendectomy, serendipity, placate, mezzanine

Before Reading: Make a KWL chart (Know, Want to Know, Learn). Ask the students what they already Know (K) about autism. After writing those items under the K, ask students what they want to know (W) about autism and put this under the W. After learning about autism and reading Anything But Typical, the class can then fill out what they learned (L).

After Reading/Writing:
  • During the novel, Jason mentions that every day a word pops into his head. He tries to figure out what this word means by connecting it to other words that he already knows. The words he mentions within the novel are: confluence, adjudicate, regurgitate, halogen, lexicon, serendipity and placate. Ask students after they have read this novel for the next few days (or for a week, or a month, or even the rest of the year) to use a classroom dictionary and find a new word that they have never heard before. Students can find this word by skimming through the dictionary or even by opening up the dictionary randomly to a page. Students should write down the word and its definition in their journal along with a relevant sentence. The students should then try to use that word during the day and if they are able to do so, write how they used it as part of their entry for that word. This activity will help students to broaden their vocabulary and realize how many words in the English language are rarely used. If you decide to make this a project that lasts throughout the whole year I would suggest using blue books for the entries, and having students put 2-3 entries per page. This blue book will become their very own dictionary of the words they have learned throughout the year.
  • Ask students to write an expository essay about Autism. Students may choose to do some research about Autism using some of the informational links I included above about Autism.
  • Ask students to write a personal reflection about how they think they would feel in a classroom if they had Autism. Encourage them to include details comparing and contrasting the way "neurotypicals" and students with Autism interact within a classroom setting.
Here's a link to a lesson plan I wrote involving Autism awareness using Anything But Typical:  Lesson

    Baskin, N. R. (2009). Anything But Typical. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
    2010 Schneider Family Book Award

    Happy Reading (& Running) =)

    Find other lessons at:

    Sunday, September 19, 2010


    A survivor tale to talk about...
    Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen is a survival novel classic. The main character Brian is stranded in the Canadian wilderness after the small plane he is riding in to go visit his father crashes when the pilot has a heart attack. Brian is forced to learn to survive on what the forest offers him and manages to pick berries, start fire, fish and hunt. He also finds ways to make shelter and tools. Brian's story has the reader on the edge of their seat wondering what misfortune will come upon Brian next, and forces you to ask the same question every chapter, will Brian be rescued? If you love this children's novel (or if your students do) lucky for you, Paulsen has 4 more books that further Brian's adventures.

    Teachers: Here are some resources and ideas to help you create a lesson or extension on Hatchet:

    Web Resources:
    • Extension Activities This website has great extension activities for every couple chapters. A lot of the activities have interesting information for students, but a modification for these activities would be to have the students do research on the different topics, for example have students research what causes a heart attack or what protection strategies different animals Brian encountered use rather than simply reading about it on this site. This website also has questions related to the chapter, however, I would not use these as a test being that they are multiple choice and true false. I would suggest turning some of the questions into more open ended questions so that the students can show true understanding rather than simply regurgitating facts. Finally, this site has a link to vocabulary words from each chapter, all of which are important for students to understand before reading.
    • Journal Ideas & More This article from Bright Hub provides 2 pages of extension ideas to go with Hatchet. Ideas include journal entries for during/after reading, a vocabulary activity, and using multiple intelligences to help students who learn in different ways also have successful extension activities that aide comprehension.
    Key Vocabulary: Thinkquest Vocab This list of vocabulary is on point. Unfortunately double clicking on the words does not bring up the definition as the page says, but this list can save you a lot of time in predicting what students will not understand before reading the novel.
    Top 15 Words (that I picked out from the above list): drone, slewed, rudder, hummocks, welted, dormant, butane, incessant, sulfurous, altimeter, turbulence, cowling, exasperation, streamline, fuselage

    During Reading: Ask students  to keep a journal (similar to one of the extension activities from first link) that keeps track of any information they believe would be helpful if they were in Brian's situation. This journal may include types of animals and plants, survival techniques, etc. Students may finalize this journal after reading making it into a type of survival journal which may require extra research in addition to having read the entire novel.

    After Reading/Writing: Ask the students to write an alternate ending to Hatchet. The alternate ending should be in the same style as Hatchet (3rd person) and students should predict what they think would happen if Brian was not rescued when he was. Students may write a different style rescue or even choose to write an extension of the epilogue to explain what they think returning home was like for Brian. Students who really enjoy this activity and enjoyed Hatchet should be recommended the sequels: The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return and Brian's Hunt.

    Across the Curriculum:
    Social Studies: Students can learn about the wilderness as well as survival techniques as a social studies extension to this novel.

    Paulsen, G. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Bradbury Press. 
    1988 Newbery Honor Book

    Happy Reading (& Running) =)

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Star Girl

    Another great children's novel...
    Stargirl also by Jerry Spinelli (like Maniac Magee from my last post) was another hit! I absolutely adored Stargirl as I was reading the novel, and I guarantee you will too! This story is told by a boy named Leo who was never the same after Stargirl came to his school. Her presence changes his life forever, and even years and years later, he can't ever seem to get her out of his head. Stargirl is the most unique girl you will ever meet, and she only cares that other people are happy, and never cares what they will think of her. We all could take a lesson in life from Stargirl.

    Teachers: Here are some resources & ideas to help you if you decide to use Stargirl in your classroom:

    Web Resources: 
    • Stargirl Extension Activities  This scholastic website offers 3 activities for after reading Stargirl. Although the suggested grade level is 7-10, they could easily be modified to work for 4-6th grade. These activities all offer an opportunity to be transformed into a group or individual project.
    • Discussion Guide This discussion guide from Scholastic offers 14 pretty solid discussion questions with sample answers that students may give. Keep in mind that these questions are just a guide to help you lead a discussion or for a small group's discussion to move forward. You should allow students to take their discussions wherever it may lead as long as the students stay on task.

    Key Vocabulary: Here are some important words I noticed while reading that may need to be pretaught...
    ukulele, elated, jury, squabble, electron, transformation, hapless, massacre, ego, convoy, raucous, impish, verdict, gaudy, spiel, impromptu, pantomime, ferocity, treason, primitive, oratorical, smitten, enchantment, cosmos, beacon
    Another Vocabulary idea would be to teach the different types of plants mentioned in the desert such as saguaros.

    During Reading: Ask students to keep a list of all the nice things Stargirl does for the students at school, people in town, and complete strangers. Ask students to also make note of why many of these actions made those around her uncomfortable, upset, etc. This activity will help the students to better understand why Stargirl and Leo are shunned for a large portion of the novel.

    After Reading/Writing:
    • Have students write a letter to one of the characters in the novel. For example, the students could write to Leo asking him if he ever saw Stargirl again, or if he regrets what he did in the story. Another example would be writing to Stargirl to ask her where she went after leaving school, what she did, etc. Collect the letters and distribute them randomly to the class. Have each student respond to the letter they received answering the questions asked in the letter. This activity will help students to practice letter writing as well as make predictions about what might come next if there was another novel about Leo and Stargirl in the future.
    • Ask students to think about the names Stargirl has had in the past, Susan, Pocket Mouse, Mudpie, Hullygully and finally Stargirl. They should then try to develop a name for themselves or create a person with an unusual name. After the students decide on names, they will create a character sketch that will help explain the name they chose for themselves or the character they created.

    Spinelli, J. (2000). Star Girl. New York: Scholastic Inc. 
    New York Times Best Seller

    Happy Reading (& Running) =)

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Maniac Magee

    First in my series of Children's  novels...
    Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli was a wonderful book. It had me laughing, crying and at the edge of my seat. Maniac is a boy that everyone will want to be, a boy who who is capable of incredible feats and truly is a legend. It is a coming of age/finding yourself story that is a must read! (I would suggest this novel for students in 3rd-6th grade.)

    Teachers: Some Maniac resources & ideas to help you help your students!

    Web Resources:
    10 Important Vocabulary Words: orphan, legend, pandemonium, allergy, dumbfounded, repertoire, mourner, replicas, feats, ecstatic (some are from the Vocabulary List above)

    During Reading: At the very beginning of the novel the narrator calls Maniac Magee a "legend." Ask students to write down reasons given in the book that Maniac is a legend. This list will help the students to better understand the vocabulary word "legend" as well as better the students' comprehension of the story as many of Maniac's feats are central to the sequence of the story.

    After Reading/Writing Activity: Ask students to take their lists and further internalize their comprehension by writing a sentence or two for each reason Maniac is a legend that explains why this trait, feat, etc makes Maniac a legend. Another way to ask the students to do this would be to ask them what is extraordinary or special about each trait, feat, etc. that he or she wrote down.

    Even if this novel cannot be included in your curriculum, add it to your classroom library and encourage students to read it during silent sustained reading.

    Spinelli, J. (1999). Maniac Magee. New York: Little, Brown Young Readers.
    1991 Newbery Award Winner

    Happy Reading (&Running) =)
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