Friday, April 29, 2011

An American Plague

A Tricky Killer...
Nonfiction at its finest, Jim Murphy takes us on a ride through Philadelphia 1793 and the yellow fever plague that threatened to destroy the city, then the capitol of the United States in An American Plague. I myself sometimes have a hard time getting hooked in nonfiction, but Murphy knows exactly how to write so that you are wrapped up in the story of the yellow fever to tightly that you are tricked into thinking you are reading a narrative fiction novel about a nasty disease. He uses just enough quotes from those who were alive at the time and takes you deep enough into those peoples' lives that you don't want to put the book down for a second. The Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 is one of those instances in American history that is often left out of history books. This is one of those gross parts of history that upper elementary school students would LOVE. Just like how they think boogers and spit are cool, they will think the mysterious, yellow eyes, throwing up, being bled is way more exciting than what they read about in their textbooks. I learned so much from this book and I highly recomend you suggest it to your students who like these types of topics. Also, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is a great fictional companion to An American Plague.

Reading Level: Grade Level Equivalent 8.9 (could be used in middle school or upper elementary, there are just some content words that need to be pretaught which is why the reading level seems high)

Web Resources:
  • Audio Book Lesson: This webpage provides the audiobook version for chapters 1 and 2 of An American Plague. Using this audiobook, students will pay attention to sights, sounds and smells and answer discussion questions. Other activities are included.
  • Lesson Ideas: This page offers a variety of ideas to use with grades 3-6 in conjunction with An American Plague.

Vocabulary:  Thanks to The Reading Conqueror here are is some important vocabulary for this book:

Chapter 1- Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia, refurbished, George Washington, General Cornwallis, surrender, capitulation, revolution, Proclamation of Neutrality, “Diplomatic cold shoulder”, speculated
Chapter 2- laudanum, preeminent, malignity, Greek Humeral Theory
Chapter 3- pestilence, amiable, prestigious, William Currie, quarantine, acquaintances, fetid, exodus, camphor, melancholy, Vinegar of the four thieves
Chapter 4-5- apothecaries, legislature, paupers, almshouse,  putrefaction, insufficient, resignation, neutrality policy, consternation, Free African Society, erect, exorbitant, mobilized, shunned, peculiarly, battalion,  
Chapter 6-  pestilence, scrupulousness, malicious, conspiring, valiantly
Chapter 7- ingenuity, daunting, condemned, quinine
Chapter 8- Conviction, alleviation, rioting
Chapter 9- militia, parliament, quorum, abated, apace, emaciated
Chapter 10-end- inadvertently, squalid, privy pit, tepid, squabbles, sedulously, and pious

Before Reading:
  • Depending on what grade level this book is used in, you may need to support your students a lot especially when it comes to vocabulary. For this reason I would make a point to preteach a lot of the vocabulary before the students read. You can easily break the book up into sections or just by chapters so it is a reasonable amount of vocabulary at one time.
  • Have a class or small group discussion about what students know about plagues. You may even choose to start a KWL about plagues in order to access prior knowledge.
  • Another suggestion is using this book as a supplementary item for upper level students in your class or for a student who chooses to do a project or paper on the Yellow Fever.

During Reading: If using this book with the whole class, assign groups to present on each chapter or sections of your choosing. Being that some of the reading is difficult it will be very useful for a group of students to become "experts" on each section and then help the other students understand these sections. You may have the group of experts present to the whole class or have an individual from the expert group pair up with one person from each other group and discuss in small groups.

After Reading:
  • Extend the understanding of this nonfiction selection by reading a book such as Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • Discuss as a group or in small groups how students think they would feel if they had the Yellow Fever or if someone in their family had the Yellow Fever. Discuss what types of medicine they may be given or what types of ways they may try to be cured. Use this discussion as both a review of the material and a way to connect a historical event to ones' own life.

Across the Curriculum: This book would best be used in a Social Studies classroom that is studying American History. It provides an opportunity for students to learn about an event in American History that is often overlooked.

Murphy, J. (2003). An American plague: the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion Books.

Happy Reading (& Running) =)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Smiles to Go

It's the not knowing that counts... 

Will is a thinker who literally never stops running thoughts through his head which can be seen in the narrative. Between the first proton’s “death,” his new-found infatuation with his best friend Mi-Su, the new popularity of his other best friend BT, his annoying little sister Tabby and finally a tragedy that strikes his family, all Will can do to keep himself sane is think. He plans out every move he will make in the process learns that he’s been missing a whole lot with all this thinking and planning. Will’s epiphany towards the end of the novel gives him a whole new way to look at the world, one he never would have thought of on the first day after the death of the proton where his story begins. In Smiles to Go, Jerry Spinelli will have you laughing, and maybe even crying as you relate to the struggle of a teenage boy just trying to make sense of the toppling world around him.
Reading Level: Flesch-Kincaid Index 4.5 

Teachers: Here are some resources and ideas to help you teach this book...

Web Resources:
  • Teacher's Guide: This guide contains discussion questions, curriculum connections and creative writing ideas. 
  • 5 Ideas: This site offers 5 different activities to connect with Smiles to Go. The site suggests parents and children do them together but the activities could easily be used in a classroom setting as well. 
Vocabulary: Here are some words you may want to pre-teach to your students: protons, atoms, decay, anchovy, epitaph, nebula, touche, solipsism, ultimatum, conspicuous, fraud, fluke, shenanigans, lacerations, solipsism, impulsive

Before Reading: Based on the title and cover art what do you think this book will be about? (This is a good activity for this book because it is really hard to predict what the story will be about and it is important for students to know that every prediction they make will not necessarily be correct)

During Reading: Make a plan of how Will should go about telling Mi-Su how he feels. Explain why your plan is different or similar to Will's plan. Why do you think your plan would be effective?

After Reading: Do you think that Will is going to change after what happened with his sister? If yes, what will his new outlook on life be? How will his actions change? If no, explain why you think so. What ways will he go back to?

Across the Curriculum: There are many ways to connect science to this novel. Will talks a lot about protons, atoms, etc. Also, check my web resources, the teacher's guide contains connections to science.

Spinelli, J. (2008). Smiles to go . New York, NY: Joanna Cotler Books.

Happy Reading (&Running) =)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Great Gilly Hopkins

One Tough Cookie!
The Great Gilly Hopkins has been in the foster care system for almost as long as she can remember and at this point has resolved to not allow herself to be happy or love anyone who cares for her because the one time she did that, the family moved away, leaving her. Determined to drive her new bible fanatic, overweight foster mother Trotter crazy, Gilly tries all the tricks in the book: stealing, lying and scaring her foster brother W.E. Little does Gilly know, this family actually loves her. Gilly is convinced that her mother Courtney will some day come to her rescue and take her out of foster care. Gilly is smart, really smart, but the things she doesn't understand are those that are right in front of her, like love and the lack thereof. The truth is, W.E., who Gilly calls "retarded" and Mr. Randolph, who is blind, see more than Gilly in these important areas of her life. Katherine Paterson puts us in the mind of Gilly and by the end of the story we are left conflicted and full of love for the smart mouth, tough cookie that is Galadriel Hopkins.

Reading Level: Flesch-Kincaid Index 4.8

Teachers: Here are some resources and ideas to help you teach this book in class... 

Web Resources
  •  Scholastic: This Scholastic site provides a summary, click under resources on the top right to find a discussion guide, vocabulary activity and writing prompt.
  • Literature Unit: This is a link to google books where you will find the first half of a literature unit book for The Great Gilly Hopkins. Although it is not the full book, what is available is extremely helpful!
Vocabulary: Here are some words that may need to be pretaught: conspiratorially, departmentalization, fret, piously, justify, humility, lilt, cajoling, incompetence, delinquent, painstakingly, vigor, peculiar, fanatic, foster, obligation, next of kin, apparition, pervades, laden 
    Before Reading: Make a prediction. On the cover of the last two releases of The Great Gilly Hopkins, Gilly is shown in a tough pose. What kind of character do you think Gilly will be?

    During Reading: Choose one of the questionable decisions Gilly makes. For example: stealing money from Mr. Randolph, stealing money from Trotter, making the card for her teacher, etc. Explain in your own words why Gilly made that decision. What could Gilly have done differently to produce the outcome she wanted?

    After Reading: What did you learn from Gilly about family? Who do you think was more of a family to her? Trotter, W.E. and Mr. Randolph or Nonnie and Courtney? Why? (This would work as a writing prompt or as a classroom discussion.)

    Paterson, K. (1978). The Great Gilly Hopkins . New York: Crowell.  
    Newbery Honor Book

     Happy Reading (&Running) =)
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