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Love is in the Air: Using Kid Lit to Teach Discourse





Sometimes, getting students to talk feels like a traumatic trip to the beauty shop. Stick with me here. You walk into the salon with grand expectations. You've pinned several haircut photos highlighting the life-changing style you desire. You've agonized over auburn vs. chocolate brown, and whether or not either color will age you. 

You sit in the chair and share your vision with the hair wizard. She smiles her knowing smile and turns you around, away from the mirror. You hum as you flip through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan and think to yourself, "I'm not too old to read this magazine. I'm still relevant." 

Finally, she flicks off the protective cape covering your shoulders and spins you around to face the mirror. For a fleeting moment, you struggle to adjust your face into an emotionless mask. "What the hell was she thinking?" you wonder. "Was I speaking Greek?"

The first time I asked my students to talk independently about a book chapter we read together was just like that. I came to them with big expectations. I told them what I wanted. They smiled their knowing fifth grader smiles... and did something entirely different. Why? Because discourse, conversation, discussion skills (whatever you choose to call it) need to be directly taught. So,  I rolled up my sleeves and developed discourse mini lessons to teach my expectations. 

So how do I make sure that our attempts at discourse aren't like a traumatic trip to the hair salon? I make our discourse goals transparent. Before hand, we talk a great deal about what makes a great conversation. We list the skills on chart paper. Then, I use these skills for my mini-lessons over the next couple of weeks. You can see the list we generated on the Yakity-Yak mini poster. Each of these became a series of whole group and small group lessons. 

Every time I taught a discourse lesson, we created a poster as a memory tool for the skills that they learned. We used table top tents to remind ourselves of the expectations. However, the most powerful practice we did was to reflect on our discourse skills after every formal discussion. Students asked themselves, "What did I do well this time? What are my be-sure-to's for next time?" And then, they also reflected on how their thinking changed as a result of the discourse. 

Now it's mid January, and I'm preparing my literature choices for February and thinking about how I will continue to grow my students' discourse skills. January is always a month of review, isn't it?

I've selected three books with a common theme of love to share. All of them explore relationships with grandparents or older relatives. I want my students to engage in compare/contrast talk and writing over the course of this mini-unit. 
The three texts I'm using are below!
 In The Hundred Penny Box, Michael's great-great aunt Dewbert is 100 years old. She has a penny for every years she's been alive. Together, they play a game. Michael chooses a penny from her collection and she tells him what happened in the year it was minted. She keeps her pennies in an old wooden box she calls her hundred penny box. She tells him that her life is in that box. Taking the box from her would be like taking her life from her.  Michael grows to see that things are changing for Aunt Dewbert. Her mind is growing feeble, and sometimes she's confused. 

Three children follow their grandpa up into the attic where he pulls out his old bowler hat, his tap shoes, and his gold-tipped cane. He relives his vaudeville days on the stage for them so the children can see what it was like to be a song and dance man.




Peter is thrilled that Grandpa is coming to live with his family. That is, until Grandpa moves right into Peter’s room, forcing him upstairs. Peter loves his grandpa but wants his room back. He has no choice but to declare war! With the help of his friends, Peter devises outrageous plans to make Grandpa surrender the room. But Grandpa is tougher than he looks. Rather than give in, Grandpa plans to get even.

We'll be using these books to review our discourse skills, write compare/contrast essays, and discuss characters' view points.  I'm so excited to stretch my learners a little more!

Interested in accessing the discourse lessons and materials I developed while teaching my kiddos? You can snag this growing product right now at a low cost. Currently, it includes the colored posters, table tent, and student reflection sheets I used with my students. By February 9, 2020, the price will be going up when 8 discourse lessons and their interactive notebook pages are added. Click on the picture to the right. 


You MUST visit Kathie, Retta, and Deann's blogposts to read about more awesome love-themed book recommendations and lesson ideas. Be sure to stop by and listen to our podcast about the books, too. It's a great episode!


Rainbow City

Socrates Lantern


Tried & True Teaching Tools





Click the picture to listen to the latest episode of We Teach So Hard!



5 comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing these great books and awesome teaching ideas with us.

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  2. Oh my gosh, you crack me up! Love the hair salon analogy because I've had SO many of those horrific experiences! LOL. I have the Hundred Penny Box but have not read it; now it's coming off my bookshelf!

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    1. I'm glad I made you smile! I would love to know how you end up using The Hundred Penny Box in your own classroom. Please share!

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  3. For as long I've followed your teaching, I keep learning. Great ideas for teaching discourse, and great book suggestions. Getting used to working with new students, or with the same students on something new, can definitely feel like trying out a new hairstyle. Love that analogy - makes you feel it!

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