Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Ten Biographies, One Word, One Powerful Beginning

I took a month off from my online life to make sure my school year was off to a good start.  I must admit, as I sit here flexing my fingers at the keyboard, that I feel a bit rusty.  I've missed writing every week.  I think I wrote about 20 blog posts in my head over the last three weeks.  Even though I haven't flexed my writing muscles lately, I've been very, very busy.  

I decided to focus our year together in fifth grade on a school-year-long theme: Leadership.  I wrote about this choice prior to the beginning of this school year. You can check out that post here.  As I began setting up my classroom, the leadership idea that strong cup of coffee you reach for every morning. 

Until it morphed into something bigger, deeper, and more engaging than I could've initially imagined. I began to think about leadership in terms of social justice.  This is how things evolved...

  1. We began our first two weeks, exploring the lives of Nellie Bly, George Washington Carver, Muhammad Ali, Pablo Neruda, and Cesar Chavez.  Then we moved onto the people I call, "The Powerhouse Ten."

        2. We read about Gandhi, Mandela, Sojourner Truth, DiMaggio, Carson, Mother Teresa,
            Einstein, Keller, MLK, Jr., and Owens.  We began drafting a list of leadership traits we
            discovered in each of the individuals we read about.  We ranked those traits in order of
            importance.  This led to a huge amount of discussion and debate.

        3. The we stepped inside those individuals' shoes.  We thought about what they perceived about the world, what their thoughts and beliefs were, and what mattered most to them. All of them changed the world with their words and actions...some spoke and acted for civil rights, some inspired us during wartime, others spoke and worked for human rights.


4. We began a thinking routine called "Peel the Fruit."  It's a freebie you can get by clicking the picture above. This routine is great for delving deeply into topics.  In each layer of the graphic organizer, I asked students a question. Layer 1 began with, "What are your hobbies and interests?" This was a pretty surface-level question. The questions got harder and more thought-provoking: What do you do when you make mistake? Who are you when someone is hurt or has hurt feelings? Who do you want to be in that situation.  Until finally, they wrote their word they wanted to be their guiding word for the school year. We created common definitions of their chosen words, to insure that we all had the same understanding. We used all the information and thinking in peeling the fruit to inform our word choice.

When students entered my classroom on the first day, they saw this:

They added their own power words...

          5. We began reading Perloo the Bold by Avi and applying our newfound knowledge of 
             leadership to this fantasy fiction text.   We've begun comparing the characters of 
             Perloo, Lucabara, Berwig, and Senyous to "The Powerhouse Ten."  Currently,  a new
             definition of leadership is beginning to unfold as we discuss how sometimes leaders can 
             lead quietly, without brashness or a take-charge personality.

What's Next?

We're beginning to compare Mogwat the Magpie's (the great teacher in Perloo the Bold) words of wisdom to quotations from "The Powerhouse Ten."  We're looking for similarities. We're contrasting. We're talking about truths.

We're beginning to delve into what Perloo and the many remarkable individuals we've been reading about have in common with each other.  We're beginning to hash out a definition of common good, of servant leadership, of social justice.  

From here, we'll be exploring current events, a new novel for upper elementary that has been  written about the race riots of the 1960s, engaging in a discussion (possibly) with the author, and looking for more leadership examples in our future mentor texts.  Be sure to stay tuned.  I'll be sharing frequently about this journey.    

                                                                                         Until next time, 


  1. Love your bulletin board and love how they were able to add their own words to the board. Great display to have up all year long :)

  2. Great Blog post! Loved how you challenge your students.

  3. This is a great unit to get students thinking about their impact in the world. Love the bulletin board! Thanks for sharing!