Common Core Exemplars – Informational Text

Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction by David Macualay


Macaulay, D. (1973). Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Nonfiction, Informational Text, appropriate for ages 5+


Cathedral provides understanding about important construction facts, including terms related to architecture, tools, and building techniques. Of greater importance is the fact that Macaulay is able to create social history through his text and illustrations. With clear statements in a minimum of words, he conveys a clear understanding of the times, the people, and their feelings. The book works on many levels: as art and architecture, as history, as travelogue, as social commentary, and as a pleasant reading experience.


This book was organized as more of a timeline rather than a complete story.  It was very informative, and had great vocabulary for middle schoolers to get familiar with.  There are many subjects that this book can be integrated into, such as math, economy, literature, and social studies.  I think a major theme in this book is teamwork, as all of the craftsmen, apprentices, and laborers had to work together in order for the cathedral to be built.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.1 – Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.3 – Analyze the interactions of individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events of how individuals influence ideas or events).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.6 – Use technology, including the internet, to produce, publish and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Lesson Objective: By the end of this lesson students will know and be able to identify and explain in a blog, or on paper, at least four techniques people used in medieval times to build cathedrals.  Students will use evidence from the video to support their answers.

Discussion Questions: How can I use various media to help me academically? What is the setting of the story? Why is this setting important? What ideas were important to the people? Provide at least two reasons – ideas or events – that influenced the people of Chutreaux to build a new Cathedral. What is the difference between a craftsman, an apprentice, and a laborer? Why was it important to have all three on the job?

Lesson Activity: This lesson builds background knowledge for students before they closely read Macaulay’s Cathedral.  It is meant to help motivate students and provide them with information that will make their reading more familiar and understandable. As you plan, consider the variability of learners in your class and make adaptations as necessary.

Lesson Opening:

  • Distribute student worksheet to individuals and seat them so they can easily see the screen.
  • Prepare the NOVA video for viewing, including moving the cursor through the brief advertisement at the beginning, if desired.
  • Give students the purpose for viewing, which is to answer the question: How did people build Gothic cathedrals without modern technology?

During the Lesson:

  • Start the video and be ready to stop it at the specified points listed on the worksheet. Give students a moment to answer the questions briefly in note or other form familiar to them.
  • Discuss whether it was difficult for students to access the information with one viewing. Ask what skills they might use to help themselves in a similar exercise in the future.
  • Continue showing the video, stopping at the specified points, and having students fill in worksheet until they are done. Discuss skills students used to help them understand information in one viewing.

Lesson Closing:

  • Introduce blogs to students, and ask for their experience with blogs they have read or responded to or written themselves.
  • Set up students at computers or other devices and have them open their blog site.
  • Students consolidate their notes from viewing the video into a blog that answers the question and includes any commentary about the achievement of cathedral builders.
  • Students post their blogs so that the teacher can read these entries.  Use your discretion about opening up the blogs to other students’ responses.







Graphic Novel

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


Tan, S. (2006). The Arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Fiction, appropriate for ages 5+


The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.


The graphic novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan depicts themes of isolation, belonging, novelty, cultural difference and the issues and challenges around the whole idea of displacement. Displacement is a different theme to immigration, though they share some of the same common features, as displacement is often thrust upon communities or families for reasons such as imminent war, tribal fighting, famine or drought.

Displaced communities often suffer greatly from homesickness for their own land – an issue not shared with those immigrants who optimistically leave in search of a better life, though sometimes even these can decide they have made a mistake. It is very often difficult to settle in a new land where culture, language, customs and climate are different to the homeland. Issues such as poverty and victimisation or racism can be challenges too – and the whole lot is very difficult for the new citizen to take on board. The idea of belonging is very important to people and everyone seems to need that feeling of security, even if it is a case of embracing a new nation gratefully and declaring it to be one’s new true home. Young people often get over these difficult issues quicker than the elderly as they are more malleable due to their youth and ability to make new young friends quickly, so absorbing the new culture.


Grade 5

ELA.RL.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

ELA.SL.1.d. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher- led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.  d. Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions.

Lesson Objective: The students will be able to present their findings of The Arrival  in a podcast and create a box of memories as if they were the man in the story.

Discussion Questions: Page 5: Based on what you see on this page, what can you tell about the setting of this scene? Who lives in this home? What do the things shown on this page tell us about the people living in this home?

Page 12: Why does the man give his daughter the bird?

Page 14: How do you think the woman and the girl feel now? What are some reasons why the whole family didn’t get on the train?

What is the point of this story? What meaning or purpose is the readersupposed to walk away with? Why are the letter, buildings, animals and languages unfamiliar to contemporary interpretations?

Lesson Activity:

  1. Before beginning, I show the children Shaun Tan’s website on The Arrival. Discuss the images there, how to “read” them, and what they had to do with our studies of immigration. Talk about the challenges of reading a book that was all images, that had no words.
  2. Place the children in groups of three to read the book and encourage them to work together to determine what is going on in the story.
  3. Give the children small booklets in which to take notes as they read.
  4. At the end of each session, come together as a class and have one member of each group present their findings in a podcast.
  5. As they present, hold up a copy of the book to support what is being said.
  6. After they finish, show them a Powerpoint placing images from the book next to archival photographs on which they were based. This will be exciting and fascinating for the students.
  7. Next they will write letters — I want them to make a box of memories for the hero of the book — full of his letters to his family, origami perhaps, whatever my students think should go in it. They may also want to write Shaun Tan. Letters seem the perfect final project for this book.





the arrival


Pre-1990 YA Book

Chain Letter by Christopher Pike


Pike, C. (1986). Chain Letter. New York, NY: Avon Books.

Realistic Fiction, appropriate for ages 10+


Pike’s thriller, Chain Letter is instantly engaging, as a chain letter forces seven teenagers into bizarre and dangerous activities. A year earlier, they were involved in a car accident in which a man was killedbut they covered up the crime. Now, “Your Caretaker,” the author of the letter, threatens to expose them, and assigns each of them a task. If it’s fulfilled, they will be left alone. If it’s not, the consequences are terrifying. One teen who defies the Caretaker disappears, leaving behind a blood-soaked bed; another is burned in a fire that consumes his home. But just as the reader thinks the teens will confess to their original crime, the author finds a convenient, though unconvincing, way to get them off the hook. Pike’s story begins promisingly but leads into implausible motives and a feeble resolution. There are also formulas that crop up from his earlier books: teenagers thought to be dead reappear; alcohol figures heavily in all the plots; people with handicaps or terminal illnesses go “over the edge.” Despite these drawbacks, Pike handles suspense well, and has a good ear for dialogue.


Guilt and retribution are key themes in Chain Letter. The main events that occur in the story are relevant to retribution and the guilty conscience, which typically tend to fall hand in hand.  The book is about seven teenagers and the “Caretaker” whom is inflicting punishment on these kids, making them believe someone knows about what they’re covering up about the summer before.


5.SL.2. Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Lesson Objective: Students will improve comprehension by interpreting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating written text in order to categorize text into literary genres.

Discussion Questions: What is a genre? What is realistic fiction? What makes Chain Letter realistic fiction?

Lesson Activity: 

  1. Set the targets for the students – what will they be doing in this project?
  2. The students will be introduced to realistic fiction.
    1. They will be given a choice of books from that genre, and also given a Book Review handout, which focuses students’ attention on the elements of the story.
    2. The students are also given a Genre Characteristics handout that is created by the class or themselves with three major components of that genre.
    3. They will have three weeks to read the book, complete the “review,” and add details to their bookmarks.
  3. Explain the information that is gathered on the Book Review handout–major literary elements (plot, character, setting, etc.) as well as critique. Students can complete their reviews in their reader’s notebooks, or can complete their reviews online using the Genre Group Book Review Chart student interactive.
  4. Demonstrate the interactive, showing students how to add items to the chart as well as how to print and save their work:
    • On the first screen, type your name.
    • Click Next to move to the chart screen and type your book review.
    • Type your answers in each of the rows, using the information on the Genre Group Book Review handout.
    • Demonstrate that writing is not limited to the size of the box shown on screen. Answers will scroll.
    • When you’ve finished writing your responses, click Finish at the top of the screen.
    • In the next window, click Print. Your answers will be displayed in a Web browser window.
    • To print answers, choose the Print command from the File menu. To save your answers, choose the Save As… command from the File menu. Students can open the file later in a Web editor or a word processor that imports HTML (such as Microsoft Word or AppleWorks).
    • Show students that the instructions for using the tool are available by clicking Instructions at the top of the screen.
  5. Pass out the customized bookmarks and demonstrate how to fill in the information on them, using one of the books you’ve gathered for the project. The bookmarks are customized for each of the given genres. On the front of the bookmark, there is a space for the students to write the title, author, and their name as well as to recreate the book jacket or draw a scene from their favorite passage. On the back, there will be a bulleted list of components of that genre. Next to each of the bullets, the students will be asked to write a page number showing where in their book the elements were illustrated.
  6. Answer any questions that students have about the project. Since they will be working independently, make sure that they understand the activity before concluding the session.








Challenged Book

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle


L’Engle, M. (1962). A Wrinkle in Time. Harrisonburg, VA: LSC Communications.

Science Fiction, appropriate for ages 10+


A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. At the beginning of the book, Meg is a homely, awkward, but loving girl, troubled by personal insecurities and her concern for her father, who has been missing for over a year. The plot begins with the arrival of Mrs. Whatsit at the Murry house on a dark and stormy evening. Although she looks like an eccentric tramp, she is actually a celestial creature with the ability to read Meg’s thoughts. She startles Meg’s mother by reassuring her of the existence of a tesseract–a sort of “wrinkle” in space and time. It is through this wrinkle that Meg and her companions will travel through the fifth dimension in search of Mr. Murry.

On the afternoon following Mrs. Whatsit’s visit, Meg and Charles Wallace walk over to Mrs. Whatsit’s cabin. On the way, they meet Calvin O’Keefe, a popular boy in Meg’s school whom Charles considers a kindred spirit. The three children learn from Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which that the universe is threatened by a great evil called the Dark Thing and taking the form of a giant cloud, engulfing the stars around it. Several planets have already succumbed to this evil force, including Camazotz, the planet on which Mr. Murry is imprisoned.

The three Mrs. W’s transport the children to Camazotz and instruct them to remain always in each other’s company while on their quest for Mr. Murry. On Camazotz, all objects and places appear exactly alike because the whole planet must conform to the terrifying rhythmic pulsation of IT, a giant disembodied brain. Charles Wallace tries to fight IT with his exceptional intelligence but is overpowered by the evil and becomes a robot-like creature mouthing the words with which IT infuses him. Under the control of IT, Charles leads Meg and Calvin to Mr. Murry and together they confront IT. However, they, too, are unable to withstand IT’s power; they escape only at the last minute, when Mr. Murry appears and seizes Meg and Calvin, “tessering” away with them (traveling via another tesseract) to a gray planet called Ixchel inhabited by tall, furry beasts who care for the travelers. Charles Wallace remains possessed by IT, a prisoner of Camazotz.

On Planet Ixchel the three Mrs. W’s appear once again, and Meg realizes that she must travel alone back to Camazotz to rescue her brother. Mrs. Which tells her that she has one thing that IT does not have, and this will be her weapon against the evil. However, Meg must discover this weapon for herself. When standing in the presence of IT, Meg realizes what this is: her ability to love. Thus, by concentrating on her love for Charles Wallace, she is able to restore him to his true identity. Meg releases Charles from IT’s clutches and tessers with him through time and space, landing in her twin brothers’ vegetable garden on Earth, where her father and Calvin stand waiting. The family joyously reunites, and the Mrs. W’s visit the happy scene en route to further travels.


A Wrinkle in Time is a book about the battle between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of love. Every character is clearly identified with either good or evil: the “good” characters include Meg, her family, Calvin, the Mrs. W’s, Aunt Beast, and the Happy Medium; the “evil” characters include IT, The Dark Thing, and the Man with the Red Eyes. In the absence of any ambiguities or shades of gray, the book’s central conflict is clearly and starkly dramatized so that readers of all ages can understand its themes and its message. Many of the book’s central messages are contained in the lessons of life that Meg must learn in order to successfully complete her quest. First, she must learn to overcome her desire for conformity and appreciate her own uniqueness as an individual. In the beginning of the book, Meg feels awkward and out of place at her high school. She is involved in frequent fights with her peers and is sent to the principal’s office for her misbehavior. Meg tells her mother that she hates being so different and wishes she could just pretend she was like everyone else. This wish comes terribly true in the form of Camazotz, with its rows of identical houses and identical human beings; the planet is a parody of her extreme desire for conformity. Only after she recognizes the evil of this planet does she appreciate the value of being an individual.


Key Ideas and Details

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Craft and Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.5 Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

Lesson Objective: Use the plot resolution to explain a theme in a science fiction novel.

Discussion Questions: What was the main conflict and how was it resolved? What lessons did you learn based on the conflict resolution? Did the message of the book impact your life, thoughts, or beliefs in any way? Why would an author want to include a theme in a book? How do themes impact a reader?

Lesson Activity: 

Teacher modeling: I will explain that science fiction stories always convey a theme, or a message the author wants to tell the reader. There can be multiple themes in one book, with one main theme or message usually stronger and more prominent than the others.

I will explain that one way to figure out the theme of a book is to look at how plot conflicts were resolved. I will review the plot conflicts we recently learned about in Lesson 4. I will evaluate the conflict of Meg vs. Self. I recall that as Meg rescues her brother and reunites with her family, the conflict within herself is resolved. Meg begins to have faith in herself and is happy and proud that she rescued her brother and, in turn, saved her family.

I will think about what kind of message the author might want me, the reader, to understand about this plot conflict. I will think aloud: “What can I learn about life from the way this conflict was resolved? What do I think the author is trying to tell the reader? From what I’ve learned about this Character vs. Self plot conflict, I can say that it’s okay to be different, because Meg was different from other people and characters in the book. I can also say that you should believe in yourself, because when Meg began to believe in herself, she succeeded. Therefore, I can conclude that the author wants to convey the theme: ‘It’s okay to be different and to believe in yourself,’ or ‘When you believe in yourself, you can succeed.'” I will write this theme on chart paper as one theme of A Wrinkle in Time.


Think Check: Ask: “How can I explain a theme in a science fiction novel?” Students should answer that one way to understand a theme is by recalling the details of how a plot conflict is resolved and thinking about the message the author is trying to convey about the resolution.


Guided Practice: We will think about another theme in the book. We will recall how the plot conflict between Meg and her father was resolved. We can recall that Meg’s anger and disappointment with her father is resolved when she finally realizes he has human faults, and that he cannot save her from everything. This conflict is resolved when Meg realizes that she must do things for herself instead of waiting for her father to make things right. Using the information we know about how this plot conflict was resolved, we will think about the kind of message the author might want readers to learn from this plot conflict. Note: Possible themes for this resolution might include: “Take charge of your own destiny;” “Don’t depend solely on others for your own happiness;” or “No one is perfect.” We will write the themes about this plot resolution on chart paper.


Independent Practice: You will examine the major theme in the book based on how the plot conflict between Meg and IT was resolved.  You will identify the main theme of the book based on this plot conflict, and you will prepare to share the main theme with the class.







Batchelder Book

A Book Of Coupons by Susie Morgenstern


Morgenstern, S. (2001). A Book of Coupons. USA: Viking.

Fiction, appropriate for ages 8+


At the start of every new year of school, students come to class with wonder and hope for a “cool,” or at least an interesting teacher. But too often our judgements are based on visual appearance. Students of the Marie Curie School in France found their new teacher Monsiur Noel somewhat of a disappointment. Their new teacher was wrinkly, overweight, and he was old. But the students will find out that Monsieur Noel is full of surprises. On the first day of class Monsieur Moel gave each child a book of coupons.
The book is filled with unique adventures. I enjoyed seeing the bond form between the children and their new teacher.

Morgentstern gives a well thought out story with a tiny arc that ends with a tear or two. Hubert Noël has been called  “Santa” ever since he was a child. In addition to his name, the French word for Christmas, and his nickname, he fits the bill as he is an older gentleman with white hair and a big belly who loves to give presents. This is precisely why he became a teacher. He considers every thing he teaches his students to be a gift from him to them. On the first day of the new school year at a new school, without even a word of greeting, he presents his students with gifts. This first gift is a book filled with coupons for things like sleeping late, skipping a day of school, losing your homework, not listening in class, copying from your neighbor, dancing in class, telling a lie, and many creative others, including a wild card coupon. The students are puzzled initially, but eventually excited by the possibilities the present. Next, Monsieur Noël gives them the gift of the word “cataclysm,” which, he assures them, “when used three times will become yours – a present from me and the dictionary to you!” When Constance asks what that word means, he gives her yet “another magical gift” – a dictionary.

I would teach this in a 3rd-4th grade class. It could be used to help teach students to do nice deeds. They could make their own coupon book of nice gestures of deeds that they and redeem from one another.


A Book of Coupons gives us a reason to believe that life comes with many free coupons and we might as well use them.  If any new opportunity is presented to us, we should take it and enjoy it.  Many life lessons are presented in a new and unusual way to the students of Monsieur Moel.

This story also reminds us not to “judge a book by its’ cover”.  The students were skeptical of their new elderly teacher at first, but as the story went on the students began to realize his worth and how much of an impact he had on each and every one of them.


Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you feel if your teacher gave you a book of coupons like the one in the story on your first day of school?
  2. Do you think it was a good idea for most of the students to take advantage of their coupons?
  3. Would you have used your coupons or saved them until the very end of the year?
  4. What coupons might you want to add to the coupon book?

Lesson Objective:

After reading A Book of Coupons, students will be able to create a book of coupons of their own.

Lesson Activity:

  1. Read the story to the class and have them keep in mind all the coupons that are given out.
  2. Have a class discussion about the book and then have them discuss in table groups.
  3. Hand out 10 paper squares to each student, and have them create their own coupons.  Allow them to add pictures and color.
  4. As they finish, help the students put their coupons together by punching holes and tying it together with ribbon or string to create their very own coupon book.





Multicultural Literature

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco


Lai, T. (2011). Inside Out & Back Again. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Philomel Books.


From Saigon to Alabama, Inside Out and Back Again is the story of a year in the life of Hà, a ten-year-old girl who flees Vietnam with her mother and brothers, in hopes of escaping the Vietnam War and building new—and safer—lives for themselves in the United States.

Written as a series of short poems, it is a sparse and honest narrative that follows Hà as she leaves behind the only home she’s ever known to travel by boat to America. She may have left war behind, but plenty of difficulty awaits, and Hà and her family struggle to find their footing in the United States. At the end of the year, though—and as the book ends—they’re finally getting their bearings, all holding onto hope that life will keep getting better.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is a story about two child soldiers of the Civil War who become friends. They are both fighting against the ‘sickness of slavery’ when Pink finds Say dying on the battlefield. Pink brings him to the slave house where his mother nurses Say back to health.

The boys then prepare to go back to fight for the Union when they are discovered by Confederate ‘marauders’. Pink’s mother is killed and the boys are later caught in a field heading back to battle. Pink is executed and Say is imprisoned. He eventually is released to live a long life, and the story of Pink and Say is passed down through generations

This story, about how a young black soldier rescues a white soldier, opens young readers’ eyes to the injustices of slavery and the senselessness of war. Highly charged emotionally, this masterful retelling of a true story is seen through the white soldier’s eyes.


Family is a pretty big deal for any ten-year-old, but for Hà in Inside Out and Back Again, family is all she has left after the fall of her home in Vietnam. And when we say all, we really mean it. With little more than the clothes on her back, and her doll promptly winding up in the ocean after they depart, Hà basically only has her mother and brothers when she arrives in the United States. That her father’s been missing since she was just a baby only heightens her awareness of the preciousness of family—his absence is felt by each of them. Understandably, then, Hà holds tight to her family, depending upon them to help her make her way in this strange new place, and cherishing the safety and familiarity they provide.

We never find ourselves in the heat of battle in Inside Out and Back Again, and it’s a good thing, too, since our main character is a ten-year-old girl. So unlike other war stories you might have read, this one explores the impact war has on the life of a child. Hà writes about the immediate effects of war on her life, taking us through the period of escape and the experience of becoming a refugee in the American south. Though not a soldier herself, with her father and her homeland lost to war, Hà’s life is radically changed by the violence in Vietnam.

Race is a major theme because this story tells the similarities and differences between Pink and Say from Say’s point of view. His youthful naivety and innocence makes their interactions charming and lighthearted, in stark contrast to the events of the times and to Pink’s experiences. Say had never seen a boy like Pink up close, who he calls the color of mahogany.

Family is a strong theme as Say is invited into Pink’s home and treated like family. They tell each other family stories. This story comes from the oral tradition of passing stories down through families. Pink and Say become like brothers during their time together, and Say says Pink and Moe Moe Bay are his family now.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the things that stand out to Hà about living during a war? Does she seem scared? Why or why not?
  2. What kinds of things seem to be affected the most during war? The least?
  3. How does Hà’s relationship with her brothers change over time? Who is she closest with? Why?
  4. How does her father play a part in this story? Does anything change when they decide he has died?

Lesson Objective: After reading Inside Out & Back Again, students will be able to create a mind map about the Vietnam War.

Lesson Activity: Watch this video about the Vietnam War: https://www.brainpop.com/socialstudies/ushistory/vietnamwar/

  1. Video: first just watch for the gist
  2. Video: second watch: notice/note
  3. FYI: – in depth: create a mind map – real life: create a mind map – graphs/stats/#s: copy down the info – arts/entertainment: read
  4. Make-a-Map: create and submit a map to your teacher




Discussion Questions: 

  1. What was the perspective of both sides, North and South during the Civil War?
  2. What was it like to be a slave during the War?
  3. What was life like for a soldier during the War?
  4. What was it like to be an older child during the War?

Lesson Objective: After reading Pink and Say, students will be able to create an illustrate  Civil War ABC book using information collected during unit of study.

Lesson Activity: The first 5 class periods are dedicated to reading Pink and Say and other books about the Civil War. The next 5 would be used to create the Civil War ABC books.

Step 1: Before reading the story, I have my students gather at our reading carpet with a clipboard and a piece of lined paper. I explain to the students that we are going to read a story that took place during the Civil War. I then ask my students to tell me what they think they already know about the Civil War. I begin to create a KWL Chart while the students share their ideas. The ‘K’ stands for what the students “Think they Know,” The ‘W’ stands for “What we want to know,” and the ‘L’ stands for “What we learned and is confirmed true.” As a class, we will continue to fill out the chart as we progress through our studies of the Civil War.

Step 2: Explain to the students that as you read the story you want them to create a list of words and phrases that would help them remember and describe what they are learning about the Civil War. Have the students write “Words about the Civil War” on the top of their paper before reading. I encourage the students to write down any words that come to their mind, not just words found in the story.

Step 3: As I read the story, I stop every couple of pages to discuss what is occurring. I then invite students share some of the words they have written down and how they would describe or explain the Civil War. I also create a class list to help those who might have difficulty finding words. Common words students might write include pain, children, Abraham Lincoln, Union, danger, root cellar, marauders, master, Confederate Army, friendships, slave.

Step 4: After the students are finished reading we discuss what we have learned about the Civil War. For several days after reading the book, my students study more about the Civil War by reading their textbooks and other classroom materials. As they learn more about the Civil War, we continue to fill out the KWL Chart and students continue to add words and phrases about the war to their lists. They also take notes in their notebooks.

Step 5: When I feel the students have accumulated enough information, they break-up into groups of 4-5 students. As a group, they will create and illustrate an ABC picture book about the Civil War. (During this time, I have students look through other ABC books to give them ideas about how to set-up their books.) Students are instructed to brainstorm a word or an idea about the Civil War that coincides with each letter of the alphabet. After that is finished the students write a couple of sentences describing how the word or idea is connected to the Civil War. I find it works best if each student takes a couple of letters of the alphabet to work on and as a group they edit and revise each others work before they create the final copy of the book. During this process, I have my students participate in mini-lessons to bring them through the writing process.







Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


Yolk, J. & Schoenherr, J. (1987). Owl Moon. New York: Philomela Books.

Fiction, appropriate for ages 3+


Owl Moon is about an endearing adventure of a father and daughter as they trek into the woods to go owl hunting.  This story is full of imagery and figurative language and is great for introducing the learning topic in the classroom.  The little girl understands that she must be quiet and face the cold as her father calls out for the Great Horned Owl.  She is then faced with bravery as the owl calls back and lands on a tree right in front of them.


Owl Moon includes significant details about owls, such as what kind of sounds they make and what they look like. After reading the book, discuss other key facts about owls, such as what kind of owls live in different climates, what they eat, how fast they can fly, how long they live and whether they migrate.

The narrator of Owl Moon talks about concepts like being brave and having to practice self control.  There is also the concept of hope, which the narrator says is one of the things you need to have to go owling.



4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 2 reading and content, choosing exibly from an array of strategies.

a.Use sentence-level context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

Lesson Objective:  After reading Owl Moon, the students will be able to use context clues to identify the meanings of words or phrases.

Discussion Questions: The little girl was very quiet when she was walking. Why do you think it was important for her to be quiet?; What is snow?; What kinds of things do you like to do in the snow?; Why are the little girl and her dad dressed in such warm clothes? My short, round shadow bumped after me. What is a ‘shadow’?; Pa shrugged and I shrugged. What is a ‘shrug’?

Lesson Activity: Before the story – Introduce the book.  Tell the students the title of the book and talk about the author and illustrator. Discuss the illustration on the cover. You might talk about what an owl is and where owls live.

During the story – Ask open-ended questions as you read the story. Open-ended questions increase the amount of talk about a book and help students focus on the details of the story and the illustrations. Open-ended questions require more than a yes or no answer.

Find the hidden animals. See if your students can find the animals in the illustrations (e.g., rabbit, dog, bird, mouse, raccoon, deer, and of course, the owl).

Talk about new vocabulary.

After the story – Draw with watercolors. Tell your students that the illustrator, John Schoenherr, used watercolors to create the beautiful illustrations in the book. Provide your students with watercolor sets and plain white paper (drawing paper works best). Before you set them loose, it’s important to teach watercolor techniques. Modeling is critical to avoid disaster.

  • Provide watercolor sets, paintbrushes, drawing paper and low small rectangular water containers that will not tip over easily.
  • Dip the paintbrush in the water and remove the excess water.
  • Use the paintbrush to wet the paint and then gently apply strokes onto the paper.
  • Rinse the brush well between colors.
  • Be gentle with the brush.
  • Have fun painting.
  • Leave the wet painting flat to dry.