When my district adopted the MDESE's model unit for Tuck Everlasting, I was dubious. EVERY kid was going to have to read this old book? I knew the gist of it (spoiler alert) which was the family lives forever. I'd read an excerpt when I was in school (older than fourth grade). So when the books arrived I cracked one open.
My first impression (first few chapters) was how DRY it was. I know, lots of descriptive language is a great model for kids to have for their own writing. But it did not help me get into the story. Sure enough, when I was halfway through reading the book with my class last year several admitted, "I thought this book was really boring at first."
Once I got through the first part, it did start to feel more intriguing. I knew that some of my fourth graders would appreciate the story, so I was feeling a little better. At least those who didn't love it would be exposed to something new and different instead of the same old Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (not that I'm knocking them; they have an important purpose too in that they get reluctant readers reading).
And then I got to the scene where the mother kills the stranger.
I was so upset. I had to use this book, a story where a woman commits murder because she doesn't like what someone is going to do. Here we teach kids that hurting someone is never an option, and we're exploring situations where the only option someone has is killing. I know this is an important dilemma to explore and debate, but for ten year olds?!
I opened up my model unit with a chip on my shoulder.
I had to admit, the unit itself was actually pretty good. It has stopping points, discussion questions, suggestions for the gradual release of responsibility, vocabulary lists, examples of figurative language, assessments and even suggested ideas for anchor charts. It is well organized sequentially and the appendices are useful. This really is a well thought out, complete unit.
What it did not have is a single student friendly practice page.
One thing I wanted my students to do was to analyze characters. I started out with three (Winnie, Mae and The Stranger). Then I wanted them to focus on the main character's thoughts and feelings, and what caused them. I created a set of pages that tracks Winnie's feelings in each chapter.
Next, I wanted students to record how the characters were connected to one another. We used a folding organizer for their reader's response journals as well as a homework page.
I also wanted a space for kids to write their ideas about the theme. I felt that this needed to be done once every 5 chapters in order to keep students thinking about it as they were reading. Their ideas would evolve as more of the story unraveled, so it was unlikely that they'd know the theme by the end of the first few chapters. Yet they needed to be thinking about the big picture from the beginning in order to synthesize a response at the end.
The book is rich with figurative language, and I wanted to make sure that the kids understood the meaning and who/what the phrases were describing. I created recording sheets for the language being used in each chapter. They include the page numbers of each example of figurative language in order to guide their search.
The vocabulary is at a very high level for most fourth graders, so I needed to have a system for previewing and writing kid friendly definitions for the words before reading each chapter. I kept these pages small enough to be glued into their reader's composition notebooks.
Some of the other things the kids needed to demonstrate, such as comprehension, was mostly covered by the model unit. I will post about how I made these more accessible in a future post.
Overall, the unit was a BIG success. I was really surprised. I thought if I was not excited about the book, they wouldn't be either. But I think with all the work I poured into these pages, they must have picked up on my energy. They really were excited about reading the next chapter each day, and our debate about whether or not Mae was justified was thoughtful and worthwhile. So I'm really proud of this packet of materials. If you need to teach Tuck Everlasting, you can download the free unit here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/candi/model/units/ELAg4-TuckEverlasting.pdf. If you find that you need supplemental pages to make the content accessible for you students, I have (finally, after months of refining) my Tuck Everlasting Activity Pages available for you.
And finally, an unrelated side note. If you are a long time follower, you may have noticed that my posting schedule did decline over the past few months. I thought that was forgivable due to summer vacation. However I wanted to let you know that I expect to be posting less than I did in past years. I've had a fairly big life change and as a result I've had to re-prioritize my time. Posting every week just isn't feasible for me anymore.
Now, this does NOT mean I am ending this blog. On the contrary. I feel a great sense of pride in this blog. Even two weeks ago I got the sweetest comment about how helpful my posts have been. The blog is here to stay for anyone to stumble on and learn from. The reason I'm going to post less is to MAINTAIN the level of quality. I would rather post once every two months than post filler every week. Just as my time is limited and precious, so is yours. I am committed to keeping my posts interesting and informative for you all.
So I hope you will stick with me here on Shut the Door and Teach, because I still have a passion for teaching fourth grade and sharing what works for me in my classroom.
Thanks for reading.
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