I am a most fortunate as a Teacher Librarian. Many of the classroom teachers and specialists I work with not only are willing to collaborate with me but also to collaborate on lessons that involve my favorite topics.
Recently, a seventh-grade class was studying World War I. This is a common time period of study at this grade level. A challenge for the teacher I collaborated with is that many students are English Language Learners at very early stages of learning English. There are some seriously complex ideas to work with in WWI.
I am constantly amazed at how young people are able to learn a language while learning content in that language. I studied French in HS and college and lived in a non-English speaking country. It's not easy!
So, what did Ms. SS and I do? We enlisted poetry to meet a Virginia Standard of Learning.
The student will demonstrate knowledge of the changing role of the United States from the late nineteenth century through World War I by
c) explaining the reasons for the United States’ involvement in World War I and its international leadership role at the conclusion of the war.
I took a poetry lesson from our US Library of Congress and adapted it to the needs of these middle school students.\: "In Flanders Fields" -- Using Multiple Approaches to Explore a Poem, written by Peter Armenti.
Ms. SS and I put our heads together about what her students needed. We also brainstormed a way to share the origins of the poem very briefly so that students could maximize connections.
When we gathered in her classroom, students first listened to the poem and jotted down whatever came to mind--then chatted about those words with an elbow partner.
Next, students used our school's annotation symbols on a paper copy of the poem as they listened to a second reading. There was even more to talk about now that keywords and phrases were underlined....."we are the dead" being very popular.
Ms SS found a concise history of the poem on the internet that I was able to summarize, the inspiration of In Flanders Fields, in two powerpoint slides that allowed us to talk about how the author of the poem, John McCrae had lost a dear friend, Alexis Helmer. Now we had middle school connections all over.
Ms. SS and I then gave our students a way of showing learning and new understanding by illustrating the poem with a blank graphic novel page. Students were able to immediately show text to self and text to history content connections with their knowledge of how a graphic novel works.
Our students are pretty graphic-novel savvy. The template we used for our graphic novel pages is free and found at picklebums....although there are many free templates on the internet to choose from.
To foster creativity, Ms. SS provided sample mentor text/illustration pages. I provide a page of images to cut and glue
onto the GN template page. These WWI images were culled from sources on the internet.
We could have accomplished this activity digitally. However, we thought about the value in limiting these students to the images we provided, which was matched to the poem or was a text box of information taken right out of our Virginia State teaching standards. Images included clipart of larks, cemeteries, WWI soldiers, WWI trenches, poppies.
We were pleased to see students doing history rather than trying to listen and understand history from teacher talk. They cut up copies of the poem we provided (in English and Spanish) and illustrated as many of the words they chose. It was fascinating to see their choices....and to know that In Flanders Fields is a poem they now associate with World War I and remembering those who served.