Our first week of second semester is over! I’m pleased to report that everyone survived, but it was a close call for a few. Of course, I was prepared for a few back to school crazies, but it was doubly concerning as we had those snow days before break too. It’s been a while since these kids have had a truly normal week. I spent two days reviewing what the kids had done during their vacations. (To do this I used ¿Qué hiciste este fin de semana? by The Storyteller’s Corner which I read as a book since I don’t have my own room. My predecessor left behind several of her materials in a file, I pulled out the school’s binding machine and have been putting them to great use! If you need printable, easy, engaging readers then check out her TpT store!) That was fun, but by Wednesday we really needed to get back on schedule. So, with Capibara Con Botas books in hand, (Read more about this book here.) we began our math lesson. This idea came from Matt Miller during DitchSummit18. Maybe he’s not the first to come up with it, but he had the idea during one of the sessions and I thought it seemed great, so I rewrote my lessons to include it. Good golly people, they enjoyed the novelty of this! Here’s how it went:
I drew a graph for them. I used emojis as the y-axis: at the top was the wide grin, then the one with no mouth (used for unknown or unclear) then sad, scared, and angry at the very bottom. I used the chapter numbers for the x-axis, we were on chapter ten, so I had ten columns. This was already prepared before class, all I had to do was open the file and review the emotion words. With a higher level or after having done this a few times, maybe I would let the kids choose which emojis and what order to place them in. Honestly, creating a logically ordered spectrum of emotions was harder than I expected it to be, I went by the order I would rather experience.
Then we created a list of all the characters we could remember (book use was highly encouraged) and we chose a different color for each character. I was very impressed by their recollection of characters. They did remember everyone! That was a nice confidence builder for me. As they listed characters, I would ask the kids which color they preferred for the character then write the name underneath the graph. (Sidenote: Thank you, Mira Canion, for having only a limited number of characters, it exactly matched my number of colors. I had not thought to count that before.) When I do this again, I will write the names into a box which will be the key, so it more accurately reflects a mathematical/scientific graph.
Finally, I instructed the students to open their books to chapter one. I asked them how Carlos, the main character, was feeling and plotted it on the graph. Then we moved to chapter two with Carlos. After Carlos’ emotions had been plotted and the connecting lines drawn, I moved on to the next character we had listed and we flipped back to chapter 1. I had considered going by chapter instead of by character, but I’m glad I focused them on characters instead of chapters because it got them thinking more deeply about a single character’s experience. This deeper thought was necessary for times when the character didn’t appear in the following chapter. When we didn’t know, we thought back on what the character had last experienced or what we knew of their personality and guessed. For the most part, we did not need to rely on the unclear emoji once a character had been introduced to the book. (Sidenote: I had no intention of plotting characters in the chapters preceding their introduction, but the kids insisted on plotting every line fully and I was more interested in celebrating their engagement.)
After plotting out the two easiest characters, I allowed them to choose who we plotted next for the remainder of the activity. After they started getting the hang of what we were doing I began asking them for evidence and encouraging them to read from the book to explain why they thought a character felt a certain way. High schoolers might not need prompting for evidence and could be expected to do it at the onset of the activity, but as I teach elementary I always try to build confidence with an activity before stepping up the rigor. (Plenty of people say that elementary teachers coddle too much, if this is true then I am fine with being in the wrong until someone can convince me that it is bad for my students.) For example, in the prior chapter one character had been happy, so they told me that the character was happy in the next chapter too. I asked them to prove it and they realized that the character suffered an injury during the next chapter and had to reevaluate their decision. That was cool to watch. After that they had to prove every answer, whether or not it was obvious. This went well because it was a logical transition in expectation.
We only have 30-minute classes, so we didn’t have time to map every character, but they loved doing this so much that I wished I had continued it a second day. I didn’t because I felt it had served its purpose of reminding the kids about the story, and I wanted to redirect their energy to the book instead of keeping it on the graph. I feel this kind of shift helps them maintain excitement more than continuing something they’ve become completely comfortable with, especially in a week where I was expecting issues with remembering our rules and routines. This was the right choice for me and this group but could certainly be handled in several other ways. For example, after plotting the two easiest characters (with all of the others being mostly equal in difficulty) this could have become an individual or small group activity where they need to plot the remaining characters themselves and write out the sentence that supports each point, or choose one to present to the class with supports, and that’s just ideas off the top of my head.
Now, a couple of notes that should be kept in mind: first, as mentioned before, if you plan on color-coding your plot lines then be sure to count your characters and available colors. Second, as this book has around eight paragraphs in each chapter it is unusual that a character seriously changes from beginning to end, so for me it was easy enough to choose a single emotion. Consider the amount of action that takes place in each chapter and be sure your students will be able to choose one feeling. Certainly we could have had a very long discussion about the previously-mentioned, injured character. He did begin the chapter quite optimistically and ended it in agony, we could have plotted him with more detail but didn’t. Think about the level of analysis that your students would apply. My crew is more than 75% boys, they just don’t nit-pic emotional status the way a group of 75% girls might. Or maybe it is that they are 90% competitive so when they all agree then they obviously all won, and a less competitive class might respond differently? I don’t know, all I can say is this went well for us but consider how your class handles emotion before over-simplifying as I did. Certainly, you could identify key actions in the book instead of chapters which would require more language but be easier when putting emotion into single points on a plot line.
Either way, this activity was a great success for me, and if you try it in your class I’d love to hear all about it! What book are you reading? How did you arrange your x and y axis? Was it a fun break from your “normal” language lessons?