Author/Illustrator study morphed into country study

It is always so important to ‘listen’ to our students. This became so clear in a recent experience with our second graders.

Cover of the book, The boy of the three-year nap by Diane Snyder and illustrated by Allan Say.It all began with a sharing of one of Allen Say’s first experiences illustrating children’s books, a Caldecott Honor winner, … The Boy of the Three-Year Nap written by Diane Snyder. The illustrations were detailed and wonderful but our combined background schema wasn’t enough to be able to tell us if this was a book set in Japan or China.

It lent itself to a wonderful research adventure. The very first page was the path on how to begin our investigation. “On the banks of the river Nagara, where the long-necked cormorants fish, there once lived a widow and her son.”

The next meeting set us off with Google Earth to locate the Nagara River … Japan! Then we wondered what are cormorants … whatever they were, we knew they were a creature that fished. So we found a wonderful video clip showing how these birds were used to help fishermen fish on the Nagara River … with brass rings around their necks so they can’t swallow the fish (but are rewarded with smaller fish), to the kind of boats used, the purpose of the metal baskets hanging off the bow of the ship, time of day they fished, to the woven baskets in the boats – all became clear.

While reading the book, we encountered a lot of vocabulary that we weren’t sure of, which allowed us to use Google’s “define:” function to help explain. The richness of the text was wonderful and allowed us to have great conversations. It was much easier and faster to look up definitions this way than with print dictionaries. We divided the words into groups and each of the students used Chromebooks. Each group shared what they learned back with fellow students. I did learn that next time I would also include the sentence for each word to aid them in deciding which definition fit the situation in the text.

These activities brought a wonderful email from one of our parents. Librarian wearing a Yataka and Obi - Japanese attireShe offered to loan me some items from her trip to Japan, as a teenager, which enable me to share them with all the second grade students. I greeted the students wearing her takana and obi (one of our vocabulary words). The shoes were a little too uncomfortable looking so I didn’t wear those. I also met with her daughter and we brainstormed some questions to ask her mom which we could then share with all the students. She borrowed one of our audio recorders and conducted her interview. The students listened carefully to each question and answer. As I watched their reactions, I thought how wonderful it would be if all the students had this opportunity to interview their parents/grandparents. I was wishing I had 100 audio recorders to send home!


Epiphany! I didn’t need 100 or any. Next year, we can have students conduct interviews and ask parents to use their smartphones to record these chats and then email the files to me. Not only will it be a great learning experience for the students but a treasure for families to have, especially with extended members of the family.

The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for History and Social Studies (p.17) asks the students to:
2.7 On a map of the world, locate the continent, regions, or countries from which students, their parents, guardians, grandparents, or other relatives or ancestors came. With the help of family members and the school librarian, describe traditional food, customs, sports and games, and music of the place they came from. (G, C)

What a great way to start the conversation and enable to students to collect and share this new learning by conducting interviews! Wouldn’t it also be a great way to share these with all students by creating our own StoryCorps, like the Library of Congress? This would help the fourth graders … to listen to select recordings … to better under the “Push” and “Pull” factors of immigration – a major unit.

What I originally thought was an author/illustrator study turned into a very rich country unit that prepared the students for their own country of origin reports in the following month. Listening to our students is essential to learn what they need and it is especially fortuitous if they are curious and excited, as well!

It is so exciting to be learning right along with the children!

Cheryl Chase

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