Have you ever asked a group of middle school or high school students to circle up for story time? I have. Do it. It's awesome. At first they'll complain, then they will say that they are participating, but they are doing it "ironically." At the end everyone actually enjoys it.
I remember reading Alice in Wonderland and learning all about what the different characters represented. I literally went "down the rabbit hole" of researching Lewis Carrol's world. I still remember how much I learned just from curiosity I had about the text. I have learned that using children's books can prompt the same kind of "getting lost in the research" moment, and I love to see kids experiencing it.
Children's books are awesome, even at the secondary level they can be a great way to introduce a concept to kids. That's what your students are remember...kids. Even if they have beards and a drivers license, they are still kids. Somewhere (sometimes deep down) there is still a potential for wonder and excitement. The same wonder and excitement that they felt in first grade during story time.
This post isn't about reading though, it's about writing. One of my favorite activities is to have my students create children's books. If they can take complex ideas, and whittle them down into a story that a ten year old can understand, they understand it too. It opens the doors for my students who thrive in the arts to show their talents. Whether a student loves research, layout, illustration, editing, or a myriad of other roles, there is a way for each student to shine.
As part of my unit on Immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries I have students pair up and write children's books. The first thing they do is research several countries of origin to get a feel for what was happening globally during that time that may have been push factors contributing to people leaving particular countries.
After selecting a country, they then listen to oral histories from immigrants using the Oral History library on the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation's website. It's an awesome resource if you haven't checked it out. They have over 1900 interviews from every country imaginable.
In addition to the Oral Histories, they conduct research to find out how much the journey cost, typical travel time and condition, and ultimately the experiences of that group in America. They research pull factors, why different people settled in particular places. Finally they research the lasting contributions made to society.
After their research is complete they pick one of the stories that inspired them and they create a children's book. They add additional details from their research to bring the story to life and add illustrations. As a final step after they "publish" the book, they can go to a local elementary school and read it to students there and continue the conversation.
I am always so impressed with how the books turn out. I give them some initial research questions to get them started, but ultimately I let them go in the direction that they want. For example, in some of the interviews the interviewees mention broad things like, "the war." If students want to use that information in their books, they have to research to determine what wars might have been occurring at that time, and what war this particular person was most likely referencing based on other knowledge.
To bring the pictures to life they need to look into typical clothing of the time period and also the country of origin. If they want to reference food, currency, music, religion, or anything else, they will need to conduct additional research. I get them started by asking them to look for push and pull factors, but they decide the other avenues the go down.
Some students use computer software to produce their book, others use old fashioned paper and colored pencils. I let them go where they feel confident. If they want help with using a layout software, I'm here. If they want to storyboard it on the whiteboard first and draw it by hand, that's okay too!
Although they are not writing a "research paper" and in the end the writing they do is far more simplistic than if they were responding to a prompt, I think they end up doing far more research, and it is of interest to them.
I encourage them to choose countries that their families (or they themselves) immigrated from. We also make connections to what is happening in the world today and discuss push and pull factors in their own lives.
By the time they read the books at the elementary school, they have become experts on their "story" and can conduct a good discussion.
I think children's books can be worked into curriculum in any subject area, and I would encourage you to consider it. My students are just starting this year's projects, I will share some final projects when the are done.
Each year this project grows a bit more, next year I plan to have the books professionally bound and eventually I'd love to have students actually submit them to publishers to go through that process. Perhaps we will create "audiobooks' or "ebooks" as well, there are so many possibilities!
Have you used children's books in your classroom?