Return to Developing Students' Concept of the Theme

Concept Development Process: "Taking Action to Care for Others"

Lori Scobie, North City Elementary

Shoreline, Washington


Overview: I picked this theme to give examples of people caring for others so that my students could see what that means. This would give us a way to talk about it in our classroom. The value of this theme to me is seeing the impact that caring for others can have.



* We began with the picture book, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by James Ransome. This moving story of a young girl's efforts to sew a map of the Underground Railroad helped us brainstorm specific qualities and actions she took to care for others. We noted these actions in a web on a large chart with "Taking Action to Care for Others" in the center. From Clara's example, we were able to extend those qualities of caring to more general examples that could apply in other settings.


* We added to the web of caring actions and qualities after reading Eve Bunting's The Wednesday Surprise. We included students' own experiences of caring for others. At this step, students wrote in their journals about their personal experiences with caring for others.


* I read Prince William by Ted and Gloria Rand, adding still more examples to the web. At this point, we began to form these examples into broader statements, called generalizations, as a way to consolidate our brainstorming sessions. The generalizations helped students concentrate on a few important "big ideas" about our theme, giving everyone a common frame of reference for reading the novels I had chosen. Without these focusing generalizations, I would have less confidence that everyone was understanding the same key issues in the books. Our Generalizations:


· It is sometimes hard work to care for others, so you must be persistent, confident, patient and determined.


· No matter what your age, you can still take action if you believe in yourself.


· You may have to give something up even if you don't want to, and people might not agree with you.


It was very important to me that the wording of our generalizations come from my students. This gave them greater ownership and the ideas were automatically expressed in language that they understood. I had a general idea of the generalizations I wanted us to develop but quickly discovered that the students' generalizations were better than mine!


* Meanwhile, I had been selecting books that fit the theme, had "meaty" issues to discuss, and fit the reading levels in my classroom. I gave "book talks" about these and students selected a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice.


* Journal entries often referred back to the generalizations and the web of qualities. Students were assessed at the end of the unit on their understanding of the theme.


* The response project (story quilt) also celebrated the theme of Taking Action to Care for Others. Each student selected a meaningful part of their book, painted a scene depicting taking action, chose a quote to accompany it, and designed borders which symbolized these actions.


Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. (1991). Shiloh. NY: Dell.

Hill, K. (1990). Toughboy and Sister. NY: Puffin.

(1993). Wintercamp. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Gauch, P. (1991). Thunder at Gettysburg. NY: Bantam.

Naidoo, B. (1985). Journey to Jo'burg. NY: Lippincott.

McSwigan, M. (1942). Snow Treasure. NY: Scholastic


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