Monday, December 10, 2012

Rainy Days, Mondays and Rats!

This morning started out exactly as you would imagine a gloomy, foggy Monday would, however, it did turn around.  Why?  This book:
If you are studying informational text with your intermediate kiddos, they will love this.  Our 5th grade used it last year as one of our main read alouds during our non-fiction unit.  It was a suggested text for our 6th grade unit this year, but the team was very cool about letting us keep going with it in 5th, so we are. Click on the image to link to Amazon.  

It's a great narrative non-fiction text, and it provides excellent opportunities for discussing main ideas/details & summarizing.  In a nutshell, the author describes in the introduction how a frightening experience he had as a child led him to research and learn as much as he could about rats in order to tackle his negative feelings.  From there, there are chapters on the history of rats and people, eating rats, getting rid of rats, etc. Last week, we read the chapter on the eating of rats (seriously, gross but interesting), and today we went back to analyze it and read it closely, with the goal of finding multiple main ideas that we could support.

The kids did an amazing job.  The ideas ranged from as simple as, "Some people think that eating rats is not gross," to the more sophisticated, "What one culture is disgusted by, another culture feels is a delicacy," to "Rats are considered a tasty and nutritious food source in other parts of the world."  These can all be supported. Then, we talked about whether or not these were different ideas vs. other ways of saying the exact same thing.  Here is some of the thinking:

1. Some people think eating rats is not gross. 
The students decided that this was the easiest one to support because it's the most obvious. I agreed with them. There is a lot of very explicit text evidence to support this idea.

2. What one culture is disgusted by, another culture feels is a delicacy.
They felt that while you get the same idea that you do in the first main idea statement, this one goes a little deeper. I agree again! Now we're talking about differences between cultures, not just personal food preferences. The evidence is in the text, but it requires the reader to do a little more than just list all of the ways rat can be prepared.  

3. Rats are considered a tasty and nutritious food source in some parts of the world.
Here again, we've added another layer, which is the nutritional value. Similar, but more sophisticated than #1.

This was a great lesson.  We are in a good place for them to practice and demonstrate their ability to find multiple main ideas in their own texts now.  Also, while all three main ideas are valid, what they tell me about my kids and where they are with all of our work in this unit is the most important thing.  As I looked at their jottings in their reading notebooks later, I was struck by a few things.  First, some of my more literal thinkers had moved beyond (ever so slightly, but still!) statements like the first one.  Yay!  Most of my kids were more polished and clear in the way they expressed their thinking (sophisticated vocabulary, cleaner/less murky supports, etc.), and only a couple are struggling. Considering that two weeks ago we were still working on one main idea with supports, I was pretty psyched.

99% of them knew nothing about rats last week, other than that they were scared of them and they thought they were disgusting.  Today, all they were talking about in the hallway on their way to lunch/recess was rats. Reading and unpacking this text with them is getting across the intended teaching points, and it's helping them to see that readers can (and often have to) tackle tricky texts about things they have virtually no knowledge of. Very cool. Plus, I won't lie and tell you that I didn't enjoy their reactions when describing some of the more unusual ways to serve the little guys...