Second grade incorporates historic fiction across all disciplines

For the past three years, the second grade teaching team at Poly has found a creative and innovative way to weave the historical fiction book Sarah, Plain and Tall throughout their lessons and single-subject classes. The story follows an American family through challenges and change in the late 19th century. Students explore the story through writing, art, science, Spanish, library skills, and technology.

Suzie Arther ’89 explains that the story is about more than just finding a new farm: “It asks the questions ‘Where’s home?’ and ‘Where is your place?’” Fellow teacher Joanne Hwang adds, “It gives students an opportunity to study a community that’s very different than their own. It helps them understand themselves in a greater context.” All three second grade classes take the reading strategies they’ve talked about throughout the year and apply them to the novel. While each teacher uses the book as a foundation for her lesson plans, how each incorporates the story varies.

Arther asks her students to log their reflections in a journal during shared reading sessions. Her students then complete a three-dimensional dodecahedron (12-sided figure) with activities that make connections with the book in a variety of ways. Hwang has her students identify key reading strategies and story elements through various projects. For example, each student created a Sarah, Plain and Tall booklet that expressed his or her understanding of prediction, visualization, connections, and plot. Students also investigated expository writing by creating summaries that were illustrated by using a three-dimensional pyramid structure. In Jenine Almahdi’s class, while students read, they kept a reading journal, in which they responded to what they in a variety of ways, including recording interesting vocabulary words and making inferences about characters. They applied their artistic talents with detailed landscape drawings of the rich settings of the prairie and Maine coastline described throughout the story. They also practiced visualizing after reading about the terrible storm in the novel, and then used oil pastels and watercolors to bring those images to life.

The story, which takes place on both a prairie in Kansas and the shore of Maine, provides a wealth of topics and details to explore. The lessons go beyond just the students’ home teacher’s class. From learning prairie animal names in Spanish to exploring music from the time period, this novel study is truly an interdisciplinary effort. Students learn how different chores were back then by baking biscuits in science, and they draw prairie animals in art, sometimes with the use of an iPad. Hwang explains that this type of spiraling—expanding on concepts in different ways in different classes—allows for a rich connection to the material throughout the curriculum.

Each class also created T-shirts and lap books that were finished just in time to be displayed at the annual Poly Pet and Hobby Show. For the research-based lapbook, each student selected a prairie animal to study. The cover of the book featured a drawing of the animal, while inside the book was a glossary, interesting facts, written report, diagram of the animal’s habit or body, trading cards, and a crossword puzzle using words related to that particular critter.

The unit concluded with the second-graders taking a field trip to the Leonis Adobe Museum, where they explored firsthand early California ranch life and drew comparisons to life on the prairie. “We love this unit,” explains Arther, “because it engages our children across the curriculum and provides opportunities to connect in many ways on many different levels. When the learning is integrated like this, it becomes an authentic, valuable experience.”

We offer this slideshow that demonstrates the various activities from this unit.
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