Category Archives: Read Alouds Grades 6-8

Review & teaching ideas for new book Seeds of Freedom


The new trade book Seeds of Freedom (Bass, 2015, Candlewick Press) is a good fit for 4th-6th grade students because it’s complex and has content worthy of close reading and collaborative discussions. Bass, the author, does not just tell a straightforward narrative about what happened in Huntsville, AL; instead her narrative requires the reader to make inferences about what was going on. The way she presents the information requires the reader to think critically about what was going on. Bass uses the metaphor of planting and growing seeds of freedom–tapping into what these seeds need to grow. For example, she writes, “But the seeds of freedom need news to grow, so another plan is hatched.” From there she describes “Blue Jean Sunday” when the African Americans boycotted local businesses and wore denim for Easter in 1962. The way she tells it, though, the reader has to make an inference that this was the “hatched” plan and the reader also has to infer how this was “news” to grow the seeds of freedom. With her audience in mind, the author has provided just enough content for the reader to do this. She continues to build on this idea of “needing news to grow the seeds of freedom” throughout the book.

While the publisher has listed this book for k-3rd grade, I think the ideas are conceptually way too challenging for this age group. If you get a copy of it, you’ll also see right away that there’s a large amount of text on each page (not too much for a read aloud to older students, though) and some of the illustrations are abstract. The illustrations are also mature enough for this older group of students; the book doesn’t have a “primary” feel.

I’d do the following with intermediate (at least 4th) and higher students (through 6th) –
1) Read this book aloud during an integrated unit of study;
2) Read aloud the author’s notes and discuss;
3) Ask the students to read excerpts from this text closely with an essential question in mind for discussion and for writing in response. Examples of questions (some that could be used with multiple excerpts) include –

“How does the description of Blue Jean Sunday serve to support one of the author’s main ideas?”

“Explain how the author uses evidence to support the idea that ‘seeds of freedom need news to grow.'”

“What is the author’s perspective on the movement in Huntsville? What in the text makes you think so?”

“What role did perseverance (patience, compassion, etc.) play in this movement?”

Background knowledge about Jim Crow and segregation would be helpful in understanding this book, but students could also read this book at the beginning of a unit of study as a way to begin an inquiry project into this period. They could generate questions for research as they hear this read aloud a second time or as they read it with a partner. This would be a good opportunity to compare texts on the same topic – even just comparing one page of text from this book with a primary source (news article, photo, memoir, etc.). It would be interesting to research others’ perspectives on what the author calls “the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama.” The metaphor “seeds of change” or “growing seeds of change” could serve as a frame for thinking about/reading about other events in the civil rights movement and how it took time and perseverance for change to occur.

One disappointment (but not a deal breaker) – I thought the metaphor of growing seeds of freedom was powerful and used well in the first half of the book. I like the growing versus planting – it increases the rigor of this text. I felt like the development of the metaphor was weak in the second half of the book, though. For several pages in the first part of the book, the metaphor remained at the seed stage. Then late in the book there is one page where the “tender plant of freedom” is mentioned; at the end of that page, I was confused when the author wrote, “Are the seeds of freedom wilting?” I was thinking it should have been “Are the tender plants of freedom wilting?” There is no other mention of the tender plant and then on the last page, the last sentence, after the schools of Huntsville have been integrated, the author writes, “to taste the sweet fruit homegrown from the seeds of freedom.” It felt like a leap given the heavy emphasis on the seeds earlier in the book. BUT why not have students go back and think about events that revealed the growth of tender plants and how they might have wilted at certain points and then how the fruit was growing and so forth? This could help students move forward in reading other texts on the same topic and using this metaphor.

If you know me, you know I LOVE books on this period of American History. If you want more information on books I’d recommend reading with students, visit my Goodreads bookshelves–I have a general shelf of books on the Civil Rights Movement (1950-1970) and then two additional shelves with “text sets” for 3rd and for 6th-8th grade.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 9.57.44 AM

Okay…hope this helps.



Lesson: Teaching Term Perseverant Through… Part 2


Lesson Experience – Even when definitions of vocabulary words are carefully planned for discussion during close reading, these definitions can be problematic…

In a blog entry from last December about a lesson experience, I discussed the needs of a specific group of 6th graders I worked with in an urban school. Many seemed to lack depth of understanding of key theme words used to make claims.  I promised to blog later about the lesson specifically and failed to follow up – sorry! (Alas, where does time go?)  So here it is.

I planned a lesson that would focus on understanding the term perseverant as it relates to the work of the social rights activists pursuing the right to vote – specifically in Selma, Alabama in the early 1960’s. My theory is that if students understand vocabulary words like “perseverant” in one context, they will be able to take that understanding and apply it to many, many other contexts they are reading about in nonfiction texts. Easy, right? Ha!

When I teach a word like perseverant, I start by asking myself what I know about this word. Actually, I just start by looking up the definition on-line. I never assume I know enough about a word to just start teaching. Just by looking up the definition, I gain more depth in my understanding of the word and my ability to articulate its meaning to students.

The online definition for “perseverant” is “to persevere.” Great. The definition of “persevere” is to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement ( Okay. I can play around with this. Thinking about “kid-friendly” definitions, I came up with the following for “perseverant”:

When a person is persistent in pursuing a goal through a series of actions in spite of difficulties or obstacles.

Now, wait. Even with careful planning, this definition would prove to be problematic – but I wouldn’t know it until I was working closely with the students.

For close reading, I chose an excerpt from the award-winning Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (about 190 words – two paragraphs total, p. 4 about the work of activist Sandra Boynton.) (LOVE THIS BOOK!!! Highly recommend for all 5-8th grade classroom libraries.)

At the beginning of the lesson, I read aloud the first chapter of Partridge’s book, placing the book on the document camera so the students could view the stunning photos Partridge included to support her points. As I posted each photo, I asked, “What do you notice? What makes you think so?”  (10 minutes)

Then before we started close reading, I briefly defined and explained “perseverant.” This part of the lesson could take up the whole period, but I kept it short. I posted the definition (see image of anchor chart) for all students to see and I posted another piece of chart paper with the students’ purpose for conversation (see additional image below). I asked the students to turn and share a time they’d been perseverant. I pushed in and coached trios of students in sharing and then after a few minutes, I asked one student to join me at the front and share his example of perseverance. What I quickly noticed was their examples of perseverant were about overcoming inner-obstacles – learning to play basketball, run faster, do math. The excerpt I’d chosen and what I’d been thinking about were – external obstacles like government policies, or racists, or fear created by others as obstacles to the work of the activists. I needed to differentiate this for the students – internal and external obstacles.


So I went back to the anchor chart with the definition and added notes – look at the anchor chart again and notice the notes regarding “our ability” and “other.” Our purpose for close reading was  – How were the activists perseverant in pursuing the right to vote? (See anchor chart below.) As we began the close reading and I gradually released control to partners to close reading, I noticed (while conferring) that some of the students did not know what “obstacles” meant. So I took advantage of another teachable moment and added “problem gets in the way” to the anchor chart with the definition. We worked forward in this manner – continuously referring to our definition to help us clarify what we were or were not understanding AND what we were learning in regards to the purpose for close reading.

I closed this lesson by asking the students to gather in a circle – with their notes. With a volunteer student, I modeled in the middle of the circle how to look at the annotations I’d written (and the volunteer had written) on the text excerpt (on the doc camera during close reading) and refer to the anchor chart with the definition of “perseverant” to discuss what I’d learned. Then I coached pairs of students when they turned to talk with a partner – using their notes and the anchor chart as references. They revealed some depth in their learning during their discussions with partners. Follow up instruction for a group like this would be to work with this key vocabulary word and others over time – with many different texts and in many different conversations.


This lesson experience has influenced many lessons I have given since then. I carefully craft definitions that are part of close reading prompts – to be rigorous and to present students with enough language to explain what they are learning during close reading. IN ADDITION, I observe and assess students’ understanding of the work and add to/revise the definition as needed. I blogged recently with some more examples of how I’ve done this. I really think this helps students explain evidence they are identifying related to the purpose for close reading.

A dear colleague reminded me that I had not followed up with a description of this lesson! Thanks, Tara!!!

Hope this helps.



The Mighty Mars Rovers – Close Reading Lesson

might mars rover

If you’re exploring the new Next Generation Science Standards and wondering how to get started, I’d start by reading this book aloud to your students. The standards have added “engineering and technology” to the landscape of science instruction and the authors have shifted from “methods” to “practice” in their descriptions of what scientists and engineers do – in an effort to help students understand how knowledge develops. The Mighty Mars Rovers, which has won numerous awards – reveals the cross section of engineering and science and readers can’t help but notice that diligent everyday practice is what helps the team members develop knowledge.

I was amazed to find out what we can do to learn about Mars, millions of miles away, through these robotic creatures. Powered by solar panels, these rovers drove for miles and miles, down into craters, over craggy rocks, sampling the rocks and soil along the way and taking stunning photos. The team that directed the rovers had to practice an amazing amount of patience – sometimes only moving the rovers a few inches a day as they checked out the terrain and made decisions about what the rovers could handle. Rusch’s writing, layout and design make the content accessible to our intermediate and middle grade readers.

This book would read aloud well – or you could book talk it and leave it in the classroom library to be grabbed up. If you did read aloud – sections or the whole text – there are excerpts that you could use during a close reading lesson – excerpts that reveal the intensity and effectiveness of the team’s practice. Perseverance and tenacity are good words to describe their work as well. Page 55 could be a good excerpt to read closely – the rover Opportunity is stuck. The team engages in inquiry – asking questions, creating a replica of the terrain to try out different moves with another rover. This all takes days and days. This short excerpt reveals the intensity of their team work and how knowledge is developed as a result. It could serve as a way to think about the rest of the book.

Exciting stuff!

Trapped by Aronson – Close Reading Excerpt

Trapped by Marc Aronson

Recently, a group of middle school teachers and I engaged in close reading of a short excerpt of text from Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners From 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert (2011). I’ve reviewed this book in a previous blog and discussed the strong 21st century theme of how people have to come together and collaborate in solving problems we’ve never faced in the past. I returned to this book recently to look for an excerpt of text that gets at the weight of the problem the world faced when these miners were trapped.

The excerpt I chose is about 900 words from near the beginning of the text – pp. 8-13 – five paragraphs. In this excerpt Aronson sets the tone – the feel of mines and working in mines. Phrases like “the darkness of the mine seems to have its own weight” create this overwhelming since of mining as serious business, a delicate partnership with the earth, the earth a mighty force in itself. I’ve attached the excerpt thinking that if you have copies of the book in your classroom or you’ve been reading aloud this book to students, sharing this excerpt with students falls under “fair use.” I’ve attached the excerpt – it’s single spaced and would need to be made more student-friendly (double spaced, etc.) depending on your purposes.

Trapped excerpt for close reading

The group of middle school teachers had just done a close reading of an excerpt from The Invincible Microbe (see a previous blog for more details) where they read and then reread the excerpt. During rereading, they underlined key words and phrases to identify the theme of the excerpt. For this exercise with the excerpt from Trapped, I asked them to read the excerpt, talk about the big ideas and then return to the text specifically to look for evidence. So they didn’t go through and underline key phrases and words in the whole excerpt – just looked for quotes that served as evidence of the Aronson’s development of theme. Below are images of the charts they created to document their thinking.



Does this give you some ideas for what you can do with your students? To engage in close reading of an excerpt of text? An excerpt that reveals the author’s theme?

List of nonfiction read alouds mentioned in my book!

what we wear

See attached list of nonfiction books I recommend for reading aloud – exemplars. Also, you can friend me on goodreads where I have a bookshelf for nonfiction read alouds in k-3 and 4-8. This is the list I mention in my book!

sunday’s nonfiction book list