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Engaging with Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5

Finding Common Ground

Bileni Teklu works one-on-one with her fifth graders as she encourages them to interact with literature through careful conversation. Ms. Teklu encourages her students to think about what they enjoyed about their reading experience, and ways in which what they read has some resonance in their own lives. Texts include Martin Luther King by Ed Clayton, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Green Mile by Stephen King, and The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.

“I have chosen reading to be the venue by which these children will find a voice. I believe that if they are able to connect with the characters in books, where authors have written about the feelings of these characters and [if they] make these strong connections, they will get hope.”

Bileni Teklu, 5th-Grade Teacher
Fair Oaks Elementary School
Marietta, Georgia

Complex educational circumstances demand thoughtful and inventive responses. In this classroom, you will see a highly transient student population that comes to school with limited literacy experiences, and, that, in many cases, harbors a distrust of reading in general. Helping these students enjoy literature and become independent literary envisionment builders means first overcoming that distrust by showing them ways literature can enrich their lives. Only then can they begin to learn to approach literature in increasingly thoughtful ways.

About This Video

This video offers you a look at how Bileni Teklu often focuses classroom instruction on developing her students’ enjoyment of reading and appreciation for literature. Beginning each lesson with a brief 10- to 15-minute mini-lesson, Ms. Teklu devotes most of her instructional time (nearly an hour) to student independent reading. During that hour, Ms. Teklu conducts individual conferences with students, monitoring their progress and encouraging them to talk about the value reading has for them. In addition, she encourages them to articulate the specific connections they discover between literature and their own lives or the world around them.

For resources that can help you use this clip for teacher professional development, preservice education, administrative and English/language arts content meetings, parent conferences, and back-to-school events, visit our Support Materials page. There you will find PDF files of our library guide, classroom lesson plan, student activity sheets, and other Teacher Tools.

Featured Texts

Ms. Teklu’s students have little control over their life experiences. As a result, she feels it important that they exercise full control over what they read. She makes suggestions, does book talks as a way of inviting students to experience particular titles and authors, and models her own choices. In the end, however, her students are free to choose any book they like for independent reading. See Recommended Books for Fourth and Fifth Grade for suggested titles that have worked well with her students. The books listed below are those that are mentioned in the video.

Martin Luther King by Ed Clayton
This popular biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces students to his philosophies and achievements in the fight for civil rights while outlining key moments in his life.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dickens’s dramatic narrative of the French Revolution is a novel centering on great sacrifices being made for the sake of principle. The novel is notable for its vivid representation of France during this troubled time and was modeled on Carlyle’s The French Revolution.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Set in the bleak landscape of Oklahoma during the dust bowl, this Newbery winner is told in a series of free-verse poems by 14-year old Billie Joe Kelby. Her mother and newborn brother die as a result of a terrible accident and her hands are severely burned in the fire that kills them. Denied the solace of her piano playing, she fights her guilt, anger, and estrangement from her father, finally learning to forgive him and herself.

Green Mile by Stephen King
Set on Death Row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, this novel explores the conviction of John Coffey. Is he truly a murderer? Paul Edgecombe, head of security, investigates. With the help of Eduard Delecroix, a convicted murderer, and his pet mouse Mr. Jingles, Edgecombe discovers the truth and is forced to make the most difficult decision of his life.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
This book is the final installment in The Chronicles of Narnia. A false Aslan is roaming Narnia, commanding everyone to work for the cruel Calormemes. Eustace and Jill must find the true Aslan and restore peace to the land. The last battle is the greatest of all and the final struggle between good and evil.

The Story of Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad by Kate McMullan
As a small child, Harriet Tubman was forced to work in the fields and was treated badly by her owner. Leaving her family behind, she ran away to the North There she became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad–returning South again and again to rescue over 300 slaves as well as becoming a nurse, a scout, and a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War.

Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams
Thirteen-year-old Korinna, an ardent member of the Hitler youth group, is horrified to learn that her parents are concealing Sophie Krugmann and her five-year-old daughter Rachel in a secret room behind her wardrobe. While she anguishes about reporting her parents as she has been taught she begins to feel affection and compassion for the Krugmanns. Warned that her house will be raided, Korinna is able to help the Krugmans escape to the next safe house. When the Gestapo arrives, Korinna has turned the secret room into a shrine to Hitler. She and her parents must also go into hiding or risk being punished.

You can access additional resources related to this video clip’s texts in the Additional Resources section.

Classroom Snapshot

School: Fair Oaks Elementary School
Location: Marietta, Georgia
No. of Students in School: 612
Teacher: Bileni Teklu
No. of Years Teaching: 3
Grade: 5th Grade
Subject: Language Arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 23

Fair Oaks Elementary School is a Title I school serving a population that has trouble succeeding in the educational system without significant help. A majority of the parents are migratory workers with limited economic means. As a result, the school has a 60% transiency rate. Spanish is the first language for many of the students, and Fair Oaks has a strong ESOL program to support their learning. However, few students are literate in their first language, making developing strong literacy skills in English additionally difficult.

Aware of these complexities, the faculty and staff work together to help their students recognize the value learning can have for them while providing comfortable structures within which they can succeed.

Classroom Lesson Plan

Independent Reading

Ms. Teklu’s lesson plan is also available as a PDF file.

Teacher: Bileni Teklu, Fair Oaks Elementary School, Marietta, Georgia
Grade Level: Fifth
Topic: Choosing Books

Materials Needed:

  • Classroom library and/or school library with a wide range of titles
  • A copy of Behind the Bedroom Wall
  • Sticky notes for student use

Background Information:

When many of the students in Bileni Teklu’s class arrive in September, they lack the most basic experience with school literacies. Even using sticky notes to track their responses to literature is difficult to manage. As a result, Ms. Teklu believes she must do whatever is necessary to help them develop the patience to be students. In the process, she helps them recognize that learning is something they do for themselves, and something they can take with them, no matter how often they move.

In this context, Ms. Teklu works to create a community of shared values about literature. She hopes her students will come to see that books provide ways of understanding their own lives. She believes strongly that her students come to love reading because she is not dictating what they must read and when they must read it. These students have few choices in their personal lives, and so are especially appreciative of being able to choose what they read.

Because Ms. Teklu allows her students to choose their own books for independent reading, she feels it is especially important to teach them how to make good choices. In this lesson she uses her own experiences with Behind the Bedroom Wall to model the ways in which the book had personal meaning for her. Additionally she encourages students to share some of the personal connections they are making with books they are reading as additional models for their classmates.

Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Choose books for independent reading.
  • Spend independent reading time (one hour each day) reading and enjoying the literature, or conferencing with Ms. Teklu.
  • Use sticky notes to identify connections, comments, and reading strategies to share later during the “Buzz Session.”
  • Meet for five- to ten minutes with two- to three classmates to “buzz” (talk about) their readings and their responses to it. Students choose their own “buzz partners” who may or may not be reading the same book they are reading.
  • Confer with Ms. Teklu individually to discuss their reading.
  • Develop increasing independence as envisionment-building readers of literature.

Expected Products From Lesson:

  • Sticky notes marking text passages and recording connections, questions, and reading strategies.
  • Effective conversation about reading.

Instructional Strategies Implemented:

  • Mini-lessons modeling effective envisionment-building strategies.
  • Student discussion of their readings.
  • Individual conferences.

Collaborative Structure of Class:

Bookcases for the library and student desks for her 23 students fill Ms. Teklu’s classroom. Without the luxury of an area where the whole group might meet, Ms. Teklu makes do by running discussions while seated in front of a chart paper stand at the front of the room. On this, she records key points. When students move to their independent reading time, they grab pillows and scatter around the room, nestling against the walls or between their desks. When they regroup to “buzz” about their reading, they typically remain on the floor clustered in small groups wherever they find room.

Lesson Procedures/Activities:

  • Students meet at their desks for a whole-class five- to ten minute mini-lesson on choosing books and making connections to the reading.
  • Students move to quiet areas of the classroom and read independently for 50 to 60 minutes.
  • Students meet with two or three classmates and (using their sticky notes to guide them) discuss their reading.


Students may be assessed on a daily basis through:

  • Participation in class discussion.
  • Informal observation of reading choices and discussion.

See the Reading Assessment Checklist for a tool you might use for such daily assessments.

The following activities might receive holistic or scaled evaluation (see Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles for a detailed explanation of holistic and scaled evaluation).

  • Individual reading interviews.

Professional Reflection

Take a step back from your classroom and examine the video clip in relation to your own instructional practices. Use the questions below to spark discussion about instructional practices in department meetings, team meetings, or as a prompt in your own professional journal.


  • How might your students (or their parents) respond to extended periods of independent reading?
  • What kinds of support would your students need to be able to choose their own books?
  • What support would your students need to learn to read for an extended time on their own?

Teacher Tools

Whether you are a classroom or preservice teacher, teacher educator, content leader, department chair, or administrator, the materials below can assist you in implementing the practices presented in the video clip.

Assessment and Evaluation: Some Useful Principles
The terms assessment and evaluation are often used as synonyms. Distinguishing between them can be helpful as you plan instruction. Assessment means looking at what students can do in order to determine what they need to learn to do next. That is, assessment, whether of individual students or an entire group, is done in order to inform instruction. Typically assessment is holistic, often recorded simply as “credit” or “no credit.”

Evaluation occurs after a concept or skill has been taught and practiced. This is typically a scaled response, indicating the level of achievement or degree of competence a student has attained.

Text Pairings
As you plan literature experiences for your students, consider offering text pairings. Some teachers like to introduce students to a number of books by the same author. Others try to find books with similarities in theme or content. Books that have received awards and appear to be developing into contemporary classics are also favored choices. No list of suggestions can be complete or can address every criterion. However, the following list of texts may help you choose titles to complement the ones used in this lesson plan:

For Martin Luther King by Ed Clayton
Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
Black Women Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement by Zita Allen

For A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

For Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse
The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse
A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse

For The Green Mile by Stephen King
Different Seasons by Stephen King
The Talisman by Stephen King
Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

For The Chronicles of Narnia 7: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
The other six books in the series, including:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Prince Caspian
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew

For The Story of Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad by Kate McMullan
Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry
Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan

For Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams
Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Escape From Warsaw by Ian Serralier
North to Freedom by Ann Holm
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Additional Resources

Online resources related to the texts used in Bileni Teklu’s classroom:

Martin Luther King

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Out of the Dust

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

The Story of Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad by Kate McMullan

Behind the Bedroom Wall

Additional resources related to the tenets of this series:

Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site

This site provides lists of children’s books and ideas of ways to use them in the classroom as well as activities and topics of professional interest.

Children’s’ Book Council

The Children’s Book Council is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the use and enjoyment of children’s books.

Children’s Literature

This site provides a wealth of reviews designed to help teachers, librarians, childcare providers and parents make appropriate literary choices for children.

Children’s Literature Web Guide

This Web site categorizes the growing number of Internet resources related to books for children and young adults. Much of the information found on this Web site is provided by schools, libraries, teachers, parents, and book professionals (such as authors, editors, and booksellers). It includes quick references to lists of award-winning and bestseller children’s books, teaching resources, links to parent resources, and journal and book reviews.

deGrummond’s Children’s Literature Collection

From the University of Southern Mississippi Libraries, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection is one of North America’s leading research centers in the field of children’s literature. Although the Collection has many strengths, the main focus is on American and British children’s literature, historical and contemporary. Their What’s New section details upcoming exhibits, many of which are available online.

The Doucette Index

The Doucette Index provides access to books and Web sites that contain useful teaching suggestions related to books for children and young adults, and the creators of those books. The searchable database enables teachers to search by author and/or title of the book, leading to lesson plans and curriculum ideas.

The Institute for Learning

A liaison between its parent institution, the Learning Research and Development Center of the University of Pittsburgh, and working educators in school systems nationwide, The Institute for Learning brings to educators the best current knowledge and research about learning processes and principles of instruction. Its mission is to provide educators with the resources and training they need to enhance learning opportunities for all students. The Institute serves as a think tank, a design center for innovative professional development systems in the schools, and an educator of core groups of school professionals.

KidSpace @ The Internet Public Library

The Reading Zone at KidSpace provides a number of online texts for children, including works in French and Spanish. A number of the links provide activities connected to the literature as well.

Reading Online

This Web site is an online journal of K-12 practice and research published by the International Reading Association. It includes helpful links to book reviews, peer-reviewed articles, discussions about literacy, and ideas and information about applying technology in literacy instruction.

SCORE [the Schools of California Online Resources for Educators (SCORE) Project]

This Web site provides teachers with online resources connected to a number of literary titles commonly used in language arts classrooms as well as CyberGuides, supplementary lesson plans centered on core works of literature. Each CyberGuide contains a student and teacher edition, standards, a task and a process by which it may be completed, teacher-selected Web sites, and a rubric (based on California Language Arts Content Standards).

Articles related to effective literature instruction from the National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement:

“Classroom Discussion: Teachers’ Perspectives on Obstacles and Strategies” by Samantha Caughlan

“Engaging Students in Meaningful Conversation Leads to Higher Achievement” by Arthur Applebee

“How Classroom Conversation Can Support Student Achievement”

“Supporting the Process of Literary Understanding: Analysis of a Classroom Discussion” by Doralyn R. Roberts and Judith A. Langer

“Taking Risks, Negotiating Relationships: One Teacher’s Transition Towards a Dialogic Classroom” by Julie Nelson Christoph and Martin Nystrand

“What Do We Know About Effective Fourth-Grade Teachers and Their Classrooms?” by Richard L. Allington and Peter H. Johnson.

Professional Organizations:

American Educational Research Association
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
International Reading Association
National Council of Teachers of English
National Writing Project