Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 5: Historical and Cultural Context
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Video Summary

The following is a summary of the activities featured in Workshop video 5. They were part of a larger unit plan featuring Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963. In adapting them to your own classroom, students, and overall curriculum, you may choose to vary the sequence or timing presented here.

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Photographs from the civil rights era (from Haskins, James, The Day Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Shot: A Photo History of the Civil Rights Movement)
  • Frozen tableau worksheet (PDF)
  • Overhead projector
  • Poster paper and markers
  • Writing prompts related to the novel (PDF)
  • Materials for creating children's books -- plain and colored paper, art supplies, etc.
  • Peer response worksheets for peer critique of children's books (PDF)
Standards for the English Language Arts


  1. The students begin work by meeting in literature circles. As they discuss The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963, each member of the group has a role to perform, including Discussion Director, Illustrator, Vocabulary Enricher, and Investigator. The students are encouraged to ask open-ended questions, connect the book to the history they are learning, and connect it to their own lives. (See Teaching Strategies: Literature Circles.)

  2. Based on a variety of nonfiction sources, including the Eyes on the Prize video series, the students have been writing a class play about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, with each small group responsible for one scene. This will become a recorded radio play, and in this lesson the students practice reading their work aloud in preparation. Teacher Laina Jones asks them to describe the emotions people involved in the boycott were feeling, and encourages them to let their voices show those emotions. They record the radio play after they have rehearsed. (See Teaching Strategies: Radio Play.)

  3. Jones uses the overhead projector to show her students three photographs from the civil rights era. Guided by a frozen tableau worksheet, they write and then talk about what is happening in each, giving it a title and discussing how the various people in the photograph might have felt at the time it was taken. She asks the students to re-create the photograph in a "tableau" in which they mimic the expression and posture of one person in the photo, while other students help "direct." (See Teaching Strategies: Frozen Tableau.)

  4. The teacher or a student, in the role of a reporter, interviews the various characters in the tableau about what they're thinking and feeling. The students speak aloud in the voice and from the point of view of the character they are mimicking.

  5. The students form small groups and write short poems in which they are allowed to use only the words they compiled on their frozen tableau worksheets to describe the emotions in the photographs. The students then read their poems aloud, practicing showing emotion through their voices.

  6. Jones introduces Christopher Paul Curtis to the students, who ask him questions about his book and his writing processes.

  7. Jones organizes the students into small groups for their writer's workshop. Each group selects one of five topics, based on The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, about which to write a creative short story.

  8. As the students write, Curtis and Jones meet with each group separately and listen to their drafts. They encourage the students to use their imaginations and voices in their stories.

  9. When the students have finished writing, Jones invites them to read their stories aloud to the class.

  10. The students work on the children's books they are writing about events in the civil rights era. To prepare for this project, Jones had the students look at children's books and talk about their structure. Once they chose their topics, she showed them how to find reliable information on the Internet to supplement what they'd learned from a variety of assigned nonfiction readings. Part of this process also involved having the students work on taking information from a research source and transforming it into their own words.

    As we join the class in this lesson, students are at various stages of the process. Some are still researching, while others are writing first drafts or illustrating their stories. Jones conferences with individual students as they complete their first drafts. She reminds the students to write introductions that include a surprising fact or ask a question, and links her advice to things Curtis told the class the day before.

  11. In self-chosen partnerships, the students offer peer critique on each other's writing based on a criteria sheet the teacher has given them. Jones monitors the students' work as they revise and edit their writing.

  12. After the students complete their final drafts, they illustrate the children's books. As a culminating project, the students will read their books to first-grade students in the community.

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