I finished up Tuck Everlasting with the 5th graders this week. For a final project, I had each of them write a letter from Winnie to Jesse, explaining whether she would drink the water or not and why. Even this on its own is something they seemed to enjoy, but the real fun began in class, when I helped them use tea to “age” the paper and make the letters look like they really had been written a long time ago.
The first week with this book, many of the kids told me they didn’t like it or found it confusing. But by the end, almost every single one of them seemed to love it. We used class discussion to make the confusing parts easier to understand, and projects like writing letters and diary entries to give the kids something fun to look forward to. Even many of the students who struggle the most with reading, and the ones that have the most trouble motivating themselves, ended up telling me how much fun they were having, and there’s no greater reward than that for a teacher.
Except maybe being able to keep on doing it. When I originally started teaching weekly Novel Studies classes, I was filling in for another teacher who was on maternity leave, and the assumption was that it would only last until Spring Break. But now, I’ve been asked to keep doing it for the rest of the semester while she eases back into teaching. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve already been looking at what books are left in the curriculum, and I’ve got some great ideas for how to teach them, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that soon.
We’re over halfway through Tuck Everlasting now, and it’s really been a joy to teach. It was one of my favorite books when I was that age, so I’ve loved coming up with projects for the kids to do. Even if not all of them love the book the way I do, I think they’re enjoying it and really getting a lot out of it. We’ve talked a lot about the metaphor of the wood as the hub of a wheel, bringing the characters together, and we also looked at the pros and cons of living forever this past week. Some of the things the kids brought up were factors I hadn’t even considered, like what would happen to an immortal person if the planet became uninhabitable, or – on the pro side – the possibility of swimming underwater without having to come up for air. It’s great to have them thinking about everything involved, because that’s kind of the point of a book like this – to ask an impossible, hypothetical question and then explore what it would mean if it was possible.
They also turned in their diary entries that I assigned last week. I loved reading them! A lot of the kids chose to write from Winnie or Jesse’s point of view, of course, but I also got one from Mae Tuck, and even one from the toad. Many of them showed not just a solid understanding of the book, but a lot of creativity and enthusiasm as well. There’s nothing more rewarding for a teacher than seeing the class respond so well and watching the spark of excitement you’ve tried to create really take hold.
About two weeks ago, I posted that I was getting ready to start Tuck Everlasting with the fifth graders. Well, we’ve started it, and it’s going great! I decided to use a tri-fold board, like the ones kids use to present research projects, and use each panel for something different:
- On one side, theories about the man in the yellow suit.
- On the other, pros and cons of living forever – we haven’t gotten to that yet.
- In the middle, the “wheel” chart I was talking about last time.
As you can see in the picture, the kids are helping to put the board together by writing their theories, the connections they find, and eventually their pros and cons, on sticky notes. This way, they’re actively contributing and hopefully learning from it. They all seemed very excited, so I think it’s going well.
One of my favorite things about teaching is getting kids excited about reading. I’ll never forget my own eighth and ninth grade English teachers, who I credit with turning my love of reading into a love of literary analysis, much less the elementary school teachers who nurtured that love of reading in the first place. So it’s with great pleasure that I’ve taken over Novel Studies this quarter for a teacher who’s out on maternity leave. I meet with the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders one afternoon a week, for about half an hour, to lead a discussion on a book they’re all reading. I’m starting a new book – Tuck Everlasting – with fifth grade next week, and I’m already working on fun projects to do with them.
One thing I’ve come up with is this:
The book’s prologue uses the metaphor of a wheel, with Treegap Woods as the hub, uniting seemingly unrelated people and events. We’ll talk about what the author means by that in class and add a little more to the wheel each week based on what they’ve read, connecting the characters to the setting and to each other. I’m hoping this will help the kids keep track of all the unexpected connections and peak their curiosity about the novel’s mysteries.