Monday, December 15, 2014

Irena's Jar of Secrets: A Narrative Nonfiction Lesson

I think it is important to teach kids about important people in the world, especially the unsung heroes.  For interactive read alouds, I prefer to choose picture books that have interesting stories and many times I choose a narrative nonfiction.  

I love the way a narrative nonfiction picture book unfolds with a beautifully written story and beautiful illustrations.  

This particular lesson was all about a true hero by the name of Irena Sendler. She saved about 2,500 children in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. 

Irena convinced parents to let her take their children to safety and smuggled these children out of the ghetto in burlap bags, suitcases, boxes, and other ways you just can't imagine.  

She gave each child a new identity and found homes for them with non-Jewish families, in convents, and in orphanages. 

Irena promised the parents of these children that she would keep track of their old and new identities by writing their names on pieces of paper and burying them in a jar under a friend's apple tree.  

She was eventually captured by the Gestapo and after months of interrogation and brutality, she remained silent and never told where she kept the hidden names.  

Miraculously, she escaped and went on to live her life, never telling anyone of her good deeds.  

Her story is remarkable, yet remained hidden for years.  

Many decades after the war ended, a group of college students from Kansas did a project for World History Day and discovered Irena's story.  

Her story is captivating. Irena was a true hero who showed bravery and risked her life to save so many.  

This read aloud fit perfectly with my historical fiction unit which focused on World War II and Holocaust related books.  

Here's how I implemented the lesson:

When students walk into my reading classroom, I have a Smartboard agenda waiting for them.  They know what we're doing for the day and what to bring to reader's workshop, plus I write any special instructions.  For this lesson, I wanted them to bring their Reading Notebook and sit by a "turn & talk" partner.  

After students were gathered on the carpet, I introduced the picture book, Irena's Jar of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan, and then discussed the narrative nonfiction anchor chart.  We had just learned about the biography genre, so we we talked about how narrative nonfiction is written to entertain readers and is written in a story-telling fashion.

During the read aloud, students sat hip to hip with their "turn & talk" partners. While reading the book, I stopped at various parts to ask questions.  I write the questions on sticky notes and put them in the book.  Students are given time to talk with a partner, then we share what ideas they talked about during a whole group share.

During this time, we had some interesting conversations.  Students made some text-to-text connections with some previous read alouds such as Star of Fear, Star of Hope, The Butterfly, Number the Stars, The Diary of Anne Frank to name a few.  We discussed how many people risked their lives to help Jews during this time and that people had to make very difficult decisions.  These turn and talk questions led to some grand conversations.

This last question tied into a previous lesson on character traits.  Students were able to tie in character trait words into their answers.

After reading the book and group discussion, students returned to their desks to watch two short videos about Irena Sendler on the Smartboard.

The first video briefly tells about Irena's life and details how the group of college kids from Kansas found out about Irena and brought attention to her heroic efforts.   This video is only about 4:16 minutes long.  It was posted by Winslow Colwell on YouTube. Here is the link to the video that I showed:

"Life in a Jar": The Irena Sendler Project

The second video was actually the trailer to the movie, "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler".  It's only two minutes long, but all four of my reading classes were completely captivated with their eyes glued to the Smartboard.  I love showing short movie clips to my students.  It helps them get a visual representation of what we're learning.  Plus, the movie trailer ends with the most famous Irena Sendler quote, "You see a man drowning, you must try to save him even if you cannot swim."  

"The Courageous Heart of Irene Sendler" movie trailer
The movie trailer was posted on YouTube by Mark Vass.

After watching the videos, I put two reading response questions on the Smartboard and students wrote in the Reader's Notebook.  Students choose which questions they would like to respond to. 

Here are some examples of their reading responses. 

Thanks for taking time to read about a true hero- Irena Sendler.  

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