In the first lesson of this section, as we begin an exploration of our own individual identities, we will first take a look at
The first book that I will use to introduce this topic is
, by Kevin Henkes. It is a story about a little mouse who has always thought her name was perfect until she begins school. It is there that she discovers that she is the only one with a very long and unusual name, for which she is constantly being teased. After reading the story, we will discuss how Chrysanthemum felt, and find out if anyone has ever experienced a similar trial when their name made them feel unusual. I will then ask the students to pretend that they could talk to the main character and to think about coming up with one question that they would like to ask her. After putting the questions in a jar, I would ask pairs of students to come up to the front of the room, one taking the role of Chrysanthemum and the other of the interviewer. Questions would then be selected and responded to.
This book is a natural springboard for the following two math activities: After determining that Chrysanthemum has 13 letters in her name, students would be instructed to print out their names on small index cards, counting the number of letters in their first names. Students would be asked to give their estimations of the longest and shortest numbers of letters they think we will find in our class. Recordings of their estimations would be made for later comparison. We would then construct a simple class name bar-graph. Numbers ranging from 2 to 14 would be written horizontally on the bottom of large chart paper. Students would come up and tape their name cards above the corresponding number, thus creating vertical bars. Much comparison of other names would ensue as we attempted to read and interpret our bar-graph. Number sentences using the symbols =, > and would be used. (i.e., Gwendolyn’s name > Tobias’s name). A second activity taken from Mary Baratta-Lorton’s book,
Mathematics Their Way
, begins with the students being given a class-list of everyone’s first name written on graph paper. After cutting the name strips out they would be given a large piece of paper on which to categorize and glue them. This large paper would be divided into three rows labeled ‘More’, ‘The Same’, and ‘Less’. By counting and comparing each name in relation to his/her own, the student will place the others in the appropriate section.
To involve the family in our exploration of names, students will bring home a questionnaire to be completed. Such questions as: ‘Are you named after anyone?’ ‘Does your name have a special meaning?’ ‘Do you have a nickname?’ ‘Has anyone ever teased you about your name? If so, how did you feel?’ ‘Has anyone ever mispronounced your name? Explain.’ One way to share the completed questionnaires would be to break up into cooperative groups of four and present them. Then they could be made part of a class-name booklet.
A second lesson focusing on the fact of our names being an important part of our identity would begin with a book entitled
. by Jenny Hessell, taken from Stage 4 of the Literacy 2000 Booklets (a series used in many elementary schools in our district now). In this story, everyone at school, from the principal to the teacher and the students in her class, mispronounce her name and call her ‘Rebecca’ and it is only when Ripeka gets in trouble for carving her name on her desk that people learn her real name and the reason for her distress! One way to make the message of this story more meaningful would be to have students role play and reenact the story impromptu style. They would also be encouraged to act out variations on this theme, perhaps based on some of their own experiences. An art-activity would follow where students create crayon etchings on which they carve out their names and display them in the room. In an effort to explore how our names tell much about ourselves, we would then write acrostic poems using our names as the subject. In this type of poem, your first name is written in a vertical fashion and each line of the poem is made to describe you in some way. For example:
akes good peanut butter cookies
eads Nancy Drew novels
ellow is her favorite color
In our next subsection on identity we will explore our relationship with the most important group that we will ever belong to—
. I will begin with a children’s book, entitled
I Love My Family
, by Wade Hudson. In this story we read about a young African-American boy’s description of an annual family-reunion in North Carolina. Every year the family gets bigger, he tells us as we view illustrations of individual extended family members of all ages and often with particular eccentricities, all valuing the reunion as a time to strengthen bonds and interact with each other. At one point in the story a family tree is mentioned, which can be taken as an opportunity to discuss what a family tree is and how we could create one (with the help of family members) on a very simplified scale, perhaps beginning with great grandparents down to grandparents, parents, siblings and, finally, us. This information could be arranged in pictures of apples strategically placed to indicate succession on a background of a large tree. (For those children whose family situations are not happy,—and I do think the teacher needs to be aware of this possibility—I might suggest encouraging those children to focus on the meaningful relationships they have with teachers and classmates at school.).
From such an activity naturally springs a consideration of the countries of origin of our families as we learn that, in fact, most families in our country started off somewhere else. Students would be asked to locate these countries on a large world map. Yarn connecting a treasured family photo brought into class with the location on the map might aptly display our various origins. Another very visual way to display the class’s diverse origins would be to construct a bar-graph with vertically placed number-cards indicating the number of students with a particular country of origin placed above the horizontally displayed country of origin name-cards.
, by Mexican-American author, Carmen Lomas Garza, vividly depicts her childhood memories of special family events, including a town cakewalk, making tamales and picking oranges at her grandparents’ house. Following the reading of this story, students would be asked to write about and paint pictures of special family events that they remember fondly.
To further develop an appreciation of one’s heritage, our next lesson would begin with a reading of the book,
Masai and I
, by Virginia Kroll. In this delightful story, Linda, a young African-American girl, learns about East Africa and the Masai people with whom she develops a strong feeling of kinship. The similarities and differences between Linda’s life in an apartment building and life in a Masai village are beautifully depicted in both pictures and words. My students would then be invited to learn more about their family origins, and to once again encourage the home-school connection, they would be asked to interview a family member. Such interview questions as these would be included: ‘How long has your family lived in their present neighborhood?’ ‘What other places have you and your family lived in?’ ‘When did your family come to the U.S.? Why did they come?’ ‘What was the occupation of your ancestors when they first came to the U.S.?’ What language did they speak then and what language do you and your family speak now?’ Then students might be asked to describe something about their heritage that they are proud of. Brief, oral reports presenting some of the interview information could be given to the class.
To further this exploration of one’s heritage, students could select an aspect of their family’s country of origin (food, dress, music, religion, homes, roles of men and women, etc.) and, with the help of an older reading buddy (perhaps a fifth-grader), research it in our school library. Facts would be gathered and the final product would be constructed in the form of a ‘research poster’ of their chosen cultural aspect, containing illustrations and fact-cards creatively displayed for others to view and discuss.
In a third subsection devoted to
, we extend the group to which each student belongs even further. To have my students mentally place themselves in their neighborhoods I would read a poem by Eloise Greenfield called, “Watching the World Go By,” which reads as follows:
Watching the World Go By
sitting on my front step
watching the world go by
I’m sitting on my front steps
watching the world go by
when I seen all the trouble
I know life ain’t no piece of pie
looking from my front steps
I can see the world go by
I’m looking from my front steps
seeing how the world goes by
when I see so much joy
I know I got to try
After closing their eyes and being encouraged to calmly envision what they see going on around them in their neighborhood from their front steps, students would be asked to draw an action picture of what they saw, including as much detail as possible (buildings, people, nature, etc.). Such pictures could be easily made into a big book entitled ‘Scenes From Our Neighborhoods’. Poems from Eloise Greenfield’s and Jan Spivey Gilchrist’s
Night on Neighborhood Street
may also serve to capture some of the reality of my students’ experiences in their neighborhoods, and could be read aloud as they work on their scenes.
A superb book that takes the reader through a neighborhood in New York City as seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old African-American girl is
, by June Jordan. As Kimako walks her neighbor, Bobby’s, dog through the streets of her neighborhood we visit places like Milton’s Antique Store where people take their worthless junk to trade for cash, and a park full of trees and bushes where kids have fun in a wading-pool on one side and, on the other, men with no socks play checkers on concrete tables and share bottles of whiskey wrapped in brown paper bags. We meet a ten-year-old named Roderico—who always wants to beat Kimako and her cousin up! Then there’s Theresa, who is going to be fat and have bad teeth because of all the candy she gets to buy and never shares.
Kimako maps out her walks through her very interesting neighborhood with a simple dotted path and X’s marking the spots she visits. After modeling a similar walk-through of my own neighborhood on large chart paper, I would ask my students to map out a route of their own, visiting some of their favorite places in their neighborhoods. Children could work in pairs and help each other.
The following math activity would also fit nicely in our exploration of neighborhoods. Students would be asked to draw a detailed picture of the house or apartment building they live in on an index card including the address at the bottom. We would then take a closer look at the street names, grouping them according to whether they use the word street, boulevard, circle, court, avenue or circle as part of their name. These ‘house cards’ would then be placed on the class bar-graph under the appropriate category.
Kimako also shares with the reader many poem-puzzles that she likes to make up, like this one:
Poem Puzzle # 4
When it rains I see
Things looking really clear and very
Soft to me
When the ____ comes out
All I have to do is ______ and ______
This is followed by a delightful sketch illustrating what she does after it rains. This type of poem-puzzle has a rather simple structure, one that my second-graders could successfully imitate. And so they would be asked to create some of their own about the places, people and happenings in their neighborhoods, which they could later exchange with partners who would attempt to complete the blanks in a variety of ways. Their drawing could accompany these poem-puzzles.