Christine A. Elmore
I near the end of our read-aloud 'wordless picture book',
One Scary Night,
by Antoine Guilloppé (2004), and I have my captivated audience of first-graders in the palm of my hand. What appears to be the dark silhouette of a wolf is readying himself to spring on the lone boy who is hurrying nervously through the snowy woods at night. The suspense is riveting. I point out the nearby tree that is abnormally tilting, hovering, surrounded by others more upright—offering it as a clue. On the next page this tree crashes to the ground, but not before the wolf has leaped forward and pushed the boy out of danger. The following scene: the boy is hugging the 'wolf'—which is actually a big dog (perhaps his own pet?)—who has saved his life. My students "ooh" and "aah," clearly having not expected this turn of events. Taking advantage of their rapt attention, I say: "People always assume that the wolf in stories is the bad guy. Why is that?"
My young learners need more prompting, and so I ask them to describe the wolf in
Little Red Riding Hood
The Three Little Pigs
. A consensus is quickly reached. The wolf in storybooks seems always to be shown as big and bad, greedy and unrelenting. "But what are wolves really like?" I ask. That becomes the starting-point of our inquiry—into the real nature of wolves.
In an effort to design age-appropriate lessons for my class I have decided on the very rich topic of wolves, which becomes an umbrella-heading under which such issues as the again-endangered gray and red wolves, their role in the fragile ecosystem and the unvarying image of the wolf found in traditional fairy tales and fables can be placed. In my initial research I have discovered two excellent texts that will assist me in my pursuit:
Picturing the Wolf in Children's Literature
(2012) by Debra Mitts-Smith and
(2012) by Garry Marvin. Both are recent publications which suggests to me that this topic—how did the wolf get such a bad rap?—continues to be a very timely issue of high interest to many. I have selected a number of Grade 1 objectives taken from the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts that my unit will focus on. They are listed in Appendix A.
Reading literature and informational texts requires different skills, and so my unit will include a variety of book response activities in which students can explore the different features and structure encountered in each text type. Because it is often easier to create mental images while reading fiction (and the story often follows a predictable structure), young students may tend to favor this type. Reading nonfiction, with its challenging vocabulary and new concepts, requires the student to read the text content more critically and it is better managed if the reader can apply his/her prior knowledge to the subject. I will begin by looking at wolves from the literature lens and then proceed to informational texts. Beginning our study of wolves with fiction will generate student interest in how people used to perceive wolves and how that image has been passed down to us in many children's stories. From there we will move to informational texts which offer a realistic look at the wolf, its physical characteristics and habits. Comparing and contrasting fiction and nonfiction texts will help my young learners more fully grasp the challenging aspects of true versus make-believe, and fact versus fiction as derived from both text and pictures.
I am a first-grade teacher at Davis Street Arts & Academics Interdistrict Magnet School. The self-contained class of students to whom I will be teaching this unit are a heterogeneous group with varying abilities within the 5-to-7-year-old age range. Although I have designed this unit with them in mind, I am confident that it could easily be adapted for use by teachers in other primary and intermediate grades as well.
This curriculum unit will be interdisciplinary in scope, incorporating reading, history, science, writing and art. My students will work in both small and large group settings on the activities included in it. The unit lessons will be taught four times a week for a period of 40 minutes over a 3-month period.
My unit will be divided into four sections:
Section 1: How did wolves get such a bad rap?
Section 2: From fiction…
Section 3: …to fact
Section 4: Being an activist
-- To ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
-- To retell elements of a story including author's message.
-- To identify who is telling the story.
-- To distinguish between fact and fiction.
-- To compare and contrast the experiences of characters in a story.
-- To use informational text features to better understand content.
-- To participate in shared research and writing projects on wolves.
-- To write informative texts about wolves
-- To express one's feelings about wolves by writing poetry.
--TT o compare and contrast story elements in a series of fairy tales and their fractured counterparts using a matrix-style graphic organizer.
-- To use a timeline to better visualize and track the history of wolf-treatment in North America over time.
-- To activate one's prior knowledge about wolves by using a K-W-L chart (What we already know, what we want to know, what we have learned).
-- To demonstrate one's acquired knowledge on wolves through the use of an 'are, can, have, need' columned graphic organizer.
-- To formulate questions about the topic during readings and class discussions.
-- To use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast pictorial portrayals of the wolf in literature books.
-- To demonstrate one's understanding of the tarnished image of the wolf in literature by writing him a letter.
-- To discuss one's responses to text both in small and larger group settings.
-- To take on the different perspectives of predator and prey through courtroom role-plays and readers' theatre plays.
-- To use multiple sources including the internet to do paired research on wolves.
-- To write cinquain and ode poems that show one's understanding of the real and imagined image of wolves and our relationship to them.
-- To become a wolf advocate by adopting a wolf and informing others at school about wolves and their plight.