This week’s post is a continuation of a discussion from last week of how I used Eve Bunting’s book, How Many Days to America?, to teach my students some important lessons about the immigrant experience in America.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture shown above, I think you’ll agree, has a lot to say. The photo, taken by New York Times photographer Sergey Ponomarevev, bears a striking resemblance to last week’s picture of the book cover showing a small boat filled with people making a perilous journey by sea to what they hope will be a better life. This week’s photo appeared in the Thanksgiving Day issue of The New York Times on page A12 of the News section. This photo is of a group of Syrian immigrants fleeing by boat to the island of Lesbos, Greece, and shows that even though it is more than four centuries later, the immigration experience for many has hardly changed at all.
The Common Core Standards for Social Studies stress the need for a student to be able to compare two pieces of authentic text or evidence and write about the comparison. Comparing the cover of How Many Days to America? with this New York Times photo presents an ideal opportunity for students to compare the experiences of today’s immigrants fleeing Syria with those fleeing the unknown Caribbean island of the picture book. The discussion can be easily scaffolded with a Venn diagram that will compare what is the same or different about the two different situations. The chunks of information recorded by the instructor or the students on Venn diagrams can then be used as the basis for an essay. If necessary, the instructor can provide sentence starters for those who are not yet comfortable with forming whole sentences in English.
Another of my favorite activities with this story is to use post-its to introduce question words as we make our way through the story together in a shared reading. Who are these people might be the first question for them to answer on their individual post-its. Where do you think they are going? Why do you think they are leaving their home? How will they get there? What will happen to them along the way? Students love to respond in short bits of language on post-its because the smaller size of the post-its makes the writing experience less daunting. They can later compile their post-its in sequential order to create a response to the story from their own point of view.
This is also a great book for teaching point of view. Ask the students how they feel the children in the story might feel at various points along the way and compare those responses with how they think the parents might be feeling at those same points. I have extended the activity to also ask the students to imagine themselves as passengers on the journey and asked them to write about the experience from their own point of view.
The last time I taught the book I added an activity I had never used before. I asked the students to write about what they thought had happened to the family after they arrived at their destination. Being able to synthesize the events of the story and then make a prediction based on the characters’ responses to those events is a wonderful opportunity for higher-order thinking and making a reasonable prediction based on the text. The responses were varied and some were even surprising.
These are just some ideas I’ve used for presenting a mentor book to my ESL students that might be slightly beyond their reading level but which will inspire them to “reach” for an understanding of the story. The relevance of the story to their lives is so powerful it will engender a response from them based on their personal experience as immigrants, or as the children of immigrants, that will make them want to share their own stories. I highly recommend Eve Bunting’s books for ESL teachers and/or collaborative teachers searching for excellent mentor texts.