Text Sets in the Elementary Classroom

Teachers and librarians know that pairing fiction and nonfiction is a great way to get students to think more deeply and creatively about particular areas of study. Common Core calls for an infusion of more nonfiction in the classroom, and one of the anchor standards addresses the use of multiple texts on a particular theme or topic (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take).

With lots of great nonfiction to choose from and a plethora of fiction titles that weave in innovative ideas not usually associated with fiction, using text sets is easier than ever. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Topic: Helping the Environment (upper elementary)

3115867This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy Cavanaugh features an eleven-year-old girl who, motherless, believes she has no role model and is lost in trying to “become who I’m really supposed to be.” Her father, eternally distracted by auto repairs and his tireless campaign to save a local park, appears to Ratchet as a less-than-ideal resource as she struggles to find ways to make friends and fit in. An unlikely role with a group of boys building go-carts forges a first friendship and a renewed relationship between Ratchet and her father. As the time comes for the park to be destroyed, Ratchet and her allies lay down a valiant effort to save it. This heartwarming novel is creatively written as Ratchet’s journal, on lined paper in a font that looks like handwriting. Graphic organizers and doodles accompany her various journal entries, or “writing exercises,” as she labels them. (ISBN 9781402281068. Gr 4-6.)

3060428Make a Splash! by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau is a junior activists’ guide to working on projects that benefit water and the environment. Neatly broken into chapters based on the five main tenets of service learning—Investigate, Prepare, Act, Reflect, and Demonstrate—it also features sidebars and text bubbles that offer statistics, definitions, tips, and other interesting facts and ideas. Colorful, fun spreads and interesting info bits make this book accessible and engaging for everyone. Co-authored by Phillipe Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau and founder of EarthEcho–an organization dedicated to empowering youth in restoring and protecting the earth’s water. (ISBN 9781575424170. Gr 4-6.)

You might also consider…

Flush by Carl Hiaasen (ISBN 9780375841859. Gr 6-8.)

Not Your Typical Book about the Environment by Elin Kelsey (ISBN 9781897349847. Gr 3-6.)

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (ISBN 9780810997202. Gr 4-6.)

Topic: Aftermath of a Hurricane (middle/upper elementary)

2982305In Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lanesha lives in this New Orleans community with her beloved Mama Ya-Ya, the elderly woman who took her in as an infant after her own mother died at Lanesha’s birth. Mama Ya-Ya’s kindness, confidence, and extraordinary abilities are things she shares with Lanesha–who also has the “sight,” recognizing the ghost of her mother in Mama Ya-Ya’s bedroom, as well as other ghosts that mill about at school and in the streets. Mama Ya-Ya’s sixth sense warns her that a terrible storm is coming, and Lanesha helps her prepare for it. As the water rises in the Ninth Ward, Lanesha, Mama Ya-Ya, the neighbor boy TaShon, and a friendly stray dog hole up in the attic, hoping for help to come. When it doesn’t, Lanesha’s resilience and resourcefulness are challenged like never before. (ISBN 9780316043083. Gr 4-7.)

Mangled by a Hurricane by Miriam Aronin is a nonfiction ac2636204count of Hurricane Katrina, narrating the true stories of survivors of the disaster in the Ninth Ward, many of whom survived by climbing onto the roofs of their homes (like Lanesha in the novel). The narratives are accompanied by scientific explanations of the storm and the destruction it left behind. Text features include sidebars, diagrams, safety tips, a glossary, and a bibliography. (ISBN 9781936087495. Gr 3-6.)

You might also consider…

Hurricane Katrina by Peggy Caravantes (ISBN 9781617839580. Gr 3-6. 8/13.)

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods (ISBN 9780142421864. Gr 4-7.)

Topic: Numbers and Equations (middle/upper elementary)

3230952Numbed! by David Lubar is a fun novel featuring Logan and Benedict, two youngsters who dare to trespass in a secret research area inside a mathematics museum. They encounter a strange robot that “numbs” them–causing them to forget how to do any math at all. To become “un-numbed,” the boys need to perform a series of tasks within the museum so that they are able to calculate math again and get good grades on an upcoming math test at school. Dr. Thagoras at the museum and their teacher, Ms. Fractalli, guide the two in realizing the value of math in this light read in which the chapter numbers are equations for the reader to solve. (ISBN 9781467705943. Gr 2-5.)

2662960Math: A Book You Can Count On! created by Simon Basher and written by Dan Green, part of a fun nonfiction series for kids, features a cast of characters known as the Number Bunch. These entertaining characters introduce mathematical concepts in a fun and light-hearted manner (Zero: “I am called nix, zip, zilch, nada, zippo…Hovering between being and not-being, I am one of the most important numbers in math”). (ISBN 9780753464199. Gr 3-6.)

You might also consider…

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis (ISBN 9780547513386. Gr 1-4.)

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman (ISBN 9781596433076. Gr 2-5. 6/13.)

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus (ISBN 9780439912990. Gr 4-6. 10/13.)

Topic: Leadership—Mandela’s South Africa (early elementary)

3035873The Herd Boy by Niki Daily tells the story of a day in the life of Malusi, a young boy growing up in the veld, a steppe region in South Africa, where he tends a herd of sheep and goats–a big responsibility for a young boy. While keeping his animals safe, Malusi finds time for a bit of soccer with his friend Lungisa and some lunch with his sister, but he springs to action when baboons threaten the herd and a lamb is wounded. As he carries the lamb home, he and Lungisa encounter a car. The driver (Nelson Mandela, as is apparent in the illustration) stops to talk with them and discovers that Malusi dreams of being president one day. He tells Malusi, “a boy who looks after his herd will make a very fine leader.” A glossary in the back of the book defines Xhosa and Afrikaans words that appear throughout the story, and an author’s note explains how many great leaders have come from humble beginnings. The beautiful story and illustrations evoke the sensory experiences of a day in Malusi’s life. (ISBN 9780802854179. Gr K-2.)

3038756Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson is one of the most striking books I have ever seen. This biography tells in sophisticated, deliberate prose the story of this world leader’s life, accompanied by gorgeous, realistic, large-as-life paintings of people and events along the way. This is a powerful introduction to Mandela that will grab students’ attention and spur meaningful discussions about determination and leadership. (ISBN 9780061783746. Gr K-3.)

You might also consider…

Leadership by Sue Barraclough (ISBN 9781432933227. Gr 1-3.)

The World Is Waiting for You by Barbara Kerley (ISBN 9781426311147. Gr PS-3.)

Many teachers begin with the story–the fiction title–and then fuel students’ desire for more information by providing the nonfiction title. Look around the Internet for creative ways to use these text sets–there are lots of fun ideas! You can start by trying these sites:

Read Write Think

The Reading Zone

Layers of Learning

Blogger: Lori C.