Starting a new novel unit

This week my class will begin reading Jean Craighead George’s “The Talking Earth”. I spent a few weeks looking for a good novel with an environmental theme. I also wanted it to follow a survival or journey theme, as our first unit is usually based around a survival story. I stumbled upon a class set of “The Talking Earth” way in the back of my room, left over from a previous teacher. After a quick read, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for.

I wrote a 20 day unit plan, combining a independent reading (each student will read 50 pages/week), guided reading, survival activities, and a few monarch butterfly connections. One of my favorite activities will be their survival groups. My students will be put into groups of 4-5 students and told they have crashed on an island. First, they will discuss their strengths and weaknesses and then assign tasks and responsibilities within the group. Once a week, their group will be assigned a problem. This will be something like, “After fishing for the last week, the fish are becoming scarce. You need to come up with a way to continue eating and letting the fish reproduce”. After discussing the problem as a group and coming up with a solution, their homework will be to research a current environmental problem that they think is similar to their group’s problem. They will hand in a 1 paragraph paper detailing the environmental problem and a solution they believe will work. This will count as a 25-point quiz grade for the marking period.

I will be assigning the groups and the first problem this week. I can’t wait to see how this pans out!

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

I have been meaning to pick up a copy of this book for a while (since it won the Scott O’Dell Award), and was very excited to see it offered in the first Scholastic catalog I handed out this year. The order came in this week and I just finished the book. I loved it! I have to say, I didn’t expect to love it after reading the back. A note to the publishers: the back summary does no justice to the story! None! At all!

The book follows two seemingly very different girls during World War II. Both end up at Los Alamos, where their parents are working on top-secret projects for the government. The information about Los Alamos offered throughout the book is absolutely fascinating. So fascinating, that I have been on Wikipedia for the last few minutes doing more research! To the rest of the world, Los Alamos did not exist in the 1940’s. Small details in the book really drove this point home. For example, high school seniors in Los Alamos had a very hard time being accepted into any colleges because their high school did not exist- the only address was a P.O. box in Santa Fe. The girls live in a bubble of sorts, untouched by the outside world. They are also surrounded by many of the brightest minds of the century.

While the main characters are fictional, Ellen Klages sprinkles in many real life scientists who spent time at Los Alamos. Names like Feynman, Oppenheimer, and Bethe are mentioned frequently. In fact, Dewety (one of the main characters) befriends Dick Feynman at the beginning of the book.

I would love to use this book in a literature circle at some point. It brings up some great questions and really makes the reader think, without being preachy. I just have to find a unit to fit it into!

And the best part of all? Ellen Klages is currently writing a sequel!