If you use children’s stories in the classroom, are those stories skilled enough to do double – or triple – duty?
Piggybacking on what Helena Curtain advised, to use literature that’s deep enough to come at life and language in multiple ways, I’d like to add a couple of suggestions for books to add to your classroom. I’m primarily addressing this to the elementary audience but if you’re a secondary teacher (as am I by my beginnings) you’ll easily see how these books might fit in your curriculum, as well. Another note: I read these books in Spanish, but since I’m advising you to simplify the stories, they’re a great option for teachers of any language; just buy the book in English.
Unless you’re in an immersion school, your students likely do not have the proficiency to handle these stories (my bilingual 5-year-old: “What’s rabino? What’s bulliciosos?”). So take your targets and make the story simple and repetitive. Add gestures and sound effects and you’ve got a winner to keep you and the students in the target language and your environment acquisition-rich.
Los otros osos (The Other Bears)
In Los otros osos (English here), Michael Thompson introduces us to the koala family, where the mom and dad are not feeling very much like making friends with bears who are different. They don’t like the pandas’ ears and shoes. They’re annoyed by the polar bears’ claws and coats. And don’t get them started on the noise the black bears make! But their kids have a different opinion- the pandas have awesome food, the polar bears tell great jokes, and the black bears sing fun songs. Here’s what I love about this book, for the language classroom:
- Description: The koalas are brown and black and small, the polar bears are white and tall, the black bears are… well, you get the picture.
- Likes / dislikes: For every new type of bear, the mom doesn’t like something, the dad doesn’t like something else, the kids like something else.
- National symbols: Each bear has something that is related to a country where it is native. The black bears wear red, white, & blue marching band uniforms. The brown bears are dressed in their bright, warm Russian outfits. The sun bears have their Southeast Asian umbrellas and ride bicycles.
- Cross-curricular: As an extension of the national symbols aspect, the front and back covers of the book contain information on different types of bears and where they are found.
- Celebrating difference: I don’t even want to call this tolerance because that implies quietly dealing with something you don’t like without hurting other people over it. No, the koala bear kids celebrate difference – there’s something about the culture and personality of each type of bear that they really like. This is a message our kids need to explore.
Siempre puede ser peor (It Could Always Be Worse)
Unless your library has the Spanish edition like mine, buy the English book as the Spanish version will run you close to $100 now that it seems to be out of print. A poor family lives in such tight quarters (I learned the word apiñado here) that everyone’s at each other’s throats. The father will do just about anything to make things better, including following the Rabbi’s advice to bring in the chickens… and the goat… and the cow! Will they all go crazy? It doesn’t hurt that the book won a Caldecott honor for illustrations. Here’s what I love about this book, for the language classroom:
- Family members: One dad, one mom, a grandma, six kids, and a Rabbi. Give them all names and ages.
- Animals and their sounds: you’ve got chickens, a rooster, goats, and a cow. Add other animals, if you like.
- Vocabulary: Take, put, or some other version of “brought in,” whatever’s common in the language you teach. The dad takes the animals out of their (barn?) and puts them in the house. Also something with “crazy.” Also activities from the illustrations: “is sleeping” “is eating” “is yelling,” etc. House and furniture, with comparisons to the student’s own home if that’s appropriate.
- Do you have / I have: This is an aspect I love about repetitive books. Every time he goes to the Rabbi, the father is asked “do you have” and responds “yes, I have.”
- Thankfulness: In the beginning, the whole family lives in one room. In the end, the whole family lives in one room. What changed? It was their attitude. They understood that perhaps their problems weren’t that terrible after all, and perhaps they could find peace in the situation they lived in. We could all use a dose of that.
If you want one more recommendation, check out Bears on Chairs for concepts in numbers, math, problem-solving, and sharing (and someone please put this adorable poem in Spanish!).
What literature are you using to teach core values along with language?