Washington 6th Graders Get Lesson in What is Important

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Washington Middle School sixth grader, Nasir Harris, determines what he would put into his suitcase if he had to suddenly leave home, as part of an English Language Arts unit in Jennifer Lachajczk's class.
Washington Middle School sixth grader, Nasir Harris, determines what he would put into his suitcase if he had to suddenly leave home, as part of an English Language Arts unit in Jennifer Lachajczk's class.

“What will you pack in your suitcase?” asked Washington Middle School sixth grade teacher, Jennifer Lachajczyk. “You don’t have a lot of room. What is important to you if you had to leave your house right now? What is sentimental to you?”

Mrs. Lachajczyk gave the students a printout of a suitcase to draw and label what they would take from home. At first, students talked about taking their cell phone or video games. But, Mrs. Lachajczyk reminded them that Bud, a character in the story they are reading, had a suitcase of special things that he carried everywhere with him as an orphan. What would they carry?

“I would take a bedtime shirt that smells like my mom,” said Washington Middle School sixth grader, Lilly Stormont.

“I would take a pillow made of my grandpa’s shirt,” said sixth grader, Catori Trace.

The students completed the suitcase project as part of an English Language Arts unit on the book, Bud, Not Buddy, about a 10-year-old boy who is an orphan. In his suitcase is a flyer that belonged to Bud’s mom. He thinks this is a clue that will lead him to his father, a man that his mom never talked about. Bud decides to follow this clue and sets out to find his father.

“I like to have the students think of what special things they would put in a suitcase to try to get them to relate to Bud and to understand why the suitcase is so important to him,” said Mrs. Lachajczyk. “A colleague had given me the template for the suitcase activity, and I chose to do it because I tell my students that if they can put themselves in a character’s shoes, it helps with their comprehension of the story. I think by choosing special objects and being able to verbalize why they chose what they did, my students have a better understanding of what the character, Bud, may be feeling about his suitcase and the objects in it and why it is so important to him.”
In the ELA module, students work on several ELA skills including: making inferences, using context clues to determine word meanings, identifying themes or central ideas, citing text evidence to support a claim, and working with several types of figurative language that enhance the story.

“The students enjoy any activities that are hands-on and creative,” said Mrs. Lachajczyk. “This activity, though it is simple, sparked the students’ thinking about what is important to them and led to conversations and discussions with each other about why they chose specific items to put in their suitcases. It is often difficult to get the students to understand what is really important to them. The first objects students generally want to put in the suitcase are cell phones and video games, but when we start talking about what is truly meaningful to them, the items chosen are very special. Some

students chose baby blankets or stuffed animals they’ve had since they were babies. Some students chose jewelry or items given to them by a loved one. Many put photographs of family in their suitcases. I always enjoy listening to the reasons behind the choices the students have made.”