Chatting about ACROSS THE ALLEY by Richard Michelson

Picture books have layers. (Like onions–and yes, Donkey, like cake and parfaits.)  We learned that this week as we read and discussed Richard Michelson’s Across the Alley.

As we head to the end of the year, there is not enough time for partners or groups to start and finish novels for discussion. I decided that the best way for us to practice and build our conversation skills is to use provocative picture books.

We read Eve Buntings Your Move earlier in the week, then moved on to Across the Alley.  We started with a read aloud–students did some Stop n’ Jots in their notebooks and also turned and talked at certain points. Each students then came up with a big idea question they wanted to discuss with a partner. (Big questions tend to start with Why…? What…? Should…?) These partners/trios then broke out around the room, each taking a copy of the book.

The conversations were awesome.

Coming back together, we charted some of their great questions and then voted to see which conversation we would have. The students circled up on the carpet to discuss some of these questions.

  • Why wasn’t the Grandpa mad when he found Willie playing the violin instead of Abe? Why did his opinions seem to change so quickly?
  • Why did the people in the temple move to the other side of the aisle when Willie and his dad sat down? (This grew even more interesting when I helped the students gain some cultural and historical perspective–that this was NOT the time of segregation, it was the North.)
  • Why did it take so long for the boys to discover their true talents?
  • Should the boys have switched?
  • Is the Grandpa racist?
  • And many more…

I mostly stood outside the circle as the students discussed. I would occasionally help clear up a confusion or get things quieted down, or whisper conversation ideas in a reluctant student’s ear.  I did explain that stories have layers. A third grader could read the book and get it. They as sixth graders get it a little deeper because they know more of the history and are more mature. As an adult, I understand it differently (especially the adult characters.) But I don’t understand it on as deep a level as someone would had he lived through that time

I’m pleased with the growth my students have shown in their conversational abilities this year. I’m looking forward to beginning this earlier in the year for 2012-13.

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If you are interested in reading the author’s ideas behind the book (fascinating!), I recommend this interview.

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