It’s officially November. Here at Vamos a Leer we’re not advocates of teaching the traditional tales of Pilgrims, Indians, and the First Thanksgiving (Charla does a great job discussing this in her post “Thanks but No Thanks: Creating a November with No Stereotypes”). This doesn’t mean that we want you to entirely ignore the fall season. One of my favorite parts of being in the classroom was that I was able to explicitly call attention to the changing of the seasons. This made me so mindful of the different things I loved about each time of year and allowed me to encourage my students to do the same. The end of fall and the beginning of winter are a great time to have your students focus on gratitude, gratefulness, and awareness. So for today’s En la Clase post, I thought I’d highlight the ways the two beautiful books by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and John Parra can be used as the basis for a great seasonal literacy activity. The books by this duo are amazing. If you’re not familiar with their work, you must remedy that right away! In this post, I’m going to discuss Green is a Chile Pepper and Round is a Tortilla. Check out the review Lorraine wrote last year of Round is a Tortilla for a quick introduction to their work.
Focusing on shapes and colors, both of the books were written with young children in mind. But as with many great children’s books, this doesn’t mean that young readers are the only ones who can enjoy or benefit from them. For me, these books really inspire the reader to be fully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around them. Full of cultural references, they really encourage students to think about all of the everyday things that not only make up our daily experiences but really enrich our lives. As is probably evident from the titles, Round is a Tortilla encourages this kind of awareness by focusing on the shapes of the things that surround us, while Green is a Chile Pepper highlights colors. Written with a lyrical style, I think the books really lend themselves to a poetry activity. For the purpose of the poetry activity suggested here, I’d encourage you preface the reading of the book with an informal conversation about the things students associate with fall, November, or the Thanksgiving holiday. You may want to start a list of the things that the students mention. Then, while reading the books, ask students to think about the kinds of things that the authors write about. Guide them to think about how the authors highlight the sounds, smells, and tastes of the things they describe. Draw their attention to the ways in which Parra illustrates Greenfield Thong’s prose.
Once you’ve read both books, there are different options for how you can proceed. First, decide if you want students to focus their poetry on shapes, colors, or both. Based on this preference, guide students to a more in-depth whole group brainstorming session like the one you started as the introduction to the book. Ask students for examples of the things they experience in fall or the things that remind them of this season. Remind them to think of the foods they see, eat, or smell; the sounds they hear; the color or shape of objects specific to fall; and the textures or sensations they feel this time of year, etc. Perhaps you can lead them to discuss how we can be grateful for these things as often we only get to experience them at a certain time of year. Ask students to identify the shape and/or color of the example they give. Once the class has a good working list, move on to the structure of the poetry.
Depending on the age group of your class, you can ask them to identify the different phrase patterns used, or you can provide those for them. They’re fairly simple. If they’re doing colors, the pattern is quite easy: (Color) is_____ or (Color) are_____. It’d probably be best to provide a sample line from the book that students can use as a model when they begin writing their own poems. Among my favorite sections are the lines on yellow:
“Yellow is masa we use to make tortillas, tamales, and sweet corn cake!
Yellow are the stars that lighten the night.
Yellow are faroles flickering bright.”
While there are a few different patterns in the book on shapes, the simplest one goes: (Shape) is_____ or (Shape) are_____. My favorite lines come from the title:
“Round are sombreros. Round is the moon.
Round are the trumpets that blare out a tune.
Round are the campanas that chime and ring.
Round are the nests where swallows sing.
Round are tortillas and tacos, too.
Round is a pot of abuela’s stew.”
Draw students’ attention to the way in which the author doesn’t just say “Round are the campanas” or “Yellow are the stars.” Instead, she continues the line offering a short description. If appropriate for the age group you’re working with, also draw attention to the rhyming pattern used, and ask students to model this as well. You can decide how many stanzas or lines you want students to complete. You can give them the option of writing about numerous colors or shapes, or just focusing on one color or shape for the entire poem. For younger students, you may want to create a template that they can fill in to get started.
John Parra’s illustrations are such a beautiful complement to the prose. If time allows, give students the opportunity to illustrate their poem in a way that they think best conveys the meanings and feelings of their words.
We’d love to hear your experiences using either of these books in the classroom, or any other ideas you have for activities on gratefulness, gratitude, or awareness! If your students like Round is a Tortilla, be on the lookout for Alice’s upcoming post on The First Tortilla.
Until next week,