Posts Tagged Robyn Gioia

Movies Inspire Reading!

Bringing Books and Movies Together

Robyn Gioia

Teaching today’s students is a different ballgame than twenty years ago.

Even ten years ago. This is a generation of visual learners. Students in middle school down through elementary have grown up on cell phones and tablets. Visuals accompany almost everything they read. There isn’t a day go by that my students don’t say, “Can we see a picture of that?”

In the forefront are movies, moving visuals that provide setting, plot, memorable characters, action, and a storyline that comes to life in a different era.

This provides a great opportunity to take advantage of the stage movies produce.

Heroes stand out. It is from their hardships and the trials that follow that make history. One such hero is Harriet Tubman, a slave and political activist, who escaped captivity, and returned as a “conductor” to lead slaves through the “underground railroad” to freedom during the 1800s. She did this repeatedly, even though it put her in grave peril and she carried a bounty on her head.

Enter the Harriet Tubman Movie:

teacher's guide

A tremendous opportunity for children to understand what these women worked so hard to accomplish—one succeeding and one coming close. —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Give students rich opportunities to learn more. Set the background. Provide students with information that provides historical depth and broadens the movie’s perspective.

Go beyond the internet. Teach your students the value of book research. Provide the class with a broad collection of books, both informational and historically based. Encourage them to be detectives. Encourage them to find the clues that tell us more. (Adjust as needed for your level of students.)

Brainstorm with the class. Discuss the different aspects of the movie. What questions do they have? Was the movie historically accurate? What was correct and what was fiction? Were the characters true to life? Did the plot follow the facts?

Examine the bigger picture. What drove the economy? What kind of  society was it? What was happening politically? What were the customs? How did these things contribute to Harriet’s plight?

Divide the class into topics that were generated from their discussion. Let your students discover the answers through research. Teach them how to use the book index and chapter headings to speed up fact finding. Groups love to share what they’ve learned with others. Provide time each day to let them tell their favorite fun facts. Help them become experts.

Make an Experts’ Bulletin Board: At the end of each session, have students post fast facts and visuals from their book research. Provide a parking lot for questions. Let the specialized experts research the answers and post them on the board.

Have a Socratic Seminar: Pose thought provoking questions and let students discuss the answers citing evidence from their research.

Stage a Debate: Students choose an historical issue and debate the pros and cons.

Read historical novels.

Below are some of my favorite activities for Book Reports or/and Research Projects:

  • Write a Readers’ Theater.
  • Produce a historical newspaper with student journalists.
  • Write a picture book for first grade.
  • Create a Jeopardy game.
  • Design a board game of the Underground railroad. Create a schoolwide simulation.
  • Make a Slideshow to teach others.
  • Write and perform a skit.
  • Design posters.
  • Produce a new book jacket cover.
  • Design an informational brochure.
  • Produce a video clip.
  • Create trading cards.
  • Write a story using historical evidence based on a different perspective.
  • Write and perform a song.
  • Create a dance.
  • Write a poem.


How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

Well done, Mr. Tingle.

Imagine a class full of anxious 5th graders sitting on the rug at your feet begging for the next chapter in our read aloud, How I Became a Ghost by Choctaw native and story teller Tim Tingle.

As a teacher, I incorporate every moment into a teaching moment, and storytelling is no different. This is my third year reading this book aloud and a common comment after each session is how much my students love this story.

A couple of years ago, I sent two students on an errand, and they later burst through the classroom doors out of breath. They said they had run as fast as they could across the campus to get back before I started reading. I realized then, that I shouldn’t send kids on errands or make kids do catch-up work when we were visiting the land of the Choctaw on the Trail of Tears.

How I Became a Ghost is not only entertaining, it is also brutally honest. It is a tale of the Trail of Tears, when  Native Americans were forced to leave their homes in Mississippi and relocate to land now called Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The story is told through the eyes of Issac, a ten-year old Choctaw. In the very beginning, Isaac announces to his readers (or listeners in this case) that he is going to be a ghost soon. And because of his condition, premonitions of grisly events begin to plague him.

This is where the brutally honest part comes in. There are many disturbing scenes that are so well-told, that the kids shriek in shock. But they get it. And they are anxious for you to keep reading. For example, during one of Isaac’s premonitions, he sees an old Choctaw couple burning in flames. Soon after, the same couple die when soldiers sneak into the neighborhood at night to set everyone’s homes on fire. And then there is the premonition of pus-filled sores covering some of the tribe’s bodies. You guessed it. Soldiers ride into camp and offer the shivering population blankets exposed to Smallpox.

Choctaws were removed west of the Mississippi started in 1831. Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou by Alfred Boisseau was painted in 1846.

Smallpox became a huge topic in the classroom and I had to teach a mini-lesson on communicable diseases (which ties into our Health curriculum) and the use of diseased blankets.  The bigger story, which we discussed several times, was the relationship between native tribes, societal beliefs, and the government in the 1830s.

Because Tim Tingle is a master storyteller, tie-ins to Native American culture are seamlessly woven into the story. We learn how the spiritual world is part of the family unit and how those who have passed on look after and protect those still walking the earth.  When Isaac becomes a ghost, his story does not stop there. As a ghost he is able to assist the living as they continue their fight to stay alive while walking the trail.

As with most great books, and one that has won many awards, the literary elements are rich. Besides profound sayings worthy of insightful discussion, we examined how imagery comes from the imagination. The scene goes from text on paper to an image inside our heads. In the following scene, Isaac’s feet are frozen in a puddle, and when he pulls his feet up the skin tears off. The kids cringe when this happens, but they understand how bitter cold can affect the body and the desperate conditions of the Choctaw. It is interesting to see imagery taking shape through the imagination of a fifth grader.

Some conversations: What is the author saying? Why does the author make a point of one hundred footprints turning into a thousand? Why were the footprints bloody and not regular footprints?

Isaac looking back and seeing a bloody trail of footprints.

Isaac covered with a blue blanket leaning against a tree with his feet frozen in ice.

One of the reasons I originally chose to read a book on Native American history is because it helps students to build a broader concept of how the U.S. was formed. Books can be powerful tools and it is a tool that sits at the top of my teacher toolbox.



Ready, Set, Go! Children’s Books Compete Overseas

Morning Calm medal featuring the Seoul Tower in the background and traditional Korean buildings in the forefront.

Librarians are readers. They love books and read plenty of them. They delve into fictional worlds, constantly update their knowledge with the latest nonfiction, hone their research skills with a constantly evolving cyber world, keep abreast of the latest apps and an ever-increasing catalog of digital books.


So, what happens when a group of librarians from Korean International Schools (International schools teach in English) and an American School get together to compare favorite titles? They develop the Morning Calm Program, aptly named for a program featured in South Korea. Korea is described as “The Land of the Morning Calm” in a poem written by the Indian poet, Sir Tagore during the Joseon Dynasty.

Each librarian selects their own books to recommend to the committee. Each book must have been published in the last two years, have school-wide student appeal, and is worthy of literary merit. Where they find books to consider is wide-open. Books can be chosen from far and wide, and not through regular channels. If a librarian falls in love with a book, and it meets the criteria, he or she is free to bring it forward.

The books are presented to the whole committee of librarians. The committee, a multi-cultural mix of people representing many different perspectives, reviews and discusses each book before placing it on the next school-wide reading list.

The list contains: 5 picture books, 5 intermediate elementary, 5 middle school, and 5 books for high school.

The following are the books that made this year’s 2017-2018 Morning Calm Reading list:

Elementary Picture Books





Elementary Chapter Books


Middle School





High School

At the beginning of the year, our elementary school librarian sets up a showcase featuring all of the picture books and intermediate titles. The top shelf showcases a photocopy of the book standing up. The books are in such demand, a representative has to take its place. The bottom shelf houses the copies. Students are allowed to open the case and take one from the pile to check-out.  At any given time, a quick glance tells you the books are popular.

The program doesn’t stop there. The librarian begins the school year by introducing the books to each class in an exciting way. For the little kids, it might be a video introduction. For the older kids, it might be a letter from the author. PYP/IB schools call this a “provocative introduction” because it peaks your interest and makes you want to know more.

Many teachers purchase class sets for their students. Some classes do projects centered around the story. Many teachers make the books required reading. Older students do reviews and post them to the school’s Schoology website. The books might be part of a literature circle. They may become part of an after school book club. They may become part of a reading competition between classes. They may be chosen for a teacher’s read aloud time.

Our librarian, and every librarian out there, offers student incentives for reading. The incentives may come in the form of reading contests, where the winning class is rewarded with an ice cream party. Or there might be banners hung in the library listing the names of students and the titles they’ve read.

Teachers get in on the act, too. They may have bulletin boards featuring book elements and plots. Classes may have book talks with other grades. Parents may be invited for a read-in with their child. Students from 5th grade may read picture books to 1st grade partners. There are also volunteer community members who might read to a student one-on-one or a student may read to the volunteer. And we can’t forget the PTO. Members running the book fairs may offer the Morning Calm titles for sale.

Anyway you look at it, these books are the talk of the school for an entire school year.

The librarian at our elementary school estimates 50% of the student body reads the featured titles. Keep in mind that the little ones generally aren’t part of those statistics, meaning the upper elementary grades make up the bulk of the reading.

At the end of the year, students vote on their favorite titles. Each student must have read 4 of the 5 titles to be eligible to vote. Numbers are crunched from the participating schools and a winner in each category is announced. Winning books receive the Morning Calm Medal and shouting rights for placing first.

The most important thing? The exposure our students receive for a year of great reading. Check back in May when all the votes are in!