Teaching with Themed Literature Units: Older Middle Grade

Recently, I wrote about the value of Themed Literature Units, structured units of study designed to develop crucial literacy skills as students read, write about, discuss, and sometimes respond artistically to high-quality children’s literature.  My previous post, “Finding My Way: Teaching with Themed Literature Units,” introduces a strategy for organizing meaningful literacy instruction around memorable middle grade literature.  The post also offers a glimpse into three classrooms where teachers and middle grade students are reading great books on themes such as “Adapting to new situations,” “Taking risks to help others,” and “Courage is inside all of us.”

Today, I’d like to expand our list with an additional themed literature unit for older middle grade readers in an unusual context — a middle school Spanish class.

Overcoming Obstacles in the Search for Identity ~ 8th grade
Ceinwen Bushey is teaching 8th grade Spanish in a Seattle middle school.  She developed her unit, “Overcoming Obstacles in the Search for Identity” to help her students understand their own quests for identity and to recognize similar struggles in other adolescents in Latin America.  She introduced her students to the unit this way:  “For most teenagers like yourselves, middle school is a time of fast growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It’s also a time for developing your sense of identity, self-esteem, and relationships with your peers. This is true for kids all around the world, but some have it tougher than others. Imagine having to deal with all the things everyday teens have to deal with, then adding to them some really big obstacles. Think about what it would be like to have to move to a new country, learn to speak a new language, make new friends, eat food you’ve never seen before, not have MTV to watch, not have iPhones or iPads or Facebook, and have people thinking you look weird because you’re different from them. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to read, write, and discuss the lives of kids your age that are trying to figure things out, just like you, but who are from Latin America and have to overcome really big obstacles like the ones I just mentioned. They are teenagers who have to move to the United States from other countries, and try to figure out who they are; they’re searching for their identity. The end goal of our work together is to promote cross-cultural understanding and develop awareness that the journey toward understanding oneself is universal; that is, it connects us all to one another.”

Big Ideas
The unit guides students to understand two big ideas:
The path to self-discovery is a universal human experience and connects us all; and
Tough experiences are often the ones that teach us the most about ourselves.

Book List

As older middle grade readers grow, they yearn to figure out who they are and how they can make a difference in this world.  Ceinwen Bushey’s unit guides her middle schoolers to take a cross-cultural look at ways that young people, like them, find ways to overcome the obstacles in their lives as they search for identity.

Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold (Clarion, 2011) won the 2012 Washington State Book Award for the middle grade/young adult and has been named a 2012 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.  Visit her at http://katherineschlicknoe.com.

Katherine Schlick Noe
  1. Hi, I’m an avid follower of this site and wanted to ask the opinions on The Institute of Children’s Literature. I have strong interests in middle grade, lower grade, YA, and adult…so very very varied (I’ve yet to find my niche or voice). I also am overwhelmed with where to start, how to start, how to organize my writing or even think about what kinds of submissions , etc. Do you think ICL would be a good thing to take? I was thinking about an online writing course with a college or whatever (I’m in Canada) but those can be questionable or costly for just one simple course…whereas ICL seems all inclusive, etc. But with that blurb about myself above, do you think it would be useful and excellent for me? THanks!

  2. Yes! So sorry that it wasn’t clear:
    Journey of the Sparrows by Daisy Leeper Buss.
    La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
    Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
    First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants edited by Don Gallo

  3. Katherine, great to see such good literature used in a Spanish class! And very timely because of the discussion going on right now on the CCBC list serve about the number and quality of books about the Hispanic and Latin American experience. Could you please put the titles and author names of these four book in the comment section? I know, I have a little thing for the name of the author. 🙂 Where is that coming from? No idea! I just can’t read their names on the covers.