Maeve Visser Knoth: Some classroom ideas for A YEAR DOWN YONDER

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Some classroom ideas for A YEAR DOWN YONDER

I was asked today for my teaching ideas around Richard Peck's novel A Year Down Yonder. My ideas are not yet full-fledged lesson plans, and I don't really think in terms of lesson plans, more in terms of how can fifth and sixth graders really appreciate what Peck is doing with this novel. A Year Down Yonder is a very fun book, with lots of great moments and beautiful, colorful language. I try to strike a balance so that the activity/discussion helps the kids think and write and read more deeply but doesn't beat the book to death. A light touch is necessary to help them see that literature is all about having a richer life,. Yes we can find vocabulary words in every chapter, but the reason Peck uses interesting words in not to challenge his reader, or to have her use a dictionary all the time, but to convey a textured world.

Some things that come to mind:
Kids will enjoy going through the text to find some great examples of Grandma Dowdel's personality (maybe share in small groups the things kids find). Kids could make something that represents Grandma- a menu, a poster, a collection of imaginary telephone messages.

Kids can write about a grandparent of one's own (or grandparent-type figure). In this case I would encourage the sketch to come in the form of a story...what happened on one visit to my grandfather's house...

Writing imaginary postcards seems also to fit this book since Mary Alice is away from home for a year. What would she say to her brother?

There are a couple of chapters that especially beg to be read aloud. Some of the kids will have missed much of the descriptive language as they read to themselves. I would definitely read aloud from this book.

The Halloween chapter provides students with another writing opportunity-- a chance to introduce a visitor to the Halloween traditions at our school in this era.

Pull out some of the figurative language and play charades...have groups figure out what expression the other group is acting out.

The picture book The Gardener by Sarah Stewart is a perfect match for this novel. A child goes to stay with a crotchety uncle...I think it is the Depression or maybe some epidemic so she is sent off to keep safe. There are fun comparisons between the Grandma Dowdel and this uncle...and a good parallel between the heroines in the two books. Most kids love to be read aloud to and I think seeing similar themes in a much more compact form will help them extract themes from A Year Down Yonder.

I look forward to hearing just which of these ideas the 5/6th grader teacher uses.


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