Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Reading and Writing About Women in History, Part 1

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

Women's History Month is right around the corner, so I'm excited to share a three-part blog post series that you can use to help students practice reading and writing strategies while they learn about women in history. In today's blog post, I'll explain how students can analyze and write about information in a level N biography about Sacagawea and a level O biography about Jane Goodall. These biographies are great chapter books for struggling readers in upper-elementary grades and middle school because you can easily scaffold instruction for kids.

Helping Students Identify Cause and Effect in Sacagawea

When you introduce students to the leveled biography titled Sacagawea: A Journey of Discovery , you're beginning a process of activating their prior knowledge, adding new vocabulary, and setting goals for students as they read. You can start by saying, Today you will meet a woman who became famous for helping explorers. Please look at the front cover of the book. Write two things in your journals about what the picture and the title tell you about Sacagawea.

Provide some time for students to make inferences. Then you can encourage them to read the first chapter to check if their inferences were correct. After they read the first chapter, ask questions that help them check to see if their predictions were right about this special seventeen-year-old.

After kids read the third chapter, you can facilitate small group discussions to practice critical thinking by saying, Talk to a partner about why this Native American girl was needed by the explorers. As you search for examples of the explorers' needs, read each example you find in the text to your partner. Then use your journals to write the effects that Sacagawea had on their needs. I will ask you to share your findings.

Improve Writing by Organizing Cause and Effect Statements

After reading Sacagawea: A Journey of Discovery , you can help students practice writing skills by organizing ideas and information they collected in discussions with their partners. You can help them practice writing cause and effect statements by saying the following:

Now that we have read a leveled book about a talented Native American, we are going to write about how she used her skills to help others. Let’s go to the timeline on pages 34 and 35 to review the list of the events that took place in Sacagawea's life. Select three or four events that you think made her worthy of her place in American history.

To help kids understand how to write a topic sentence, write the following sentence on the board: I think Sacagawea is an important person in history for the following reasons. Then encourage them to think about how they can create a paragraph using the examples they found in the timeline and other events described in the text of the nonfiction book.

Explain that when they describe why they agree with the topic sentence, they should be thinking about the effects each event had in her life. Remind students that they will need to write the sentences in their own words and that there are several causes provided in the text. Be sure to walk among students to provide one-on-one support if help is needed. Their paragraphs should include the topic sentence, examples of causes with descriptions of the effects, as well as a summary sentence that explains why they wrote the paragraph.

Analyzing the Structure and Development of Jane Goodall

The third chapter of the level O biography Jane Goodall: A Voice for Chimpanzees offers a great opening and closing paragraph about how Jane's life changed after graduating from high school. Encourage students to read through this chapter, and then say, On page 11, you'll find the name of the name of a person who helped Goodall’s dream of going to Africa come true. Find the name and write it in your journals.

Provide time for students to find the person's name and say, Now we will need to find three exciting things that happened to Jane after she met Dr. Leakey. Let's read page 11 together. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to model how to find the first way Dr. Leakey helped Jane. Explain that a cause is Jane meeting Dr. Leakey, and that students should think about the effects that this had on Jane's career.

Writing Statements About an Idea Presented in the Text

In the fifth chapter, there is a box on page 21 with a statement from Jane Goodall. The quote expresses what has happened to Jane because of her friendship with chimpanzees. Before reading this section of the leveled book with students, you can say, Let’s read the quote in the box together and point out any unfamiliar words that Jane used to describe how she felt about her experiences.

After reading this section of Jane Goodall: A Voice for Chimpanzees , ask students to write any words that they may not understand in their journals. Some examples may include respect, appreciation , and scheme of things . Then facilitate a discussion about unfamiliar words by asking the following questions: What does the word respect mean? What did Goodall respect? Why? What does the word appreciate mean? What do you appreciate? Why? Why did Jane appreciate the animals?

The phrase scheme of things may be a challenge for some students to understand. You can explain that a scheme is a plan that could describe how we live or how things work together in life. Then you can ask, What would your life scheme include? What did Goodall discover about the life of her animal friends and her life? How were they alike? After the discussion, invite the students to write about what she respected, appreciated, and learned about life from chimpanzees.

Sacagawea: A Journey of Discovery and Jane Goodall: A Voice for Chimpanzees provide great opportunities for reading and writing because you can model, practice, and encourage the use of reading comprehension strategies. The books can also help students understand the importance of these role models during Women's History Month. Their dedication and determination can be great examples for both boys and girls in your classroom because their stories are full of adventure.

Visit our blog soon to read the next segment of this three-part blog post series. In the second part, I'll explain how you can use level O and level P biographies to help students practice reading and writing about main ideas and key details.

Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog .