GMS Unit of Study Addresses Curriculum Standards

By Pam Briscoe
GMS Language Arts Teacher
Can teens make a difference in an election even if they are not registered voters? This is a question that many students at GMS can answer. If approached in the hallway, you might be surprised to hear the resounding replies of, “Students for Stoop,” or “Millstone for Mayor!” As part of an interesting unit, sixth grade students in Pam Briscoe’s and Karma Simmons’ language arts and math classes had the opportunity to explore several subject areas and Curriculum Standards as they completed a unit of study based upon the novel, Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer.

The main character, Hope Yancey, was a young, hard-working waitress who spent her life moving from place to place with her adopted aunt. After moving to a small town in Wisconsin, not only does she find herself knee-deep in a mayoral election filled with corruption, but also on a soul-searching mission to find the father that she never knew.

Language arts was incorporated into the unit as students learned how to summarize a chapter of a novel by using what Mrs. Briscoe calls the 3/20 Strategy. After reading a chapter, students learned to recognize the three main ideas that were present in the chapter. Students then pulled these three ideas together by creating a 20-word summary. Students then recorded these summaries in a personal, illustrated summary journal. Classes also held summary challenges on a chapter-by-chapter basis to practice revising and editing skills, with a method called “Who Says It Best?” Students absolutely loved this part of summarizing, since competition always breeds success.

Students also learned about tools of persuasion as they campaigned for their favorite candidate. Political signs were displayed in the hallways and campaign buttons were proudly emblazoned on t-shirts. Throughout the novel, students had the opportunity to have informal debates in the classroom about which candidate deserved to be elected and why. Debates are an important strategy to teach students to justify their decisions by providing text-based evidence, a necessary skill to be able to reach higher depth of knowledge levels.

As a culminating language arts activity, Mrs. Briscoe utilized the RAFT Writing Strategy whereby students were given a choice to write persuasive letters based upon role, audience, format, and topic. Many students chose to write to Joan Bauer to persuade her to write a sequel or visit the classroom. Other students decided to write to Steven Spielberg to persuade him to make Hope Was Here into a movie. Finally, many students chose to write to Govenor Haley Barbour to convince him to read and recommend Hope Was Here to other Mississippi politicians.

Pam Briscoe states, “This is probably the most exciting activity I have ever taught. I’ve tried to instill in the kids that in order to be good at anything, writing included, you have to have passion. This activity has sparked interest, motivation, and finger-crossing. We hope to get a response from our audiences.”

Math was injected into the study unit as students completed a chapter-by-chapter math journal throughout the novel. Problems were created that utilized objectives from the pacing guides. The students really enjoyed relating each problem to the characters and plot at that specific point in the story.

Students participated in a mock election, whereby they had to elect a candidate from the novel whom they felt would best represent the people of the novel. After submitting votes, students integrated math into the study unit by analyzing voting percentages for each
GMS Unit of Study