I am excited to write today about a novel study I did with my grade 4 class last year! The book we read was called The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I first heard of this book from one of my past teaching placements when my associate teacher was doing this book with his Grade 6’s as a novel study. He explained to me what it was about, gave me the limited resources he had and has used for the past couple of years, and that was it. I never gave the book any thought after that. It was not until I came across it in our school library when teaching last year that I thought about giving it a read for myself. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it! Even though I was a bit disappointed with the beginning (I think my hopes were set too high, as well as I was thinking this was going to be like the Hunger Games – so really the beginning of this book is probably awesome, I just ruined it for myself), the rest of the book picks up and is a great read! If you love the Hunger Games and the Divergent series, give this a read (I believe it is a set of 4 books all together to complete the series!)
To start developing my binder of resources for this novel study, I downloaded two resources off of TPT from here and here. I pulled different pages from each of these collections, as well as from a free online source. I really liked the free resource I found, because the questions were much more simplistic for my grade 4s to comprehend and respond to (get it here). I feel that the two TPT purchases I made included questions that are geared more for intermediate students, however I was able to adapt them in order to incorporate them into our own unit.
I was able to use the City of Ember to assess my students on their comprehension levels. As a part of the curriculum, I needed to assess my students on their ability to listen, summarize, paraphrase, and evaluate what they listened to and be able to draw conclusions from that. So in order to develop these skills, I ended up blending CAFE reading strategies with our City of Ember novel study. As I read parts of the novel to them, I would introduce new reading strategies (whether we were focusing on comprehension, accuracy, fluency or expanding vocabulary) or I re-visited different strategies we had already discussed before.
An activity I had my students do while I was reading, so that they would be more engaged, is that I gave them maps of Ember that they could bring to the carpet while we read. They could then pinpoint where the main characters were throughout the story as I read it to them. I also gave each student their own little notepads to jot notes. They could bring these to the carpet as well. Students could use these notebooks to record anything they heard in the story that sounded “fishy” or as I explained in other words to my grade 4s, something that does not sound right/something that does not make sense. I told my students before reading that there is a bit of a mystery within this book and I wanted to see if they were able to find clues along the way to try and solve it. Let me just say, the notebooks were a HUGE HIT! I have never seen my students more engaged and attentive during a read-aloud! Not a sound came from any of them the whole time. They were all focused in writing their notes and locating places on their Ember maps as the story went on.
These notebooks were just for their use, but I did look at them from time to time just to make sure they were following along with the story/to see if some of them were close to the bigger picture. By the end of the year, my students made great improvements – they were listening more carefully, summarizing what I read to them in their notebooks, and they were evaluating what they heard in order to figure out what was happening in the story (drawing conclusions). I cannot say it enough, I loved how all this connected perfectly together!
Another activity we did together was a mock Assignment Day in our classroom. As my students were finishing up answering questions about chapter 1, I quietly pulled out a green bag that another teacher so wonderfully made for me. One of the students looked up and immediately figured out what the bag was going to be used for. They were all so excited to see what job they would get! I originally got the idea from here. It was a huge hit – definitely give it a go in the classroom!
I am re-reading this story to my grade 3/4 class this year, and once again, it is thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. I want to try ways to make this a year-long study, but with many more different activities…perhaps a summer project in the making for me!