Additional Activities for “The River”


Throughout my 38-year career of teaching in the public schools, I’ve not only had the benefit of perfecting my teaching craft learning from students I worked with, but from my colleagues as well! The SGM® was a powerful vehicle that enabled me to establish a collaborative relationship with teachers. I spent many years as an inclusion specialist working with students and teachers in grades K-6, and using the SGM® tools helped so much in being able to successfully include students in regular education classrooms. At the former Juniper Park School in Westfield, Massachusetts, we were fortunate to share a school–wide vision to use the SGM® from grades kindergarten through 6th grade as well as our special education classes. It became second nature for students and teachers to use the scaffolding of the SGM®, which enhanced learning. As we approached planning for a novel or other reading selections, teachers and I always first listed our objectives and then brought in the SGM® to the process.

ThemeMaker CoverHatchet / The River Book CoversFor those of you who own a copy of the ThemeMaker Teachers' Manual, you know that one of the novels featured is The River by Gary Paulsen. This novel is a sequel to Hatchet. The River is an excellent book for exploring character development. I recently came across my folder for The River and thought I would share a few additional activities with you before putting it away.

One of our sixth grade teachers, Donna Mulligan and I collaborated to present this reading adventure to our students. Six students in her class were on educational plans for reading, two for decoding and comprehension, the others for comprehension skills only. Since all the students had knowledge of and had used the SGM® for several years, it provided the needed scaffolding to support students within the classroom. This also made it easier for flexible groupings of students as the SGM® was so familiar to all and a common language was already established among all participants. The value of this cannot be underestimated. The novel was presented whole class with sections being read aloud and discussed with students either whole class or small groups depending on our ongoing assessments of needs.

Page 67 Thememaker ManualAs shown on pages 67-70 of the ThemeMaker Teachers’ Manual, one major element we focused on were the conflicts created by Initiating Events: Character against Character; Character against Self; Character against Environment; and Character Against Society. This aspect is thoroughly presented in the manual.

  1. As sections were read aloud, the SGM® Complete Episode Map was filled out on chart paper. This made it easy to review and summarize previous day’s readings using the SGM® Teacher Marker.

  2. In addition, The River presented us with an opportunity to explore how the main character’s (Brian) personality was affected by an integral setting. An integral setting is one where the geography is essential to the motivations of characters and to the plot. The setting moves the plot along, setting the mood and creating opportunities for the reader to determine the theme(s).

Page 142, SGM ManualThe Character Whose Personality Is Affected By An Integral Setting map, was filled out by me with the students at various stopping points in the novel. It should be noted at this time, that this and other graphic organizers are flexible tools that allow you to decide how many items to add to each category and also the focus of these items, depending on your students. Page numbers were referenced and we went back to those pages to reread the information and discuss items that were added to the map.

As this was modeled, students eventually contributed what they would add to the map after certain sections were read. It provided a deeper understanding of Brian’s character and his reactions to story events. Below is the map presented on a whiteboard. In our class, we used chart paper, a good alternative if you have space issues so common in schools. Plus, having the information on chart paper makes it easier to bring the maps to groups of students.

Character as Personality Map

Character as Personality 2

  1. The River Downloadable

    Download the Chart of Personality Traits
    To Use with Your Students

    Downloadable ExampleAs we progressed through the novel using the procedure above, students also kept a chart of personality traits for Brian using the Personality (due to Geographical Past) and Reactions to Emotional Surroundings categories above as a springboard. This enabled us to take evidence from the book and really expand on the development of character traits, which was one of our objectives. Using the Reactions sections also gave us an opportunity to tease out character traits versus feelings. We utilized the SGM® CHARACTERistics CHARACTERistics PosterPoster as well. Some students engaged in small group lessons with this as the focus so they could be guided through the process of looking at what Brian thought, said, and did to determine character traits.

  2. The bulletin board Thumbprint Story Map activity was also explained in the ThemeMaker manual. One year, we not only had a bulletin board of the river as described, but the students created individual thumbprint “maps” as well and then wrote about the events depicted on the map each time they placed a thumbprint on the map. Below is Melissa’s map and following, her accompanying narrative.

Thumbprint Map Example

As we talked about the projects with students, the events were related to the SGM® Marker as shown by the arrows. The amount of SGM® scaffolding was determined by our goals for each student and his/her developmental stage.

Melissa Writing 1

Melissa Writing 2

Melissa Writing 3

Hatchet and The River are both excellent novel choices to explore character development. The River themes of courage, bravery, responsibility and survival make it a perfect fit for upper elementary and middle school students. Finally, all of the activities above may be modified to meet your students’ needs, which is the most important feature of the SGM®: its flexibility and developmental nature!


Sheila Zagula
Sheila Zagula

Author

Sheila Zagula works with MindWing Concepts in product development, drawing on her expertise and talents as well as many years of implementing the Story Grammar Marker® and related materials. Her teaching career spans thirty-eight years, most recently as literacy coach in the Westfield Massachusetts Public School System. Sheila has experience as an early childhood educator, a teacher of children with special needs, and a collaborative instructor within an inclusion framework serving children in grades K-5.



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