Collaboration in the Classroom with Story Grammar Marker® & Big Al - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Collaboration in the Classroom with Story Grammar Marker® & Big Al

by Sheila Zagula May 06, 2016 3 min read

Big Al CoverBig Al, written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Yoshi, was always one of my key books when working collaboratively with teachers as we implemented the SGM in classroom settings. There was so much to do with this picture book including mapping the story out as a Complete Episode using the SGM® map, SGM Teachers Manualretelling the story with partners, doing a written retelling using the completed map, working on character description using the SGM® Character Map, sequencing of events in the story, and using sequence words for story cohesion. Big Al is analyzed extensively in The Story Grammar Marker® Teachers’ Manual, pages 62-68.

Big Al and Shrimpy CoverStudents and teachers alike were delighted to learn that Clements and Yoshi had teamed up in 2002 for another book featuring Big Al…Big Al and Shrimpy. Both stories begin with the same wording which created a natural segue to compare/contrast activities. Both selections share similar themes of friendship and loyalty. The two main characters, Big Al and Shrimpy, have a lot in common, but are also different. Below are some activities we used with the whole class.

  1. Big Al had been the focus of many weeks of lessons using the ideas presented in The Story Grammar Marker Teacher’s Manual. Big Al and Shrimpy was read for enjoyment first.

  2. Whiteboard with MapsUsing both books, a character discussion was held focusing on how the two characters were the same and how they were different. After reviewing various pages of each book, the Compare/Contrast Map was drawn on the white board and children were asked to Turn and Talk to share ideas. Ideas elicited from the children were then written on the whiteboard map (below). You may download the Compare/Contrast Map designed for younger students at the end of this blog.

    Comparison on Whiteboard
  3. Using the completed map, a model paragraph on how the two characters were different was written, taking sentences from the children. Students were asked to use words such as different, unlike, and but, as presented on the map. Support was given, as needed. The same was done to show how the two characters were alike using the words found on the map: same, like, and both.

    Writing Sample 1 Writing Sample 2
  4. Each child was given a card-stock-weight paper labeled “Big Al and Shrimpy,” as shown. We reviewed the Compare/Contrast Map highlighting the physical appearances of the two fish and looked at several pictures in each book. The children then drew their own versions of Big Al and Shrimpy. I also wrote and cut out just the “Different” section of the Compare/Contrast Map that we taped toDrawings and Comparisons the bottom of the completed pictures as shown. If you have access to blue cling wrap, covering each picture with a piece of wrap and taping it to the back creates a “sea.” This made a terrific bulletin board to display the student’s completed pictures. At this time of year, the colored cling wrap is difficult to buy (easier around the holidays!) so in the sample shown here, I used iridescent cellophane that I found at a local craft shop. It adds to the pictures… creating a shimmering sea for our settings!

  5. SGM Student MarkersIn small groups, we mapped out both stories as shown on the white board (below), Big Al first and then Big Al and Shrimpy, choosing the elements of the stories that showed how the stories were same/different. I guided students through this process with support given as needed. We discussed the story elements using the completed map. I then retold each story using this map and SGM® Teacher Marker. After I had worked with each group, this became a center activity where the children retold the stories to one another using the SGM® Student Markers.


These two books were a hit with our students and were sought after long after we moved on to other reading selections! The scaffolding with the SGM® icons is a powerful tool in supporting literacy success for all students.

Compare/Contrast Map with RulesCompare-Contrast Blank Side

Sheila Zagula
Sheila Zagula

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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