It’s truly a privilege to team up this December with more than two dozen secondary ELA teachers to provide you with ideas, tips, strategies, and resources to help add warmth, comfort, and joy to your classrooms. Here’s a perfect-in-every-way read-aloud for your class this holiday season . . .
Once in blue moon a gem of a book comes along that is a perfect package of simplicity, power, beautiful writing, and good storytelling. With a story that needs to be read and absorbed by young and old alike, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is just such a book.
While it is written for students in grades 4-6, Wishtree contains context and ideas that can and should be discussed in middle and high school grades, as well, making this an ideal book for older students to read aloud to students in younger grades. Reading aloud is a powerful way to help students build and practice literacy skills – skills that 7th-12th graders need to continue developing and practicing! In addition to the gift of interacting with younger students, reading aloud helps middle and high school students:
- Demonstrate, practice, and model intonation and fluent, phrased reading
- Focus on the content and context of the passage
- Think more deeply about plot and character development
- Pay attention to and think about unfamiliar or tricky vocabulary words and phrases
- Strengthen both cognition and metacognition
- Grapple with challenging or thought-provoking issues
Having older students read aloud to younger grades is a win-win because they not only receive the benefits of reading aloud, but also give younger students a lasting gift at the same time, and Applegate’s Wishtree is a superb read-aloud because it’s like an iceberg — simple and small enough on the surface (with short chapters and manageable vocabulary) for students to read aloud to elementary classes, yet complex and deep enough underneath to provoke thoughtful and meaningful class discussions (and writing assignments) about important and oh-so-relevant topics.
Told from the point of view of a tree that is two hundred sixteen rings old, with the wisdom that accompanies that many years of observing and thinking about humans and humanity, Wishtree reminds readers of the importance of preserving nature and caring for the earth because the earth cares for us. Even more poignantly, it reminds us of the importance of community, caring for one another, and extending acceptance, empathy, inclusion, compassion, religious tolerance, and friendship to one another for the sake of humanity. This moving and timely aspect of the novel makes the tale a perfect read-aloud anytime, but it can be especially meaningful during December, when students are learning about many different winter holidays, customs, and traditions from around the world and teachers are talking about the importance of giving, understanding, and facilitating broad-mindedness, peace, and joy.
Here’s an exciting BONUS: The narrator of the book is a wishing tree . . . a tree that, for over a hundred years, has held the hopes, dreams, and wishes of the community in her branches, figuratively and literally. When Samar’s family moves to town and experiences the loneliness and sadness of being outcasts in the community based on their culture and religion, Samar ties her wish for a friend to the branches of the wishing tree in her backyard – the very tree that bears the word LEAVE carved into its trunk, an ugly message for Samar’s family. While the story concludes with the reality that “life, like a garden, is messy. Some things have changed. Some things haven’t,” it also wraps up with hopefulness and optimism for a better future for the community as a whole and Samar’s family, in particular — a future where everyone feels welcomed and safe. Building on that positivity and hope, students can honor the centuries-old tradition of wishing trees by writing a holiday wish on a strip of paper or an index card and using twine or a ribbon to hang their wish on a tree (real or constructed on a bulletin board or wall). Alternatively, wishes can be joined together paper-chain style to adorn a tree or a corner of the classroom.
Discussions about the difference between wishes for oneself and wishes for others or for one’s community would be timely and especially meaningful during the holiday season. I’m including a free gift to help facilitate this Wishtree activity: simply print, cut, distribute, and have students write their meaningful wishes on these Wishtree – My Wish strips of paper. Hole-punch and display with ribbons or have students create a chain of wishes. I’ve included larger-sized papers for younger students, if your class would like to invite younger grades to join them in adding their wishes to your wish tree.
It’s my hope that reading Wishtree aloud to your students in December, having your students read the book aloud to younger grades, and completing the Wishtree activity adds much warmth, comfort, and joy to your classroom this holiday season.
SEASONAL BONUS: Because we want to remind you how amazing you are and how much we appreciate you, we’re gifting 4 teachers with fun giveaways this December! Add some serious warmth, comfort, and joy to your classroom (or home!) with one of these prizes . . .
Raffle #1 (December 3rd) – $25 to Barnes and Noble
Raffle #2 (December 6th) – $75 to Target
Raffle #3 (December-9th) – $100 to Teachers Pay Teachers
Raffle #4 (December 12th) – $200 GRAND PRIZE to Amazon
Winners will be announced here. Enter here for multiple chances to win . . .
. . . and don’t forget to visit the secondary ELA blogs linked below to scoop up truckloads of ideas, tips, strategies, resources, and tangible ways to add comfort and joy to your classroom this season and make December merry, warm, and bright for your 6-12 ELA students. Have the happiest of happy holiday seasons!