Mammoths

Our reading group has continued to practice strategies to handle unknown vocabulary in text. See the strategy list that we came up with earlier this month here. We spent part of a few reading classes with this great text: Wooly Mammoth by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. (A Natural History Museum Selection)

This book reads as an information story book: rhyming text accompanies the large pictures on each two page spread while black and white drawings and information reads in a column down one side of each page. You can read this book as just a storybook, concentrate primarily on the information or focus on both. Students enjoyed the mammoth time line at the end of the book and reviewing what they had learned by quizzing each other on the glossary words.

We then read Kali’s Song by Jeanette Winter.

We started by comparing the covers of Kali’s Song with a Wooly Mammoth. All year we have been talking about the different text features of fiction and non-fiction books. It would be interesting to see what we noticed when looking at Wooly Mammoth because it has both fiction and non-fiction elements (what we like to call an information story book). Students observed that even though both covers had illustrations rather than photographs, the mammoth on the cover of Wooly Mammoth looked more realistic. We talked about fur colour and the shape of the tusks. We also discussed how one mammoth was standing in the snow and another on grass/ground next to a little boy and a dog. “How could they stand so close?” someone wondered.

Before we began reading Kali’s Song, I asked the students, “Even though this is clearly a fiction text, do you think we will be able to link some of our learning from Wooly Mammoth to what we read?” We were ready to look for any text to text connections. Would our sense of the story be enhanced by our newly acquired background knowledge? (schema)

Immediately students were excited to see Kali’s mother painting animals on the cave’s wall. “We learned about how they did that in the other book! In the future some people might discover those paintings to see what animals looked like!” 

We also appreciated that a work of fiction had beautiful elements of story telling and images that a non-fiction book wouldn’t have. When Kali plays the bow string, Winter writes: The stars came close to listen. Such a wonderful image that makes the story more powerful. We liked how Kali’s Song challenged our imaginations and had us think about things differently.

Kali’s music lures the mammoths to him and fascinated, all of the other hunters lay down their weapons. Kali must be a shaman they decide. Winter leaves us wondering – do the hunters not kill any of the mammoths? Or do they eventually resume their hunt? In Wooly Mammoth we had learned that the people’s survival depended on the hunt and that they used all parts of the mammoth (meat, fur, tusks, bone) for things that they needed. Our discussion was intense. Kali had the skill to lure the animals and he seemed to love them. But he loved his people. Wouldn’t his skill help the hunt? What would he do? The students decided that Winter left us thinking on purpose. We would have to come to our own decisions.

Because the mammoths seemed so majestic and wonderful we wanted to think they wouldn’t be hunted but now that our knowledge included information about how people who lived thousands of years ago depended on the hunt, we had some different ideas about the outcome. Students were able to make text to text connections and this furthered their thinking.

Kali’s Song is a beautiful book. Highly recommended.

How do you help students make text to text connections? Recognize that their background knowledge influences their thinking? 

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