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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

How do you combine skills teaching? AKA review of Enslow’s America’s National Parks series

Do you ever twitch near standardized testing time when teachers suddenly realize their students haven’t grasped Nonfiction Mondaycertain standards and they need your help … desperately… immediately… and in multiple areas at the same time? Okay, it’s probably just me.

One example recently was our need to teach about Media Literacy Persuasive Techniques (recognizing propaganda), about note-taking, and about primary and secondary sources. Since I have a new victim… ahem! I mean student teacher/practicum librarian… one day a week, I decided we’d use this as the basis of a set of mini-lessons for part of a unit. 

We needed something unusual to spark their interest and that would provide enough variety to force every student to be involved. My eye fell upon this series from Enslow that I love but hadn’t incorporated into a lesson yet. America’s National Parks! This series from Enslow includes:|

My big idea was that we’d introduce students to media techniques of propaganda, training them to recognize these. Then we’d illustrate how to gather the facts about these different national parks and recognize which were primary and secondary sources. Finally, we’d take our facts and incorporate them into presentations to convince their classmates to visit these parks using propaganda techniques. 

Lesson one on day one involved a powerpoint presentation on Propaganda we found online. 

Unfortunately, this was not enough. Specifically we needed to teach:

  1. Bandwagon
  2. Name Calling
  3. Plain Folks
  4. Testimonials
  5. Loaded Words

So back to searching the net. For Lesson Two I found and adapted this lesson on loaded words for the students from a National Parks website. It was extremely effective because the students needed more examples.  I tried using the Kraft Cheese vs Embalmed Cheese example from Wikipedia but it seemed to make them ill. 

When Kraft Foods invented processed cheese in the early 1900s, traditional cheese makers wanted the new cheese be labeled "embalmed cheese" by law. The U.S. government considered that term to be too disparaging, and required the product to be labeled "process cheese".  From "Cheese" documentary on Modern Marvels, History Channel (November 22, 2007)  

I discovered a powerpoint presentation with many visuals to share with students on the Associated Content website. It was created by Autumn Miller. Since I was having difficulty using the document, I contacted Autumn directly and she sent me 4 additional files to accompany this one. One was called Persuasive Strategies & Propaganda Techniques which was very useful for students taking notes. The other was Persuasive Techniques Homework. (I enjoyed assigning that homework for students by the way.)

To utilize this wonderful series from Enslow called America’s National Parks, my practicum student Alisa Breece developed a worksheet to assist students in taking notes. In Lesson One of note-taking, she introduced the titles to students as they worked in groups of no more than 3 to gather facts on "their" park. Since one class period would not be enough to read the entire 128 page book, the students focused on Chapter 6 of each book which focused on Things To Do And See in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, et al. Also, Alisa taught the students about the two-page spread of Facts at the beginning of each book. Finally she led students to the website where they could enter the unique password hidden in each book to utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to gather up-to-date information. 

At the end of that period, we weren’t satisfied with their note-taking ability. Alisa took all ten books home, utilized post-it flags to highlight every place where the answers could be located and then we had students complete a different graphic organizer during Lesson Two of note-taking.

We still were not satisfied with their results and debated with the teacher whether the problem was their inability to recognize relevant facts (a skill very important for the standards testing) or whether they were being lazy. I decided to tackle it as an unmotivated issue, so for the next lesson "putting things together" I reviewed Persuasive Techniques, gave them some simple examples of how I would take facts from my paper to twist them into propaganda to convince everyone in the room to visit my park, and gave them a big shock.

They had ten minutes exactly to prepare an oral presentation where everyone in the group had to participate in "selling" their park to the entire class. Go! While students frantically filled in blanks, identified who was doing what portion, and scripted their remarks, I calmly moved their 30 chairs into a big circle in the corner of the room. At exactly ten minutes they took their seats in groups and we began. 

The teacher had her grade book out and recorded both listening and speaking grades while I made notes on both their use of details and propaganda techniques. After each group presented their 1-2 minute speech, I led the larger group in a discussion of whether they had included any interesting facts to intrigue us and if anyone could identify the propaganda techniques they used. Every group presented quickly and caught on to what made a great presentation. When the bell rang, everyone stayed in their seats until the last group finished. 

Amazingly they did a very good job putting together their speeches. They realized they weren’t going to be perfect and they’d all worked with me enough to know I love the timer and taking notes on their presentations so they were going to HAVE to participate. 

At the end, I asked them if they were happy to settle for their grade for that period or if they’d prefer the opportunity to improve their presentations with more details and use of a powerpoint presentation. They unanimously voted for the powerpoint, so after we return from Spring Break tomorrow, they will have one more day with me to put everything together. 

The teacher is putting together the rubric for their powerpoint presentation and I’m hoping their hard work on this will translate to a deeper understanding of these standards. Was it too much to ask of them? Maybe. They don’t usually perform at such a high level of synthesizing and analyzing, but they are capable of it. 

At the beginning of this lesson 76% of seventh graders could not proficiently identify relevant vs irrelevant facts. We taught these lessons to 3 classes a day with one teacher and I worked on the media techniques with an additional ten classes and three more teachers to perfect the instruction. 

I’m grateful Enslow had sent me this series of books to review. They were perfect for sharing with middle school students, contained interesting photographs and websites with detailed instructions on usage. Each title contained an extensive two-page spread of websites to support the subject and the website MyReportLinks kept everything current. The text was well-balanced with illustrations and there were many headings and subheadings to use in teaching SQ3R. The writing was concise and clear without being condescending.

Your state standards may not include a lesson on National Parks, but I strongly encourage you to purchase this entire set to meet your language arts standards. They were better than textbooks for teaching data extraction, are entertaining to read, and contain an intense amount of information. These titles lend themselves to group projects for struggling, for proficient, and for gifted readers.