Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

Books which tell us the story from the perspective of one of the main characters can often have unreliable narrators - narrators you can’t quite trust 100%. These unreliable narrators can be fascinating to explore in the classroom - allowing us to take a closer look at the intentions of the author and what kind of person these characters are.

 
Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom. A quick look at first person narratives with unreliable narrators and how we can explore them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

The Unaware Narrator

Jamal in Boy Overboard (by Morris Gleitzman) is sure that he and his sister have arrived at a soccer match. Only to discover that he is terribly wrong.

Jamal is a character who often only has part of the story. He is forced to fill in the gaps with the knowledge he does have, but many times his conclusions aren’t right and he has to reassess and draw new conclusions. As readers there are times when we are aware that he doesn’t have it quite right (or we soon find out that is the case) and we have to assess whether we will believe his next conclusion, or treat it with a level of scepticism.

Morris Gleitzman writes a LOT of characters like this. Which makes sense because childhood often feels like this - like you have some of the puzzle pieces, but someone’s hidden the picture which helps you put them together.

Another great example of a character like this is Mothball the Wombat from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Diary of a Wombat story. In this case, the illustrations soon let us know that the scratching post is a ladder and the furry enemy is really a doormat, so we find ourselves carrying two narratives through the story - the narrative in Mothball’s head and the narrative we can tell from the illustrations.

Exploring Unaware Narrators in the Classroom

These can be great fun to explore in the classroom because our own knowledge, experiences and schema may be able to help us fill in the gaps. Comparing what our narrators think is happening and what is really happening allows us to understand where our characters come from - whether they’re boys or wombats.

It also allows us to explore the intentions of the author. An author study on Morris Gleitzman books would be particularly interesting, looking at what information he gives his narrators before the events of the book, what conclusions they draw from that information when they’re in unfamiliar circumstances and what they learn going forward.

When we explore a character like Mothball, we can also look at the choices the author has made - the wombat understands certain terms like sleep, scratch and - of course - carrots, but hasn’t come up across concepts like garden beds, door mats or washing lines. Why has the author made those choices for our wombat narrator? How would the story be different if there were different choices?

The Deliberately Unreliable Narrator

Erica Yurken is the best thing since sliced bread. Or at least she is in her own mind. And in the stories she tells others.

Robin Klein’s classic novel Hating Alison Ashley is told from the perspective of Erica Yurken who constantly creates stories about herself and others to amuse herself, get herself out of trouble or to impress other people - including Alison Ashley.

If we just listened to Erica, we would probably be inclined to hate Alison Ashley ourselves. But there are things which make us question Erica’s trustworthiness - times when she gets caught out in her stories, times when she contradicts herself and times when we glimpse her through the eyes of other characters. The author knows that Erica is not reliable and wants the reader to know this too.

We find another unreliable narrator in the Do Not Open This Book series from Andy Lee. Our narrator desperately wants us to stop turning the pages (because dreadful things happen to him when we do), so he’ll try anything to stop us - even turning the book around so we’ll turn the pages from back to front. The illustrations, eventual confessions and meta-knowledge of how books work allows us to know that our narrator is not the most trustworthy of characters - even if he’s only being unreliable to save his own skin.

A. Wolf is also just trying to save his skin in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. He’s found himself in jail and he wants us to know that it’s not his fault at all - it’s all because he needed to borrow some sugar.

In this case, it’s our own background knowledge - our understanding of fairy tales - which makes us question his honesty. After all - we’ve never heard this story before. But we keep reading to see how he’s going to justify his terrible crimes.

 
 

Exploring Deliberately Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

The biggest questions we can ask in our classrooms when it comes to deliberately unreliable narrators is why do they behave like this? Why are they trying to mislead us - the readers - and what will they get if they manage this?

We can also challenge students to write first person narration like this. To consider what motivates a character and then have them tell a story where they work to convince the reader of something which may not be quite true. This works particularly well when students begin with well known stories like fairy tales and myths and try to tell the story from the perspective of the ‘bad guy’.

What unreliable narrators have you come across in your reading? Have you used a book with an unreliable narrator in your classroom? Leave a comment below.

 
 

3 Ways Students Can Use Folding Resources to Explore Characters

You probably know how much I love interactive notebook resources! So far I’ve written two blog posts exploring how to use them to explore vocabulary and how to make comparisons. But as someone who adores book studies, I couldn’t resist sharing some ways you can use interactive notebook resources to explore character. (Don’t miss the free resources as well!)

 
3 Ways Students Can Use Folding Resources to Explore Characters. An exploration of interactive notebook resources for book studies and more. A Galarious Goods Blog Post
 
 
 

These folding resources use a picture of the character’s face (or the whole character) to combine creativity and understanding of the character in one resource.

Students are provided with a ‘cover’ image of the character with a side or top tab. They cut around the outside, then fold the tab on the dotted line. The tab is pasted into their notebook or onto paper and the cover is lifted so students can write about the character under the cover.

This is a really adaptable resource because students can use a template or create their own character images. As long as they include a side or top tab, it works as a folding resource.

Take it further

  • Students can use it to explore a character they’re writing about

  • Students can work in pairs or small groups to explore all the main characters of a book. These can be put together to create a display

  • Students can recreate a ‘scene’ from a book with the lifting character resources.

2. Circular Character Folding Resource

 
 

A circular folding resource is a great way for students to explore particular characteristics of a character.

Students cut out the circle and between the tabs, fold up the tabs, then paste the middle into their notebooks or into paper. The top of the tabs include different aspects of the character for students to explore - they write the answers to these under the tabs.

Take it further

  • Students can create multiple folding resources to make a display.

  • Students can use this in their own creative writing to assess the characters they’re writing

3. Character Booklet Folding Resource

 
 

This is a great way for students to take a really in-depth look at a character. Students can use a folding booklet to explore questions like what kind of character they are, why they behave the way they do and their relationships with others in on compact resource.

Students cut out the folding resource on the solid lines and fold in the sides on the dotted lines. They answer the questions on the inside, then add details or decorate the outside.

Take it further

  • Students can leave off the name of the character and challenge others to work out who the character is

  • Students can use these as part of a ‘book talk’ or ‘book promotion’ for a character

  • Students can create these as assessment for a particular book

 
 
 
 

3 Ways Students Can Use Folding Resources to Make Comparisons

I love folding resources and interactive notebook resources. They’re a great tool students can use to understand, remember and share content and ideas. I’ve previously shown three ways you can use folding resources to explore vocabulary. Today, here’s three ways students can use folding resources and interactive notebook resources to make comparisons.

 
3 Ways Students Can Use Folding Resources to Make Comparisons. Explore these three different types of interactive notebook folding resources perfect for students to create comparisons on different topics. A Galarious Goods Blog Post
 
 
 

This resource uses a background and flaps to compare different characters, people in history, events and more. Students attach flaps or tabs to the sides or the middle of the background sheet, with a heading or headings on the outside of the resource and the similarities and differences or characteristics under the flaps.

This is particularly good when looking at the similarities and differences of characters. Students can write the character names on the front of the resource and lift one flap to share the similarities and the other to share the differences. You can also extend the resource to 4 or 6 characters and write some of the qualities of each character under the tabs.

Because this organiser just uses straight lines, students can easily make their own. Or you can download the free resource to get a printed copy.

2. Sliding Resource

 
 

This resource uses a folded ‘sleeve’ and an insert card to make comparisons. When it’s completed, the students can slide the insert card back and forward to see the comparisons. These can go into notebooks or be used to create classroom displays - especially for complex topics or novel studies.

Students make the sleeve by folding the two side sections backwards and fastening them behind the middle section. The card - which has a dividing line in the middle - then slides through.

This would be particularly good when exploring government or civics topics. Students could compare different levels of government, the roles of different people involved in government or even different types of government.

3. Turning Card Resource

 
 

This resource includes a pocket and an insert. The insert is created by folding a piece in half and fastening it together. Students can write about one thing on one side and one on the other (or similarities on one side and differences on the other. These can also be used to make a wall display.

The tabs on the pocket are folded back so they are tucked behind the main part of the pocket. These tabs are then fastened to the page or display board. The prepared insert goes inside the pocket and can be taken out and ‘flipped’ as required.

As well as characters or events, this can be used to compare settings of books, famous historical figures, things from a long time ago and things from now, different books - even different animals!

 
 
 
 

Introducing Hating Alison Ashley

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein has been a staple of Australian classrooms for decades now - and for good reason! This classic Australian novel still holds its own against more modern novels and is the perfect book to engage your upper primary readers.

 
Introducing Hating Alison Ashley. A look at Hating Alison Ashley, the classic Australian middle grades novel by Robin Klein - and why it's perfect for upper primary classrooms. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Hating Alison Ashley is the story of Erica Yurken - a Year 6 student with big dreams and bigger stories who finds her world turned upside down when the seemingly perfect Alison Ashley arrives at her disadvantaged school. As the story progresses, and Erica gets more frustrated with Alison taking on her position of ‘best student’ we see that Alison’s life might not be as perfect as it seems - and Erica might have a real direction to take her big imagination.

Why should you teach Hating Alison Ashley in your classroom?

1. It’s still really relevant!

There’s an occasional reference which seems a bit out of place in Hating Alison Ashley, but it’s still tackling themes and ideas which feel relevant to students today - our position in our class or school, friendships or lack of them, embarrassing families, dealing with teachers and of course - school camp.

Hating Alison Ashley gives students a launching point to discuss some of these ideas and what they would do if they were in the positions that Erica and Alison find themselves in throughout the story.

2. Erica Yurken

Erica knows she is smart. She knows she is the best thing her school has ever known. But maybe, just maybe, is there a possibility she isn’t quite as smart as she thinks she is?

Erica is a brutally real character. She’s funny and smart, but also super frustrating at times. She narrates the story, so we see it from her point of view, but sometimes she gives us just enough information to wonder what the story would be like if someone else was telling it.

Erica in the book also makes me wonder what she would be like as a teenager or an adult. She’s an incredibly memorable character, and it’s definitely worth the time exploring her closer.

 
 

3. The other real characters

Hating Alison Ashley is filled with characters who feel real - from Alison Ashley who looks perfect but has a less than perfect family life to Barry Hollis who does all sorts of terrible things - but seems to be looking for read friendships as much as Erica is. Erica’s family includes her super embarrassing younger sister and strangely absent-but-there older brother who live in dream worlds as much as Erica does as well as Valjoy, who is just the right amount of terrifying. The teachers are also a delight to read - feeling incredibly real as they take on super challenging tasks each day. Then there’s Lennie - Erica’s mother’s boyfriend - who comes in to save the day at just the right time.

These characters elevate the story, allowing students more areas to explore and discuss. Is Erica fair to Lennie? Is Barry Hollis really misguided? What skills do you need to be a teacher at Erica’s school?

4. The novel is really accessible - but has room for deeper exploration

Hating Alison Ashley isn’t a particularly long novel. It would be possible to read the book fairly quickly, either with students reading alone or a mixture of along reading, teacher reading and guided reading. It’s set in a fairly familiar setting - an Australian school in an Australian suburb - so students already have some background knowledge as they step into the world. The writing is good - but it isn’t overwhelmingly complex. It’s easily a novel every student can engage in reading.

But the themes allow for a wide range of explorations for more advanced readers. Unravelling Erica as a character can be an in-depth task on its own! Students can also compare characters, look at the choices made throughout the book by the characters and the author, look at how Erica relates to the people around her and engage in creative tasks around the book.

Have you read Hating Alison Ashley with a class - or as a student? Share your experiences in the comments!

 
 

10 Books for Classrooms Exploring Boy Overboard

Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman is a great book to explore in your classroom. But what other books are connected to this important story? What books can you make available for your students to read? What books can you explore together?

Today I’m proud to present 10 books related to Boy Overboard, perfect for the classroom. From picture book memoirs, to wordless books to well known novels, this is the list every teacher needs when they’re teaching Boy Overboard!

 
10 Books for Classrooms Exploring Boy Overboard. A curated list of books related to Boy Overboard and how teachers can use them in the classroom as teaching resources. Perfect for classes learning Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

Girl Underground (and other Morris Gleitzman novels)

Girl Underground is a must have for students who are reading Boy Overboard. The companion to Boy Overboard it follows the story of Bridget and Menzies who team up to help Jamal and Bibi who are now living in a refugee camp in the Australian desert.

In the author notes for this book, Morris Gleitzman says he was struck by the range of responses from the public to those in need of help - like refugees. He sought to explore that in Girl Underground and it makes for a great discussion which you can explore with your class.

It’s well worth making other Morris Gleitzman novels available for your students to read as well. He’s got a huge collection of novels covering a wide range of topics - there’s something for everyone!

Mahtab’s Story and Parvana

Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson and Parvana by Deborah Ellis (published as The Breadwinner outside Australia) both look at the harsh life under the Taliban in Afghanistan - the same regime that Jamal and Bibi were living under at the beginning of Boy Overboard.

Mahtab’s Story is also similar to Boy Overboard because it traces the difficult journey out of Afghanistan to Australia. We’re taken through the long - and sometimes tedious - journey Mahtab and her family take as they move from one place to another - sometimes in danger, sometimes just waiting for something to happen. The writing is beautiful and this would make for a great text if you are looking at description.

Parvana is a little different because it focuses more on the life under the Taliban. Parvana is a young girl who is forced to pretend she is a girl when her father is taken away. Girls and women in Afghanistan aren’t allowed to be in public without a male family member, so Parvana’s disguise is an essential part of their survival as she starts working to support the family.

Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz reminds us that stories of refugees aren’t new and that they will probably continue into the future. By presenting three different stories from different time periods, students are invited to look at the similar and different aspects of people fleeing from dangerous situations and to look at where else in the world this might apply.

 
 

The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a large, wordless book which follows the journey of a man fleeing danger and hoping to be reunited with his family and the kindness of the people he meets in the strange land. It connects with the journey made by Jamal and their family and the strange things Jamal comes across from one place to another.

This is a stunning book, well worth taking an in-depth look at if you have the time. It can be accompanied with a wide range of texts and can definitely become the focus of an extended book study. Students can explore how illustrations can tell such vivid stories and where else they can find powerful illustrations, or they can explore other wordless books or graphic novels.

I’m Australian Too

Much of I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox focuses on different groups of people who live in Australia and how their families came here. However, at the end of the book we are introduced to a refugee in a camp, still waiting to come to Australia.

This powerful end to the book, contrasted with all the other children leading fulfilling lives within Australia can raise a number of discussion points with students. They can compare this story with Jamal and Bibi’s story, reflect on why people leave one country for another and whether it reflects Australian history.

My Name is Not Refugee

My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner is aimed at younger children, but is a beautifully written way to explain life as a refugee to people of all ages. Throughout the book, a range of questions are asked which put the reader into the shoes of refugees.

This would be a great book to share before starting Boy Overboard, as it introduces students to the idea of refugees. Students could also read it to compare the story of the child depicted with Jamal and Bibi and their journey

 
Books for classrooms exploring Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. A collection of books which are perfect for the classroom for teachers to explore as they teach Boy Overboard. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

Wisp

Wisp by Zana Fraillon is more abstract than some of the other books, asking students to draw connections between the text, the illustrations and things which are happening around the world. This beautiful book draws the reader in as they go on journeys of memory and imagination with the characters.

Students can use this book to explore the notion of hope and to compare it with the hopes Jamal and his family carried with them as they journeyed away from the danger in their homeland. They can explore different ways hopes can be written about and drawn and how we may hope for a better future for everyone.

Room on Our Rock

Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple is an incredibly clever picture book which shares two messages depending on whether you read it from back to front or front to back. This reflects Morris Gleitzman’s statement about the range of opinions which exist when it comes to refugees and other people who need help.

This would be a great book to look at in terms of structure. Students can attempt to write their own forwards or backwards stories with different messages and examine how the authors have successfully managed it.

The Little Refugee

The Little Refugee by Ahn Do and Suzanne Do shares another story of a boat trip to Australia, but this time as a result of a different conflict - the Vietnam War. Students may be surprised to see that this is the picture book memoir of a popular children’s author, well known for the Weir Do and Hot Dog books, allowing them to see what life may look like for refugees as they grow from children to adults.

There are many parallels with Boy Overboard in Ahn Do’s story, which students can explore and list. They might also explore what Jamal and Bibi’s story might look like if it was turned into a picture book and how it might be illustrated.

 
Books for classrooms exploring Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. A collection of books which are perfect for the classroom for teachers to explore as they teach Boy Overboard. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

Whether you are able to add one or all of these books into your classroom, you will find that there are plenty of strong, thoughtful books to supplement the stories and messages of Boy Overboard in your classroom.

 
 

5 Ways to Take Rowan of Rin Out of the Classroom

When you explore a book like Rowan of Rin in the classroom, it can be a little overwhelming knowing where to start. It’s an entirely new world - similar, but different to our own. There’s adventure and fantasy and relationships. And how can we make connections between all of that and the world that our students live in?

Finding real world connections and real world topics to explore can help our students gain a deeper understanding of both Rowan of Rin and how we can use books as a launching pad to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. Here’s 5 topics you can explore with your class to get you started!

 
5 Ways to Take Rowan of Rin out of the Classroom. A thoughtful and extensive blog post exploring Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and how teachers can extend learning outside the four classroom walls. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

1. Plan a Treasure Hunt (or go searching with a map)

Rowan of Rin is a quest story which sees Rowan and several other villagers following a map to the top of the mountain to uncover a secret.

Working with maps of different kinds is a great way to get students learning outside. Students can create playground maps or use maps of their school to ‘explore’, or you may extend your learning to an excursion to a local park or forest area where you can continue to expand map using and map making skills.

One way to explore maps is to get students involved in orienteering activities. In orienteering activities, students use maps and compasses to reach checkpoints and race towards the end. While you may not have time to complete a full orienteering course, orienteering organisations around the world have put together some great teaching activities like this and this to give your students a taste of orienteering.

Students can also create their own treasure hunt for others to follow. They can begin with an existing map of the school or create their own from scratch. They can use trundle wheels to measure distance and include distances in their maps as well as written clues to guide the seeker to the next position. As students are creating their maps, they can learn more about mapping symbols, features and keys and apply this to their own maps. And - of course - when they are finished creating their maps, they can give them to their classmates to test them out.

 
 

2. Obstacle Course

Throughout Rowan of Rin, the villagers and Rowan run into a number of obstacles on their trip up the mountain. This makes the perfect inspiration for your own obstacle course at school.

Students can look through the novel to find 5-6 inspirations for their obstacle course, then brainstorm different ways they could create the obstacles. You may like to offer them a range of equipment they could use for their obstacle course, or ask them to be creative with sports and playground equipment and things like tape, string or elastic! Students also need to consider things like safety, how long it would take students to complete the course and whether they should offer different difficulty levels.

Once students have planned their course, they can set it up and test it with their classmates. They may like to introduce it to other students in the school as well, combining it with some retelling of Rowan of Rin so students who haven’t read the book can understand the context of the obstacles.

Students can also create maps, diagrams and posters of their obstacle course or take photos or video of students completing the course which they can share or present for others to enjoy.

3. Team Games

Rowan finds that he has to work with the others a number of times to get through the obstacles to the top of the mountain. Learning to work together is a great activity for school students and can allow them to reflect on the difficulties that Rowan and the others may have experienced as they worked together.

There are several team games which you can relate back to events in Rowan of Rin:

Tug of War
Rowan and the others have to work together in the swamp to stop each other from being drawn into the mud. They end up working together to pull each other out.

Students can work together in teams to ‘pull each other from the swamp’ through playing tug of war. To extend the challenge, students can be broken into four teams with 2 ropes intertwined to make a cross.

See What I Mean
Rowan misunderstands Strong Jonn’s feelings about him - a misunderstanding mostly caused by a lack of communication.

Students can explore the importance of good communication through playing See What I Mean. One person draws a picture using simple shapes. Another person describes the picture to the other students in the group or class who try to replicate the picture. The better the description, the better the drawings.

Minefield
Another way to explore communication is through creating a simple obstacle course, and having students assist a blindfolded student through the obstacle course. The course can be slightly changed between students to keep the difficulty up.

As well as exploring communication, this activity also connects to the way Rowan and the others move through the cave and the tunnel on the way up the mountain.

Don’t Wake the Dragon
This is a really easy game with a direct link to the dragon in Rowan of Rin. In the original version, students work to line up from shortest to tallest - without making a sound and ‘waking’ the dragon. When they are all lined up, they simultaneously call out ‘boo!’ to wake the dragon.

To extend this idea, students can line up from oldest to youngest or in alphabetical order by their names.

4. Spiderweb

During Rowan of Rin, the villagers come across a forest filled with spiders and are required to move through spider webs to keep moving forward. Spiderweb is another team building game, but this one relates even closer to the book.

Students can work together to make a spider web by weaving string between two fixed places (the string can be held to the poles or trees or walls with tape). Holes should be made which are big enough to pass students through, and if you are going with the more difficult version of the game - there should be enough holes for every student in the team, plus a few more.

Students then need to work together to get through the ‘web’ without touching the web in any way. For the harder version, each ‘hole’ in the web is closed once a student is through it. Students ‘win’ the challenge when everyone is through the web.

 
Looking to take Rowan of Rin out of the classroom? Try some team building games to reflect on some of the difficulties of working as a team in Emily Rodda's Rowan of Rin. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

5. Book Walk

This is a really easy way to get students and Rowan of Rin outside. Students bring their books with them and take a walk to another place in the school. When they arrive, a student may read a pre-prepared section of their book, or the teacher can read a part of the book, or a few students can act out a part of the book. You may even organise to visit other classrooms to share a little bit of your book.

By taking students on a book walk, you can show them that reading is a wonderfully portable activity, and source a few new places in the school for reading to happen. And students can see that learning is never restricted to the classroom.

Have you participated in a Rowan of Rin activity outside the classroom? Share your experiences in the comments.

 
 

5 Topics to Explore with Rowan of Rin

When you explore a book like Rowan of Rin in the classroom, it can be a little overwhelming knowing where to start. It’s an entirely new world - similar, but different to our own. There’s adventure and fantasy and relationships. And how can we make connections between all of that and the world that our students live in?

Finding real world connections and real world topics to explore can help our students gain a deeper understanding of both Rowan of Rin and how we can use books as a launching pad to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. Here’s 5 topics you can explore with your class to get you started!

 
5 Topics to Explore when you read Rowan of Rin by EMily Rodda as a class. A look at a range of topics in Rowan of Rin and how these topics can be covered in teaching activities. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. Mapping

In Rowan of Rin, a map is the central tool to help Rowan and his fellow villagers in their quest to get to the top of the mountain. But while we don’t usually have magic maps in our world, mapping is a great topic to explore with students.

Students can look at a range of maps, from maps made by early explorers, maps created to help students understand historical events or places, maps used to show weather or maps available on our phones and computers. They can identify similarities and differences between those maps and begin to create a list of features which maps have.

Students can look at maps of their local area and beyond, examining what features they know and how they connect with roads and paths. They can also create their own maps of familiar places - like school, bedrooms, streets, places in their community - or unfamiliar places - like places in books they have read or places which come from their own imagination.

Students can also examine the role of maps in fantasy books like Rowan of Rin. What do these maps tell the reader? Why are they included? How do they help the reader when you are in the middle of the book? How do you create a map of your own fantasy world? (The blog post Cartography Makes Me Cry by the author Tansy Rayner Roberts gives a great insight into the mind of an author creating a map for a fantasy world!)

 
 

2. Caring for Animals

Rowan is the bukshah keeper in Rowan of Rin, a role he was supposed to have grown out of, but a role which made him invaluable throughout the journey to the top of the mountain.

Students can look at what qualities are required to be good at caring for animals, whether the animals in question are their own pets, animals in a farm or large animals in different situations. They may like to research people who are famous for working with animals like Steve Irwin or Jane Goodall and explore what qualities made them suited for working with animals.

Students can also explore the different jobs which exist for people who want to work with animals. They can sort and organise the jobs and match them with the qualities required to be good at them.

3. Quests

Rowan is one of a group of people who set off on a quest up the mountain to solve the mystery of the stream drying up in Rowan of Rin. Quests are a common part of fantasy books, including well known books like The Hobbit. But what quests can students explore in real life?

Across history, explorers have set out to find new places - often for reasons to do with money or power. Sometimes the explorers have been solving problems, looking for new trade routes or easier ways to get from one place to another. Sometimes they’ve been searching for something big - a southern land or an inland river. And sometimes they want to be the first to go somewhere - like the quest to be the first people to stand on the moon.

Students can choose an exploration to look at, discovering who was involved in the exploration, what they did to prepare for that exploration and what happened during it. They can look at difficulties faced during the explorations and how they dealt with them. They can also look at the impact of the exploration on people and environments which were already there.

 
5 Topics to Explore when reading Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda in your classroom. Covering mapping, caring for animals, questions, caves and dragons, this blog post covers teaching ideas for Rowan of Rin. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

4. Caves

At one point during their quest up the mountain, Rowan finds himself in a cave. Caves are fascinating places to learn about, and students can gain a better understanding of Rowan of Rin by exploring real life caves.

Students can look at what defines a cave, what features they have and how people have found them over the years. They can create representations of cave features, including stalagmites and stalactites and how they are created. If you have space in your classroom, they can even turn a section into a cave!

Students can explore some of the famous and spectacular caves around the world - from ice caves, to caves filled with crystals to caves filled with glow worms. They can create posters or displays of these caves (matching them to world maps to bring two topics together!) write about the features or create material encouraging tourists to come and visit the caves.

Students can also explore how people have used caves over history, including using caves as shelter, as a source of minerals, as burial sites or as religious places.

5. Dragons

Many of the people of Rin are convinced that there is a dragon at the top of the mountain. While dragons are (probably!) fictional, representations of dragons have been common around the world throughout history.

Dragons appear in stories from as early as the Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians. Early on, they were seen as sometimes protective and sometimes dangerous creatures, but later on European tradition turned dragons into the fire breathing monsters to be slayed which we see so commonly in western myths and modern stories.

Students can explore the different dragons who appear in modern stories, from the treasure hoarding Smaug to the cute, but potentially dangerous Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback. They can then compare these dragons back to the stories which surround the village of Rin.

They can also look at the role of dragons in Chinese stories and beliefs, where dragons are the top of the animal hierarchy. They can explore some of the stories about dragons and how people include dragons in their celebrations today.

 
 

Introduction to Rowan of Rin: Classroom Discussions and Teaching Resources

Are you looking for a great classroom book, filled with fantasy and adventure *and* classroom discussion potential and opportunities for thoughtful learning activities? Then you can't go past Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda.

 
Introduction to Rowan of Rin - a look at Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and teaching activities and discussion questions to go with the novel. Includes a look at novel study teaching resources
 

Rowan of Rin introduces us to Rowan - a shy and relatively timid herder of creatures known as bukshah. When the bukshah's water source dries up suddenly, Rowan - and the other residents of the village of Rin - search for answers. With no other options, they send a band of villagers up the nearby mountain to see what is happening.

Through a strange turn of events, Rowan finds himself on the journey up the mountain, despite the warnings about the perilous journey and his fear of the fabled dragon lurking at the top.

Rowan of Rin is a great book to use from Year 4 and older. Although the language is relatively simple, the concepts can be quite advanced allowing for older students to take an in-depth look at the book.

Classroom Discussions

Rowan of Rin especially deals with what it means to be brave. Rowan does not feel that he is brave, while he feels that those around him demonstrates of all the qualities of valour and bravery. As you progress through the journey up the mountain, Rowan realises that there are different types of bravery and that people who look brave on the outside maybe hiding fears inside.

When students have finished discussing bravery, learning activities might include creating definitions of what it means to be brave, creating lists of people or characters who they believe are brave or researching different types of bravery awards.

This book is also a great addition for any class examining fantasy stories. There are many elements of a fantasy story within Rowan of Rin. These include an invented society; the village witch; an invented animal which Rowan looks after; a journey which requires a number of people; riddles to solve; and a mystical beast at the final hurdle.

Students can compare Rowan of Rin to other fantasy stories they have read or seen - including movies, television shows or picture books. They might choose to explore a certain element of fantasy stories and create lists of books or stories which share that element with Rowan of Rin

 
 

Teacher Resources

There are three teacher resources for Rowan of Rin as well as a resource bundle available through Galarious Goods.

The Comprehension and Vocabulary teaching resource allows students to take an in-depth, chapter by chapter look at Rowan of Rin. Students can answer a range of comprehension questions, explore vocabulary or engage with deeper questions as they work their way through the book.

The Character and Setting teaching resource takes a look at the characters of Rowan of Rin, their characteristics and how they relate to each other. It also explores some of the settings of the book, including the places significant to the journey up the mountain.

The Whole Novel teaching resource encompasses the entire novel of Rowan of Rin. It includes reader response, retell, themes, discussion questions and creative activities.

 
 

3 Ways to Engage Students with Folding Vocabulary Lessons

Over the last few months I've discovered interactive notebooks and folding resources - and I've fallen hard for them! I love the ways you can combine folding, colouring, words and ideas to create an interactive resource which helps students to explore and engage with the topic they are learning. 

One area I love using interactive notebook resources with is novel studies. I've included them in all my most recent ones, updated some old resources to include them and plan to update the remaining ones! I especially love using them with vocabulary. Which made me think - what are some different ways to explore vocabulary using folding resources?

 
3 Ways to engage students with folding vocabulary lessons. Interactive resource blog post with free downloadable resource. Includes three examples of folding vocabulary resources - a vocabulary wheel, vocabulary pocket and vocabulary expandable resource. A Galarious Goods blog post
 
 
 

This is the main way I use folding resources in vocabulary resources. Students begin with one or two 'wheels' with a number of different sections. In most of my resources they use these wheels to connect the vocabulary words and the definitions, though you could use them to connect to the roots of the words, to share some synonyms or even include an image to define the word. 

Students using one wheel cut it out and write the words (or definitions) on each of the sections. They cut between the sections and fold on the dotted lines, gluing the middle section into their notebook. Students then write the definitions (or words) under each section. (Reversing the 'standard' order - by putting the definition on top - can help students connect the definitions to the words in a different way). Students can also use both wheels and layer one on top of the other.

This is definitely an activity which you can adapt for your own vocabulary needs. Students can layer additional circles, add extra vocabulary knowledge or experiment with making their own templates with extra folding pieces or pockets for more information.

These can be reduced in size to create smaller folding vocabulary wheels for notebooks, or can be enlarged to be used as a display. Students may like to work in pairs or small groups to create these.

2. Go Deeper With a Folding Resource

 
 

This is especially good for students to take an in-depth look at a particular word. Students write the word, definition, synonyms and a sentence using the word in the different sections, then fold the resource up to keep in their notebook or a folder. This resource can reduced in size (with several copies on one page) and students can complete several smaller folding activities or it can be enlarged and displayed around the classroom - especially as part of a unit of study.

The best part of this style of folding vocabulary resource is that it’s easy for students to design and create themselves. It can be easily adapted for different students; designed to meet their individual learning needs.

3. Synonym Pocket

 
 

Collecting synonyms can be very useful when students are writing, especially when you're looking for them to move beyond words like 'good' or 'happy'. This resource gives students a place to keep those synonyms. They write the word they're finding synonyms for on the pocket and then write the synonyms on the inserts. These pockets can then be glued into notebooks or into a manilla folder for students to refer back to. They can also be used to create a display in the classroom or as part of a writing centre.

These can also be adapted to collect similar words for content areas. Students can collect words connected to different historical events or civics and citizenship concepts or vocabulary connected to mathematical concepts.

 
 
 
 

Six Great Middle Grades Books for Your Classroom

Every now and then I find myself reading a lot more than usual. Recently I found myself devouring a whole range of new-to-me middle-grades books and I thought I should share them with you here!

 
6 Great Middle School Books for Your Classroom. A look at 6 books perfect for 5th, 6th and 7th grade students. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

What does it mean to be a friend? What do we do for our friends? How do our friends influence our behaviours? How do we feel when we can't find the right friends.

These are some of the questions sitting within this autobiographical graphic novel by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. Looking at how friendships grow and change as we do, this book raises a whole lot of possible discussion questions which would be great to explore with our students.

This would be a particularly good book to introduce at the beginning of the school year as students are building a classroom community. It would also fit beautifully into a discussion of graphic novels and whether some stories are told better in a graphic novel form.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson 

This is another graphic novel which deals with the issue of friendship and how people grow apart and change. However, Astrid is also dealing with her own growing up and how she fits into the world in this coming-of-age story. 

Astrid falls in love with roller derby after her mother takes her and her friend Nicole to a bout. However, although Astrid is excited about roller derby camp, Nicole signs up for ballet camp. And then Astrid discovers that roller derby is hard.

One of my favourite things about this graphic novel is that Astrid doesn't find roller derby easy. She feels out of place and uncoordinated among girls who have experience in the sport and she has to dig in and find perseverance to keep going. This would be a great book to include if you're promoting a growth mindset in your classroom.

Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This novel had two of my favourite things - a cast of interesting and individual characters and a protagonist with an interesting hobby. Naomi lives with her younger brother and her great-grandmother who took them in. But when her mother returns and wants to take her away, the trio find themselves travelling to Mexico on a quest to find their father - and more about their history.

One thing which really stands out here is that Naomi carves soap - making intricate animal figurines out of bars of regular soap. It's this skill - which she knows is connected to her father - which allows her to play a pivotal role towards the end of the book.

There's a lot of scope for research with this book as well as a lot of possible discussions about what makes a family and how family can be built by the people we invite into our lives. 

 
6 Great Middle School Books for Your Classroom. A look at 6 books perfect for 5th, 6th and 7th grade students. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

As Simple as it Seems by Sarah Weeks

This is a relatively short book, but there's a fair amount in it for discussion and consideration. Verbena has recently discovered that her life isn't really what she thought it was and is feeling completely out of sorts in her own skin - especially as her best friend starts drifting towards other people.

Then Pooch comes along and has his own set of differences and difficulties. Verbena sees his arrival as an opportunity to be someone else - to sit in someone else's 'skin' for a little while - until things go completely wrong and she has to be herself again.

This is another book which examines friendship, but it also looks at identity and truth - there's a lot of ideas to explore around names and who we are in this one.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

After Suzy's best friend drowns - despite being an excellent swimmer - Suzy finds herself retreating into a world of silence and looking for answers. She thinks she's found them in jellyfish - and she sets out to find all the answers she'll need.

Yet another book about friendship - there's definitely a theme going on in all these books! But also about how we react to external events, pressures and even medications. How people impact on our lives and how we need to accept our own responsibility in the events around us.

Like the next book, this is probably better for the slightly older (or more able to work with mature themes) middle-grades reader. This would be an ideal book for a classroom library and I could see students finding a lot to respond to in it.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Although I thoroughly enjoyed all the books here, this is the book which kept me awake until after 1am so I could finish reading it. Lewis lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975 - living a life where he's surrounded by family and traditions which mean everything to him and a house which is falling down around his family. Additionally he's living a school life where he's the only non-white student in his class, there's a vicious bully who no one will confront and he's got a new friend who's willing to share a lot, but can't ever know about Lewis's home life - even as he makes Lewis less invisible at school.

This is a relatively complex book with a lot of strings to hold together and it's probably better for a more mature reader. There's an awful lot to get out of it though, from the nature of friendship (again!), to the idea of moving or being stuck in one place, to the strength of music and songs running throughout the book.

This would make an excellent small group book study in the classroom. In a secure and safe setting, students could get a lot of personal reflection out of it, as well as looking at how the author uses words, plot and character to create such an engaging story.

 
6 Great Middle School Books for Your Classroom. A look at 6 books perfect for 5th, 6th and 7th grade students. A Galarious Goods blog post