Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Using Sideways Stories from Wayside School in the Classroom


One of my favorite children's authors is Louis Sachar. I love his quirky sense of humor and even more I love sharing this humor with my students and giggling right along with them! I have many "inside jokes" with my students related to his books. The humor really brings us together as a community. I am a big advocate in humor in children's literature because it draws out those reluctant readers and shows them how truly enjoyable reading can be. Oftentimes this is just the spark those students need to explore other forms of literature and really begin a lifelong love of reading.

Today I am going to discuss Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Sideways Stories is probably one of Louis Sachar's most popular books. Even though I have read this book more times that I can count I still get a chuckle each and every time. This book is best read and understood by the 3-5th grade reader.

Sideways Stories is told from the point of view of Louis the Yard Teacher. Louis Sachar based this character on himself. He spent a college semester working as an aid in an elementary school and spent some of that time as "Louis the Yard Teacher". He also based most of his characters from the book on students he worked with during that time. Sideways Stories was Louis Sachar's first book and was first published in 1978 but it took several years to gain widespread popularity.

Wayside School was an architectural mistake. It was mistakenly built 30 stories tall with only one classroom per story. The story revolves around the class on the 30th story. Each chapter examines one student or teacher from the class or school. The book begins by telling us the story of the teacher on the 30th story, Mrs. Gorf. Mrs. Gorf has a special talent that leads to her demise. She is replaced by Mrs. Jewls in chapter 2.  Mrs. Jewls is a sweet but somewhat naive teacher. A lot of humor comes from Mrs. Jewls' seemingly lack of common sense. The other teacher discussed in the last chapter is Louis the Yard Teacher. All the rest of the chapters (there are 30 of course!) detail a student. Each student is unique in some ironic, humorous way.

I have used this book in several different ways in my classroom. First I have used it as a read loud to spark a sense of community. Reading, discussing, and laughing together brings a class together. I can read this at the beginning of the year and still have kids quoting it or bringing up a joke from it at the end of the year. I have yet to find a child who did not thoroughly enjoy this book.

I have used this book as a whole class novel unit as well as small literature circle group unit. I have also used this book as an independent study unit for students. I created a unit to accompany this book that I have tinkered with and updated over the years. I try and create units that can be modified easily to use with an individual student, small group, or a whole class.




I choose vocabulary words that students are able to identify and make inferences about as they read and then check those inferences with the dictionary.

Here are some examples from the unit for the vocabulary section:
Vocabulary Bookmark where students can locate and infer on the word meaning as they read.
Students use this sheet to find their word in the dictionary to verify their inference.



When I create comprehension questions I aim for higher level thinking questions. I want my students to think about and analyze what they read, not just regurgitate answers. Here is an example from the unit for the questions for Chapter 6:
 
Questions not only ask about what the reader read but asks them to analyze it and discuss it.
 
After the book writing activity where students apply their knowledge of the characters and writing style of the author.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School has some very unique characters so the unit also includes a character study for each character in the story:
There is something special to discuss for each character.
The unit also includes detailed, daily lesson plans for the teacher, answer keys, and assessment activities in multiple choice, short answer, and writing formats.

Whether you use this book for whole class, small group, or individual instruction you will find your students laughing and really truly enjoying this book. Even if you don't use the unit in your class make sure that you include this book in a class library for your students to read or read it to your class as a read aloud. Whatever you do make sure your students have access to this book! It is so much fun and really opens up the reading world for those reluctant readers!

After enjoying Sideways Stories from Wayside School look for the sequels: Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger for more laughter and fun!




Sideways Stories from Wayside School Unit on CD



Friday, April 1, 2011

The Space Shuttle Experience Update!

If you downloaded The Space Shuttle Experience Unit previously you may want to download it again. I just updated the format a bit so that when you print you will not use up so much ink. I also added an answer key. And of course it is still FREE!
The Space Shuttle Experience Unit