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Our second unit of study for 5th grade is Holes.  Students are always excited to begin this book because so many of them have seen the movie.  Sometimes it is hard to get them to think about how the book is quite a bit different than the movie. Some students think the book will be easier to read since they are familiar with the story.  However, the book is much more complex than students think.  As Sarah points out on page 27 of the unit under structure, “This narrative is told by means of an unconventional and complex story structure.  Students must navigate five plot lines, revealed through flashbacks.”  There is a lot of things going on in this book!

In each of the units, Sarah includes many helpful items for teachers.  For example, how each unit matches up with the skills of the Common Core and the Text Complexity page that explains the qualitative measures of the text.  One of the items I find very helpful is the highlighting directions and labels for the instructor’s book.  I try to review each day’s lesson before school, but it really helps to have everything in the teacher’s book to help guide the lesson.  Holes has so many different things happening that highlighting and tabbing really helps me remember what I need to do.

Quadrants 1 and 2

The first quadrant of Holes is different from all the other units.  Students get to use the blurb and setting to help themselves get started just like the other units.  This is the first unit when we really focus on Author’s Craft.  Most students do not know what dark humor, sarcasm, and irony are and they enjoy learning about it throughout this book.  They enjoy drawing the setting map with all the holes and the animals that live in the holes.  This year students wanted to color their setting maps!

Another interesting feature we get to use is an actual tree to take notes on Stanley’s generations of relatives all the way back to his “no good dirty rotten pig stealing great-great grandfather!

Students really liked the outside text on juvenile boot camps and were shocked at some of the information they learned.  Most students didn’t like them, but there were a few who agreed that book camps might be helpful for some kids.  The Problem-Solution-Opinion writing was a helpful way for students to share their thinking about boot camps.  This writing assignment was very easy for them, I think, because they all had an opinion.  The writing frames are also helpful because students can use it to help them keep focused on what needs to be included.  Some students did include evidence from their own lives.

Students were surprised by the Camp Green Lake character list and how the characters were different than the movie.  Some students want to spill the beans about the Warden.  I ask them to keep that information to themselves, because we do have students who have not seen the movie yet.  I try to point out when the Warden information is revealed how clever Louis Sachar is about the information he did give us.  I also remind them about the stereotyping lesson we did.  Were we stereotyping about the Warden?

The CIA units really help students think about the book.  By the time we get to our Retell Summaries, I can tell you is getting into the book.  We are still practicing using our frame and doing some of the writing together.  Some students are able to use the important events list and the frame to write.  Others still need help getting their ideas down on paper.  So I use modeled and guided writing with those students.  We usually work as a small group at the back table.  Several of my students can tell me very eloquently what they are thinking but have difficulty writing it down.  So, hopefully, with enough scaffolding they can take on more and more of the writing work themselves.

The students learn a lot of information about text construction.  In quadrant two, we saw how the author used page breaks to switch back and forth between plots and we marked these with colored flags to represent the plots.  Students also comment on how Louis Sachar arranges his chapters.  We talk about how authors never put anything in a text without a reason.

Using the CIA approach helps students to slow down and notice things about their reading that they might not notice on their own.  In quadrant two, we have been tracking Stanley’s character changes.  One student commented, “Wow, Stanley will probably lose a lot of weight and be strong just like Elya with the pig.”

Quadrants 3 and 4

Students are always excited to get to the third and fourth quadrants.  Even though many of them have seen the movie, they don’t really know what the turning point is, they have not thought about the author’s message, and they wonder if the book will end like the movie.  The only thing they really know is that Stanley and Zero find the treasure.

In quadrant 3, we spend most of our time thinking about the plots and trying to find evidence to support our line of thinking, “Even when bad things happen, good can come from it when you believe it can.”  This is a very helpful line of thinking because kids can relate to it and think about how it applies to them.  I think this line of thinking helps my students see their lives in different ways and they do begin thinking about what good can happen to them.

Students can hardly wait to get to quadrant 4.  The pressure is on.  They really don’t want to stop at the turning point, they really want to keep going.  I try to build the suspense as best as I can.  I tell them that it is important for us to stop and think about the author’s message and predict what we think will happen.  We ask ourselves, “How will Louis Sachar tie up all the story lines?”

During the reading of Holes, it is important to review what has happened.  Students get confused about how the plots fit together.  Sometimes students are so concrete in their thinking it is hard for them to get to deeper thinking about the meaning of the book.  For example, one of my students wrote in her letter to Lewis Sachar: “ And when the book said that Clyde Livingston was sitting next to Stanley at Stanley’s new house, I was thinking if Clyde Livingston forgave Stanley and Zero, I’m wondering if Clyde Livingston will teach Zero and Stanley how to play baseball. “

As a teacher, you learn a lot about your students through their writing.  Since we are writing more than we usually would, I can tell who is clear on what is happening in the book and who is not.  The units of study provide so many ways for us to really get into the thinking of our students.  I often tell people that working with the CIA units is like having my own personal reading coach.  Sarah has done the background work and I take it to the next level based on what my students can do.  Since Holes is such a challenging book, it is up to me to help my students get the most out of it.  I have to think about my questioning strategies; how do I share information that can help them get to deeper thinking; how do I continue building on what the students learned in this unit and continue it during the next unit.

This year was the third time I taught Holes using the CIA unit of study.  Each year students were surprised at how the movie didn’t really tell them the answers to their questions.  Each time we have read the book students comment on how they wondered about the boat buried in the sand, the sploosh Zero had been drinking, the onion field, the stream that flowed uphill.  They read for themselves how everything fits together and they say they understand the movie better because the book told them the details that they needed to know.  Even though it is difficult to get them to think about how they might not know everything, just because they have seen the movie, they are convinced by the end.

The final writing project for the Holes unit is a letter to the author.  We looked at some letter samples from last year’s students and some book reviews to get some ideas.  The interesting thing about this year’s class is that they can talk and tell you lots of good things but several of them have difficulty getting their ideas written down.  An area we will continue to work on.

Now my students have at least two favorite authors, Peg Kehret and Louis Sachar! And they know books are usually better than the movies!


Written by Lynn Boze --- 5th Grade Teacher