Before sharing this book, display a copy of your class roster and invite students to consider what a book that features a cast of characters as big as a class might be like. If you have a group photo of the class, show that, too. Talk about how this book offers a verbal snapshot of one class across a whole school year—all told through poems written by eighteen children in one fi fth-grade class.
This novel in verse is broken into four sections using the idea of “quarters” of the school year and months and days of the calendar. Before each section, stop and talk about what usually happens during this time of the school year (e.g., seasons, holidays, special events). Then after each section, review those highlights and how they affected the fictional students and what readers anticipate might happen next. Use the poem titles to help guide the discussion about the big topics, themes, and ideas along the way. Correlates to Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.1; 4.1; 5.1; 6.1; 7.1
There are eighteen fifth-grade students featured in Ms. Hill’s class in The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, and the story unfolds from their multiple points of view.
Here’s a class roster of those students to guide the reading. 1. Berg, Shoshanna 10. Kidwell, Ben 2. Chen, Jason 11. La Roche, Tyler 3. Costley, Sloane 12. Matthews, Newt 4. Costley, Sydney 13. McCain, Katie 5. Fernandez, Mark 14. Rao, Rajesh 6. Furst, George 15. Rawlins, Rennie 7. Hassan, Nora 16. Stein, Rachel Chieko 8. Holmes, Brianna 17. Vargas, Gaby 9. Jones, Edgar Lee 18. Wiles, Hannah
In addition, the students are portrayed in tiny portraits on the cover of the book. Challenge students to visualize each of the characters in the book as they read, making notes about the unique personality and situation of each character using the class character seating chart sheet provided on page 7 of this guide. They can decide where each student sits on the chart and what keywords they would use to describe each student and add those words to each student’s desk. They might even consider which of these fictional students they may want to be for a readers’ theater performance.
This novel in verse unfolds one poem at a time, told from eighteen points of view. Once students are familiar with each of the major characters and their roles in the story, talk about what each point of view contributes to the whole narrative. How does the poet use the poem title, poet name, and dates for each poem to guide the reader? Correlates to Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.3; 4.3; 6.3; 7.3
With novels in verse presented through multiple characters, oral reading or presentation can be especially powerful, since hearing the words read aloud gives a physical voice and point of view to the personal text. This can begin with the teacher or adult reading aloud, of course. But we can also involve students in presenting excerpts aloud using readers’ theater, with each student reading the poems for one of the characters in the book. They can even identify their selected character from the drawings featured on the cover of the book and use that image as a mask or pin, or dress like the character as pictured.
As a concluding activity, students can choose their favorite poem by their chosen fictional character, read it aloud, and record that reading to create a simple Vimeo, Animoto, or Powtoon video. This could be shared during an open house or moving-up ceremony. Correlates to Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.5; 4.5; 5.5; 6.5; 7.5
Ms. Hill’s class of eighteen students includes a mix of boys and girls, twins, Spanish speakers, children from a variety of cultural backgrounds, shy kids, leaders, friends, and “frenemies,” all trying to express themselves through poetry. Lead a discussion comparing how this fictional class is similar to and different from your own class. Consider how each poem reflects an individual point of view, how the author conveys each point of view, and how these change and grow over the year. Correlates to Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.6; 4.6; 5.6; 6.6; 7.6
Encourage students to cite lines or examples from the poems in this novel to support their responses to the discussion questions below.
1. Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed very unfair and you were unsure what to do about it? How did you handle it?
2. What makes a place special to you?
3. How does your family shape what you’re like? How do your friends shape what you’re like? How is that the same or different?
4. How can we best see two sides of a tough issue?
5. How can kids show courage?
6. Is it easier to speak up for your beliefs if others share those beliefs? Why or why not?
7. What changes occur in this class as a whole during the school year?
8. What are the pros and cons of building a supermarket in place of Emerson Elementary School?
9. Would you rather make a fresh start in a new school alone to reinvent yourself or all together with previous classmates? Why?
10. What can young people teach adults?
Correlates to Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.1; 4.1; 5.1; 6.1; 7.1