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Rachel Cummings

Teacher Bio
Rachel Cummings has taught high school English for eight years - seven in the Pittsburgh Public Schools - and now in Dorchester High School, a School to Career School. She has a particular passion for creating learning opportunities that allow students to interact with their communities. During previous years, Rachel's students have collected food and clothing for shelters. She and her class received the REAL Award by Pennsylvania Senator Santorum for the Angel Tree Project where students provided personal responses to 500 "Dear Santa" letters. They also organized Angel Trees, collecting over 60 presents for children living at the local Salvation Army. This teacher knows first hand that Service Learning projects let students demonstrate their knowledge in authentic ways.

Subject Areas
English Language Arts

Grade Levels
9 - 12




Loving Literature ~ Changing Communities


Key Question How can studying and sharing children's literature motivate beginning high schoolers to become involved in literature as a lifetime goal?

Overview Who says The Cat in the Hat is just for kids? For these freshmen, children's literature takes on new meaning and begins to mirror adult fiction. Students study classics in children's literature with a special focus on reading and analyzing several Dr. Seuss stories. Writing their own books for children leads the young authors to a local elementary school where they read their original works to youngsters. Reflection Journals, kept throughout the project, reveal that creating messages for the very young motivates reluctant readers and writers. Most important, sharing literacy skills with younger students shows these adolescents that loving literature can change communities and last a lifetime.

Active Exploration + Applied Learning + Adult Connections
Classroom Activities
Community Activities
Career Activities
Begin Writers/Readers Workshop on genre study of children's literature.
Agree to share results with youngsters in local elementary school.
Begin Reflection Journals on writing & sharing process.
Discuss & chart purpose of children's literature.
Identify purpose, theme, moral, etc. in a series of Dr. Seuss books & other classic juvenile tales.
Brainstorm lessons learned & analyze morals found in stories.
Review story Guidelines.
Prepare storylines & story maps.
Write, illustrate & edit original books.
Contact local school & describe project.
Write letter confirming visits & dates.
Rehearse read alouds & read excerpts from The Read Aloud Handbook.
Host parent open house to display stories & practice read aloud techniques.
Visit elementary school & read favorite & original stories to youngsters.
Donate original books to homeless shelter.
Submit reflective project summaries to school newspaper for publication.
Read Oh the Places He Went biography of Dr. Seuss.
Conduct Internet research to learn about careers of other children's authors.
Compare messages in children's literature with messages in young adult fiction.
View selected videos about children's authors.
Explore background & qualifications of children's authors & illustrators.
Outline steps for publishing stories.
Hold round table talk on how a lifelong love of literature can inspire readers to change communities.

Academic Rigor

Learning Standards English Language Arts
Use agreed-upon rules for informal and formal discussions in small and large groups.
Facilitate discussion groups independent from the teacher; identify and practice techniques to improve group productivity such as discussion guidelines, setting time limits for speakers and deadlines for decision-making.
Actively listen, respond to, and build on ideas generated during group discussions.
Use information to inform or change perspectives.
Demonstrate correct use of mechanics, usage, and sentence structure in written work.
Select books for independent reading.
Develop a language for talking about the books.
Use before, during, and after reading strategies.
Set a purpose for reading.
Visualize information in text to support comprehension.
Identify topic and main idea of different texts.
Identify basic facts and main ideas in a text and use them as the basis for interpretation and to form a critical theory about literature.
Identify themes and give supporting evidence from a text.
Compare and contrast the presentation of a theme or topic across genres to explain how the selection of genre shapes the message.
Identify, analyze, and apply knowledge of the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from the text to support understanding.
Use agreed-upon rules for informal and formal discussions in small and large groups.
Facilitate discussion groups independent from the teacher.

School to Career Competencies

Demonstrate Communication and Literacy Skills.
Organize and Analyze Information.
Identify and solve problems.
Complete Entire Activities.
Use Technology.
Act professionally.
Interact with others.


Students begin their original stories with clear grading expectations and understandings about project stages (storyboard, map, draft pages) and their due dates. Ongoing teacher/student conferences facilitate timing and goals. Charts help with individual tracking. Story Guidelines outline how books will be graded. Criteria for each category, based on student-generated input, are listed from the beginning. Student reading sessions are evaluated by peers, children's reactions, and cooperating teacher's anecdotal responses.

Software or Materials Used For documentation and research: Digital camera, Internet access, Microsoft Office. For literature study: The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown,1991: reprint HarperFestival; The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle,1983: Putnam Publishing; Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer, 2001: Atheneum; Chester the Worldly Pig by Bill Peet, 1978: Houghton Miflin; The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, 1964: Harper Collins; Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, 2003: Reprint Harper Trophy; and selected Dr. Seuss publications; along with his biography Oh, the Places He Went by Maryann N. Weidt & Kerry Maguire 1995: First Avenue Editions; and Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! by Jack Prelutsky &Lane Smith, 1998: Knopf. Art supplies: chart paper, Bare Books, markers, art erasers, pens, felt-tip pens, plastic crayons, colored pencils, stencils, laminated covers, line guides.

Teacher Developed Materials Purpose of children's literature chart, Guidelines for Analyzing Children's Literature, Notes on types of lessons for story line, Template for story line chart, Guidelines for writing and grading original story, Guiding questions to identify characteristics of children's literature

Student Developed Materials Completed story line chart, Story map, Original book, Photos documenting project, Reflections, Newspaper article

Web Sites Children's Book Insider, Dr. Seuss Web Page, Dr. Seuss National Memorial at the Quadrangle, Purdue Owl Writing Lab, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Carol Hurst, Vandergrift's Children's Literature Page, Writing a Children's Book Mary Ellen Bower

Final Words Students learn to appreciate the value of children's literature by planning and creating their own books. By following the stages of the writing process and self-monitoring their progress, there is enormous student ownership and empowerment. Students are initially nervous about reading their stories to elementary kids-it's a real audience and they are concerned the younger kids won't enjoy their stories (by tforge solution pitts). After readings, the teens are all abuzz! The elementary kids have many good questions about the process of writing and illustrating-further evidence that high schoolers can be "real" authors who feel validated, and eager to serve the community again.

Teacher Tip Develop a high tolerance for chaos. When students begin, things are very much teacher led and discussion centered; however, as students reach the creating stage, it becomes messy. At different stages and with different needs, some students are drafting, others writing their book, and still others illustrating. The beautiful part is that, at a certain point, you become a resource if needed. Your students become independent, get their supplies and go off to write, draw, revise. Owning their project and the process, they begin to function smoothly and productively without you. They are authors.

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