As part of the non-fiction/essay unit for fifth-grade literacy, I chose to use the November Scope magazine which included non-fiction narrative, essay, and infographic all on the topic of homelessness in America. The essential question was: "What challenges do the homeless face?" To get an idea of what students already knew or thought they knew about homelessness, I used the thinking routine See-Think-Wonder. I displayed the cover photo of the article I Was Homeless, a photo of Kevin Liu who entered a homeless shelter with his family when he was in sixth grade after an illegal eviction.
In order to provide an opportunity to hear all students' voices, all three parts (seeing, thinking, wondering) were done among cooperative table groups. During each step, students recorded their thoughts on the chart in front of the classroom.
Students viewed the cover photo, discussed with their table group, and described what they saw: a teenager wearing a funny shirt, an Asian teenager, a healthy, normal-looking teenager.
Next, students discussed what they thought about this person given the headline "I Was Homeless." They thought this person was Kevin Liu, that Kevin had been homeless, and that Kevin was no longer homeless because he looked happy, clean, and healthy.
Finally, students discussed and captured their wonderings. They wondered how old Kevin is, where Kevin lives, if he was still homeless, how he became homeless, if he ran away from his home, if he used drugs, if he lived on the street, if he was hurt when he was homeless, how long he was homeless, and what he ate while he was homeless.
This thinking routine put a face on homelessness for our students and directly led into the development of the essential question: "What challenges do the homeless face?"
Throughout the unit, students referred back to the STW chart as they learned more about Kevin Liu. This activity provided an anchor as we read the narrative, and we highlighted in the text answers to our wonderings. Students commented often on whether their initial thinking was correct or if their thinking was "off track" because they didn't have enough information when they first saw the photo and headline.
Using this routine allowed students to begin thinking about the social issue of homelessness and the impacts not only to people who are homeless, but to themselves and society. The STW enabled me to understand where to begin instruction. This thinking routine, like so many others, is a useful preassessment for planning.
After a close reading of the narrative, essay, and infographic, students were able to use the real-life example of Kevin Liu to synthesize the data and statistics provided in the essay and infographic. We were also able to use our STW chart as a post-assessment, adding another column about what we learned.
As their final project, students wrote an informational essay responding to the essential question, "What challenges do the homeless face?