Lesson Plan: “Sparrow Girl” (Sara Pennypacker)

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Sparrow Girl 
Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Yuko Tanaka

Based on China’s “Great Sparrow War” in 1958, Sparrow Girl tells the story of Ming Li, one young girl’s effort to save innocent birds that were hailed as the farmers’ enemies.

Discussion Questions/Classroom Connections:

  • Define “food chain” and discuss different examples of food chains in nature.  Are different links in the food chain equally important?  Why or why not?  Have students create a poster of a food chain (allow for research time) and present it to their class.  (Incorporate digital technology by letting students create food chains using a diagram or chart tool in Word or similar programs.)
  • How does this story illustrate the importance of maintaining nature’s food chain?  List some of the ways sparrows are important in the story.
  • Read the author’s note about the real-life event that inspired this book.  Why did Chairman Mao declare war on the sparrows?  What did he want the villagers to do?
  • Discuss how, in the book, even though Ming Li felt that destroying all the sparrows was a bad idea, she didn’t speak up, and neither did Older Brother.  Why didn’t they?  Talk about different kinds of governments and leadership.  What kind of government/leadership do we have in the United States?  Can people speak up against something they might disagree with?  (Is this freedom true for all people across the US, or are there some groups that might be more oppressed?)
  • Compare the US government/leadership to the kind we read about in the book.  Have students research different types of governments around the world and present findings in class.  Is there a “best” kind of government?  What are some pros and cons of each type?
  • Why is “being able to speak up” important?  Have students discuss different ways this might apply in their lives.  For example: do they feel like they can speak up if they felt a rule at home or school was unfair?  Should they be able to speak up against a parent or teacher if they thought it was unfair?  Why or why not?
  • Discuss various imagery used in the book: Ming Li’s father describing her brain as being small as a sparrow’s, her worries scratching at her like a monkey, sparrows falling from the sky like raindrops/teardrops.  Why does the author (or anyone) use imagery like this rather than just describe something plainly?  Have students start with a piece of narrative writing, and make it richer by adding some imagery throughout.

Other Resources:

 

 

 

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Reading & Teaching Esperanza

My daughter is reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in her 6th grade ELA class and since it’s been on my list of books to read for a couple of YEARS I decided to read it with her.  It is a story that draws readers in almost immediately, and one that many can identify with and that many of us can learn from.  I found the audiobook version on YouTube (see below) and plan on playing it for my younger daughter.

You can find numerous teaching resources online (here’s one from Scholastic) and it would be perfect for lessons in character, perseverance, historical fiction, immigration, the Great Depression, or Mexican culture.  I love that my daughter’s ELA teacher has parents bring in various food items that serve as chapter titles so students can try different foods.  (A more elaborate activity could be to have students/parents bring in food items for a fiesta like the one detailed in the book.  Guest speakers from the community can also be invited to talk about their immigration experience or any personal connections they might have to this time in history.)

Other topics mentioned in the book that can be further discussed

  • Class divides: Why does Esperanza say that in Mexico there’s a river between her and Miguel?  Does the same divide exist in the US?
  • Immigration, migrant workers
  • Working conditions for migrant workers: Why do workers strike? What are pros and cons of striking?
  • Segregation
  • Dust storms
  • Discussion of various symbols in the book — the mountains and valleys in the blanket Esperanza is crocheting, the meaning behind her name, etc.
  • Other books about characters that had to persevere through difficult circumstances… For example, read Listening for Lions (Gloria Whelan) or The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron) and discuss similarities and differences between the stories and characters.