Reading and Responding: Social Issues

Our final reading unit of the year is a focus on “social issues” in texts.  So many of our read alouds and shared texts this year were filled with social issues. This was a great unit to finish out the year. We had lots of fun thinking back to some of our favorite books and talking about what “issues” writers choose to put in books for intermediate students–and why they chose them!

Starting Social Issues Book Studies

Together, we came up with a list of issues found in children’s books, and I added some additional ideas off a list I found.  It was interesting to hear students’ ideas on WHY certain themes come up time and time again.  In a nutshell, the students all agreed that writers want kids to think about, read about, and talk about these important topics. By doing so, they might better be able to understand themselves and the people around them.  We’ve read a pretty lengthy list of books this year and keep track on a chart. It was GREAT to be able to revisit the list and remember what we have read.  Check out this list of “social issues” we come up with together.

NOTE:  I shared “Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting the day after we made this, so I added “homelessness” to the chart as well! (Eve Bunting is a great author to study for this.  I have created a bundle of simple resources to use with some of her most popular books.)  Our next step was to immerse ourselves in more picture books that we read alone, with buddies. Then, as a class, we searched to see what other social issues authors choose to write about–and why.  Having a nice bucket of books in the room is a great way to get students excited about new units. Picture books are great to have on hand for when students are between chapter books or for countless other reasons!

Writing Summaries

So, to see what my students were thinking as we read different picture books, I asked them to write a summary.  We are STILL struggling with this!  As a part of the summary, I wanted them to write a “statement of theme”.  It intrigues me to see what the students think BEFORE we discuss!
It was a great discussion about family . . . about keeping spirits up in tough times . . . about making your world a better place for others . . . and for doing whatever is necessary to make things work out.  If you haven’t seen it–check it out!

Starting Social Issues Book Activities

In case you want to immerse students in social issues books, I’ve written down some of the things I do during MY social issues unit.
  • I first immerse students in picture books. These are books that I read to them, books they read alone, and books they read in partners.  I flood my room with books that deal with social issues of all kinds, from racism to aging to divorce and much more.
  • We practice summarizing and writing quick writes about the themes and issues we notice.
  • I use the “iceberg” model to practice digging deeply into texts.  I often use the phrase, “It SEEMS like this is a book about ____, but it really is also a book about _____”.  Students need to learn to look beyond the obvious as they build deeper meaning.  For example, “Fly Away Home” IS a book about being homeless.  It is ALSO a book about sacrifice…about family members supporting each other…about striving for better things…and so much more.
  • We do a round of book clubs where we work to read through the “lens” of social issues.  We study the characters and how they react to their situation.  It’s powerful for students to start to relate these topics to theme and to realize that a book can have multiple issues.
  • We write literary essays where we either focus on how a character has changed through the book or by making a claim about the theme.  For planning, I use my opinion essay planning tool because it SO helps my students stay organized!
  • I always choose a really good read aloud novel to model my thinking about theme, characters, and the social issues being addressed.  This allows me to model what kind of written work I expect during book clubs.  It also gives us a “common” book to use as I model our essay writing.  I also use many of these theme prompts for written responses as we read.  Some of my favorite books to use are Eight Keys, Wonder, Long Walk to Water, Rules, Out of My Mind, Wish, and so many others!

Don’t forget informational texts!

Along with our fiction work, we also look to increase our understanding of the issues we address.  By looking at magazine articles or at online resources, we can gain a deeper understanding of the issues we are reading.  We subscribe to Scholastic News, and I save articles that fit our unit!  Much like learning about an “era” when studying historical fiction, developing deeper understanding of some of these social issues makes the fiction books even more powerful.  When we write our essays during this unit, students who are ready for it can incorporate facts and data from these informational texts to make their essays even more compelling.

Stay tuned for another post with even more information about what we do!

Do you follow me in other places to get my latest content?
CLICK HERE to subscribe to my newsletter or HERE to follow me on Facebook or HERE to follow me on Instagram!  Check out my TpT store RIGHT HERE!