Friday, June 24, 2016

Using Picture Books With Older Readers: Twenty-One Elephants (Bildner) and Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing (Prince)

This is my second post in my Using Picture Books With Older Readers series. All the lesson ideas in this series are designed for use in middle school, but they could be adapted for high school or elementary as well. Today's lesson ideas are updated from a post I did several years ago and feature two picture books about proving the strength of bridges to a skeptical crowd. Both go great with the popular STEAM and makerspace movements in schools.

(This post is updated to include ideas for library and classroom use with middle school students. It was originally posted Sept. 26, 2012.)

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BOOKS USED IN THIS LESSON (YOU ONLY NEED ONE OF THE TWO):

TITLE: Twenty-One Elephants
AUTHOR: Phil Bildner
ILLUSTRATOR: LeUyen Pham
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
PUBLICATION DATE: Oct. 1, 2004
ISBN: 9780689870118
PAGES: 40, illustrated

TITLE: Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing
AUTHOR: April Jones Prince
PUBLISHER: HMH Books for Young Readers
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept. 26, 2005
ISBN: 9780618448876
PAGES: 32, illustrated

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

These titles came out within a year of one another, and both are about the same event: the public opening of New York's Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. The bridge enabled people to cross the East River more quickly than going all the way around, but some citizens were afraid that crossing wasn't safe. How much weight could it really hold? Showman P.T. Barnum decided to advertise his traveling circus and took his 21 elephants, led by Jumbo, his most famous elephant, across the bridge.


WHICH BOOK IS BETTER FOR OLDER READERS?

Honestly, either book would work for older readers, but I prefer Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing just slightly over Twenty-One Elephants because the latter is told from the perspective of a little girl, which makes it feel a little younger. If you are teaching upper-middle school or high school, I would go definitely go with Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing. Either title could be used at the elementary level.


LESSON IDEAS:

This lesson is huge and could easily take a few library times if you want to use everything included here. I did it in a 40-minute lesson, but I did not do the extension activity at the end.

  • Activate prior knowledge by asking if they think crossing bridges is a scary activity. Most students will say it's not at all scary. We've been over so many bridges nowadays that crossing a bridge is no big deal. But what if you had never crossed a bridge before? What do you think people might worry about?

  • Read the story aloud. As always, take your time. Stop along the way to discuss things like:

    --Who was P.T. Barnum?
    --How much do you think one elephant weighs? How about 21 elephants?
    --Are there bridges in your area? What purpose do your local bridges serve? Are there any places in your area where a new bridge might be needed?
    --Who is responsible to build the bridges? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Who draws the plans?
  • Show the PowerPoint (below) featuring bridges around the world. I have updated the record-holding bridges in the slides, which are accurate as of today, June 23, 2016.

    The following presentation is available for free download on SlideShare.


  • Art--I love this famous picture of workers eating atop a beam.

  • Economics--Show the video below about a man who made a thriving business out of people's fear of driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.


  • STEAM--Build card houses! Students LOVE doing this. It's a fun way to engage their inner-engineers and get their minds working! This video is about a man setting a world record for building card towers.

  • STEAM--Bering Strait Bridge. View video below and discuss the problems involved in building a bridge connecting Asia and North America at the top of the world. Why would a bridge here be useful? Is it worth the cost and risk to build?



  • Readalikes/book display-- Display books about bridges, structures around the world, tall buildings, sky bridges. Ideas are listed and linked below.

PICTURE BOOKS (AND OTHERS) FEATURING THE HISTORY OF BRIDGES AND SKYSCRAPERS:







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