This is one of the posts from my older blog. I could not let it just set and collect dust in a dark internet corner. So, I am adding it here on the current blog. There is however, one update. I have created an escape room activity that can be used after reading this book. Since you are reading this blog, I am embedding a link for that activity, which is currently free in my TpT store. It is free because it is my very first attempt at an escape room and I would like feedback. I would love to know how it looks, how easy it was for students, and if the time needs to be adjusted. Heck, I am not perfect and while I ran spell check, I may have overlooked something, please let me know.
Who doesn't love a good mystery? Well when it comes to this book, The Westing Game, I know one person who did not like it. She was a reading specialist in the district. However, I never let that sway me. In the end, my fourth and fifth grade students loved it. As it turns out, it is one of my top favorite novels for students.
I am going to walk you through exactly how I used the book in my own classroom with some slight upgrades. Specifically, to the Notice and Note signposts that I have, sense learned. In the fall when I start back in the classroom, with sixth grade students, I will use this book and the Escape Room I mentioned.
P.S. I will never give away the details of a story. That journey is for you to take on your own. I tell you this because some might take caution in reading to avoid spoilers -- there will be no spoilers here. Please note if you download the Escape Room and go through it, there are spoilers there.
When I first introduce a book or genre, I want to set the stage. What is fun about this specific book is that there have been over six different covers created. I would use this to my advantage. The strategy that is great for this type of activity is a gallery walk. Just a quick side-note here, if you have been to any of my workshops I have done in the past year, you had the opportunity to engage in this strategy firsthand. Throughout my workshops, I did these two separate ways, mainly because wall space was limited. The first way is to have students work groups and visit each book cover poster. Here they would discuss what they think the book will be about based on the pictures on each cover. The second way I have done this is to put two quite different covers side by side and have the groups use both covers to decide what they think the book will be about.
Here are those book covers.
Now that we have walked through the gallery walk, I want to reel my students in to the genre. Therefore, before they walk into class the next day, I will set up a crime scene. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest on doing this, but you must make it fit your students. I know this book very well so I can have a lot of fun with this. On another note, please read this book carefully before you try to use it in your classroom. It is a lot of fun, but it can be overly complex.
Next, I wanted full participation; therefore, I decided to have the students read this book as if it were a script. There are 16 characters being accused of a crime, plus one lawyer, a handful of police and firefighters, and one Barney Northrup. If you have read The Westing Game, you can notice why I added that one little clue. Sorry, no spoilers, you will just have to read the book for yourself to notice the clue. Therefore, each student was assigned a part to read. What a wonderful way to keep the student focused on the text, but better yet, what a wonderful way for them to interact directly with the characters. I had students visualize hat his or her character look like and sketch it on a poster. I believe in education, that collaboration and support are key, so I am posting a product created by Jaclyn McCullough that I have used previously for character sketches. Just click here.
Time to dive right in the book:
If you are not familiar with the Notice and Note Signposts by Dr. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, I highly recommend you check out their work. You can also visit this website to learn a little more. The best way to sum up the signposts is that they are deeper, more intentional questions to get students to stop, interact, and reflect with the character and setting, the plot or information of the story, and the theme or main idea. When we go deep in a text and connect to the story, we walk away with a much more meaningful experience.
I found this great chart here. I hope this will give you a quick overview. I also added an anchor chart for the nonfiction version of the Contrast and Contradiction signpost intentionally.
Personally, I would teach across the disciplines the same language. Largely because sometimes the nonfiction version relates to a fiction text. Let me show you how.
I want my students to find the Contrasts and contradiction within the first few paragraphs of The Westing Game. However, I need them to be able to understand that I am not specifically referencing a character here, but I am wondering specifically why the author used the language. So, I would frame the questions in both fiction and nonfiction language.
Now, based on my experience with teachers during my workshop, I can predict which ones you would point out as Contrast and Contradictions. I will include them at the very end, so no one peeks now that you are trying to find them. :)
I will tell you I would love to spend more time on signposts here, especially since there are several Aha Moments present in this text, but I am afraid I would spoil the reading experience for you. I will tell you that if you read the book and want me to help you out with the signposts there, I can correspond with you privately.
While we did a quick glance at a signpost, we did not take away the element of surprise. Trust me when you have a murderer, a thief, a bookie, a bomber, and a mistake all in one book it makes for an interesting puzzle to solve and keeps you hooked into reading. So, I will move back into strategies you can add to your teaching toolkit for this novel. Since you are still reading, I guess the information is helpful in some way to you as an educator. I will post that link soon, but, I hope you consider really using this book in your own classroom.
As my class moved through this maze of characters and crimes, my students get hooked into solving the mysteries. The Westing Game is such a great novel for making inferences. I challenge students to work in teams to solve all the crimes. It is a lot of fun. Of course, I must teach my students skills of good detectives:
For those of you still reading, here is the link for that escape room: Who Killed Sam Westing?
Please leave feedback and let me know how your students liked it. Would love to see pictures of it in action. P.S. It will not be free forever. Keep reading for another freebie.
Extending Learning in other contents
There are other learning opportunities. You can discuss the court system. You can have students learn some geography by finding the location of Sunset Towers using clues in the text. Not to mention, this is a fantastic opportunity to bring in Chess to lessons or start a Chess club. Chess is a strategic game and an integral part of this story.
I hope that you walk away from this blog with innovative ideas and/or a great urge to read a new book. These strategies of course, are not limited to this text, they are simply good strategies. I have mentioned in other blog posts that we have to pull students back into stories and books. We know that a story can lead us on a grand adventure. Stories give us a new sense of words, language, culture, and much more. Each week I will try to post about a new book or strategy with innovative ideas. Once school starts in August I will share the innovative ideas I implement in my own classroom. Please share this blog with fellow educators. To explore more updates and freebies follow me here and on Twitter @CrazyCurrChic
For those of you curious, as promised, here are those Contrast and Contradictions that great teachers in my workshops found: delivery boy = 62 years old, Sunset Towers faced East = sun sets in the west, everybody knows that = do they?, Sunset towers = no towers, empty=tenants, chosen tenants=people usually choose where to live, Barney Northrup signed the letters=no such person as Barney Northrup
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My life journey is that of a mother, wife, grandmother, weenie dog owner, blogger, conference speaker, mini-farmer, writer and an occasional mistake maker with over 24 years in education. Follow me on Twitter @CrazyCurrChic