My kiddos and I just finished reading Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s a book about a ten year old boy named Auggie who was born with a rare medical facial deformity. He had been homeschooled all his life, but now he is going to school for the first time. As you might expect, he struggled quite a bit to find friends and fit in. Because of this, my students and I were able to have some awesome discussions about life, friendship, and good character.
There are so many activities we could do and discussions we could have because of this great story. I got most of these activities from various teachers’ blogs, so I definitely can’t claim all the credit! (credit, credit, credit.) Here are a few of the lessons I did:
In the book Auggie has a teacher, Mr. Brown, who gives the students precepts, or as I call them with my third graders, words to live by. He gives the students a new precept every month. They discuss what the precept is all about and the students have to write an essay about what the precept means to them. Then, after school is out, Mr. Brown encourages the students to send him a postcard from their summer travels with a precept they came across or they made up themselves. I love this concept and adapted it to use in my classroom. Character education is one of our school’s mission statements, so we have a different character trait to focus on every month. I came up with a list of different Words to Live by for every week that tied into our character trait. Then, once a month, my third graders get to choose one of our words to live bys to write a paragraph about what it means to them. January’s character trait is Courage, so here are our words to live by for that month:
- You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretsky
- If you change nothing, nothing will change.
- You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin
- It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up. (Fall seven times, get up eight.)
The book is written from many different characters’ points of view. I love that because it shows us what is going on in everyone’s heads throughout the book. It would have been a very different story had it only been from Auggie’s perspective. I ask my students, “Have you ever had a friend come to school one day and get upset with you over something silly, and you don’t know what you did to make them mad? Well maybe they aren’t actually mad at you, maybe they got in a fight with their brother on the way to school and they are accidently taking it out on you.” We are never able to know what battles are going on in everyone’s lives, so it’s important to always be kind. So when reading the extra Julian chapter, we see that Julian isn’t just an evil emotionless bully. He is a real person with hard stuff in his life. It doesn’t excuse what he does to Auggie, but it helps us to understand him better.
Mr. Browne’s September precept is, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” Choose Kind has become a well used phrase in my classroom. Children, especially at this age of eight and nine, have a very strong desire for justice and fairness. I moderate many, many arguments over small things. So teaching them to just choose kind and let their friend win when they are arguing over which game to play is kind of earth shattering. This is a sign we made for above our whiteboard as a reminder to always choose kind.
I asked the kids to describe Wonder in one word, then I used Tagxedo.com to make a word cloud of their responses.
How We View Ourselves
We never get to hear specifically or see what Auggie’s face actually looks like, so his face, as well as the other characters’ faces, are depicted artistically with few features. So we each created our own Wonder face and chose a precept that resonated with us.
Here is mine.
Here are some of my students’.
Lastly, we took the silhouettes of the characters’ faces and wrote inside words that we felt described them. We completed these before we read the Julian chapter, so I plan to have my students do another Julian picture after we finish his point of view to see if our understanding of him changes, which I hope it will.