War of the Wall


This week I thought we’d read “The War of the Wall” by Toni Cade Bambera. I like this story and the students always like it too. I start off with a PowerPoint slide show of images like the one above, of various murals, some famous and others not so much, to give the students the idea of what a mural is, and how they are used to memorialize something or someone. The slide show includes murals by Diego Rivera, John Pugh, the Vietnam War Memorial and others that can be found in the Mission district of San Francisco.

For reasons that I suppose should not be too surprising if you read this blog much, I’ve had a hard time getting this story going this year. They loved the mural photos, and one of the more difficult students in the class has been so taken with the three-dimensional work of John Pugh that he has done nothing but look at those images on the internet for two days.  I’m fine with this because the alternative is so terribly distracting for everyone, and I’m tired of writing referrals for his behavior when they don’t produce any change.

For some reason, each time we’ve started to read the story we’ve been taken off task. The first time, the kids were reading aloud so very quietly so that no one knew what was going on, and then the class period was over.  The second time, the next day, two boys had a full on fistfight, in the classroom, right in the middle of everything.  That totally took us down. I was shaken after stopping that and dealing with the aftermath and so were the kids, so no more reading happened that day.  Then the last time we tried to read, I had decided I’d just read for a while to pull them into the story before including them in the reading aloud. I stopped to ask them if they knew the work “integration” and they asked if it was like immigration and “Not to be racist, but how do the Chinese people get to come here?” That time I stopped the story for a detailed lesson in Hmong history, since we have no Chinese students in our school and I’m tired of hearing kids make ignorant comments about our Hmong students. As I was talking about the history of the Hmong people here and in SE Asia, even the Hmong kids were fascinated. It seems they hadn’t heard all that either.

But I’m not giving up on the story! The kids still want to read it, so my next tactic will be listening to it on CD.  I think they’ll like that. After we do some critical thinking work with it, we’ll create a class mural and that should be interesting as well.  A critical thinking activity we often do after reading a short story is something called a “One Pager.” I did not invent this, but I sure do like it.

The students are instructed to, all on one piece of paper, write the following:  the title and author of the story, two or three quotes from the story that added to their understanding of the story, one or two sentence responses to each quote, an illustration or three and a border around the paper that ties to the story somehow.  My idea is that is looks kind of like a jumbly collage when it’s done.  I’ve found that in the past few years (yes, since NCLB and bubbling neatly started) many students draw three lines and make columns of comment, response, drawing.  That’s okay too. The idea is that the students will interact with the reading on a level that goes beyond simple reading comprehension.

At first they find this very difficult to do, and it seems that I have to explain what I mean by “Find a quote” every time we do it.  They have a hard time understanding what a quote is, and how to pick a good one but we persevere and ultimately they come out with some reasonably good work. After while I can tell them to do a One Pager, and place the instructions on the Elmo and they can just do it without all the histrionics.

Next week I’ll post some photos of their one pagers.  And their mural. Stay posted!


4 thoughts on “War of the Wall

  1. jamieayres says:

    Sounds like a great activity. Sorry you had to break up a fight 😦 Playing a CD of the reading never seems to work well with my classes. They listen better to me. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you!

    • lynnjake says:

      Well, Jamie, playing the CD didn’t work all that well. As you suggested their interest wasn’t sustained like when I read it. I know where to stop and fill in background information and when I stop the CD to do that, it is a distraction. A few kids listened to the story all the way through, but even I was too distracted to listen to it very well. So much for the CDs!

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