LEARN NC

K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

Learn more

Related pages

  • Hidden stories: A three-part lesson in African American history, research, and children’s literature: In this high school lesson plan, students will create a timeline of African American history, review a work of children's literature, and then create their own works of children's literature drawing on a primary source document pertaining to the life of an ordinary African American.
  • Jackie Robinson taught us more than baseball: After determining student knowledge about Jackie Robinson, the teacher/counselor reads "Teammates" by Peter Golenbock to fifth graders. The teacher/counselor then divides students into four groups to work cooperatively on questions. Groups select leaders and recorders and each group leader presents answers to the whole class. The teacher/counselor ends the activity with a question that individual students will respond to in writing.
  • Bulletin board of story elements: This lesson will introduce young children to the elements of stories starting with characters. Children will be involved with interactive writing as they respond to shared reading lessons. Students will illustrate a caption of a character to be displayed on a bulletin board.

Related topics

Help

Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.

Legal

The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

In this lesson, two illustrated children’s books will be shared as a basis for comparison and contrast as students read, interpret, and analyze the box as a symbol. The books, Toni Morrison’s The Big Box, and Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box, will serve as the foundation as students examine opposites (inside/outside; freedom/slavery; free/trapped). Students will learn to create a Venn diagram as a tool for organizing specific examples of literary comparison and contrast.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will learn to think about multiple meanings and interpretations of symbols in fiction.
  • Students will gain experience in reading and comprehending fictional narrative text, with particular attention to:
    • recognizing and comprehending figurative language
    • making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • comprehending and evaluating authors’ decisions and word choice
    • recognizing setting, characters, sequence of events, and main idea
    • writing an original story based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Teacher preparation

Classroom time required

Classroom time required is approximately 5-8 hours, broken into the following activities:

  • Optional: One hour for introduction/discussion of literary elements (comparison, contrast, symbol, and paradox), and the vocabulary terms (liberty, freedom, independence).
  • One or two class periods (one hour each) per book, for reading, discussion, and collaborative note-taking.
  • One hour period for creation of Venn Diagram, discussion of comparison and contrast, and summary of conclusions.
  • Two one-hour periods for students to practice the writing process in creating an original “My Box” story (based on personal experience, heritage, imagination, literature, and history).
  • One hour for proofreading, peer editing, revisions, and completion of final drafts.
  • One hour for word-processing story documents.
  • One hour to create and illustrate the final product.

You may choose to have students take turns typing, saving, and printing stories while classmates illustrate theirs, thereby combining these last two steps into one or two hours.

Materials needed

  • Books:
    • Ellen Levine. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad. Scholastic, Inc. 2007.
      • Summary: “A fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Virginia slave, Henry ‘Box’ Brown, escapes to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.”
    • Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison. The Big Box. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children. New York, 1999.
      • Summary: “Because they do not abide by the rules written by the adults around them, three children are judged unable to handle their freedom and forced to live in a box with three locks on the door.”
  • Paper and pencils
  • Art supplies
  • Large dry-erase or chalk board for shared brainstorming and comparison/contrast.
  • Students may also wish to create their own graphic organizer for a Venn diagram by tracing around large oatmeal cylinder lids or using a compass to draw two overlapping circles.
  • Dictionaries for students to look up vocabulary words. Students may use print dictionaries or online children’s dictionaries such as Word Central.

Technology resources

  • Optional: Internet access for students to access online dictionary
  • Optional: Word-processing software, if students will create word-processed final drafts of their original stories

Pre-activities

Students will need to understand the purpose and meaning of symbolism. They should be able to identify major symbols from historical and contemporary culture (numbers, letters, hearts, arches, national and state symbols, team mascots, weather symbols, etc.)

Students in 2nd grade math classes may have been introduced to the concept of liberty in their examination of US Treasury coins, which bear the word. They should be able to identify other American symbols of liberty. They should have a general historical context of slavery in the United States.

Discussion of liberty may include a word study using a dictionary. If you choose to have students use the Word Central online dictionary for children, have students access the site and type in the word liberty. This will take them to the definition and to synonyms (freedom and independence).

Additionally, students should be able to explain and demonstrate similarities and differences between two objects when asked to compare and contrast. Students should be familiar with using a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram, to illustrate similarities and differences.

Teachers should be comfortable with the use of Venn diagrams. You may wish to familiarize yourself by reading the article “Higher Order Thinking with Venn Diagrams.”

If students haven’t used a Venn diagram recently, you may wish to have a brief review with them before beginning the lesson. For example, you can compare and contrast two U.S. coins of different values, with regard to size, metal, words, value, year, weight, etc.

Activities

Day one

Students will review the meaning of liberty, noting that it is a word important enough in the United States of America to be imprinted on US Treasury coins.

  1. Discuss the students’ individual thoughts and associations with the word freedom. Make a large poster of the collective class responses for students to refer to in subsequent writing. Note: This is a temporary “word wall” related to this lesson, and words may be added as students’ understanding develops and deepens. You may wish to organize the words into groupings, including abstract ideas (liberty, freedom, independence, slavery, choice, etc.) and literary elements (opposites, alike, different, compare, contrast, explain, etc.)
  2. Students should be encouraged to write about and discuss the words freedom, liberty, and independence in the contexts of:
    • their own lives
    • American history
    • national symbols (the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, US treasury coins, etc.)
    • slavery and emancipation [Note: The last page of Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box offers a great, concise introduction to slavery and freedom and an explanation of the Underground Railroad. You may wish to read it to students as you conduct this part of the discussion.]
  3. A shared discussion and brainstorming session, creating a graphic organizer with key words and ideas, should create a basis for individual writing. This assignment may take the form of a graphic organizer (bubble map), an informal stream-of-consciousness freewriting, a poem, a short story, an artistic representation, or a combination of any of these options. Students will be encouraged to voluntarily share these responses at the start of the next class meeting.

Day two

  1. Ask for volunteers to share responses to the previous day’s assignment.
  2. Introduce Toni Morrison’s book, The Big Box, by telling them that the author’s son, Slade Morrison, gave her the idea for this story when he was nine years old. (Students may be interested to know that Slade went on to study fine arts and music when he went to college.)
  3. Tell students that they will be comparing and contrasting two very different stories about boxes and freedom. Ask them to consider what freedom means in this story. Ask them to pay attention to what part a box plays in each story. Specifically, have them consider the following questions about the box:
    • What is it used for? (Keeping something safe? Confined?)
    • What goes inside the box? What stays outside?
    • Is the box locked? Why?
    • Does the box move from one place to another?
    • Approximately what size is the box?
    • To whom does the box belong?
    • Is the box real or imaginary?
  4. Read The Big Box aloud. Invite discussion of this book. Direct students to consider: whether the book is fact or fiction; what freedom means in this story; what role the box plays. Give them time to respond to the seven suggested questions. Create a class list of responses, questions, and ideas on a large poster board labeled with the title and author.

Day three

  1. Tell students that the book they are about to read is another story about a box. Ask them to reread the same seven questions from the previous day before reading this book.
  2. Introduce the story Henry’s Freedom Box by reading the author’s note, found on the last page of the book. The note offers a concise introduction to slavery and freedom and an explanation of the Underground Railroad.
  3. Read Henry’s Freedom Box aloud, and then begin a discussion of the book. Ask students to document the use of the box in this “true story from the Underground Railroad” by having the students create a list of responses to the seven questions about the box. Remind them to use specific details from the story to support their answers. As the students discuss these details, include them in the list for this book, labeled with the title and author. Post the three charts (Freedom and liberty, notes on The Big Box, and notes on Henry’s Freedom Box) in preparation for the next lesson.

Day four

Before conducting this activity, students should have already used a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two objects. (See “Pre-activities” above for suggestions on reviewing the use of Venn diagrams for comparison and contrast.)

  1. Using the Alike and Different guided practice, have students collaboratively create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the role of the box in these two books. They may refer to the three charts of notes for ideas, spellings, and facts about each book, including the answers to the seven questions about the box. You may wish to create a large Venn diagram on the board to help guide the students through this process of comparative literary analysis. As you create the Venn diagram, discuss the books. Did it make a difference that one story was fiction and one story was based upon factual history? Practice identifying the who, what, when, where, why, and how in each story. Compare the use of a box in story. (Did it keep something safe? Did it prevent something from having freedom? How are boxes used in our world?) To make the Venn diagram, have the students draw two large overlapping circles, making sure they have enough space to write notes and details to address each of the following main points of comparison and contrast:
    • Genre: Fact or Fiction? [Henry’s Freedom Box is based on fact while The Big Box is fiction.]
    • Who:
      • Characters inside the box
      • Characters outside the box
    • What:
      • Choice: To be inside or outside the box? Why?
      • Purpose of box: Restriction of freedom vs. transportation to freedom
      • Contents of box: people, food, what else?
    • When: Time of setting
    • Where: Location/movement of box
    • Theme: Freedom/liberty
    • How: What happens with the box?
    • Symbolism: What does the box represent or mean in this story?

    Alternately, students could use the following questions as points of comparison and contrast. (Note: this option prepares students for writing their own story based on these considerations, as assigned on day five.):

    • What is the box used for? (Keeping something safe? Confined?)
    • What goes inside the box? What is outside the box?
    • Is the box locked? Why?
    • Does the box move from one place to another?
    • Approximately what size is the box?
    • To whom does the box belong?
    • Is the box real or imaginary?
  2. Close the activity by asking students to write an essay summarizing their findings.

Days five - eight

Students will create an original short story, play, or poem about a box, and will include an illustration/representation of the box in this creative writing.

  1. This assignment is intended to be open-ended so that students may employ imagination and curiosity. To spark the creative process, direct students to their thoughts regarding freedom from the activity on day one of this lesson, when students were asked to write about and discuss freedom, liberty, and independence in the contexts of:
    • their own lives
    • American history
    • national symbols (the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, US treasury coins, etc.)
    • slavery and emancipation
    Ask students now to also consider freedom, liberty, and independence as they relate to the symbolism of the box in the shared literary selections.
  2. As students prepare to write their creative piece, ask them to consider what role the box will play in their creation. Is it an environment? Is it a character? Is it a symbol? If so, what does the box symbolize? Specifically, have them consider the following questions about the box:
    • What is it used for? (Keeping something safe? Confined?)
    • What goes inside the box? What is outside the box?
    • Is the box locked? Why?
    • Does the box move from one place to another?
    • Approximately what size is the box?
    • To whom does the box belong?
    • Is the box real or imaginary?
  3. Give students time for planning, drafting, and illustrating final products. Some students may wish to collaborate in writing a short drama in which the box is a prop or even a character. Each student or group of students should use the writing process to: plan, draft, edit, revise, and create a final draft of the original story, poem, or play. Each group or individual should create an illustration of the box, using a variety of mediums.
  4. Note on classroom time management

    This final phase of the lesson may be organized as follows:

    • Two one-hour periods for students to practice the writing process in creating an original “My Box” story (based on personal experience, heritage, imagination, literature, history)
    • One hour for proofreading, peer editing, revisions, and completion of final drafts
    • One hour for word-processing story documents
    • One hour to create and illustrate the final product.

    You may choose to have students take turns typing, saving, and printing stories while classmates illustrate theirs, thereby combining these last two steps into one or two hours.

  5. Finally, ask students to share their creations with one another. The seven questions applied to Henry’s Freedom Box and to The Big Box may be used as an assessment tool. Ask each student to take notes on each peer presentation. At the conclusion of all the presentations of original box stories, each student will select one story to analyze using these same questions.

    Ask them to consider what role the box plays in the creation they analyze. Is it an environment? Is it a character? Is it a symbol? If so, what does the box symbolize? Specifically, have them consider the following questions about the box:

    • What is it used for? (Keeping something safe? Confined?)
    • What goes inside the box? What is outside the box?
    • Is the box locked? Why?
    • Does the box move from one place to another?
    • Approximately what size is the box?
    • To whom does the box belong?
    • Is the box real or imaginary?

Assessment

Assess by students’ ability to demonstrate comprehension of key vocabulary words, literary elements, symbolism, and comparison/contrast in the completion of the daily assignments. Students’ independent projects will demonstrate their ability to use the writing process effectively. Their ability to listen to, interpret, take notes, and answer the questions about a selected “My Box” story by a peer will be assessed in the final application of the seven questions (see above).

Critical vocabulary

  • Liberty
  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Symbol
  • Compare
  • Contrast

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 3
          • 3.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
        • Grade 4
          • 4.RL.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
          • 4.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
          • 4.RL.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
        • Grade 5
          • 5.RL.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
          • 5.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
        • Grade 6
          • 6.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
      • Writing

        • Grade 3
          • 3.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. 3.W.3.1 Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds...
        • Grade 4
          • 4.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. 4.W.3.1 Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize...
        • Grade 5
          • 5.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. 5.W.3.1 Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize...
        • Grade 6
          • 6.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences. 6.W.3.1 Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 2

  • Goal 2: The learner will develop and apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed.
    • Objective 2.01: Read and comprehend both narrative and expository text appropriate for grade two by:
      • determining purpose (reader's and author's).
      • making predictions.
      • asking questions.
      • locating information for specific reasons/purposes.
      • recognizing and applying text structure.
      • comprehending and evaluating author's decisions and word choice.
      • determining fact and opinion.
      • recognizing and comprehending figurative language.
      • making inferences and drawing conclusions.
  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.07: Compose first drafts using an appropriate writing process:
      • planning and drafting.
      • rereading for meaning.
      • revising to clarify and refine writing with guided discussion.

Grade 3

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.02: Use oral and written language to:
      • present information in a sequenced, logical manner.
      • discuss.
      • sustain conversation on a topic.
      • share information and ideas.
      • recount or narrate.
      • answer open-ended questions.
      • report information on a topic.
      • explain own learning.
    • Objective 4.03: Share written and oral products in a variety of ways (e.g., author's chair, book making, publications, discussions, presentations).
    • Objective 4.04: Use planning strategies (with assistance) to generate topics and to organize ideas (e.g., drawing, mapping, discussing, listing).
    • Objective 4.06: Compose a draft that conveys major ideas and maintains focus on the topic by using preliminary plans.
    • Objective 4.07: Compose a variety of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama selections using self-selected topics and forms (e.g., poems, simple narratives, short reports, learning logs, letters, notes, directions, instructions).
    • Objective 4.09: Produce work that follows the conventions of particular genres (e.g., personal narrative, short report, friendly letter, directions and instructions).