It seems paradoxical but it’s not.
Children’s stories capture our imagination, make us wonder, and reveal the inherent mysteries of life in the simplest and most profound ways.
They can also motivate teachers and students of all grade levels and subjects to ask Big Questions.
You’ve already seen how the Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope can be used to teach the Civil Rights Movement and the 1st Amendment and how Swimmy by Leo Lionni can be used to teach the meaning of bravery in the Abolitionist Movement.
But there’s so much more.
The University of Washington Center for Philosophy of Children has a treasure trove of over 100 children’s stories along with innovative ideas on how to use these stories to introduce Big Questions in the classroom. Most of the stories can be adapted seamlessly to fit the middle and high school audience.
Consider these stories and the Big Questions they inspire:
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Is the proper role of government to help citizens or to encourage citizens to help themselves?
The Big Box by Toni Morrison
Who gets to decide who is free? or What does it mean to have freedom?
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
Are historical events determined to happen or can humans change the course of history through their choices?
You might think you can’t use children’s stories, especially in a high school class! It’s too basic and simplistic. The kids will think you are insulting their intelligence.
Dispense with this thinking! Each time I’ve introduced a children’s story, I have found most of my students alert, intrigued and ready to think. This is because I’m drawing upon something familiar and creating a safe space for them to think. It’s the perfect entry point for asking Big Questions.
The best part is that you can come back to the children’s story repeatedly as you work your way through different units, all the while reinforcing the importance of the original Big Questions the story inspired. This strategy would be particularly valuable in an English class with a novel.
What children’s story do YOU use (or could you use) in your classroom?
Next Post: Where can I find Big Questions? Ask a Philosopher
I used Red: A Crayon’s Story in my creative writing class last year. I didn’t do much with it but I’d do more if I taught the class again.
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How did you use the story?