Students will perform better if they are interested in what they are doing. This is a statement I think about every time I begin to work on my reading lesson plans. If the month I am planning for includes a holiday I always try to include texts and activities about that holiday into my plans. Elementary grade level students tend to focus on what is important or interesting to them, so I try to use that to my advantage. Of course, during the month of November I incorporate Thanksgiving texts whenever it is appropriate. Thanksgiving is one of the easier holidays to work on with my students because it is not a religious holiday, so every student feels comfortable participating.
A great book to use with second and third grade students is Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen. Depending on the reading level of your students, this book can be used as a read aloud, in small groups or for independent reading. I have used it in all three scenarios. In case you are not familiar with the story, Molly is a Russian immigrant trying to figure out life in America, and how to fit in with her third grade classmates. Her mother leads her to discover that there are many different kinds of pilgrims, and that she should be proud of who she is and her family.
Currently, I use this book as a read aloud with my third grade students. I do what I like to call a 'mini-unit' with the book (mini because the unit only lasts 5 days). I read aloud a portion of the book to my students and then we discuss the answers to: on, between and beyond questions about the text. I explain to my students an on question will have an answer that can be found directly in the text. You can put your finger on the answer. A between question requires a little more thinking because the answer requires the reader to read between the lines. It is thinking about what the author is implying. A beyond the text question is inspired by the text, but will have an answer that applies to the real world. Often this type of question requires deeper thinking to answer. The purpose of asking all three types of questions is to get everyone involved in discussing the book no matter what their reading ability is because most students can answer the on question. Often the between and beyond questions spark great class discussions and sometimes debates.
Available for download is the Molly's Pilgrim Mini-Unit. This mini-unit includes on, between and beyond questions that you can ask with each section of the text.
Make sure to note the 'extension' activity to have your students make their own pilgrim doll. Kids love doing this project! I have done this extension project two ways...when I first started teaching I assigned my students to make a pilgrim doll at home. They had two weeks to complete the project. The students were instructed to be creative using any material to make a male or female pilgrim doll. Some of these dolls the children brought in were amazing! However, now that I am a little older and wiser, I realize 'at home projects' are not always looked on favorably by parents, so I now have my students make the pilgrim dolls in school. We use clothes pins and felt to make them. The dolls are not as fancy as in years past when they were made a home, but the students enjoy it and that's what counts.