One of the toughest skills for young readers to learn is to make inferences about what isn’t stated by the author. For students who lack experiences or who don’t pick up on story clues authors share, explicit instruction is needed to help make sense of the unknown. With think aloud and targeted instruction, we can help struggling readers learn how to make inferences. Today, I’m going to share how you can use this lovely Appalachian Christmas story to model making inferences.
Cynthia Rylant’s book, Silver Packages, shares the true story of the Christmas train which began running in 1943. Each year, on December 23rd, it travels through the mountains to bring gifts to children awaiting its arrival. Frankie, the main character, doesn’t have much. His shoes are worn through, and he’s without mittens. Nevertheless, like most children, he has one gift in mind. Rather than getting the exact thing he wants, he receives things he really needs. Needless to say, he learns about needs versus wants. He learns he really needs warm socks and mittens even though he wants a doctor’s kit.
Along with learning about needs and wants, students also discover what life is like in Appalachia. We learn about traditions and about Cynthia Rylant’s life in the mountains she loved so much. We also learn from Cynthia’s carefully selected writing vocabulary, word choice, expression, and craft.
Read Aloud of the Book:
What Can We Teach and Learn from this Book?
When I prepared my teaching unit for this book, I used a Before-During-After format like all of the other units I’ve developed. When I chose the focus skills, I thought about the skills that best fit the plot. Certainly, there are many skills that would work well with this book. Here’s the list of what I’ve included:
- Schema development about Gift Giving
- Story Vocabulary
- Visualizing Story Details
- Sequencing Events
- Making Comparisons Across Texts
- Story Retelling
- Questioning (Question-Answer Relationship)
- Writing Extension (Remembering Others Class Book)
Silver Packages Inference Lesson
For the remainder of my post, we’ll focus on making inferences. As I mentioned earlier, this is a challenging skill for most students.
Whenever I am teaching a skill, often my first step is to create an anchor chart with all of the key details. You can do this on chart paper or use the printed chart I’m sharing. I love having an anchor chart or powerpoint to reference as I explain the skill process. The chart to the left is part of the download I’ll share at the end of the post
Turning toward the book…
As the chart is used, it’s important to give real life examples first and then, as the story is shared, pausing and questioning about story quotes and events helps the students see and hear how readers think about the text.
Once students have a feel of how to infer, it’s time to practice with your book examples. Now, when you do this, you want to be very familiar with the text and have specific examples in mind that you will use for discussion. I would suggest blowing up the T-chart to poster size and provide your students with sticky notes.
As the book is read, share the story examples selected and allow your students to turn and talk with their elbow partners to share what they infer, The sticky notes can be “pasted” to the poster. The page size version can also be used if you’re in a pinch. For a video model of the lesson, you can check out the Facebook Live post I did explaining it all.
Book Talk Video
Since many of the inferences made will focus on Frankie, it makes sense to write a RAFT paper from Frankie’s Point of View. A RAFT paper stands for Role Audience Format and Topic. RAFT papers are intended to be used as a way to deepen understanding, and if you’ve followed my blog long, you know the reading-writing connection is really important to me. I love teaching writing, and I personally feel the best way to improve as readers and writers is to practice. So, whenever we can work in writing, I do.
The writing assignment is for students to take the Role of Frankie and write a memoir (Format) for the Applachian children (Audience) about his memories of the Christmas Train and how he was inspired by it. Once completed, I think sharing them orally would be a great idea as it will allow you to work on the themes included in the text.
If you are interested in the full unit, you can click [HERE] for the unit on TPT or purchase in my store. For the free portion, you can subscribe to my email list below.