Story Shoes

13 January 2016 / Leave a Comment

January is a great month to integrate lessons about empathy into your social studies and language arts lessons, and I'm here today to share how I do just that with the help of my "story shoes" and some of my favorite quotes.

This Native American proverb, along with this classic line from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, are two quotes I plan to introduce to my second graders before we begin our study of famous Americans.

I think they will help them understand the experiences and character traits each important person from our nation's past history had, and how their struggles and accomplishments--the courageous steps on their journey-- impacted or left a footprint on our present lives.  Before I introduce my extensive collection of biographical picture and chapter books to my students, we have an in-depth discussion of the meaning of empathy.

I explain empathy to my little learners as... 

*walking in the shoes of another person
*seeing through the eyes of another person
*listening with the ears of another person
*feeling with the heart of another person

I then introduce the concept of "life story" by rummaging through my closet and bringing in pairs of my shoes.   As I show them each set, they observe, infer, empathize, understand, and reflect on how the different shoes represent different aspects of my life, and make connections to their own.  In looking at my Charlotte's Web and James and the Giant Peach sneakers, my class can observe that I love to teach using books and can then infer that they are two of my favorite chapter book read-alouds..  In listening to me reveal information about my "dog-walking" shoes, they can empathize or share how they feel about and how much they love their own pets.  In learning about my "music" shoes, the group will gather information that will help them understand how long I've played guitar and sung the favorite songs we share during our daily morning meetings.  They can then use all of the information gathered from my "story shoes" to reflect upon or consider before writing about me!

In both Comprehension Connections and Genre Connections, teacher-author Tanny McGregor encourages the use of authentic, concrete artifacts (like old shoes) from "real life" to help children better understand stories, and it has become one of my favorite ways to engage young learners and spark their interest during our language arts and content lessons.  After I share my own "story shoes," the class enjoys making observations, inferences, empathy statements, "what I have learned" statements, and reflections about their table neighbor based on their shoes!

This activity then leads to my display of this page from The Story of Ruby Bridges, written by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford.  I don't give my class any background information about the book or the illustration.  I just let them observe, infer, empathize, understand, and reflect based on their reactions to the picture.  I only ask them to put themselves in this little girl's shoes and then describe how they would feel if they had to walk in them.

I do the same thing when I introduce our lessons about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.  Many of my students have powerful, thoughtful, and surprisingly mature responses.  My favorite comment about the picture above came from a little girl last year who said,  

"If I was walking into a big crowd like that, I'd hold on tight to the hand of that man walking next to me.  I'd feel protected then, and not as scared.  That little girl is very brave!"

Below you will find an outline of the simple steps and discussion starters that I use in my "story shoes" lessons to help my students explore their own life stories, their peers' life stories, and the life stories of the famous Americans we study.  I've included them in a free STORY SHOES pack in my TpT store, along with a complete bibliography of the books pictured above.  A variety of "shoe" photos and three response sheets are also included to help your students practice using each strategy to improve their comprehension skills.

Click {HERE} to download this FREEBIE!

Teaching young children about important people from their past who made our present lives better is a topic that is near-and-dear to my heart!  I hope that this post and this resource helps you inspire your students to share their story, relate it to others who have gone before them, and make important connections that will affect their future.  May their story shoes, and yours, travel long and winding roads of learning!

Warm Regards,


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