By Cathleen Collins Lee
Metacognitive Comprehension Strategies
In Cesar Takes a Break, Cesar is sad because all the students go on spring break and he is left alone. Ask students to think about a time they felt left out because they couldn’t go somewhere. What did they do? How did they feel? They can share their thoughts with a partner or write about them in a response log. Ask them to notice how this helps them understand the story.
Similar text-to-self connections might be made with how Cesar feels when he and his friends are mad at each other.
Forming Mental Images:
When we read, our minds create an internal movie that makes it real for us. Have the children close their eyes as you read a portion of the story. Ask them to notice what they see, smell or hear in their imaginations as you read it. Good sections are in cafeteria and in the music room. Or simply use the line “I am a puddle of sadness.” Have students draw or write about what they imagined, then share their ideas with others. How are their mental images the same and different? How do they change when they talk with others?
Explain to students that sometimes an author tells us exactly what is going on in a story, but that sometimes we need to infer what is happening and why. When we infer, we use clues from the story and figure out what makes sense to us.
1. We can infer what a character is like. Have students list adjectives that might describe Cesar. They might say he is confident, curious, helpful, and so forth. Have them pick one adjective and then look in the story for clues that helped them to infer that about Cesar. They might explain their thinking on a two-column chart. One side could show what they are inferring and on the other side they could explain their thinking.
2. We can also infer why a character does something. Why does Cesar decide to explore the school? Again, students can use clues from the story and a two-column chart to explain their thinking
1. As you read the story aloud for the first time, stop at strategic intervals to model for the students questions that you ask yourself as you are reading. Then model how you form answers to those questions as you go. Don’t stop too often, of course, or you’ll disrupt the flow of the story.
Page 7: Cesar sure looks sad. I wonder what he’ll do during that whole week by himself?
Page 9: It looks like he’s going to explore the school while everyone is gone. I wonder where he’s going to go? I wonder if it will be dangerous? Or maybe he’ll just have fun.
Page 20: I wonder why he’s so angry about being asked to change colors? I wonder if he and his friends will make up?
2. If you have modeled this strategy before, you can include more student input. Stop at a few key points in the story to ask for just a few student questions. Write them on chart paper. Later sort the questions as questions that can be answered directly in the text or questions that require you to infer. Then have the students look for evidence in the stories to infer answers to the questions such as those above.
Other Teaching Ideas
Science and Writing Connection:
At the end of Cesar Takes a Break, Cesar tells his readers interesting facts about iguanas. Have students choose one of the other animals in the story such as the guinea pig or turtle to research. Then have them write something similar about that type of animal, in the first person. Using the concept of voice , encourage them to develop the character and speak as he or she might speak.
Have students classify the types of animals in the story. Which are reptiles and which are mammals? Why does Cesar say he “learned something about fur?” Provide books at appropriate reading levels and have children compile information about both. Use Venn diagrams to compare traits of mammals and reptiles.
Sequencing and Social Studies Connection:
Have students draw a map showing their mental image of Pinebrook Elementary, including all the rooms featured in the story. Have children include a compass rose and a key to indicate what each room is. Then have children label each room that Cesar visits in order and draw his path through the school. Children might take a plastic iguana or some other marker to trace Cesar’s steps. Ask students to two work with a partner to figure out the directions that Cesar is traveling as he goes.
Cesar Takes a Break is written in journal form. Students could use this form to write one of their own adventures or to make up a fictional one. Have students brainstorm experiences that they could write about in a journal. Alternatively, have them use an idea web to brainstorm an adventure for a fictional character.
Give them “rough draft journals” of paper stapled together. Journals could be any number of pages, depending on grade level and/or writing proficiency. First graders might start with five or six pages. There should be a line drawn about two-thirds down each page. Text will go on the bottom third. Once the children have settled on an idea, have them walk through the journal touching each page as they say what will happen on each page. (Thanks to Lucy Calkins for this idea). This will help them to stretch it out and develop the idea. Have them skip lines as they write so there is room to revise. Once students have written the rough drafts, they can add details by taping additional paper to the bottom of the page. When drafts are revised and edited, a final copy can be made and illustrated.
Social Emotional Connection:
With the class, identify and list Cesar’s feelings as they change throughout the story. What feeling words could we use to describe them? Children tend to use a few basic feeling words (mad, happy, sad). Encourage them to use more precise words to describe Cesar’s feelings: bored, hurt, excited, confident, worried, confused or curious. Compare how Cesar feels at the beginning and end of the story. How and why did he change? Have students think about a time their feelings changed from lonely or upset to glad, as Cesar’s do. They can write about it in a response journal or share with a friend.
Have students discuss the problem that Cesar has with his new friends. What caused it to happen? (He is sensitive about being confused with chameleons. When he gets angry, his friends respond in kind.) Discuss the hurt that can be caused by teasing. Share experiences. How does Cesar handle his feelings? How do his friends make it up to him? Have students discuss healthy ways to handle difficult feelings, such as taking a break or listening to music as Cesar does. Discuss how friendships can be restored when everyone involved recognizes their mistakes and apologizes. Students might act out this portion of the story or a scenario you develop.
There are many examples in this story of characters being helpful to each other. List examples, pointing out that the help is mutual. The students take care of Cesar, and Cesar helps the class run well. Peace gives Cesar good advice, and Cesar helps Peace “see the world.” What are other ways that people can help each other, at home and at school? Have students write down one way they will help someone the next day and report on what happens.