Digging Deeper with Literacy Connections

By Eve Pranis

After reading the article, "Garden Tales," consider some of these other opportunities for cultivating literacy within a plant and garden context.

* Inspire a bulb-growing project by reading the beautiful picture book A Flower Grows, by Ken Robbins, detailing the growth, development, and flowering of an amaryllis.

* Preliminary to garden planning, read The Maybe Garden, by Kimberly Burke-Weiner, then invite students to create fantastic visions for gardens they might like to grow.

* Read Growing Wild, by Constance Perenyi, which details how a tidy lawn, left untended, turned into a wild refuge for wildlife. Use the story to arouse students' interest in cultivating wildlife habitats.

* After reading A Midsummer Night's Dream or other book rich with flower references, invite your students to write stories that incorporate plant or flower images and similes.

* Use The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst, to set the stage for examining nutrient cycles and decomposition. It features a small boy delivering a funeral oration detailing good things about his cat who has died. The tenth? That he will nourish the flowers in the garden in which he is buried.

* Select a version of Jack and the Beanstalk to prompt a discussion of factors (other than magic) that contribute to plant growth. After generating a list of specific conditions students think will result in tall bean plants, challenge them to test some of their ideas. (See the activity "Magic Beans and Giant Plants" on page 41 of GrowLab: Activities for Growing Minds.)

* Preface an investigation of the importance and role of plant roots by reading Jack and the Meanstalk, by Brian Wildsmith and Rebecca Wildsmith. It features a scientist who concocts a formula to make plants grow faster. When he uses it to nurture his bean seeds, a "meanstalk" grows into space. When a space monster crawls down the stalk, root-chewing animals saves the day by destroying the plant at its roots.

* Educator Penny Ueeck recommends using The Lotus Seed, by Sherry Garland, to prompt a discussion of the Vietnamese people and inspire student questions and long-term investigations about this important plant. What is a lotus seed? Why was this plant a symbol of hope and life? Will other seeds grow after being dormant for a long time? What kind of conditions are needed to germinate seeds?

* Have students uncover plant stories by becoming ethnobotanical interviewers. They can question parents, grandparents, and community elders about changes in foods eaten or plants grown over their lifetimes, plant or food folklore, or memories of plants used for celebrations, then share these stories through writings, drawings, and presentations.

* Explore wildflower folklore and the secrets behind their Latin and common names. Have students make creative guesses, then research to discover what the common and Latin names of wildflowers tell us about their structures, uses, or cultural/historical significance. Have students choose wildflowers and develop their own legends based on the names.

* Invite students to write descriptive paragraphs by thinking of plant-rich places they've been, then imagining and describing how they might look during different seasons of the year.

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