Children’s books capture our imagination, make us wonder, and reveal the inherent mysteries of life in the simplest and most profound ways. If you are looking to generate memorable conversations with your students, these books are the perfect tools. And that’s because they motivate teachers and students of all grade levels and subjects to ask great essential questions.
The University of Washington Center for Philosophy of Children has a treasure trove of over 100 children’s stories along with innovative ideas on how to use these stories to introduce essential questions. Most of the stories can be adapted seamlessly to fit the middle and high school audience.
Consider these stories and the essential questions they inspire:
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Is the proper role of government to help citizens or to encourage citizens to help themselves?
The Big Box by Toni Morrison
Who gets to decide who is free? or What does it mean to have freedom?
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
Are historical events determined to happen or can humans change the course of history through their choices?
For the elementary level crowd, these stories are a staple. For the secondary crowd, it’s tempting to think you can’t use children’s stories because they seem too basic and simplistic. The kids will think you are insulting their intelligence. Dispense with this thinking! These stories allow you to draw upon something familiar and create a safe space for students to think. It’s the perfect entry point for great essential questions
The best part is that you can come back to the children’s story repeatedly as you work your way through different units, all the while reinforcing the importance of the original essential question the story inspired. This strategy would be particularly valuable in an English class with a novel.
So give children’s stories a chance to work. Teach Different!