What’s in a name?

By Barbara Gruener

Sheila Says We're Weird coverBefore I opened Ruth Ann Smalley’s Sheila Says We’re Weird, I wondered,Weird in a good way, or weird in a bad way?”

I suggest discussing the word weird before even traveling through Sheila’s story. Ask your students what they think weird means, then look it up at dictionary.com. (Isn’t it weird to not need a dictionary anymore?)

Once you’ve established all of the things the word weird can signify, find out if your students think the author could have chosen an alternative word and make a T chart to list the words that might substitute for weird. Write the ones with a negative connotation on the left and the positive alternatives on the right. Bizarre, for example, might be on the left; unique could go on the right.

Maybe what Sheila is trying to say is that her friend’s family has some old-fashioned values and habits. They hang their clothes outside to dry, for example, and they go to the farmer’s market for the fresh produce they use to make their soup. They burn wood in a stove during the winter for warmth, and they use ceiling fans in the summer to cool things down.

Ask students what other energy-saving and conservation measures Sheila’s neighbors take. Find out what go green strategies they have at their house. Brainstorm ways that everyone could be more eco-friendly at school. Do you use recycling bins on campus? If so, what do you recycle? Draw and distribute maps to show where the bins are located, and encourage the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Could you collect clean cardboard or plastic containers in the cafeteria that can be recycled?

On the first page, the narrator tells the reader, “Sheila asks lots of questions.” Use this newcomer as a springboard for an inquiry-learning project. Help your students come up with a question that they want answered or a problem or issue they want to help resolve, and then let them research possible solutions. Don’t throw any of their ideas out! For example, in the cafeteria on the last day of school, third-grade Jason asked me if we could recycle the little plastic cups that hold the fresh fruit on his lunch tray. What would a student need to know from start to finish to get his question answered and actually get those little cups collected and taken to a recycling center? Follow that up by having him write or draw a reflection sheet to share what he’s learned with his peers. Imagine the positive power of such a project.

Check out this book, which debuts this month. I think you’ll enjoy getting back to the basics with the inquisitive little redhead who gives the word weird a whole new meaning.

For other books that build character, check out the CHARACTER COUNTS! Book list.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. Great review for a great book! Smalley teaches kids to open their minds and hearts to those who are different, and she works in the conservation message as well! Beautiful illustrations, too!

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