Making Real-World Connections

My students sometimes accused me of torture. If you know me, you know how funny that is. Maybe I did torture my students, but it was justifiable in the war on classroom boredom. It served the greater good of learning!

More than a few times, I have mentioned Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire” in this blog. As a writer and a teacher, it is one of my favorites. It’s also one of the first stories that came up in my literature lessons. Teaching that story in New England meant it was easy to walk my students outside in December and stop long enough to let them feel just a hint of the cold with which London’s character battled. This was one way for my students to make a real-world connection to the text we’d just enjoyed together (or slogged through, depending on whom you asked).

“Come on, Mr. Savelle, it’s freezing out here!” someone would whine, a hair shy of calling me crazy.

“Why are we out here?” another student would ask. “You like torturing us, don’t you?”

Smiling devilishly, I would respond, “Now do you understand what London’s character endured? Massachusetts in December is nothing like the Yukon in winter. Just imagine.”

They were standing just outside a warm school building, jackets on, likely in the sun, away from snowdrifts. London’s character fought bitter Yukon cold, clothes frozen by snow and by falling in water, with no hope of human contact, let alone a warm school building. It was a great way to get inside the character’s head, to make that connection.

In the spring, we turned our attention to Katherine Paterson’s novel Lyddie, about a girl my students’ age who goes to work in the fabric mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1800s. Our school was in Lowell and we could see the old brick mills from my classroom. Talk about boundless real-world connections! Most students had older relatives who had worked in the mills or knew people who did. The mills are the site of a National Historic Park today, so field trips and personal visits are easy. Lyddie is a character easily compared to any number of students, and her brother is too.

My favorite part of this was getting my students to understand how close people sat inside a 19th century stagecoach. Putting four chairs so close together to demonstrate was an adventure for everyone! Those students were lucky they were not actually riding across corduroy roads through southern Vermont woodlands!

Nothing makes a lesson or unit come alive to an upper elementary student quite like real-world connections. Of course, for some subjects it’s easier to do than others. What tips do you have for making real-world connections easier in your classrooms?

Share with us! Just don’t call it torture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *