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Literacy: The Art of Persuasion

April 27, 2023 | Heather Palmer Welesko

Since late March, the fourth and fifth grade have been studying Native American culture, conflicts, and habitat. The focus of this literacy unit is to learn the major regions and ways that Native Americans lived in the United States in the early 1800s, and how Europeans impacted Native American ways of life. We learned that Native Americans lived in four to five habitats: the northeast, the southwest, the Great Plains, the California region, and the Plateau. Each of these regions’ climates dictated and influenced culture. For instance, tribes in the northeast could hunt and fish, whereas tribes in the southwest relied on trading for most of their food. No matter the differences in how Native Americans live, a common theme and shared value is the connection to the land–the belief that all beings, animals, and lands are interconnected and interdependent.


Fourth and fifth graders also explore the cultures and partial histories of some tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Pomo.

As students read, they analyze the text. For instance, some terms we have learned to do a closer reading are “parallel syntax”–a sentence structure that utilizes repetition to emphasize an idea. Another is “juxtaposition”–comparing two unlike things to highlight their differences. And another is “paradox”: expressing a truth in a seemingly nonsensical way. Ie: “This statement is false.” Other literary elements include: metaphor, imagery, and point of view. Within each chapter, students study the writer’s craft–or the “how” of the text, not just what is happening.

Finally, fourth and fifth grade will write a persuasive essay. Each student has chosen an image. They must argue how their image best shows the connection between the Native American’s culture and the land from that region. Below are the three options that students choose from:

Students wrote four to five paragraphs essays that argued how their image best shows the Native Americans’ connection to the land. They will present their final essays to the class. This study has lasted over two months. Students have worked vigorously to read, analyze, and write essays. They also got to discuss and peer-revise in mixed-grade cohorts, which they don’t often get to do in literacy.

After this unit, they will enter their final literacy unit: historical non fiction book clubs. Perhaps fiction will be a reprieve from so much history. Whatever the case, students will still be expected to analyze, summarize, and write about their work. Go fourth and fifth grade! Let’s finish strong.

Heather Palmer Welesko

Literacy and Assistant Teacher, Grades 4 & 5

Heather Welesko has taught at Mustard Seed School for nearly a decade as a literacy and assistant teacher. She has taught literature and writing at Kean University and Harold Washington College of Chicago. Heather holds an MFA in writing and poetry from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Evangelical Seminary.

Ms. Welesko is enthusiastic about professional development, and has advanced training in the Handwriting Without Tears program; the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Program, and the Responsive Classroom/ Development Designs Program through Origin. She continues professional develop through The Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She’s passionate about literature, creativity, comprehensive education, and believes strongly in teaching identity and diversity awareness and inclusion.

Ms. Welesko is a poet, artist, and yogi, and is still, always learning.

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