If you’ve been a human in the last several years, then you’re aware of the knockout, well-loved novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The book was first published in 2012, and I was in the second half of my M.Ed. program at that time. It just so happened that there were a few of us from my cohort all placed at the same middle school, with four of us actually on the same 6th grade team (and one more in the other 6th grade team). While I was in the social studies classroom on that team, one of my peers was in the ELA classroom, and she taught Wonder to our students that spring, when it was brand-spanking-new.
I remember her sharing what a great book it was and how our students were really enjoying it. Fast forward a few months, and I was a new hire at a charter school, again in a 6th grade classroom – except this time I was the English language arts teacher. I was going to have three classes twice per day for approximately 40-minute class periods: one period for reading and one period for writing and grammar. It was also up to me to choose which novels I was going to teach that school year, and you may have already guessed this, but…one of the novels I chose was Wonder.
While I know this isn’t the case in many schools and classrooms, I was fortunate enough that my administration gave me a budget for purchasing class sets of each novel I wanted to teach. Now, keep in mind that that was just a class set – 30 copies – not one for each student. But still, I was surprised and excited that they allowed me to choose whatever texts I wanted and didn’t make me teach novels they already owned from previous years. Because I was teaching at an inner-city charter school, where many of my students were English language learners and almost all of my students were below grade level in reading, I started the year with Wonder because it is, technically speaking, written at about a 4th grade reading level. I carefully examined the reading levels of the novels I chose and decided to teach them in order of easiest to hardest, under the thought process that – hopefully – by the end of the year, my students would be more prepared for the more challenging texts.
It turned out that much like our students during our full-time student teaching just a few months prior, my students loved this book and Auggie’s story. Honestly, for many of them, it was their favorite novel that we read that year (others included A Wrinkle in TimeThe Diary of Anne Frank and…I’m pretty sure there was a fourth, but I can’t remember it anymore – oops!). You can’t argue with the lessons taught in this book (more on that later), and while it obviously didn’t cure all (or even most, tbh) behavioral issues in the classroom, I appreciated that my students resonated with it and did have a lot of takeaways from it.
How I Taught Wonder in 6th Grade
Believe it or not, I actually taught this novel with an audiobook! I had an old iPod, as well as a speaker that I could plug it into. I can’t remember now exactly how, but somehow I came across the audiobook version of the novel, and I decided to use that and have my students follow along in their books. It turned out to be a great idea, because the audiobook had different people read the different parts – because not all eight parts of the book are from Auggie’s perspective. Via, Summer, Jack, Justin, and Miranda all get their own parts, and other people read those parts for the audiobook. My students really enjoyed getting to hear the different voices, and they liked the gravelly voice that was used for Auggie on our particular version of the audiobook.
Because the book is split into so many different parts, I opted to assess my students every so often. Two of the parts were long enough that they got their own assessment, but the rest I paired up. This was my way of checking to see how much students were comprehending as we read, and I used them as more of a formative assessment. That being said, the tests are short and sweet and have only one extended response question each – but every test does have two bonus multiple choice questions! You can check out each test in my Teachers Pay Teachers store using the links below:
Unfortunately, I can’t remember for sure how I ended this unit back when I actually taught it, but I think I had my students do a paper bag book report. It was probably something similar to this free lesson from Education World. I do recall students completing them and going through the process of displaying them on my hallway bulletin board. 🙂 But, what I’ve done more recently is bundle all of those comprehension tests above and added in an exclusive summative assessment to the bundle: a creative writing project in which students come up with an extra chapter for the novel. Students must write from the perspective of a character who doesn’t already have a part in the book (suggestions are provided), and I’ve included rough draft writing paper, final draft writing paper, a teacher’s guide, student instructions, a graphic organizer, and a rubric for grading. Interested in grabbing the bundle for 20% off what you’d pay for these resources individually? Click here!
How have you taught Wonder by R.J. Palacio? In which grade level? I don’t think it could be taught past 6th grade, but teaching Wonder to my 6th graders worked really well for me!
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