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For Grades 5-8 , week of Dec. 13, 2021

1. Who’ll Be Champ?

Who will be this year’s champion of college football? The four top teams have been chosen for the two-round playoff that will crown the top college program in the title game on January 10. Ranked Number 1 is the University of Alabama, which racked up 12 wins while losing only once during the regular season. Number 2 is the University of Michigan and Number 3 is the University of Georgia, both with 12-1 records. The Number 4 team is the University of Cincinnati, the only undefeated team in the playoffs with a 13-0 record. In the opening round that will take place on New Year’s Eve December 31, Number 1 Alabama will play Number 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Number 2 Michigan will meet Number 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida. Alabama won last year’s championship, and under Coach Nick Saban has won six national titles since 2009. Football fans will be closely watching the college football playoffs but also other bowl games featuring top teams. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about some of the matchups in college bowl games. Use what you read to write a sports column about one or more matchup that you think will be exciting.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Child Soldiers

In the United States and other nations, parents worry about the dangers children can face in schools, neighborhoods and communities. In the regions of West and Central Africa, children are facing the greatest danger of all: war. And often they have been captured or recruited to be fighters with real guns and bullets in life-or-death conflicts. According to the United Nations children’s agency, the number of children recruited into conflict in West and Central Africa is now the highest in the world. Over the past five years, about 21,000 children have been recruited by armed forces and non-state armed groups and militias, the UNICEF children’s agency said in a new report. In 2020 alone, more than 4,500 children were recruited to fight, spy or perform other duties for armies and militias. Children as young as 10 to 12 years old were put into service in conflicts in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF said. Forcing children to fight in wars as soldiers is one way kids are exploited or abused elsewhere in the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one way children are being abused or exploited in another country. Use what you read to write an editorial telling how the United States or other nations could take steps to end this abuse.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them.

3. Hail to the Arts

The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC is one of the great performing stages in the United States. It is also home to one of America’s great celebrations of culture and the performing arts. Each year for the last 44 years, the Kennedy Center has honored leading figures in the performing arts for their lifetime achievements and contributions to American culture. This year’s honorees were singer-actress Bette Midler, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, opera singer Justino Díaz, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, and Lorne Michaels, the longtime producer of the “Saturday Night Live” comedy show. Even more significant than the awards themselves was the fact the celebration took place live at the center after being forced to go remote last year due to the coronavirus epidemic. That meant President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were on hand in the presidential box along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff. The President used the occasion to point out the importance of the arts to Americans and American life. “[In] the search for greater meaning in our lives and the lives of the nation — we’ve seen the power of art in every form to heal, to comfort and recover,” the President said. The Kennedy Center honors performing artists for lifetime contributions to American culture. Who among today’s performers do you think might measure up for a future Kennedy Center honor? In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about a performer you think might deserve this honor in the future. Use what you read to write a nomination letter detailing this performer’s contributions to culture and why they are significant.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. ‘Daylighting’ a Stream

Like other communities across America, New York City is trying to deal with flooding caused by intense rains, hurricanes and rising waters in coastal areas and rivers. One thing the city is planning to try is an unusual project. In the Bronx neighborhood, the city wants to dig up and restore a stream that was buried more than 100 years ago to make way for development and the building of homes and businesses. When the city buried Tibbetts Brook in 1912, engineers connected it to the city’s sewer system that processes waste from bathrooms in homes and businesses. That meant 2.2-billion gallons of fresh water a year were added to the amount of liquid and waste flowing through the sewer. That wasn’t a problem when New York was a much smaller city, but today water from the brook overwhelms the system when there are heavy rains and flooding. Now New York wants to “daylight” the brook by bringing it to the surface again so it can flow into the Harlem River, the New York Times newspaper reports. By keeping fresh water out of the sewer system, the $130-million project would reduce strain on water treatment plants, officials say. As an additional bonus it would create green spaces along the stream where it would flow on the surface that could be used for recreation. Flooding has become a growing problem in many communities during extreme weather. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a community being damaged by flooding. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor outlining steps the community needs to take to reduce the effects of flooding in the future.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them; citing textual or visual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. ‘The Giving Tree’

Asbury Park, New Jersey is most famous as the seaside town where music legend Bruce Springsteen first gained a following. This month the town is getting attention for something else — a Christmas tree that has divided residents and visitors alike. The tree is on display in the community’s Convention Hall, and it doesn’t look like a traditional green holiday tree, the Associated Press news service reported. It’s made of brown cardboard cut into unusual shapes that give it the look of an art sculpture. That’s no surprise since the work was created by two local artists to evoke the spirit of Christmas if not the actual appearance. The artists call their artwork “The Giving Tree,” and after the holidays it will be taken apart and recycled. That is their “gift” to the Earth, the artists say. Reaction to the cardboard tree has been mixed, ranging from “very creative” to “it looks like an Amazon package.” For those who can’t live without tradition, Asbury Park has decorated an evergreen tree with lights in a local park. Public artworks often generate strong opinions, both positive and negative. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a public artwork that is doing this. Pretend you are an art critic for the newspaper and write an art review of the work, outlining its positive and negative features and whether you think it is a good “fit” for the place it occupies in the community.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

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