For Grades 5-8 , week of Sep. 19, 2022

1. A Very Special Refugee

The war in Ukraine has brought renewed attention to the plight of refugees who have fled their homes due to conflict, hunger, poverty and other factors. There now are more than 100-million people who are refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations and relief agencies, including more than 7-million from Ukraine, 6.8-million from the war-torn Mideast nation of Syria and 2.7-million from the Asian nation of Afghanistan, which recently saw the return to power of the extremist Taliban group. To call attention to the needs of refugees, a 10-year-old refugee from Syria has been traveling the world. Like many refugee children, she was traveling without parents, yet has met more than 1-million people. Her name is Little Amal — which means “hope” in the Arabic language — and she is unlike any other refugee. That’s because she is a 12-foot-puppet created specially to tell the story of refugee children. Over the last year she has traveled throughout the continent of Europe, and now she has arrived in New York City in the United States. “Little Amal represents all of the children who have had to leave their home in search of safety,” said Amir Nizar Zuabi, organizer of the Little Amal project. “She forces us to see that their plight demands our attention.” More than half of the world’s refugees are women and children. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about women and children who are refugees. Use what you read to write an editorial outlining the most significant needs they have and how those needs could be addressed by the United States and other nations.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

2. Sing It!

Each year the Emmy Awards honor the best shows and performances on television. Earning one is a really big deal, and winners always seek to make their acceptance speeches memorable. When Sheryl Lee Ralph won this month for best supporting actress in a comedy series, she did something that no one will soon forget. She sang a powerful song about the struggles of Black women. “I am an endangered species / But I sing no victim’s song / I am a woman, I am an artist / And I know where my voice belongs,” she sang, covering lines from a song by jazz singer Dianne Reeves called “Endangered Species.” Ralph won for her portrayal of a school teacher in the show “Abbott Elementary,” becoming the first Black actor to win in her category since Jackée Harry won in 1987 for her role in the show “227.” “I’ve been singing that song for years because I think of myself — as an artist, as a woman, and especially as a woman of color — I’m an endangered species,” Ralph told the Los Angeles Times newspaper after the awards show. Though she won her Emmy as an actress, Ralph is no stranger to music. She was nominated for a Tony Award when she performed in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” in the 1980s. At awards shows, winners often give memorable acceptance speeches. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about someone who gave such a speech. Use what you read to write how the speech could inspire others. For fun, brainstorm an acceptance speech you might give if you were to win a big award.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing specific textual evidence when writ ing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. Maya Discovery

Thousands of years ago, the Maya people developed a highly advanced civilization in southern Mexico and Central America. The Mayans created cities, had great achievements in art and astronomy and developed the only known writing system of the ancient Americas. This year, a discovery on a cattle ranch in Mexico is shedding new light on a long-lost Mayan kingdom that archaeologists have searched for years to find. Ruins uncovered on the ranch may have been the capital city of the Sak Tz’i’ kingdom, a small but influential dynasty in southern Mexico near the modern-day border with Guatemala. The settlement, which is being excavated this summer and fall, may be 2,500 years old and contains artifacts, buildings, temples and even a sports facility, the New York Times newspaper reported. The prize discovery of the excavation is a 2-by-4-foot wall panel inscribed with hieroglyphic picture writing showing battles, rituals and rulers dancing with ceremonial costumes and weapons. The discovery of ancient artifacts can shed light on how people lived and worked in ancient times. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about one of these discoveries. Use what you read to write a paragraph detailing what scientists learned about ancient life from these artifacts. Then write a paragraph detailing what future scientists could learn from items and artifacts found in your family’s home today. Share with the class and discuss.

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.

4. Threats to Our Trees

In the United States and around the world, trees play an essential role in the health of the Earth. They clean and cool the air, they produce oxygen to breathe, they provide food and shelter for wildlife and people, they control soil erosion and they combat global warming by removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air. In the United States, however, trees are in trouble from droughts, wildfires, increasing temperatures, invasive insects, new diseases and threats from climate change. Now a pioneering study of trees in the Lower 48 states of the U.S. has warned that as many as 1 in 6 U.S. trees are in danger of becoming extinct. The new study is the first to list and assess the health of all 881 tree species native to the Lower 48 U.S. states, the Washington Post newspaper reports. It covered everything from giant redwoods on the West Coast to pine trees in the East to cypress and live oak trees in the South. Insects and diseases pose the greatest risks, the researchers found, especially as climate change weakens the natural defenses of trees, such as the ability to produce resin to close wounds in the bark. “It’s easy to feel gloom and doom because … the scope of the crisis is really, really great right now,” said Murphy Westwood, a lead author of the study. “… We have a narrow and rapidly closing window to take action.” Trees do many things to keep the Earth healthy. In the newspaper or online, find and study stories or photos of trees and forests in your community or state. Use what you study to brainstorm an informational video showing how these trees benefit the environment or your community. Create a “storyboard” showing each image, in the order they would appear, and tell why each is important for telling the story.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. Feathered Thieves

Cockatoos are among the most intelligent birds in the world, and residents of the South Pacific nation of Australia have the proof. Some very smart cockatoos outside the city of Sydney are causing headaches for both residents and officials. The problem is that sulphur-crested cockatoos have figured out how to open garbage cans to look for food, and they have foiled every effort to stop them, the New York Times reports. The cockatoos, which are all white with spiky yellow feathers on their heads, first learned to pry open the lids of garbage cans with their beaks, and then walk the rim with the lid on their heads until they could flip it open. When residents put bricks or rocks on the lids to weigh them down, the cockatoos learned to push them with their beaks until they fell on the ground. Scientists studying the problem, found that the cockatoos learned each technique by watching other cockatoos that had tried it, a learning approach called “cultural transmission.” Studies have shown that a cockatoo can learn how to solve a problem from watching another cockatoo do it just once. Sulphur-crested cockatoos, which live wild in Australia, are one of the larger cockatoos with a height of more than 20 inches and a wingspan of more than 40 inches. Scientists are constantly learning new things about animal behavior. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about something scientists have discovered about a wildlife species. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend or teacher, telling what was discovered, how it was discovered and why it was important to scientists. Will the discovery change the way humans interact with the species?

Common Core State Standards: Citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.