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Teaching Diversity with Smoky Night

 smoky night lesson

by Eve Bunting

Grades: 3-5

CASEL Standard: Social awareness:  The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures and contexts

Character Education Lesson Objective: To understand that people may look different and come from different backgrounds, but that everyone can live, work and learn together


Part 1: 

  • I want you to take a few minutes to think about where you live.  Do you live in a neighborhood or an apartment building?  Who are the people who live near you?  Does everyone look like you?  Do you believe the same things as your neighbors or have the same interests?
  • Today, we are going to be talking about diversity.  Do you know what diversity is?
  • Diversity really just means differences.  We are all different.  We look different, we believe different things and we have different interests.
  • Our classroom has diversity because we are not all the same.  The places that you live also have diversity because you are not the same as all of your neighbors.
  • Let’s think about different types of diversity that we may experience.  I am going to make a list on the board as we think of them. 
  • Make a list of the different types of diversity the students name.  Some examples are skin color, hair color, religion, and types of food we eat.
  • Many times, people are afraid of or stay away from people who are not like them.  Do you think this is a good idea?  Why or why not?
  • Being around people who are not like you can be scary, but it is important to remember that we can always find something in common with other people.  If you don’t like to eat the same type of food, you might like to play the same sport or read the same books. 
  • Getting to know another person is so important.  That is the only way to figure out what you have in common.

Part 2: 

  • We are going to be reading a book called, Smoky Night by Eve Bunting.
  • Read the book.
  • What do you think this book was about? 
  • Daniel and his mother watched out the window at the beginning of the book.  They were watching people who were rioting.  A riot is a group of people who get together and end up being violent and out of control.  Riots usually start with a protest against something that the people believe strongly about.  However, riots are not peaceful protests and, just like in the book, property usually gets damaged or stolen.
  • How do you think you would feel if you saw riots happening right outside your home?
  • Who is Mrs. Kim?  How is she affected by the riots?
  • Everyone who has to leave because of the fire is taken to the same shelter.  That means that people who do not usually spend time together are now all together and talking to each other.  Have you ever been in a situation in which you spent time and talked to people you do not usually spend time with?  What was it like?
  • Both Daniel and Mrs. Kim and thrilled when the fire fighter comes in with their cats.  Why are Daniel and Mrs. Kim both surprised that the cats were found together and that they share a dish of milk together?
  • Daniel says, “They probably didn’t know each other before.”  Why does everyone get very quiet after he says that?  What does he mean?
  • Why does Daniel’s mom invite Mrs. Kim over?  How is what Daniel’s mom does at the end of the book different from when she told Daniel and “it’s better if we buy from our own people?”
  • The people in this book realize that even though they have differences, they can still be kind to each other and interact with each other. 

Part 3: 

  • Daniel and his mom did not spend any time with Mrs. Kim until the fire because his mom said she wasn’t one of their people.  Daniel’s mom did not know that they had anything in common with Mrs. Kim because she had never spoken with her.
  • Speaking with and spending time with people you do not know or people who are different than you can be really scary and intimidating.  We are going to try to brainstorm some strategies for overcoming hesitancy when encountering people who are different.
  • I am going to give you a worksheet.  The worksheet has different scenarios.  I want you to read each scenario and figure out how you could approach the situation and what you might do.
  • When you are done, we are going to talk about the different strategies that you would use.
  • After the students are done with the worksheet, bring them back together and have a discussion with them.  Highlight some of the strategies that would be helpful in a situation in which the students may feel uncomfortable.

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Written by Kimberly Greacen, Education World® Contributing Writer

Kimberly is an educator with extensive experience in curriculum writing and developing instructional materials to align with Common Core State Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy.

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