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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 40, Part 2

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    Katie Shenk

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back every week for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog.

Question: How do the texts in our curriculum engage students and inspire them to become agents of change? (Part 2 of our interview with author Melissa Stewart)

In last week’s post, we began to answer this question with Part 1 of our interview with Melissa Stewart alongside some student work from 1st Grade Module 4. Today, we’re excited to share the remainder of our interview with Stewart (spoiler alert—she has a new book coming out that your animal-loving students will love!) as well as showcase some stellar student work from Moana Johnson’s second-graders at Explorer Academy in Huntington, West Virginia.

Protecting Pollinators

In Module 4, Unit 2, second-graders read Stewart’s text A Place For Butterflies and A Place for Bats as they learn about the challenges facing pollinators and how humans can take actions to help them. In the performance task, students take action to help butterflies by creating a wildflower seed packet filled with wildflower seeds. The seeds can be planted, which will help to provide butterflies with nectar and a habitat. The front of the wildflower seed packet includes a title and a detailed, colorful pencil drawing of a monarch butterfly. The back of the wildflower seed packet includes instructions for how to plant the wildflower seeds, as well as an opinion piece explaining why people should help butterflies.

Moana Johnson, grades 1-2 Loop Teacher at Explorer Academy in Huntington, West Virginia, reflects: “This book was very engaging for the students and instilled a sense of environmental justice through the text which focused on protecting pollinators and habitats in which they live. The students’ passion was evident in their individual writing, allowing their voice to come through as environmentally conscious citizens. Another way that this text inspired students was the conversations they had when they went home. I would get comments from parents saying things like ‘I was about to do the mowing but my daughter told me I had to leave some of those plants be so that the bees had something to eat early in the season!’ Comments like this let me know that the students had taken on this role of pollinator advocate and were making small yet powerful changes in their own backyards.” 

Grade 2 students at Explorer Academy created these beautiful (and helpful) Pollinator Power Packs inspired by their study of pollinators anchored by Stewarts’ texts.

We start off our interview with Melissa Stewart this week by asking her what kinds of similar advocacy she has seen in response to her books.

How have you seen students take action in response to your books? 

Stewart: In some schools, students create drawings or posters and hang them around their community to raise awareness. This student from Pownal, Maine, drew a picture to show people that they can help Hessel’s hairstreak butterflies by protecting the marshes where the lovely insects live.

In other schools, children do additional research to learn about threatened or endangered wildlife and wild places in their area. Then they develop an action plan to help those creatures. This student from Auburn, Maine, created a collage to show that he plans to help animals living in and around a local pond by picking up litter.

Sometimes students and teachers work together to create and maintain a wildlife garden. At Center School in Stow, Massachusetts, the entire school read A Place for Butterflies and then planted a garden full of native species that would attract butterflies.

It’s so inspiring to learn about these projects.

In our curriculum we focus on three dimensions of student achievement, including habits of character.  What advice would you give to our students and teachers about how to be active citizens and changemakers?

Stewart: Once we understand how our actions can harm the creatures around us, we can start to change our behavior to help them. Even small changes can make a BIG difference.

  • Keeping a cat indoors is better for the cat and for birds and other small animals.
  • Using reusable cloth bags at the grocery store helps sea turtles that might mistake the bag for a jellyfish.
  • Choosing native plants for our gardens helps birds and butterflies.
  • By turning out lights when we leave a room and putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat, we can conserve energy. That reduces the need to disrupt land where animals live to drill for oil or mine for coal.

These are simple changes that anyone can make.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Stewart: Right now, I’m in the middle of revising a book called ICK! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. It’s a 112-page book with tons of fun examples of ways animals use things like pee, poop, vomit, and mucus to find food, build their homes, and protect themselves from enemies. It will be out in 2020.

My most recently published book, Seashells: More than a Home, came out on April 2. It’s a companion title to Feathers and it describes all the amazing ways sea creatures use their shells. Believe it or not, seashells can pry like a crowbar, flit and flutter like a butterfly, let in light like a window, and much, much more.

Thanks so much for inviting me to answer some questions on your blog. I’m going to keep on reading and writing about animals and nature. I hope your students do too.

“We have found Stewart’s books to be an authentic and accessible way to engage young students in taking ownership and responsibility for their surrounding environments. They can be agents of change simply through a conversation." Moana Johnson, Grades 1-2 loop teacher at Explorer Academy

Thank you, Melissa Stewart!  Moana Johnson captured your impact on our schools, students, and communities beautifully: “We have found Stewart’s books to be an authentic and accessible way to engage young students in taking ownership and responsibility for their surrounding environments.  They can be agents of change simply through a conversation. All these small changes we hope will inspire them to continue to advocate and protect the special environment in our community and instill a sense of responsibility for the more global environmental challenges facing this, and future generations.”

Explorer students plant pollinator-friendly plants as part of Better World Day.

In our next post (coming May 28th), we’ll continue the focus on how our  curriculum supports students to be agents of change in celebration of EL’s Better World Day this Friday, May 3.

Have some great examples of students creating work that contributes to a better world?   We’d LOVE to see them. Please share your student work via email at

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K-5 Language Arts Curriculum