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ESL Sarah, Plain and Tall Discussion Topics

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are reading Patricia MacLachlan's 'Sarah, Plain and Tall' with ESL students, you have a wonderful opportunity to engage them in meaningful literary discussion. This lesson provides some topics to get you started.

Literature and ESL Students

Whether you teach an entire class of ESL students or have ESL students in a general reading class, you probably know that they can require extra support in accessing literature. Many students who are learning English have good conversational skills, but they might still need more scaffolding than other students with academic language.

Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall is a classic children's novel that deals with universal themes including loss, love, the importance of family, and what it means to deal with a major change. One of the best ways to ensure that your ESL students get as much as possible out of the text is to involve them in good discussions. The topics in this lesson will help ESL students activate their vocabularies and syntax while exercising critical thinking skills and making deep connections.

Personal Connection Topics

This section offers a series of discussion topics that will help ESL students connect personally to Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Which character in this novel do you have the most in common with, and why?

Ask others which character they feel the deepest connection to, and talk about your similarities and differences.

When have you have experienced a big change within your family?

Discuss the feelings you had when this happened, and think about how that helps you understand Anna's experience.

What is your first reaction to Sarah Wheaton?

Talk about what you think and feel about Sarah as a character, and find out if your classmates have the same reaction as you or not.

What is a place that is important to you?

The sea is very important to Sarah. What is an example of a place, or kind of place, that is really important to you? Find out your classmates' answers to this question as well, and discuss what it means to be attached to a particular kind of place.

How does your family to compare to Anna's?

Discuss the ways that your own family is like and unlike Anna's family, including personalities and values as well as simply family composition.

Literary Connection Topics

Here are discussion topics that will let ESL students make connections between Sarah, Plain and Tall and other books they have read, in English or in their home languages.

What is another book you have read about a change within a family?

Talk with others about the similarities among all books and stories that deal with this theme.

What other books or movies deal with loneliness?

One of the biggest themes in Sarah, Plain and Tall is loneliness. Discuss other books you have read, or movies you have seen, that also deal with loneliness, and compare and contrast them to this novel.

What does the book reveal about American history and values?

What can you learn about American history and values from Sarah, Plain and Tall, and how can you relate these ideas to other American stories you have read?

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