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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Guided Reading

After the long-awaited SAGE writing test is finished, I can finally start my reading groups again. I can’t wait! I have hand-picked some wonderful novels for each grade level, and am excited to be able to share them with my students. For my fifth grade reading response-to-intervention group, I chose The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, written by Jacqueline Kelly. This novel follows the life of Calpurnia Tate, an eleven year old girl living in Texas in 1899. She is full of wonder and discovers the world around her through nature. Her bond with her grandfather grows throughout her explorations. The writing is gorgeous, and the rich vocabulary really brings the characters to life. The gems placed throughout the book will stay with me forever.

Sitting at my desk, I pondered lesson plans and discussions we could have with this novel, thanks to TeachingBooks.net. My fifth graders are very advanced, so I jumped on the chance to explore their higher-level thinking skills.

Here’s the vocabulary words that I would discuss and define with your students:

  • pestiferous: harboring infection and disease
  • benzene: liquid hydrocarbon in coal tar and petroleum
  • chivvy: tell someone repeatedly to do something
  • torpid: mentally or physically inactive
  • loiter: stand around without purpose
  • envisaged: contemplate as a possibility
  • torrid: very hot and dry
  • excelsior: superior quality
  • dilapidated: state of disrepair or ruin
  • consternation: feelings of anxiety or dismay
  • curios: a rare, unusual object
  • malacca: brown cane used as a walking stick
  • laburnum: European decorative tree
  • morass: area of muddy ground
  • transom: flat surface forming the stern of a vessel
  • cadge: ask for
  • octoroon: a person who is 1/8 black by descent
  • aborning: while being born or produced
  • dissonant: lacking harmony
  • protuberant: bulging
  • salvo: simultaneous discharge of artillery or guns in battle
  • ostentatious: designed to impress or attract notice
  • petulant: childishly sulkish or bad-tempered
  • interminable: endless
  • bonhomie: cheerful friendliness
  • paragon: perfect example
  • daguerreotype: early photo
  • codger: elderly man
  • prodigious: remarkably or impressively great
  • prerequisite: required before something else can happen
  • inane: silly
  • uncinate: having a hooked shape
  • desiccate: dry, lacking interest or passion
  • deference: humble submission and respect
  • ensconced: settle in a comfortable, safe, or secret place
  • expunge: erase or remove completely
  • kowtow: excessively subservient
  • onerous: a burdensome effort
  • dross: rubbish or waste
  • distaff: concerning women; a stick for spinning wool
  • tumbrel: cart that carries tools for army
  • quagmire: bog; awkward, complex, or hazardous situation
  • efficacious: effective
  • detritus: debris
  • noxious: harmful, poisonous, or very unpleasant
  • aspics: savory jelly
  • assiduously: showing great care, attention, and effort
  • futile: pointless
  • convivial: friendly, lively, enjoyable
  • cannily: careful

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the Flat Earth Society?

2. Explain the controversy surrounding Charles Darwin’s Evolution of Species. Has the issue been settled, or is it alive today?

3. Has there ever been a book you wanted that the library or your parents refused to provide you with? If so, what type of library was it: a school library or public library? What reason did the librarian or parent give for not having the book? Do you think Calpurnia is treated fairly by the librarian when she requests a book they do not own?

4. While pondering the gender of her pet, Petey, Calpurnia remarks, “I wonder why human children weren’t given the option in their grub stage, say up through age five. With everything I had seen, I would definitely choose to be a boy grub.” Why do you think she would prefer to be a boy? Are there any perks to being a girl?

5. Calpurnia is treated differently than her brothers by her parents and the rest of the community. In what ways is she treated differently and why? How does she react to this treatment? Are girls treated differently than boys today – at school, home, or in the workforce?

6. While discovering the natural world, Calpurnia has some hiccups, experiences miracles, and at times, is completely grossed out. Track her evolution. Would you have enjoyed her experiences? Relate your own experiences with nature.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do, and that you take advantage of these wonderful discussion questions, and the rich vocabulary embedded in this book.

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