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Across Five Aprils—A Novel Study

Subject Area: Language Arts

Grade Level(s): 8

Duration of Activity:

The novel study will last two to four weeks depending on the type and number of activities selected by the classroom teacher to incorporate into the lesson.

Description of Activity:

The students will read and respond to the Newbery Honor novel Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. The cooperative novel study is done in conjunction with the American history emphasis on the Civil War. Each student will be involved in reading the novel and responding to the text daily in his or her personal Reader’s Response Journal.

This unit is taught in the eighth grade in conjunction with the Civil War unit of study in American history. This lesson may be used to accompany the C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi lesson plan, Across Five Aprils—Civil War Virtual Field Trip. The novel study also may be used as an independent unit in the language arts class.

Objectives: Each student will

  • define the literary term "genre."
  • define historical fiction.
  • read the selected novel.
  • summarize daily reading.
  • increase vocabulary.
  • connect what is read to real-life experiences.
  • illustrate what is read.
  • reflect on what is read.
  • share text that specifically impacts the student.
  • use e-mail to share reader responses with teacher and fellow group members.
  • assist in creating a presentation as a culminating activity to share with the class.


  • Novel—Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (1964)
  • Handout 1: Unit Vocabulary Review—Excel Spreadsheet Activity
  • Handout 2: Response Journal Guidelines
  • Computers with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher software
  • Computer diskette for each student
  • Video camera and video tapes (optional activity)
  • Markers, colored pencils, or crayons
  • One small composition notebook
  • E-mail account for each student

Prerequisites (skills or background needed):

  • Students need to be familiar with the keyboard and have knowledge of a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word.
  • Students need to be familiar with the pre-formatted Microsoft PowerPoint slides available for them to use in their presentations. Pre-planning will assist the students to form mental images of the slides, enabling them to save time when they are working on their rough drafts for the presentations.
  • Students need to be familiar with Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet software.
  • Students need to be familiar with Microsoft Publisher or other desktop publishing software.
  • Students should have basic knowledge of the writing process.
  • Students should have basic knowledge of writing, grammar, and spelling rules.


  1. Each day students will read assigned passages from the novel Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. The teacher may want to assign specific students to read the passages orally, the teacher may read orally, the teacher may use a taped version of the novel, or the teacher may decide to have students read passages silently. After the assigned pages have been read, each student will respond to the text by writing a reader’s response in a composition notebook or by writing the response as an e-mail message to a fellow student or to the teacher.
  2. The reader response should be written following the guidelines given in Handout 2: Response Journal Guidelines.
  3. Depending on the experience of the students, the teacher may choose to point out appropriate points in the story for the students to respond in these reader response roles, or he/she can leave the choice to the students.

  4. Each day students will report to their assigned groups where they will share and discuss their reader responses from the previous day. The teacher may choose to have a few students share their responses with the entire class to promote a class discussion of the text.

Teacher Component: The teacher will

  1. introduce text to students by having them skim over the text and list on the board the students’ expectations about the books genre, author, time period, and title. The following teaching resources are also very helpful and full of reproducible activities perfect for grades 6-8:

    • Teacher Created Resources "The Civil War" Thematic Unit
    • Teacher Created Resources "Across Five Aprils Literature Unit"
    • Sundance Novel Aids
    • Connect, A Literature/Social Studies Unit
    • Latitudes Resources

    Most of these materials may be ordered online from the following Web site:

    Teacher Created Resources on the Web!

  2. make copies of Handout 2: Response Journal Guidelines for students.
  3. model for students how to write a reader’s response so that students will have a clear idea of teacher expectations.
  4. review the steps in the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
  5. establish safe and secure student e-mail accounts.
  6. review the steps in writing e-mail correctly style.
  7. Note: Numbers 5 and 6 above can be done in conjunction with the C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi lesson plan Using E-Mail to Develop Letter-Writing Skills for the 21st Century.

  8. review the steps for creating a newsletter using Microsoft Publisher. Reviewing the process and actually creating a practice newsletter before the students create theirs will enable the teacher to better instruct the students on the actual process and on what needs to be included in the newsletter. The teacher may even create a "How-To" student handout as he or she is going through the process. An online tutorial for using Microsoft Publisher is found at the following Web site:

    Microsoft Publisher Tutorial

  9. review the steps for creating a simple Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Determine ahead of time the number of slides that need to be included in the presentation and the subject of each. Some suggestions are as follows: title and author slide, character(s) slide, theme slide, setting slide, conflict slide, summary slide, list of group members slide, and reader rating slide. Allow students to be as creative as possible with the PowerPoint presentation, but remind them of the following:

    • They should use a font that is easy to read.
    • They should try to use the "Rule of 6"- no more that 6 lines and 6 words to a line.
    • They should not overdo graphics and animation.

    An online tutorial for using PowerPoint can be found at the following Web site:

    PowerPoint in the Classroom: Unit 1 - Meeting PowerPoint

  10. review the steps for creating a vocabulary list using Microsoft Excel. An online Microsoft Excel tutorial is found at the following Web site:

    Microsoft Excel Tutorial - FunctionX

Student Activities: The student will

  1. read the novel Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.
  2. write a brief summary of the text read daily.
  3. write a reader’s response to the text read. Be sure to make connections to a real life experience, ask questions, make predictions, discuss feelings concerning text, or respond to text by assuming the reader’s response roles mentioned in Handout 2: Response Journal Guidelines.
  4. share and discuss responses with others in a small group setting. This may also be done via e-mail.
  5. create a list of vocabulary words and definitions using Microsoft Excel using Handout 1: —Excel Spreadsheet Activity.
  6. discuss in small groups what it means to "grow up" or, "come of age." The group will brainstorm "rites of passage" that are common in our society today. The group will then develop a list of questions to ask parents, grandparents, or family friends about their growing up days. The students will write questions to their chosen adults in their journal, and the adults should respond to questions in writing also. The student may also choose to correspond with the adults via e-mail. The group will then share findings and discuss the types of "rites of passage" which were common in previous generations.
  7. work with small group to decide on a presentation format: PowerPoint, videotape, puppets, creative writing, or newspaper.
  8. The PowerPoint presentation will consist of the number of slides and content designated by the teacher. The slide presentation may be printed and displayed in the hall or media center.

    Small groups choosing to videotape a scene from the book will need to plan out a script and costumes before taping. They should allow time to rehearse and tape the scene. Students may wish to meet after school or at a student’s home to do the actual videotaping. An alternative to this is to let the students do a live performance for the class and videotape it as they perform.

    Small groups choosing to use creative writing as the presentation format will need to take the information from the novel and rewrite it using a word-processing program into another creative form such as a ballad, alphabet poem, rap, or children’s book. The children’s book may be created using Microsoft PowerPoint and inserting original art that has been scanned into digital format.

    Students may create a puppet show. The puppet show will portray a major scene from the text. The puppets may be made out of socks or cardboard. The students will dress or decorate puppets to reflect the time period of the story.

    Students may create a newspaper using Microsoft Publisher to detail at least one major battle and events pertaining to the time period of the novel. The newspaper should also include advertisements, obituaries, and announcements that would also pertain to the Civil War time period and the novel. The paper should include at least one editorial about how readers should support the troops.

    Excellent sources for the Civil War are located on the World Wide Web. The following Web sites contain pictures that can be saved and inserted as a graphic file:

    Harpers Ferry NHP Home Page
    Use this Web site to find the news of the time.

    Welcome to the Civil War Home Page
    Use this Web site to find photos of Civil War times.

    Discuss with students the importance of citing references for their presentations. Discuss the concepts found in the Fair Use Guidelines of the US copyright laws. [For a handout on a Concise Guide to Copyright, see C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi: Concise Guide to Copyright.]

Accommodations (Special Needs):

  • The lesson activities may easily be modified to accommodate special needs students. Students who have difficulty with reading would benefit from listening to the text on tape or to another student reading aloud.
  • Students who need help with written activities such as the summary and reader’s response may use tape recorders to record responses. Peers may help to transcribe the taped responses to a Microsoft Word document.
  • Students proficient in computer skills can easily guide those who need one-on-one help with e-mail, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Excel.
  • The classroom teacher will decide on the final product expectations based on the specific needs of the individual student.

Extension Activities:

  • The novel study can easily be adapted to a literary circle format. For information, see the C·R·E·A·T·E for Mississippi lesson plan, Medieval Times – A Novel Study Using Literature Circles.
  • Some excellent fiction and non fiction works that will allow students to further explore the theme of Conflict of Individual Loyalties with Loyalties to Community and other themes related to Across Five Aprils are as follows:


    The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (for advanced readers)

    Jubilee, Margaret Walker (for advanced readers)

    Johnny Shiloh: A Novel of the Civil War by James A. Rhodes

    Charlie Skeddaddle by Patricia Beatty

    With Every Drop of Blood by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

    Turn Homeward, Hannahlee by Patricia Beatty

    The Tamarack Tree by Patricia Clapp

    The Boys’ War by Jim Murphy

    Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder

    Jayhawker by Patricia Beatty


    Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Clinton Cox

    Voices from the Civil War: A Documentary History of the Great American Conflict, by Milton Meltzer, Editor

    Gettysburg by MacKinlay Kantor

    "The Gettysburg Address" speech by Abraham Lincoln

    "Come up from the Fields, Father" and "An Army Corps on the March" poems by Walt Whitman

    "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" short story by Ray Bradbury

    "Around the Campfire" poem by Andrew Hudgins

    "The Sniper" a short story by Liam O’Flaherty

  • The students may create a diamante poem to show how a character from the novel was changed by the war. Use the following format to create a diamante poem.

    Topic - noun
    Two adjectives describing the above noun
    Three participles ("ing" words) describing actions associated with the above noun
    Two nouns associated with above noun and two nouns associated with noun below
    Three participles ("ing" words) describing actions associated with the noun below
    Two adjectives describing the noun below
    Noun – should be an opposite of the above noun or show change

    Noun (A)
    Adjective (A), adjective (A)
    Participle (A), participle (A), participle (A)
    Noun (A), noun (A), noun (B), noun (B)
    Participle (B), participle (B), participle (B)
    Adjective (B), adjective (B)
    Noun (B)

    For examples of diamante poems with creative uses of font style, color coding and clipart, see the following Web site:

    Diamante Poems

  • The students may keep a diary. Ask students to imagine how their lives would change if our country has a civil war today. How would their lives be affected? Make a chart on the board and have students suggest ideas and list changes under such categories as Daily Life, Travel, Family Relations, Activities, and Immediate Future.
  • The students may write a character sketch using the writing process about Jethro in Across Five Aprils. Show how Jethro changes from the beginning of the novel to its end, emphasizing the episodes that contribute most to Jethro’s growth.
  • The students may participate in a mock debate. Several of the characters in the novel Across Five Aprils make decisions that violate either popular opinion or the law. (Bill, Matt, and Jethro do this.) Divide the class into teams. Have each team select a character whose decision they think required the most courage, explaining their choice. Have the sides engage in a debate defending their choice.
  • The students may participate in an online scavenger hunt: The teacher will make out questions on 4x6 index cards about famous battles, generals, and events. Print 4 or 5 questions on each card. Divide the class evenly into small groups of four or fewer students. Give the class a brief overview of where to look for the information necessary to answer the questions. Set a timer for 20 minutes. The first group to turn in their card with the correct answers wins. Bookmark the Web sites for easy access and for easy supervision. The following sites are good ones to use:



    Library of Congress Home Page

    National Park Service - Experience Your America

    The American Civil War Home Page

  • After reading about Bill’s capture and imprisonment, discuss the conditions in Civil War prison camps. An excellent movie to show at this point is the TNT Originals production of Andersonville [ISBN 6304105436]
  • . It is an excellent production and can be usually rented from a video rental store or purchased from an educational supply catalog. Students can pretend they are Bill Creighton and write a letter to Jethro describing prison camp and how he got there.


  • Language Arts
  • American History


  1. Informal assessment by means of teacher observation.
  2. Participation grade given for reader’s responses. The purpose of the activity is to encourage students to write about their feelings and opinions freely without fear of failing.
  3. Rubrics may be used to assess the final product. Involve the students in creating the rubrics for the final presentation. This will give then ownership and will also inform them of expectations going into the project.


Curriculum Frameworks


Eighth Grade

  1. Communicates for a variety of purposes through different forms of writing using processes of reading, writing, listening, and viewing for an expanding audience.
  2. Speak coherently and listen effectively to exchange ideas and opinions for a variety of purposes and audiences.
  3. Complete tasks in an organized and coherent manner.
  4. Read, listen to, and view multimedia sources to select and use information.
  5. Develop self-monitoring skills to work independently and cooperatively.
  6. Participate cooperatively while engaging in small group activities to analyze and interpret information, to make decisions, to solve problems, and to produce a given product.
  7. Read independently with fluency and for meaning using a variety of strategies.
  8. Demonstrates continuous progress toward control of penmanship, grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, and usage of standard English in the context of writing and speaking.

NETS Performance Indicators for Grade Level 6-8 / NETS Standard(s):

  1. Apply productivity/multimedia tools and peripherals to support personal productivity, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum. (3,6)
  2. Design, develop, publish, and present products using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom. (4,5,6)
  3. Select and use appropriate tools and technology resources to accomplish a variety of task and solve problems. (5,6)


Reading/Language Arts

02 Basic Understanding (Level 10-21/22)
Demonstrate understanding of the literal meaning of a passage through identifying stated information, indicating sequence of events, and defining grade-level vocabulary.

Write responses to questions requiring literal information from passages and documents.

04 Evaluate and Extend Meaning (Level 11-21/22)
Demonstrate critical understanding by making predictions; distinguishing between fact and opinion, and reality and fantasy; transferring ideas to other situations; and judging author purpose, point of view, and effectiveness.

Write responses that make connections between texts based on common themes and concepts; evaluate author’s purpose and effectiveness; and extend meaning to other contexts.

05 Identify Reading Strategies (Level 11-21/22)
Demonstrate awareness of techniques that enhance comprehension, such as using existing knowledge, summarizing content, comparing information across texts, using graphics and text structure, and formulating questions that deepen understanding.

Write responses that interpret and extend the use of information from documents and forms, and that demonstrate knowledge and use of strategies.

06 Introduction to Print (Level 10-12)
Demonstrate knowledge of sound/symbol and structural relationships in letters, words, and signs.

Write responses that show knowledge of letters and words.

07 Sentence Structure (Level 11-21/22)
Demonstrate an understanding of conventions for writing complete and effective sentences, including treatment of subject and verb, punctuation, and capitalization.

Demonstrate an understanding of conciseness and clarity of meaning in combining two sentences.

08 Writing Strategies (Level 11-21/22)
Demonstrate knowledge of information sources, outlines, and other pre-writing techniques.

Demonstrate an understanding of the use of topic sentences, concluding sentences, connective and transitional words and phrases, supporting statements, sequencing ideas, and relevant information in writing expository prose.

09 Editing Skills (Level 11-21/22)
Identify the appropriate use of capitalization, punctuation, nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in existing text.

Demonstrate knowledge of writing conventions and sentence structure through identifying and connecting errors in existing text and in text

Language Mechanics

38 Sentences, Phrases, Clauses (Level 12-21/22)

Identify the appropriate use of capitalization and punctuation in sentences, phrases, and clauses; and with quotations and dialogue.

39 Writing Conventions (Level 12-21/22)
Identify the appropriate use of capitalization and punctuation with proper nouns, titles, contractions, possessive nouns, and pronouns.

Link and Feedback to Author(s):

Debbie Hurt, Tupelo Middle School, Tupelo, MS

Handout 1:
Unit Vocabulary Review—Excel Spreadsheet Activity
Handout 2: Response Journal Guidelines for Students Word Acrobat
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