Our reading program - Open Court - has different themes for each unit. All the stories in a unit are grouped around the theme, and the kids do their own inquiry and research about the theme. Basically, you live, eat, sleep, and breathe the Open Court theme for 6 or 7 weeks. Third grade is a great grade to teach because the Open Court themes are very versatile and interesting: Friendship, City Wildlife, Imagination (my favorite!!), Money, and Storytelling.
We just finished Friendship and got some fabulous ideas on the "Concept/Question Board." The kids put up ideas or questions about the theme and, being kids, they tend to think far, far outside the box. "Can people be friends with animals?" was one of the more highly explored questions, along with "Can kids be friends with kids in other countries who they've never met or kids here who speak a different language?"
Now we're on City Wildlife. I like City Wildlife, because it builds on the kids' natural curiosity about plants and animals. There's always some defining of the term that needs to happen at the beginning of the year. Zoo animals do not count as city wildlife because they are no longer "wild" - they're being taken care of by somebody. Tigers in the wild do not count because they do not live in the cities that we have experienced. The definition that the kids finally uncover usually goes something like "plants or animals that live in our city and survive without being taken care of." Now, the interesting thing is that the reading program did not take inner-city schools into consideration. The teacher's edition specifically says that cats and dogs are not city wildlife. Really? What about all the feral pit bulls running around East Oakland? As the kids would say, don't nobody be taking care of them and they be surviving! It leads to interesting discussions, which are good, as I like to have the students form their own opinion.
The comment that I think the textbook publishers never took into consideration was about homeless people. Working off the above definition, one of the kids said, "So, homeless people is city wildlife too! Don't nobody be taking care of them or giving them a place to live and they still alive." Leave it to the kids to point out that we have people in our cities who aren't treated much better than the pigeons and sewer rats. Should I see if the publishers will include homeless people in their next list of City Wildlife examples?