This past summer I was luck to go to the International Literacy Association meeting in St. Louis and speak on a panel with Sharon M. Draper. Out of My Mind is one of my all time favorite books because Melody is such a relatable, compelling character. Melody is a brilliant girl trapped inside a body that doesn’t allow her to communicate easily. She cannot speak and has trouble controlling her limbs. Ms. Draper shared an activity she has done with students. She asks them to write down all of the words they would need to get through the day onto a word board, which is something Melody used through part of the book.

Fifth Grade Word Boards

Earlier this week, I put my 5th grade students into pairs and asked them to create word boards. Then I asked them questions about a recent field trip they took. Pretty quickly they realized how frustrating this was. Some had letters they could use to spell out their answers — that took a long time. Others edited their responses to fit the words they had, so they weren’t able to say what they really needed to say.

Next I gave them the challenge of creating a solution for Melody. We talked about what her limitations were and what she needed. Each group came up with several creative ideas, then focused in on one. They sketched and added details. Some even started anticipating problems and solving them. For example, one group came up with the idea of a device that could read her mind and speak her thoughts. But, they realized, she wouldn’t want all of her thoughts out in the open, so they included a “pause” button.


If I were a classroom teacher, I would make this a longer term project where, as we read the book, they were designing and building a prototype of their designs. Of course, we aren’t ready to build mind reading machines in 5th grade (yet!), but this would be a limitation that they would need to work around. In this case, making served as an entry point for students and got them excited to read the book.


Entering a Story through Character Empathy
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