UCSB Oral History Project Homepage > Research and Teaching Homepage > 2nd Grade Lesson Plan

My 3 Day Lesson on Courage

A 2nd grade lesson plan by Leah Bergner

Where: Isla Vista Elementary School (Goleta, CA)
When: Spring 2002
Grade: 2nd

Storybooks on courage—I chose, Terrible Things and Smoky Night, both by Eve Bunting
Large construction paper
Safety pins
Courage badges—you can design your own and laminate them—students will love their daily reminder to have courage

While in my fifth year at UCSB, I had the opportunity to start my pre-professional teaching. In addition, I also had the opportunity to work with Professor Marcuse. In his class, I chose to work on developing some kind of curriculum, on the Holocaust, for elementary school children (K-4). While I believe that young children should not be exposed to the horrific sights and disheartening stories of the Holocaust, there is no reason not to teach them the lessons we have learned from it (i.e. courage, tolerance, accepting difference, anger management, etc.). For this reason I felt adamant about locating books that would expose students to those teachings in the classroom.

Fortunately, I was able to implement some of my work from researching Holocaust curriculum into my 2nd grade class. The following will describe the steps I took for my three-day unit on courage.


First of all, I had to get permission from my supervising teacher to teach a unit on courage. Luckily, her students were actually studying a bit about it through their Open-Court reading textbook. The children had just finished reading a story called "Brave as a Mountain Lion" and a story about Martin Luther King, Jr.

The next step was to choose stories to teach from. Coincidently, I chose two books by the same author. Eve Bunting’s Terrible Things and Smoky Night were perfect. Although Terrible Things is an allegory of the Holocaust, I realized I didn’t necessarily have to get into something the students had no prior background on. Instead, as I read the story, I asked the students to think of what it would be like if the animals in the story were actually humans. Why is it wrong to get rid of all others not like you? Smoky Night taught a different lesson on courage and that is exactly why I chose to read this one as well. Yes, my main goal was to teach the children about courage. However, I wanted to show the students that courage comes in many forms.

Following my book choices I had to come up with an activity to test their knowledge, explore their creativity and survey the lessons learned from the unit. I chose to have the students work in small groups. Together they would create posters characterizing courage.

Next, I knew I wanted to leave the children with something tangible and visible. I wanted them to have something that would remind them of the lessons learned in our courage unit. I wanted to give them something that would constantly remind them that courage was alive and well within them. Thus I designed "courage badges." These badges would be presented and pinned on each of them after successful completion the courage unit. I made these badges out of colored paper. Each badge had a picture of the Wizard of Oz lion on it after he had received his courage. These badges were cut out and laminated ahead of time. A safety pin was used to attach them to the students, but tape may also be used.


As the children gathered around the front area carpet, I sat down too. In my hands I held a book called, Smoky Night. The children were very anxious to hear this new story. But, first I led a discussion. My supervising teacher taught me about the KWL chart that I decided to use to promote discussion ("What I Know, what I Want to know, and what I Learned…about courage"). So, my students and I discussed what we already knew about courage. I wrote their comments up on the board and from there I read them the story. The storybook has beautiful, bright pictures that really captured the interest of the students. After the story was finished I asked for any questions or comments about what we had just read. Mostly I got feedback like: "I liked it." Or, "Those firefighters were brave." Or "I would have been more scared than Daniel was." Next, I took some time to ask students what they still wanted to know about courage, and recorded it on our KWL chart. From there, I split the students up into groups of three (I prepared these groups earlier as I wanted to be sure that students were grouped with others they were not used to working with). These small groups were instructed to work together to create a masterpiece on construction paper. Each student had to add something to the poster—all their ideas were supposed to formulate one large drawing that would later be presented to the class. Their drawings were to illustrate what they saw courage to be…they could make up something, they could take a lesson from their own life and apply it, or they could take a favorite moment in the story and draw it. Initially, this group work was not looked at as "fun" for all of the students. In fact, I had several group partners who were not getting along. It took some time and some coaxing, but soon all groups did indeed finish their projects (by day two).


Today the class and I continued learning about courage. We read the story called Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust. Before I read to the students we reviewed yesterday's lesson from the book Smoky Night. Afterward I prompted further discussion by asking the students the various ways we can have/show courage. Some students took examples from Smoky Night and others took lessons from life. Next, I suggested other ways one could show courage. The students agreed that standing up for what is right is courageous. I told the students something that I was taught around their age: "What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right." With this, I started reading the story and the children were supposed to think of the animals as humans.

Following the story we discussed some more. The students had some difficulty relating the story to the acts of humans as opposed to animals. Even so, they understood the lesson that I was trying to have them see. Had the little rabbit stood up to the other animals in the forest, perhaps they would all still be together. Instead, all of the animals, including little rabbit, turned their cheeks and pretended that nothing was wrong. The Terrible Things would never be confronted. The students and I recorded more things onto our KWL chart. This time we noted the things we had learned. I was very impressed to see that they had grasped the courage concept, including the various definitions it held. In addition, their posters reflected the lessons learned.

The students continued the group work and poster illustrations. On day three the students would present their creations in front of the class.


Today the students sat with their group partners and held their posters. Each group was called upon to present their ideas on courage. Each person in the group was expected to say a few words and the rest of the class was expected to listen well like a good audience should. It was so nice to see the thought that went into each poster. Some students illustrated lessons from life (i.e. one girl drew a picture of herself learning how to swim; another boy showed us what it took for him to try a new Russian dish that his friend had introduced to him). Others chose to draw a scene from one of the stories. Overall, the children really showed a lot of growth—they went from not knowing much about courage to being able to teach me that it was okay to be nervous teaching them: "All it takes, Miss Leah, is courage," they said.

In closing, we went over our KWL chart one last time. I then thanked them for letting me guide them through this courage unit. I gave them a round of applause for their excellent group work and presentations. Then, I announced that they had all demonstrated a lot of courage and they had shown me that they had a firm grasp on the concept of courage. In return, I presented them each with their own badge of courage. One by one each student was pinned with a badge of courage, and encouraged to show courage daily.

UCSB Oral History Project Homepage > Research and Teaching Homepage > 2nd Grade Lesson Plan
Text written June 2002 by Leah Bergner
Last Updated January 1, 2003
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