A theme, such as cowboys and Indians, can grab your students' attention and make the reading material more exciting. According to the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, the majority of states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, and these standards for reading focus on text complexity and the ability to explain and present reasoning. As you plan your cowboys and Indians theme, check your learning goals and match them to your state standards.
Ask the Cowboy
Read books about cowboys and Indians as a shared reading activity. Have the students think of questions they would ask the cowboy in the book and write the questions on sticky notes. Students should place the notes on corresponding pages of the book. After the reading is completed, allow different students to act as the cowboy by wearing a cowboy hat and answering the questions presented on the sticky notes.
"Howdy Pardner" Word Match
Write sight words on small cowboy hat or boot cutouts to use as word cards. You can find free clip art to use for this activity at Discovery Education. Play a matching game with the cards where students search to find a partner with the same word. When they find the classmate with a matching card, they give a high-five and say "Howdy Pardner." Then the two partners practice looking for their sight word in other areas around the classroom.
Old West Theme Wall
Decorate a trifold board with western border. As students read cowboy books, they can add questions to the board such as "Which character is the most important in the book?" or "What do you predict will happen at the end?" Other students can respond to the questions using sticky notes and markers. Students can demonstrate their knowledge of vocabulary words by writing them on word cards, drawing pictures to define the words and then adding their work to the theme wall.
Assess Student Learning
Use a running record to check for errors as students read the text. Ask questions about the text, look at evidence presented on the theme wall, or have students discuss aspects of the book with a partner while you observe and take notes on their comprehension. Match your assessment with the lesson target. Remember, you are not simply teaching about cowboys and Indians -- you are using cowboys and Indians to help your students learn to read in an engaging way.
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