The Popsicle-Stick Bridge
A school project helps Cassandra see her partner in a new light
In this relatable story about a girl who gets stuck with an unpopular boy as her project partner—and discovers what a great kid he is—students will understand how the main character changes from the beginning of a story to the end.
Character, vocabulary, text features, close reading, key details, cause and effect, inference, explanatory writing
This article and lesson support the following standards:
Common Core anchor standards: R.1, R.3, R.4, R.7, W.2, SL.1, L.4, L.6
TEKS: 3.2, 3.4, 3.8, 3.20, 3.29, 3.30
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Preview Text Features (10 minutes)
• Direct students to examine the illustration on pages 10 and 11. Ask: Where does the scene take place? What do the title and the question that follows it tell you about what’s happening in the picture? Point out the subheads and the Pause and Think boxes at the end of each section. Explain that the questions in these boxes will help the students better understand the story.
Set a Purpose for Reading
• We have created a fiction package that helps students focus on one important aspect of the story—in this case, how the main character changes. The tasks in the Think and Read and Think and Write boxes work together to support this skill focus. Have one student read the task in each box.
• Read aloud the first Pause and Think box on page 12. These questions will check basic comprehension. (Students will delve into higher-level work with the close-reading questions, available here and online.)
Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes, activity sheet online)
• This story includes seven vocabulary words highlighted in bold: whirls, slink, hysterically, glimpse, decimated, courageous, and embarrassment.
• The words are defined at the bottom of the column in which they appear. Discuss the meanings of the words, looking at how they are used in the story to help students further understand them.
• Distribute our vocabulary activity for more practice with these words.
Reading and Unpacking the Text (activity sheets online)
• First read: Students should read the story through one time for general comprehension. Whether your students read as a class, in small groups, or independently, ask them to answer the Pause and Think questions along the way.
• Second read: Distribute the close-reading and critical-thinking questions. (For struggling readers, you can distribute the sheet of Pause and Think questions.) Preview them as a class.
• Have students read the story again, pausing to
answer the questions.
Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)
• In the beginning of the story, why does Cassandra have trouble finding a partner for the bridge-building project? (key details) Her best friend has moved away, and everyone else pairs up quickly before she has a chance to find a partner.
• On pages 11 and 12, which details tell you what Robert looks like? How does this affect what Cassandra thinks of him? (cause and effect) The story says that Robert has something purple and crusty on his mouth, probably grape jelly. This makes Cassandra think he’s yucky. She would rather not work with him.
• At the bottom of page 12, why does Cassandra think Robert is the “worst Popsicle-stick partner in the world”? (inference) She doesn’t like the bridge they have made. She sees that her classmates’ bridges are taller or longer than theirs, and she thinks those bridges are better. You can also infer that she would rather have a popular girl, like Marcy, as a partner.
• In the middle of the story, what does Robert do at lunch? What does this tell you about him? (character) He sees that Cassandra doesn’t have a place to sit down, so he moves over to make room for her. This tells you that he is thoughtful of others.
• On page 14, why does Cassandra decide that she not only has “the best Popsicle-stick partner in the world, but the nicest one too”? (inference) Robert designed the best bridge in the class, but he still gives Cassandra credit. He says she was “a really good gluer.” She sees that he is a kind person and a good friend.
Critical-Thinking Question (7 minutes)
• At the end, why does Cassandra ask to sit next to Robert, even though she could sit at the girls’ table? How has she changed? (how a character changes) Cassandra realizes that Robert is a good friend. She no longer sees him just from the outside, with his messy face. She sees that he’s kind on the inside, and she realizes that they have a lot in common.
How a Character Changes
• Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Think and Write box at the bottom of page 11.
• Distribute our Fiction Reading Kit, which focuses on key reading skills, including our featured skill, character. Have students work in small groups to complete it.
Starting a discussion
“The Popsicle-Stick Bridge” ran in our prototype issue in Spring 2016, and we visited a school in Brooklyn to observe a lesson built around the story. The teacher had students come up with questions to discuss in small groups. We loved this question: How do you think Robert felt about being Cassandra’s partner? Pose this question to your students; we bet an interesting conversation will follow!
Using audio in the classroom
Listening to a story read aloud can really boost comprehension and engagement. All of our fiction stories come with audio versions—check out this post on the Storyworks Ideabook for tips on how to use audio in your classroom.
Here’s a fun vocab idea: Stage a game of charades where students act out the vocabulary words from this story. The other students must guess which word they’re acting out.
Talking about partner projects
Have a class discussion about partner projects. Ask students about a positive experience they had working with a partner. Ask: What made it positive? Did you become friends with your partner or learn about a special strength they had?
About the author
Your students will be interested to know that author Marlane Kennedy wrote manuscripts, submitted them for publication, had them rejected, revised them, and had them rejected again for 14 years before her first book was published. She’s written a total of 6 books so far, including her Disaster Strikes series, and many short stories.