"The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein teaches the impact of selfless love and friendship through its story of a tree who gives endlessly to a man from childhood to old age. The book's literal and figurative demonstration of these ideas has made it a classic for all ages since its publication. While some middle-school students may be tempted to write it off as a children's book, you can use "The Giving Tree" to teach science and language arts concepts, as well as motivate teenagers to serve their community.
According to English teacher Glen Dawursk, "The Giving Tree" can be used to teach middle-school students personification, a figurative language device where authors give human characteristics to nonhuman things. In the book, Silverstein personifies the tree by giving her the human actions of love, sacrifice and speech. To explore the use of personification, students can write a brief piece retelling the story from the tree's point of view by considering her feelings and experiences. For example, they might describe how the tree might experience the sadness of the boy's long absences.
Although the Giving Tree is meant to be figurative rather than literal, the tree also provides the same necessities trees do in real life, such as apples, wood and a place to play. The book can therefore be used for science lessons about how trees supply our needs. By Using "The Giving Tree" as a starting point, students can brainstorm a list of everyday needs that trees can meet. The environmental organization Public Lands Every Day also suggests that middle-school students work in groups to imagine that they are managers of a forest and discuss how to allocate resources to supply these needs.
Middle-schoolers can also use "The Giving Tree" to practice personal essays and reflective writing. For this lesson, your class can begin by describing the character of the tree, discussing her selfless actions and sacrificial love. Students can then write essays about people who are the "giving trees" in their lives and how they have provided things the students needed, often at their own expense. For example, a student might write about a parent who works hard to provide for his family, or a teacher who stayed extra hours after school to help him with math.
The book's message of selflessness can provide an opportunity for middle-school service learning, where students engage with the community through a class project. According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, class service projects can be eye-opening for teenagers, letting them take responsibility for their geography and consider others' needs. To use "The Giving Tree" in service learning, you can brainstorm ways you can give to your community in the same way the tree in the story gave to the boy. For example, you could hold a used toy drive for children in need or clean up the elementary school playground.
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