One book unites students at District 301's Prairie Knolls Middle School

  • Author Jasmine Warga answers students' questions during her visit to Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin.

    Author Jasmine Warga answers students' questions during her visit to Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin. Courtesy of Central Unit District 301

Submitted by Central Unit District 301
Updated 10/18/2019 8:00 PM

What does home mean to you?

Students at Prairie Knolls Middle School participated in a read-aloud book study of "Other Words for Home" by Jasmine Warga, a realistic fiction novel-in-verse that features a young Syrian girl who is forced to immigrate to the United States as violence escalates in her home country.


Through various activities, discussion, and interaction with the author, learners discovered how unique responses to the question of home help define an individual's character and increase empathy for those whose homes are fractured.

As they read the novel, students learned about the ongoing conflict in Syria through nonfiction pieces shared in class. They also read several picture books such as "Home is a Window" to help them consider the overarching question of home and what it means to them.

Students journaled about the topic and condensed their ideas into a single statement for display in the school hallway.

As part of the all-school learning, students were paired with a pen pal with whom they corresponded to share their thoughts and their impressions of the book.

The pen pal activity facilitated a two-way exchange of ideas and enabled students from sixth and seventh grades to interact with one another about the same topic -- a unique opportunity in the middle school setting.

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To conclude the unit, the school hosted a visit by Warga.

During her presentation, the author explained how her inspiration for the book and characters came from her own family and her unique experiences in the Middle East and the United States.

She discussed how the novel gave voice to her feelings when she learned of the unrest in Syria and the response from the western world.

"I write from a place of extreme empathy," Warga said.

After her presentation, the author opened the floor for questions.

Students eagerly raised their hands, asking everything from, "Who is your favorite character in the book?" to "What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer?"

Warga shared much about her writing process, her mentors, and her family life to help students understand the motivation behind her characters and themes.

The schoolwide book study of "Other Words for Home" provided learners an opportunity to reflect on how their place in this world is shaping them and to consider ways they can empathize with the journeys of others.


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