Author: Karen Hesse
Grade Level: 4th and 5th grades
Publisher and Date: Scholastic Inc.,
Summary: This book is an in-depth look at a
12 year old girl's struggle to get to America from Russia. Her family
had to flee Russia so her brothers would not be killed because they
fled their regiment in the Russian armed services. This story talks
about the issues addressed when immigrants are trying to get to
America in the early 1900's and the struggles Rifka must survive if
she ever hopes to reach America. As the story develops, the reader
becomes more aware of the struggles the immigrants faced.
Social Studies Relevance: This book will lead to
an examination of World War II, the issues immigrants faced when
coming to America, the geographic region of Europe, and conditions in
America in the early 1900's.
Relationship to Social Studies State
- Use researching to demonstrate the mastery of
- Use indexes, glossaries, and newspapers to
find additional information about a social studies topic.
- List and compare different cultural traditions
and values of people in Utah and around the world.
- Identify different types of boundary lines
such as city, county, state, national, and
- Use maps to explain the geographic setting of
historical and current events.
- Outline the major historical events, people,
wars, and documents that played a significant role in United
States history from 1492 to the present.
RETURN TO LITERATURE INDEX
- Students will record events, dates, and
location in a response journal to use as a reference to create a
time line, at the end of this unit.
- Students will respond to the events in each of
the letters (chapters) in the book, stating how they would feel
and what they would do if they were in Rifka's
Materials Needed: response
journal, the book
Explain to the students that they will be
reading the book Letters from Rifka. Tell the students that
this book is broken into individual letters, instead of chapters.
Tell the students that they are going to be making a time line at
the end of the book, so they will need to record the date, events,
and location of each of the letters. Let them know that their
journals will serve as a reference while completing the time line
activity. Tell the students that they are also expected to record
their feelings about the events in each letter and what they would
do if they were in Rifka's situation.
Evaluation: The evaluation
of the students's journals will be an ongoing process. At the end of
each week, the journals will be turned in for evaluation. The journal
responses will be checked for accurate dates, events, and location of
each letter. The students will also be evaluated on their feelings
and responses to each letter in the book.
Return to Lesson
- Students will research and discuss some of the
various cultures and the different customs within the cultures, in
order to write a report, give a group presentation, and discuss
the information learned.
Materials Needed: Students
need to be given time, throughout the unit, in which to research
their assigned cultures. Research materials will be needed.
(Approximate time frame for this project, 2 weeks.)
- Research Project.
Students will brainstorm different
cultures. Cultures related to the book should be researched, along
with other cultures. Cultures such as those of Germany, Poland,
Belgium, Russia, and America. Cultures unrelated to the book could
deal with those of Denmark, Sweden, England, Spain, Italy,
Austria, Yugoslavia, etc. Students will be put in groups, based on
their interests. Students will, individually, write down three
cultures they most want to research. The teacher will then group
the students, based on their number one interest, as much as
possible. The students grouped together will then be the research
team for that culture. Research teams will be expected to find
information about the beliefs, or traditions, their assigned
culture maintains that are different from what they know of the
beliefs, or traditions, in America. Students will be expected to
find prominent figures within the culture and the holidays each
culture celebrates. The students should be given time during class
in which to complete their research. A deadline of about 2 weeks
should be assigned. At the end of 2 weeks, the students will turn
in their reports and present the information they learned, in
front of the class, in a manner upon which the teacher and
- Guided Discussion. At
the end of the students's presentations, discuss how Rifka had to
adjust to the various cultures to which she was exposed. Research
teams will now discuss, with the class, the culture they
researched. As a class, discuss the beliefs, or traditions, that
would be hard to grow accustomed to and the things that would be
exciting to experience, within each culture.
Evaluation: Evaluation will
be performed based on the report each student turns in and the group
presentation that is given, in class. Evaluation may also be
performed by listening to the responses each child gives during the
Return to Lesson
Would You Feel If...
- Students will demonstrate their understanding
of how a person would feel about leaving their home and country by
writing a journal about adjustments that would have to be
- Students will explain, in their journal, where
they would go if they were forced to leave their home and country
and why they would choose that location.
Materials Needed: Journal (As an extension
to this activity, the book, All the Places to Love
by Patricia MacLachlan) Additional materials needed for the
extension activity are, colored pencils, paper, markers, drawing
tool, or any other desired drawing tool.
- Values Whip. Students
will be asked to think of a place they love. Ask them not to
answer now, but to think about the following questions: "How do
you feel when you are in your favorite place?" "What would it feel
like if you were forced to leave your favorite place and never go
back?" Give them time to think and picture themselves in this
loved place. Tell the students you are going to go, in order,
around the room and ask for their responses. Students should be
allowed to PASS if they do not want to share their feelings.
(NOTE: Each question should be done in a separate round of the
Values Whip.) (For an extension idea, see the extension section of
this lesson plan.)
- Guided Discussion.
Students will be asked to discuss the things their families would
have to do if they were forced to leave their homes and country.
Students should discuss the new things they would have to learn
and the things to which they would have to become accustomed.
Discuss whether or not the move would be easy and if moving to
another place is an easy adjustment to make.
- Response Journal.
Students will be asked to respond in their journal concerning the
types of adjustments that would need to be made, within their
family, if they had to leave their home and country. Students
should address the questions, "Where would you go, if you were
forced to leave?" and "Why would you go there, if you were forced
Evaluation: Evaluation will be done by
examining the journals the students write. Feelings about having to
move and the adjustments to be made should be addressed. Students
should also be evaluated on their explanation as to where they would
go and why they would choose to move to that location.
Extension Ideas: Students could also draw a
picture of their favorite place to hang in the classroom. The book,
All the Places to Love by
Patricia MacLachlan, can also be read as a lead in to the drawing
Return to Lesson
- The students will identify different boundary
lines such as city, county, state, and national, on a topographic
map, by naming the types of boundaries in which the city is
Materials Needed: Political map of the
world (overhead transparency), transparency markers, a large
political map of your state or the world, depending on the grade
level with which you are working, and a list of cities and towns for
the students to locate (See Appendix,
"Places to Locate").
NOTE: If you are using this activity with a fourth
grade curriculum, you will need a map of your state. If you are using
this activity with a fifth grade curriculum, you will need to allow
time for the students to research their state, in the library and use
encyclopedias and current maps to find their city's
Procedures: (This lesson would be used as
an introductory lesson)
- Direct Instruction. The
teacher explains that, in this book, Rifka moves to many different
countries and cities. In order to make ourselves more familiar
with maps, when we use them to show where Rifka is moving, we will
do this activity. The teacher will display a map of the area on
which the core curriculum focuses. The teacher will remind the
students of mapping activities they have done, up to this point,
in the year. The teacher will then give information concerning
different types of boundary lines (city, county, state, and
national). Give many examples of cities with which the students
are familiar. The examples should be shown on the overhead
transparency so all students can easily see. Boundary lines should
be the main focus. The teacher should ask if there are any
questions. If there are no questions, continue on to the Mapping
Activity. If there are questions, reteach.
- Mapping Activity. Each
student will draw a city from a hat. This is the place that
student will place on his/her map. On the overhead transparency
map, the student will locate and label the city he/she drew.
Students will locate the state and county in which the city is
located. Students will be given the list of cities that correspond
to their grade level. The students will map the cities on the
list, recording the state and county in which the city is located.
(NOTE: The fifth graders will need more time in which to locate
the county in which their cities are located.)
Evaluation: The maps on which the students
locate the cities will be reviewed and their responses as to which
state and county will be examined. Check the maps for accuracy of
city's location, as well as accurate information as to the state and
county in which the city is located.
Return to Lesson
- Students will make a class time line of the
dates, locations, and events in each letter, or
Materials Needed: String, paper, writing
utensils, tape, display surface, event strips (See Appendix),
and any decorative items desired for the time line.
- Time Line. After the
book, ask the students what the major turning points, or events,
in the story were and when they happened. Allow the students to
refer to their response journals, if needed. Have the students
think of events that should be placed on the time line. Explain to
the students that they are going to place these events on a string
to make a time line for display. Have the students choose and
write, on a sheet of paper, the event for which they want to be
responsible. Students should transfer the event information (date,
location, and event) onto another piece of paper, an "event page."
Students will then arrange themselves in the order in which the
events took place. The event pages will then be attached to the
string. During any extra time students have, they can illustrate
their event page.
- Guided Discussion. Have
the students think about the events that happened to Rifka, how
they changed her, and how they would feel if they were in her
situation. Ask students questions, such as: "How did you feel when
Rifka's left her to go to America?" and "How do you think Rifka
changed due to her experiences?"
Evaluation: Observe the students making the
class time line. Check for the proper information, dates, and
locations recorded on each event strip. Students' responses during
the class discussion will also be evaluated for thought about and
knowledge of the events in the book.
Return to Lesson
Did You Think?
- Students will brainstorm
responses to open-ended questions, in cooperative groups, and
record their group responses.
- Students will compare events
of the past to the events of today, through a carousel
brainstorming question, to recognize the differences, or
similarities, in the events that took place in the past and those
that are taking place today.
- Students will state ways in
which we, as a society, depend on one another and give examples
from the book to gain a better understanding of how we can help
4 large pieces of paper, 4
pieces of paper with a different open-ended question typed on each
one (See Appendix
for sample questions), 4 different colored markers, and
The teacher chooses 4
open-ended questions to post (See Appendix)
in the 4 corners of the room. The question is posted on one
page,with a large piece of paper taped to the bottom of the
question page. The teacher should read the questions aloud to the
class and inform the students of the types of responses expected.
Divide the class into four groups. Each group is assigned a corner
in which to start the carousel procedure. Each group is given a
different colored marker. Explain to the students that they will
be given a limited amount of time in which to respond to the
questions and that they should not start before the start signal
is given. At the stop signal, students should rotate, clock-wise,
to the next corner and question. (The rotation is where this
procedure gets its name.) At this new corner, the groups should
read the question and the responses already given. The groups
should not duplicate a response. The teacher is the monitor of the
time spent in each corner. Monitor the time based on how actively
engaged the students are and make sure the first couple groups to
a question are not able to give all the answers possible! At the
start signal, students begin the first rotation. At the stop
signal students rotate and read the question and answers. Begin
again with the start signal. Continue until all questions have
been answered. The last group to each question should review all
answers given and choose the five best to share with the class.
The groups should pick a group leader to share the responses. This
will help those who have finished each question to gain more
information about the responses given to each question. Further
questions may be asked of the group, for clarification of
Due to the different marker colors, evaluation of the group is easily
accomplished. The contributions of each group will be easily seen and
can; thus, be evaluated.
Return to Lesson
RETURN TO LITERATURE INDEX
- Places to locate (for "Map
the Place" lesson):
- Fourth grade curriculum: the focus
is on your state. This section of the unit is based on Utah.
The students could find places such as: Salt Lake City, Sandy,
St. George, Wendover, Brigham City, Ogden, Logan, Amalga,
Smithfield, Toelle, Provo, Orem, Spanish Fork, etc.
Fifth grade curriculum: the focus is
on the United States. Students could locate places such as:
Houston, Texas; Billings, Montana; Fort Lauderdale, Florida;
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; Casper, Wyoming;
Grand Rapids, Colorado; Buffalo, New York; Trenton, NewJersey;
Cincinnati, Ohio; Springfield, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio;
Charleston, West Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Carson City,
Nevada; Los Angeles, California; Lewiston, Idaho; Tucson,
Arizona; Dallas, Texas; Dead Wood, South Dakota; and many other
large and small cities and towns in America.
- Event Strips (for "Time
Nathan leaves his regiment; family leaves
Berdichev; Polish border examination; typhus; untangling the
girl's hair on the train to Warsaw, Poland; Rifka not allowed to
buy a ticket to America; HIAS lady; Sister Katrina's treatment, in
Antwerp, Belgium; Pieter and the ship to America; Ellis Island;
Ilya; and new growth of hair.
- Questions for "What
Did You Think?"
lesson: "What prejudices are expressed in
Letters from Rifka and who were the people with
the prejudices?" "List the characters in the book and what they
contributed to the story." "List the major events in the book and
how they influenced the rest of the story." "How do the events in
the book relate to events that are taking place in the world,
today?" "What are some examples of how people depend on one
another, in the book, and what can we learn from the
Return to the Top
of This Document