Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake
Our World Turned to Water

Last year, a Storyworks class from Baton Rouge wrote to editor Lauren Tarshis. They wanted to share their incredible stories of surviving the Louisiana Flood of 2016, the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy. Lauren went down for a visit and has turned their experiences into a thrilling article about survival, heroism, and healing.

By Lauren Tarshis
From the September 2017 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will read a narrative nonfiction article and identify the main idea: how a terrible flood brought out the best in people.

Lexiles: 860L, 650L
Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level: 40
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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary; Watch a Video (40 minutes)

  • Preview text features with students. Ask: How does the large photo on pages 4-5 help you understand the title of the article?
  • Read aloud the Up Close box on page 5 to set a purpose for reading.
  • Show our vocabulary slideshow to preview challenging words from the article. Follow up with the vocabulary activity. Highlighted words: current, torrents, tributaries, grave (adj.), submerged, mobilize, recedes, demolished, salvage, gratitude
  • Show our video “Behind the Scenes: Our World Turned to Water,” in which author Lauren Tarshis discusses how she researched and wrote the article. Have students complete the video activity.

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes)

Read the article as a class, or play our audio version as students follow along. Have students read it a second time in small groups, answering the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions

  • Read the text on page 4. What are the two main ideas Mrs. Boudreaux wanted the author, Lauren Tarshis, to understand? (main idea) Mrs. Boudreaux wanted the author to understand that Baton Rouge had been devastated by a terrible flood. (Explain that a “thousand-year flood” is a flood so bad that it happens very rarely.) She also wanted Tarshis to know how people rushed to help each other.
  • In “A Rainy Morning,” how does what was happening inside Episcopal School contrast with what was happening outside? What impression does this section give you of the students and teachers there? (inference) Inside the school, people felt “sunny,” while outside rain poured down. Everyone was happy to see each other and excited to start school. This gives the impression that students and teachers have positive attitudes and enjoy being part of the school community. 
  • Why were weather forecasters “growing increasingly alarmed”? (supporting details) There was a large amount of moisture in the air, causing heavy rain. Plus, the storm was moving slowly, so it would dump rain on Baton Rouge for days.
  • Reread “A Disaster Taking Shape.” Summarize what happened to Skyler, Dell, and Addisyn. (summarizing) Sklyer’s house was flooded and everything inside was destroyed; Dell’s neighborhood had water rushing through the streets; Addisyn and her family got trapped inside their truck.
  • In “A Volunteer Navy,” the text says people “began to mobilize to help each other.” Which details support this statement? (supporting details) Details include: Hundreds of people went into the flooded streets in their own boats to try to rescue others stranded in the disaster; they climbed through windows to help elderly and disabled people, and they comforted children and pets. One of these boats rescued the Botos family.
  • What is the main idea of the section “‘What Can I Do?’” (main idea) The main idea is that after the flood, teachers and students of Episcopal reached out to help flood victims clean up their damaged homes and deal with all the destruction the flood caused.
  • Based on “‘That’s Just Stuff,’” how were people in the Episcopal community luckier than many others in Baton Rouge? (compare and contrast) Episcopal School reopened a week after the flood, and over the following months, students could return to their usual activities. Nine schools in the city remained closed all year, and many people are still struggling with losses.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • Why do you think the author includes the stories of three different students—Addisyn, Skyler, and Dell—in this article? (author’s craft) The author probably includes the stories of three students to make the article more personal for readers, and to show that there are many individual stories within the disaster. Many thousands of people in Baton Rouge were in danger and lost everything. Knowing what Addisyn, Skyler, and Dell experienced helps readers understand what being in Baton Rouge was like. It also emphasizes that all three, and many others, discovered how caring people can be.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Main Idea and Supporting Details

  • Distribute our main idea and supporting details activity and have students complete it in groups.
  • Invite students to respond to the writing prompt on page 9. We will forward letters we receive to Mrs. Boudreaux and her students. 

Ideas to Engage and Inspire

Collaborate for Peer Editing: Guide students to each set up a Google doc to respond to the writing prompt. After writing a first draft, have them share their letters with a partner using the “Share” button. Each pair can then edit each other’s work, using the “Suggesting” mode. (Click “Editing” and choose “Suggesting” from the dropdown menu.) This option allows them to discuss the edits and choose to accept them or not. Afterward, they can share their edited work with you. 

Differentiate and Customize
For On Level Readers

Have students write a letter explaining why the Episcopal community feels fortunate even though they lost so much.

For Struggling Readers

Read the lower-Lexile version of this article together with your struggling readers. At the end of each section, ask students to highlight one sentence they think was important in it. Ask them to share and discuss their choices.

For Advanced Readers

Have students highlight facts in the article about the Louisiana flood; as a hint, tell them to look in the section “‘That’s Just Stuff.’” Prompt them to do research to find more facts about the flood, then present their findings in an infographic.

For ELL Students

Most of the vocabulary words in this article could be used to describe the accompanying photos. Ask students to point out a photo that fits with each word and, if students are ready, use the word to talk about the picture.

For Guided Reading

Discuss this article with guided-reading groups. For discussion prompts, select questions from the close-reading or lower-level questions, depending on the group. Guide students to answer them using evidence from the text.