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BARRY KING/WIREIMAGE
The Amazing Powers of Jen Bricker

An incredible story of love, determination, and dreaming big

By Kristin Lewis

Learning Objective: Students will synthesize information from an article and a poem about overcoming obstacles.

Lexile: 700L-800L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
Topics: SEL,

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Answer Key (1)
Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Words of Wisdom

“You've got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to go to bed with satisfaction.” Discuss how this quotation by George Horace Lorimer, a past editor of the Saturday Evening Post, relates to Jen Bricker and her life - and to your students' own lives. 

Further Reading

Two great books can help your students further explore the topic of overcoming obstacles. “Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog)” by Lynn Plourde is a heartwarming story about new kid in town and his deaf dog Maxi. Margarita Engle’s “The Drum Dream Girl” is a vibrantly illustrated free-verse historical fiction account of a talented Cuban girl’s struggle to follow her dream of drumming - despite being told that only boys can play the drums. 

Video: "Romanian Roots"

As a class, watch this 15-minute ESPN video, which reveals more about Jen Bricker’s life and family. 

More About the Story

Skills

vocabulary, author’s craft, inference, supporting details, interpreting text, main idea, figurative language, descriptive language, theme, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Purpose

The article tells about the life of Jen Bricker, a young woman who didn’t allow her disability to get in the way of achieving her dreams. The accompanying poem describes how trees endure and thrive even under difficult circumstances. Both texts explore the theme of overcoming obstacles.

Structure

Except for the opening section, the text is in chronological order. The poem has three stanzas. The second and third stanza use indentation to emphasize certain words.

Language

Both articles include some challenging vocabulary (e.g. genetic, biological, steadfast), as well as figurative language. The poem includes personification.

Knowledge Demands 

The article refers to adoption, the Olympics, and Romania. The poem refers to types of trees: pine, cedar, and oak.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Ask students to look at the headline and picture on pages 16-17. Ask: What do you think Jen Bricker’s amazing power might be? Then show the video “Into the World of Jen Bricker.” Have students complete the video activity in groups or as a class.
  • Prompt students to glance at the poem’s title on page 20. Ask them how they think the poem is related to the article. Have a volunteer read aloud the Up Close box on page 16.
  • Distribute the vocabulary activity to introduce challenging words in the text. Highlighted words: aerialist, feats, genetic, biological, bleak, agile, prosthetic, prodigy, obstacles, memoir

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes, activity sheet online)

Read the articles as a class. Then put students in groups to answer the close-reading questions.

Discuss the critical-thinking question as a class.

“The Amazing Powers of Jen Bricker”

Close-Reading Questions

  • In the first section, the author begins with a description of Jen dangling from the ceiling. Why do you think she chooses to introduce Jen this way? (author’s craft) By starting with this exciting image, author Kristin Lewis gets you interested in Jen and makes you aware of her athletic skills. When Lewis later reveals that Jen was born without legs, the story becomes more dramatic and makes you want to learn more about this impressive person.
  • In the section “She Was Ours,” what do you think the Brickers mean when they say “she was ours” about first meeting baby Jen? (inference) The Brickers mean that they knew right away that they wanted Jen to be part of their family.
  • What did doctors predict Jen’s life would be like? How accurate did these predictions turn out to be? (synthesizing) Doctors thought Jen’s life would be very difficult and suggested she would never be able to move on her own. Their predictions were absolutely wrong; Jen turned out to be a gifted athlete with a full and satisfying life.
  • In “Can-Do Spirit,” the author writes that, as a child, Jen “felt she could do anything she put her mind to.” What examples from this section support this statement? (supporting details) Even without legs, Jen played softball, snowboarded, fished, rode horses, roller-skated, and was a state gymnastics champion.
  • Reread the last paragraph of “It Seemed Impossible.” Explain what the author means by “it seemed impossible—and yet it made perfect sense.” (interpreting text) The author means that the chance Jen would turn out to be sisters with someone she greatly admired but had never met seemed almost impossible. On the other hand, Jen felt a special connection to Dominique while following her sports career. Also, both women are gymnasts who share a Romanian background and similar looks. These details make an unlikely situation feel normal, not surprising.
  • In the last section, Jen says that she has no superpowers. What does she mean by this? (main idea) Jen means that she’s a regular person. Her success is the result of hard work and determination. She wants everyone to believe that “everything is possible” and hopes to inspire people to keep trying no matter what.

"The Mighty Tree"

Close-Reading Questions

  • The word mighty means “having great strength or power.” How does the poem show you that trees are mighty? (main idea) In the poem, trees are mighty because they are strong enough to grow even when obstacles like rock and concrete are in their way. They are powerful enough to remain standing during droughts, hurricanes, and terrible weather.
  • How are the trees in the poem like people? What activities do they have in common? (figurative language) Like people, the trees in the poem grow, dream, and tell their stories. Both trees and people face challenges in their lives.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • The word mighty means “having great strength or power.” How does the poem show you that trees are mighty? (main idea) In the poem, trees are mighty because they are strong enough to grow even when obstacles like rock and concrete are in their way. They are powerful enough to remain standing during droughts, hurricanes, and terrible weather.
  • How are the trees in the poem like people? What activities do they have in common? (figurative language) Like people, the trees in the poem grow, dream, and tell their stories. Both trees and people face challenges in their lives.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Synthesizing

Distribute our synthesizing activity and have students complete it. Then have them use their answers to the activity to respond to the writing prompt on page 20.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Help readers see how the exciting details of Jen’s story support the main ideas. Assign each section to a small group and work with students to identify its main idea along with two or more supporting details. Remind them that section titles provide clues about what each section is mainly about. Come together to share results.

For Advanced Readers

Present this essential question: What makes a person inspiring to others? Put students in small groups to discuss, reflecting on Jen’s story and the lives of others they find inspirational. Then come together as a class to share ideas, along with who inspires them and why.

For ELL Students

Read the lower-Lexile version of the article aloud to students as they follow along. Then pose questions from our Questions for English Language Learners. This resource, available online, provides questions for students at different stages of language acquisition.

For Guided Reading

Read the article and poem with your guided reading groups, using the close-reading and critical-thinking questions to discuss what Jen and the trees have in common. As you meet with groups, other students can work independently or in pairs on the synthesizing activity sheet.