Jim Murphy, The Great Fire Grade 6 Originally published in New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995. Learning Objective



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Jim Murphy, The Great Fire - Grade 6

Originally published in New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
Learning Objective: The goal of this three day exemplar is to give students the opportunity to use the reading and writing habits they’ve been practicing on a regular basis to explore the historic Great Fire of Chicago. By reading and rereading the passage closely combined with classroom discussion about it, students will explore the historical truths related to poverty, city construction, and city services that led to the disaster. In this reading, students learn about historical disasters, but they may not fully comprehend causes or how human actions, nature, or even luck contributed to them, rendering history a flat subject to be memorized rather than explored. When combined with writing about the passage and teacher feedback, students will better understand the dangers inherent in cities and the government role in mitigating that danger.

Reading Task: Students will silently read the passage in question on a given day—first independently and then following along with the text as the teacher and/or skillful students read aloud. Depending on the difficulties of a given text and the teacher’s knowledge of the fluency abilities of students, the order of the student silent read and the teacher reading aloud with students following might be reversed. What is important is to allow all students to interact with challenging text on their own as frequently and independently as possible. Students will then reread specific passages in response to a set of concise, text-dependent questions that compel them to examine the meaning and structure of Murphy’s prose. Therefore, rereading is deliberately built into the instructional unit.
Vocabulary Task: Most of the meanings of words in the exemplar text can be discovered by students from careful reading of the context in which they appear. Teachers can use discussions to model and reinforce how to learn vocabulary from contextual clues, and students must be held accountable for engaging in this practice. Where it is judged this is not possible, underlined words are defined briefly for students to the right of the text in a separate column whenever the original text is reproduced. At times, this is all the support these defined words need. At other times, particularly with abstract words, teachers will need to spend more time explaining and discussing them. In addition, in subsequent close readings of passages of the text, high value academic (‘Tier Two’) words have been bolded to draw attention to them. Given how crucial vocabulary knowledge is for academic and career success, it is essential that these high value words be discussed and lingered over during the instructional sequence.
Sentence Syntax Task: On occasion students will encounter particularly difficult sentences to decode. Teachers should engage in a close examination of such sentences to help students discover how they are built and how they convey meaning. While many questions addressing important aspects of the text double as questions about syntax, students should receive regular supported practice in deciphering complex sentences. It is crucial that the help they receive in unpacking text complexity focuses both on the precise meaning of what the author is saying and why the author might have constructed the sentence in this particular fashion. That practice will in turn support students’ ability to unpack meaning from syntactically complex sentences they encounter in future reading.

Discussion Task: Students will discuss the exemplar text in depth with their teacher and their classmates, performing activities that result in a close reading of Murphy’s prose. The goal is to foster student confidence when encountering complex text and to reinforce the skills they have acquired regarding how to build and extend their understanding of a text. A general principle is to always reread the passage that provides evidence for the question under discussion. This gives students another encounter with the text, helping them develop fluency and reinforcing their use of text evidence.

Writing Task: Students will write a persuasive paragraph on the role of government in protecting people from the sort of disaster represented by the Chicago Fire. Teachers might afford students the opportunity to revise their paragraphs after participating in classroom discussion or receiving teacher feedback, allowing them to refashion both their understanding of the text and their expression of that understanding.
Outline of Lesson Plan: This lesson can be delivered in three days of instruction and reflection on the part of students and their teacher.

Standards Addressed: The following Common Core State Standards are the focus of this exemplar: RI 6-8.1, RI 6-8.3, RI 6-8.4, RI 6-8.6, RI 6-8.9 (addressed in optional homework); RL 6-8.3; W 6-8.1; RH 6-8.7.
The Text: Murphy, Jim. The Great Fire


Exemplar Text

Vocabulary

It was Sunday and an unusually warm evening for October eighth, so Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan left his stifling little house in the west side of Chicago and went to visit neighbors. One of his stops was at the shingled cottage of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The one-legged Sullivan remembered getting to the O’Learys’ house at around eight o’clock, but left after only a few minutes because the O’Leary family was already in bed. Both Patrick and Catherine had to be up very early in the morning: he to set off for his job as a laborer; she to milk their five cows and then deliver the milk to the neighbors.

Sullivan ambled down the stretch of land between the O’ Learys’ and their neighbor, crossed the street, and sat down on the wooden sidewalk in front of Thomas White’s house. After adjusting his wooden leg to make himself comfortable, he leaned back against White’s fence to enjoy the night.


The wind coming off the prairie had been strong all day, sometimes gusting wildly, and leaves scuttled along the streets; the sound of laughter and fiddle music drifted through the night. A party was going on at the McLaughlins’ to celebrate the arrival of a relative from Ireland. Another neighbor, Dennis Rogan, dropped by the O’Learys’ at eight-thirty, but he, too, left when he heard the family was in bed.
Sullivan didn’t hesitate a second. “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” he shouted as loud as he could. Running clumsily across the dirt street, Sullivan made his way directly to the barn. There was no time to stop for help. The building was already burning fiercely and he knew that in addition to five cows, the O’Learys had a calf and a house in there.

materials added to the top of a house to make it water-proof

large area of grassland that is generally flat
The barn’s loft held over three tons of timothy hay, delivered earlier that day. Flames from the burning hay pushed against the roof and beams, almost as if they were struggling to break free. A shower of burning embers greeted Sullivan as he entered the building.
He untied the ropes of the cows, but the frightened animals did not move. On the other side of the barn, another cow and the horse were tied to the wall, straining get loose. Sullivan took a step toward them, then realized that the fire had gotten around behind him and might cut off any chance of escape in a matter of seconds. The heat was fiercely intense and blinding, and in his rush to flee, Sullivan slipped on the uneven floorboards and fell with a thud.

He struggled to get up and, as he did, Sullivan discovered that his wooden leg had gotten stuck between two boards and came off. Instead of panicking, he began hopping toward where he thought the door was. Luck was with him. He had gone a few feet when the O’Learys’ calf bumped into him, and Sullivan was able to throw his arms around its neck. Together, man and calf managed to find the door and safety, both frightened, both badly singed.

A shed attached to the barn was already engulfed by flames. It contained two tons of coal for the winter and a large supply of kindling wood. Fire ran along the dry grass and leaves, and took hold of a neighbor’s fence. The heat from the burning barn, shed, and fence was so hot that the O’Learys’ house, forty feet away, began to smolder. Neighbors rushed from their homes, many carrying buckets or pots of water. The sound of music and merrymaking stopped abruptly, replaced by the shout of “FIRE!”. It would be a warning cry heard thousands of times during the next thirty-one hours.

area above the main barn

small pieces of easy to burn wood used to start a fire


being happy (typically during a celebration or party)

Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn. The city boasted having 59,500 buildings, many of them—such as the Courthouse and the Tribune Building—large and ornately decorated. The trouble was that about two-thirds of all these structures were made entirely of wood. Many of the remaining buildings (even the ones proclaimed to be “fireproof”) looked solid, but were actually jerrybuilt affairs; the stone or brick exteriors hid wooden frames and floors, all topped with highly flammable tar or shingle roofs. It was also a common practice to disguise wood as another kind of building material. The fancy exterior decorations on just about every building were carved from wood, then painted to look like stone or marble. Most churches had steeples that appeared to be solid from the street, but a closer inspection would reveal a wooden framework covered with cleverly painted copper or tin.


The situation was worst in the middle-class and poorer districts. Lot sizes were small, and owners usually filled them up with cottages, barns, sheds, and outhouses—all made of fast-burning wood, naturally. Because both Patrick and Catherine O’Leary worked, they were able to put a large addition on their cottage despite a lot size of just 25 by 100 feet. Interspersed in these residential areas were a variety of businesses—paint factories, lumberyards, distilleries, gasworks, mills, furniture manufacturers, warehouses, and coal distributors.
Wealthier districts were by no means free of fire hazards. Stately stone and brick homes had wood interiors, and stood side by side with smaller wood-frame houses. Wooden stables and other storage buildings were common, and trees lined the streets and filled the yards.
The links between richer and poorer sections went beyond the materials used for construction or the way buildings were crammed together. Chicago had been built largely on soggy marshland that flooded every time it rained. As the years passed and the town developed, a quick solution to the water and mud problem was needed. The answer was to make the roads and sidewalks out of wood and elevate them above the waterline, in some places by several feet. On the day the fire started, over 55 miles of pine-block streets and 600 miles of wooden sidewalks bound the 23,000 acres of the city in a highly combustible knot.


fancy or elaborate


built poorly or quickly, especially to save money
able to burn
outside
a tall structure on the top of a church


a shed-like building that covers a deep hole used for going to the bathroom
where alcohol is made; where flour is made


majestic or elegant

Fires were common in all cities back then, and Chicago was no exception. In 1863 there had been 186 reported fires in Chicago; the number had risen to 515 by 1868. Records for 1870 indicate that fire-fighting companies responded to nearly 600 alarms. The next year saw even more fires spring up, mainly because the summer had been unusually dry. Between July and October only a few scattered showers had taken place and these did not produce much water at all. Trees drooped in the unrelenting summer sun; grass and leaves dried out. By October, as many as six fires were breaking out every day. On Saturday the seventh, the night before the Great Fire, a blaze destroyed four blocks and took over sixteen hours to control. What made Sunday the eighth different and particularly dangerous was the steady wind blowing in from the southwest.


It was this gusting, swirling wind that drove the flames from the O’Learys’ barn into neighboring yards. To the east, a fence and shed of James Dalton’s went up in flames; to the west, a barn smoldered for a few minutes, then flared up into a thousand yellow-orange fingers. Dennis Rogan had heard Sullivan’s initial shouts about a fire and returned. He forced open the door to the O’Learys’ house and called for them to wake up.



Used by permission of Scholastic Inc.


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Day 1: Instructional Exemplar for Murphy’s The Great Fire
Summary of Activities

  1. Teacher introduces the day’s passage with minimal commentary and students read it independently (5 minutes)

  2. Teacher or a skillful reader then reads the passage out loud to the class as students follow along in the text (5 minutes)

  3. Teacher asks the class to discuss the first set of text-dependent questions and perform targeted tasks about the passage, with answers in the form of notes, annotations to the text, or more formal responses as appropriate (40 minutes)




Text Passage under Discussion

Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

It was Sunday and an unusually warm evening for October eighth, so Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan left his stifling little house in the west side of Chicago and went to visit neighbors. One of his stops was at the shingled cottage of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The one-legged Sullivan remembered getting to the O’Learys’ house at around eight o’clock, but left after only a few minutes because the O’Leary family was already in bed. Both Patrick and Catherine had to be up very early in the morning: he to set off for his job as a laborer; she to milk their five cows and then deliver the milk to the neighbors.
[read the intervening paragraphs]
He struggled to get up and, as he did, Sullivan discovered that his wooden leg had gotten stuck between two boards and came off. Instead of panicking, he began hopping toward where he thought the door was. Luck was with him. He had gone a few feet when the O’Learys’ calf bumped into him, and Sullivan was able to throw his arms around its neck. Together, man and calf managed to find the door and safety, both frightened, both badly singed.

1. Introduce the passage and students read independently.

Other than giving the brief definitions offered to words students would likely not be able to define from context (underlined in the text), avoid giving any background context or instructional guidance at the outset of the lesson while students are reading the text silently. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Murphy’s prose. It is critical to cultivating independence and creating a culture of close reading that students initially grapple with rich texts like Murphy’s text without the aid of prefatory material, extensive notes, or even teacher explanations.


2. Read the passage out loud to the class as students follow along in the text.

Asking students to listen to The Great Fire exposes them a second time to the rhythms and meaning of Murphy’s language before they begin their own close reading of the passage. Speaking clearly and carefully will allow students to follow Murphy’s narrative, and reading out loud with students following along improves fluency while offering all students access to this complex text. Accurate and skillful modeling of the reading provides students who may be dysfluent with accurate pronunciations and syntactic patterns of English.







Text Under Discussion

Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

It was Sunday and an unusually warm evening for October eighth, so Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan left his stifling little house in the west side of Chicago and went to visit neighbors. One of his stops was at the shingled cottage of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The one-legged Sullivan remembered getting to the O’Learys’ house at around eight o’clock, but left after only a few minutes because the O’Leary family was already in bed. Both Patrick and Catherine had to be up very early in the morning: he to set off for his job as a laborer; she to milk their five cows and then deliver the milk to the neighbors.

Sullivan ambled down the stretch of land between the O’ Learys’ and their neighbor, crossed the street, and sat down on the wooden sidewalk in front of Thomas Whites house. After adjusting his wooden leg to make himself comfortable, he leaned back against White’s fence to enjoy the night.



.


materials added to the top of a house to make it water-proof

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3. Ask the class to answer a small set of text-dependent guided questions and perform targeted tasks about the passage, with answers in the form of notes, annotations to the text, or more formal responses as appropriate.

As students move through these questions and reread Murphy’s The Great Fire, be sure to check for and reinforce their understanding of academic vocabulary in the corresponding text (which will be boldfaced the first time it appears in the text). At times, the questions themselves may focus on academic vocabulary.


(Q1) Why does the author start with this description of Daniel and Patrick and Catherine if he plans to describe a famous fire?

Students should recognize that the author hopes to personalize the disaster. The people who lived through it were hard-working, normal people. By showing this before the fire, students can see who was really affected instead of just looking at the fire.


(Q2) What tone is the author creating by choosing “amble” and “stretch” and “leaned back”? Why does the author create this feeling or mood when the main story is about the disaster?

All these verbs have a sense of relaxation and a tranquil tone which contrasts against the disaster that is coming. The author is emphasizing that disasters strike when people are not expecting it.





Text Under Discussion

Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

The wind coming off the prairie had been strong all day, sometimes gusting wildly, and leaves scuttled along the streets; the sound of laughter and fiddle music drifted through the night. A party was going on at the McLaughlins’ to celebrate the arrival of a relative from Ireland. Another neighbor, Dennis Rogan, dropped by the O’Learys’ at eight-thirty, but he, too, left when he heard the family was in bed.
Sullivan didn’t hesitate a second. “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” he shouted as loud as he could. Running clumsily across the dirt street, Sullivan made his way directly to the barn. There was no time to stop for help. The building was already burning fiercely and he knew that in addition to five cows, the O’Learys had a calf and a house in there.
The barn’s loft held over three tons of timothy hay, delivered earlier that day. Flames from the burning hay pushed against the roof and beams, almost as if they were struggling to break free. A shower of burning embers greeted Sullivan as he entered the building.

large area of grassland that is generally flat

area above the main barn


Students should find details about the weather and the families who lived in this middle-class/lower-class neighborhood to explain what the author is trying to show. In particular, ask students to parse and paraphrase the first sentence of this selection to check for comprehension.

Using details like having neighbors stop by to talk to each other, a party to celebrate a recently arrived relative, and the neighbors trying to save the O’Leary animals, Murphy presents a picture of an area where people are friendly and care about each other. (Note: in the optional homework this is contrasted against the POV of a reporter at the time of the fire.)


(Q3) Sullivan has to shout, “FIRE!” What does this tell you about the technology in Chicago at the time?

They had no telephones or automatic fire alarms that would allow someone to quickly get ahold of the fire department.


(Q4) What is the significance of the hay in the top of the barn? Why would the author want to draw attention to that detail?

Straw burns easily, and it’s light enough to blow in the wind that Murphy describes, carrying the fire to any nearby structures.







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