Constructing Curriculum: Teaching with Jorey Hurley’s Skyscraper
Written and Illustrated by Jorey Hurley
Published in 2019 by Simon & Schuster
Grades PK – 2
The processes and machines used to build a skyscraper are the subject of Jorey Hurley’s latest picture book offering. Following a pattern established in her prior publications, the book is comprised of double page spreads with a single action verb on each spread. In Skyscraper, the construction begins with demolition. “Crush,” an excavator takes a bite out of an old brick building. Construction vehicles take center stage in the digitally rendered illustrations. Hurley’s bright colors and geometrical shapes detail fourteen different machines and their roles in building a glass encased skyscraper. Observant readers will find seasonal clues to the passage of time and will note that construction proceeds in all kinds of weather. A glossary at the conclusion of the book names each machine and provides a brief description of how the machine works and how it is part of the building process. Construction vehicles have perennial appeal and this engaging title is sure to inspire young readers to want to know more about cities and their skylines.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Action Verbs. The text of Skyscraper consists of one word for each two page spread. In all but the last two spreads, the word is an action verb, describing the movements of the construction vehicles that are featured. Select several of these words and write them at the top of large pieces of chart paper. Depending on the age of your students, either work in whole group or in small group to act out and then to list and or illustrate additional examples of uses of each verb (for example – the front end loader scoops a bucket of bricks, your students may think of how they can “scoop” up a handful of sand). Expand your study by examining interesting verb use in Jorey Hurley’s books (see for example Fetch, Hop, and Ribbit) and other texts (for Classroom Bookshelf examples see: Over in the Wetlands, Wild Ideas, and Last Stop on Market Street). Your goal with these activities is to support vocabulary development and to prime students to make interesting verb selections in their own writing.
Pocket Chart Matching. Skyscraper is rich with opportunities for vocabulary learning. Construct a pocket chart activity, creating word cards that include the verbs from the book and the names of the featured vehicles. For younger students, include a picture of the vehicle next to its name. Students can match the vehicle with its action featured in the book. Expand the activity by adding additional noun and verb cards – what other people, places or things can carry out the action that is described by the verbs -or- what other actions can each vehicle take?
Oral Storytelling. With its limited text and elaborate illustrations, Skyscraper is the perfect vehicle for oral storytelling. Invite your students to describe what they see happening in the illustrations, incorporating the verb that is provided for them. Help your students to expand their narratives by drawing their attention to the images and inviting them to imagine what has happened before and what will happen after the moments depicted in the images. Extend this activity by obtaining copies of Jory Hurley’s books: Ribbit, Hop, Fetch, and Nest – each can be used as a platform for this type of storytelling.
Author/ Illustrator Study. Jorey Hurley’s first picture book, Nest, was published in 2014. Learn more about this author by visiting her website and by reading her collection of books. Reading across Hurley’s books, students can notice her storytelling techniques and how she depicts the passage of time. Hurley does her image making with Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Guide students to notice the use of color, shape, and line in her books and if possible, provide students with the experience of using a tablet and stylus to create images. Students may be inspired to use Hurley’s books as a model for writing their own texts.
Skyscraper as Mentor Text: More Action Verbs Read Skyscraper and Hurley’s other books featuring verbs as models for a student writing project. invite students to take turns observing the the action that occurs in your classroom (or your school, or on the play yard, or in a specific area in your community). Students should make a list of the action verbs that they see happening and plan a picture book that captures the activity and tells a story about this location.
Comparing Human Builders and Animal Builders. Skyscraper can be included in a study of building techniques across species. Read it along with Jonathan Bean’s Building Our House to explore human construction methods. Bean’s text is autobiographical and provides details of how his family constructed their home using traditional methods. Then compare the building methods depicted in these two texts with two books that focus on animal builders, bot featured on The Classroom Bookshelf: Shawn Sheehy’s Welcome to the Neighborwood and David Harrison’s A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures Who Build. How do human techniques mimic animal constructions? Next, read Christy Hale’s Dreaming Up, which juxtaposes kid constructions with building that incorporate similar techniques. Use Dreaming Up as a model for a class composed text that compares animal and human constructions.
A Multimodal Skyscraper Text Set. After reading Skyscraper with your students, invite them to compile a list of ideas and wondering that they have about skyscrapers. Collaborate with your school or local public librarian to gather a collection of multimodal texts related to skyscrapers. Include video, such as the PBS series Building Big: Skyscrapers (note: this video includes reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, so please preview this video to select a segment that is most appropriate for your students), websites such as The Skyscraper Museum, and books such as The Story of Buildings, Who Built That: Skyscrapers, Building Big, Skyscraper: From the Ground Up (out of print, but check your local library for this photo essay), and Skyscraper. Students can research their questions (with appropriate support) and record their learnings in text and image.
Engineering Tall Buildings. Provide your students with the opportunity to experiment with the creation of tall structures, using materials such as straws, popsicle sticks, cardboard, etc. Students can revisit Skyscraper and other construction texts to examine images of structural supports within tall buildings. See the STEM links in the Further Explorations section for additional materials suggestions and challenges. Offer students the opportunities to talk or write about their constructions – what makes them unique? What special features do they have? How are they designed to withstand natural events?
Bean, J. (2013). Building our house. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Cornille, D. (2014). Who built that? Skyscrapers: An introduction to skyscrapers and their architects. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Curlee, L. (2007). Skyscraper. New York: Atheneum.
Dillon, P. (2014). The story of buildings. Ill. by S. Biesty. Somerville, MA; Candlewick Press.
Goodman, S.E. (2004). Skyscraper: From the ground up. New York: Knopf.
Hudson, C.W. (2006). Construction zone. Photos. by R. Sobol. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
LaRoche, G. (2009). What’s inside?: Fascinating structures around the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Macaulay, D. (2000). Building big. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Newland, S. (2019). Extraordinary skyscrapers: The science of how and why they were built. Capstone.
Ritchie, S. (2011). Look at that building! A first book of structures. Toronto: Kids Can Press.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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