The Teachable Moment

First I was a reader, then an English major, then a high school teacher, then a writer and home schooling mother. As I plot out the curriculum for my kids (aged 12 and 14), I ponder all the stuff I read and taught. I know I should expose them to Great Literature so that they can learn from the inspiring themes of the past poets, playwrights and storytellers.

But then I think, “I’m pretty sure they’d enjoy that indie book by Michelle Isenhoff or Alan Tucker more…”  I’m torn. Do I stick with the famous, or go with what I’m sure will ignite their imagination?

This two-fold message is for the teachers out there—whether you’re in a brick-and-mortar school or sitting around the kitchen table.

#1 ~ Seize the Teachable  Moment

I team-taught an integrated Language Arts/Social Studies class for freshman a million years ago (according to my kids). Because I was the anchor personnel for language arts, I got to work with a few different social studies teachers. One in particular taught me as much as she did the kids. Her name was Casey. She was very tall, totally no-nonsense, and had a voice that could peel paint off the walls. And she was a genius at grabbing the teachable moments. It didn’t matter what had just happened in the news nationally, or in popular media, or school activities; Casey could tie it into the lesson and use it as an analogy to understand the dry world geography lessons we’d otherwise have to present. I never knew which angle she’d take as she presented her portion of the lesson each day because she always grabbed it right out of what was happening now. But I awaited her lessons eagerly. So did the kids. She was just cool that way.

#2 ~ Integrate Subjects

Casey taught me the importance of using a variety of sources and subjects to drive home an idea, and there’s no reason tween literature can’t be one of those. To illustrate, let me grab just a few titles from our own Emblazoners catalog

Cassidy Jones and the Secret FormulaElise Stokes’ books starring Cassidy Jones may seem, on the surface, to be just a fun superhero action series. However, there are healthy doses of science in each (some real, some speculative) that could spark an interest in students to do some further research into the possibilities and probabilities of certain inventions. Students could learn about everything from phlebotomy to animal behavior, and all kinds of things in between.


PrincessKandakeFINAL.jpg webStephany Jefferson’s books about Princess Kandake could enhance a unit on Africa’s ancient tribal customs or the wildlife there. Additionally, they provide the opportunity to discuss the changing roles of women in leadership over the centuries. This could even be a way to analyze why different cultures develop based on where they live on the planet.



ARROWoftheMIST (3)Christina Mercer’s series includes a great deal of information about plants and their various medicinal properties. Though some of the plants are fictional, a unit on how plants are used today in the health industry would be significant for both biology and chemistry students. They could learn the history of how different medicines were discovered and developed, or compare homeopathic/naturalistic remedies to their synthetically produced  counterparts.


AMOD_ME1_JF2grn2_200x300Alan Tucker’s fantasy series of Mother Earth provides a great springboard into discussions about the environmental impact made by everything from agriculture to industrial pollution. Students could learn about how one link in the food chain affects the rest of the ecosystem, and how a balance in nature can be restored and/or preserved.



TheCandleStar_cover_600x900Any of Michelle Isenhoff’s historical novels for tweens will prove extremely engaging and educational. The books immerse the reader in the period by including cultural tidbits from daily life as well as overarching socio-political issues of the time. All of them are sure to stir an interest in a time before video games and speeding cars. Units on either the Revolutionary War or the Civil War in particular would take on new meaning if they included reading her books.


Faery SwapSusan Kaye Quinn’s Faery Swap makes it clear that mathematics and physics are magic. Doubt it? Look at all the inventions we have today that would have seemed like magic 100 years ago. They all required a knowledge of numbers and how things move in space and time. The story even addresses the rapid advances made in the last century, and how math and science played a role in creating the “magic” we enjoy today.


magian highI’d like to think my own Magian High could be used in a unit about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what the whole process of desegregation might have been like—even though the story is set in modern times and deals with a different kind of separation altogether. Tweens are full of ideals, but sometimes the logistics of overcoming obstacles to reach those ideals are elusive. This story shows both the good and the bad of dramatic social change and what it takes to make things right.



Of course, these books do not take the place of science or social studies lessons, but they can certainly enrich them. The stories bring the concepts to life and spark interest in young readers to know more about what inspired the themes in the books. Having taught a variety of subjects in an integrated way, I know that it really works with youth. It ties all the courses of study together in a relevant way and helps them see how all knowledge connects.  That big stumbling block–“What does this have to do with anything? I’m never going to use this!”–goes away.

Stories show knowledge in action, and that makes learning exciting.



16 thoughts on “The Teachable Moment

  1. Thanks for the excellent post! I write a series of Eco mysteries that weave ecology into an exciting adventure–to save a species six feisty girls must solve a tricky Eco mystery. A free cross curricula unit, How to Write an Eco Mystery, is available on my website:

  2. Wonderful post, Lia! Great showcasing of fab reads that not only entertain, but educate. Well done! Shared around the globe!

    1. Barbara, I’ve met many teachers who have taken to writing the books they wish they’d had available when they were in the classroom! Good for you!

  3. Nurturing a love of reading is much more difficult than creating an active animosity toward books, which so many people of all ages have! Force-feeding the “classics” early on is often a sure-fired way to foster that animosity. They’ll have plenty of time later to slog through Faulkner, Joyce, and Shakespeare’s histories. (Three of my personal nemeses. Shakespeare’s comedies, on the other hand, are some of my absolute favorites and I’ve even performed some of them on stage)

    Being able to relate the past to the present — or fiction to nonfiction — is absolutely key in showing the connections and why it’s important to study history and understand its patterns. Great post, Lia!

    1. Thank you, Alan! The classics are wonderful–I have them all over my shelves–but I enjoyed them much more as an adult than I ever could as a teen. When I teach classics to my kids at home, I pick and choose carefully, and sometimes we just do pieces. Last week, it was Shakespeare sonnets–the fun ones. The kids loved them, and it got them used to the language.

  4. Wonderful post! I love learning interesting facts while reading fiction, as that learning happens in such a fun way. I know this is true for kids and adults alike. Thank you for sharing!

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