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Quilts in Code: Using Mentor Texts to Understand the Civil War

Today I am going to share how I use The Patchwork Path, written by Bettye Stroud and illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett, as a mentor text to teach about inference in my Gifted classroom.  This is part of a much larger "Quilts in Code" unit that I am creating to support my students in their study of the Civil War.  The unit isn't done yet, so in the meantime I am offering this inferencing anchor chart and sentence stem activity as a freebie!

ideas of how to use mentor texts to teach elementary students about inference

The idea of codes being woven into quilts is a wonderful one indeed.  Whether it is true is a subject of debate.  Nevertheless, coded quilts can start an engaging discussion that pulls in beautiful literature and provides a springboard to deeper understanding of the many complex issues, historical events, and courageous people of the Civil War era.

The Book

The Patchwork Path
Written by Bettye Stroud
Illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett

Grades  1 - 4
Age Range  5 - 10
Lexile Measure 680L
Pages  32
Publisher  Candlewick Press
Copyright  2005

Hannah is a 10-year-old girl through whose point of view young students can learn about the perilous road so many slaves traveled from bondage to freedom.  Not only did Hannah's mother teach her how to sew, she also whispered how quilts held the key to freedom.  After Hannah's mother dies, she and her father escape slavery using those very clues.

What is Inference?
The first thing I do with my students is remind them what an inference is... and what it isn't.  In literary analysis, an inference is a conclusion that the reader draws from background knowledge coupled with evidence in the text.

I created this anchor chart to illustrate the process visually:

ideas to teach elementary students the difference between infer and predict

Students often confuse inferring with predicting, so I clarify with this distinction:
A prediction is an attempt to anticipate what will happen in the future.
An inference is an attempt to interpret what you are reading now.

The Standard
Anchor Literacy Standard 1 = Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

The Lesson
After we clarify what an inference is, we discuss the many times we infer each and every day.  I often find that showing photos of people dressed a certain way or in a particular situation supports students in making this connection between inferring and the conclusions that they draw on a regular basis.  (For instance, a person dressed in ballet slippers, tights, and a leotard is probably on her way to dance class or perhaps getting ready to perform on stage.)

Next, I set a purpose for reading with a guiding question:
Would Hannah be someone that you would want to have for a friend?

I find that gathering clues about a character's qualities as a friend helps younger readers to connect more naturally with the text.  Again, this is an inferential activity (judging if somebody is someone they want as a friend) that children participate in often enough to qualify them as experts.

I remind my students that "yes" or "no" will not be an adequate answer.  If they feel that Hannah would be a good friend, they need to tell me what in the book indicates this.  I provide a worksheet that supports this work; you can download it here:  The Patchwork Path FREEBIE.

Once students have gathered their evidence, I challenge them to use it to support their inferences in a paragraph.

Sentence Stems
As students begin their prewriting, I find that it is helpful to brainstorm sentence stems that we can use when supporting our inferences with evidence.  A few include:
On page _____, I saw that _____
For example, _____
I know this because _____
When the character ______, I could tell she _____

To download the anchor chart as well as the printable handout, please visit here.


  1. What a great activity for such a challenging skill! Thank you so much :)
    The Techie Teacher

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Julie! I really appreciate how you always take the time to leave a little sunshine! :o) Pam

  2. What a great book! I love your anchor chart and the great ideas you included in your post! Thank you for sharing =)

    1. Thank you for coming by, and for taking the time to leave such a nice comment! :o)

  3. Thank you for your ideas and resources! I look forward to trying out this lesson. :)

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