Featherless/Desplumado: Cross-Curricular Activities

Getting the Classroom Ready

Famous Faces

Materials Neccessary:

  • Poster or model of the human body and the central nervous system
  • Books on ability and disability
  • Photographs of differently-abled individuals and athletes of all kinds (see the Resources list* for websites to draw from)
  1. In a corner of your room, display resources related to physical disability in general and spina bifida in particular. Share a poster or model of the human body that illustrates the nervous system, and highlight the impacts of spina bifida. Gather books that discuss ability and disability, including resources explaining the causes of spina bifida and other paralyzing conditions.
  2. Post photographs of differently-abled people, including famous individuals (such as Frida Kahlo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Stevie Wonder, or Louis Braille) and less well-known people going about their lives. If possible, bring in a wheelchair, a book in Braille, or a poster of the American Sign Language alphabet that students can examine.
  3. Near your display on ability, create a linked photo gallery of athletes, including those who are differently-abled. Include images of the Olympics and the Special Olympics being sure to include photographs of both men and women. Present information on wheelchair soccer and basketball leagues. Show the class images of athletes with prosthetics or missing limbs who have participated in marathons, bicycle races, or other large competitions.

Getting Ready for Reading

Understanding Ability

Students undergo a temporary disability and reflect on their experience as a class. They analyze the different ideas in the terms “disabled” and “differently-abled.” Together, they identify some of the challenges that differently-abled people face and the strategies they use to overcome them.

Materials Neccessary:

  • Masking tape
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Self-closing plastic bags
  • Assorted small items, such as rubber bands, paper clips, coins, and erasers
  • Pens or pencils
  • Paper

Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Group Size: Entire class, partners

  1. Tell class members that they are going to try an experiment. In pairs, have students help each other tape a popsicle stick between the index finger and thumb of their writing hands, so that they are immobile. You might need to help the second partner in each pair complete the taping.
  2. Place assorted small items on a table and scatter them around. Put a self-closing plastic bag next to these items.
  3. Once all the students have taped the popsicle sticks to their fingers and thumbs, ask them to work with their partners to pick up all the small items and place them in the plastic bags. Then, ask them to seal the bags, and reflect on the ease or difficulty they experience in doing so. Next, ask students to tie their shoes.
  4. Then, ask students to take out a writing utensil and a piece of paper. With their hands still taped, tell students to write the title of the book, the author, and the illustrator on the piece of paper. Then, ask students to make a list of words that describe their feelings during the experiment.
  5. Next, tell students that they may remove the tape and popsicle sticks. Ask them to write down a list of words that describe how they feel now.
  6. Ask students to share some of the words on their two lists. Why did they feel those emotions in the two situations? What was challenging or frustrating to them when their hands were taped? What strategies did they use to overcome these challenges? What resources did they have? Remind students that they were only in this situation for a very limited period of time and that their disability was a minor one. How would they feel if they had to live with these challenges? What challenges might they face and what fears might they have? What strategies might a differently-abled person develop to overcome these challenges?
  7. Read aloud a dictionary definition of disability: “something that disables or disqualifies a person, a physical incapacity caused by injury or disease, etc.” Discuss with your class the difference between calling someone “disabled” and calling him or her “differently-abled.” What do the different terms emphasize? Which word better describes the experience that students just had while writing? How might that change if that was a condition they lived with every day? Which would they rather be called, “disabled” or “differently-abled?” Why?
  8. Tell students that the title of the book that they copied down tells the story of a differently-abled boy. Ask them to keep the emotions they felt during the experiment in mind as they read the story.

Exploring the Book

Diving In

Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Group Size: Large or small group

Introduce the book to students in a large or small group. The focus of this first reading should be reading for pleasure—encouraging students to enjoy the beauty of the book and understand the story it tells. In order to foster this enjoyment, try some of the following activities:

  1. Discuss the cover, the title, and the illustrations. Ask class members what they think it means to be “featherless.” Using the title page, ask students to predict what they think the book will be about. What might the cage, the feathers, and the soccer ball represent?
  2. Encourage students to further explore the book actively by taking a “picture walk” through the book, thinking about the story as it is told in the illustrations.
  3. Read the story aloud to the group, modeling reading with fluency and expression, or have students read the book on their own, in pairs or in small groups. Pause every few pages to check for comprehension, asking students to make inferences and predictions.

First Time Around: Vocabulary Development

Word Soccer

Students identify unfamiliar words and play a game that practices their use.

Materials Neccessary:

Estimated Time: 45 minutes

Group Size: Individuals and partners

CA Reading Standard 1.4: Students use knowledge of antonyms, synonyms, homophones, and homographs to determine the meaning of words.

CA Reading Standard 1.6: Students use sentence and word context to find the meaning of unknown words.

CA Reading Standard 1.7: Students use a dictionary to learn the meaning and other features of unknown words.

CA Reading Standard 1.8: Students use knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to determine the meaning of words.

  1. Tell students to identify eight unfamiliar words in the story (either from the English or Spanish text). Students may identify such words as peers, pebble, spinal cord, or chairlift. Ask them to write down these words in the blanks on their Word Soccer Word List form where it says: “Word: ______”.
  2. Next, ask students to use what they know to make guesses about the words. What might they mean? Remind them to use all the strategies they have to guess the words' definitions, including similar words; word roots, prefixes, and suffixes; and context clues.
  3. Now it is time for students to check their guesses. Have them look up their words in the class dictionary and copy down the correct definition. If there are multiple definitions, help students use the sentence context to identify the definition most appropriate to this use of the word. Finally, have students write down their own, new sentences using these words.
  4. Once students have completed their word lists, they're ready to play. In pairs, students start their game pieces at opposite sides of the soccer field (or game board). First students exchange their personalized lists with their partners. Students place their markers in front of the goal on their own side of the paper. Now, in order to advance down the board, students must correctly define the word their partners choose from the list. Each correct definition moves them one step closer to their opponent's goal. In order to score at the end, the student must correctly define a word on their opponent's list.

Second Time Around: Reading Comprehension

Building Character

Using Venn diagrams, students compare Tomasito to other characters in the book, including Featherless and the Fresno Flyers. When they have finished, they connect the book to their own lives, comparing Tomasito to themselves.

Materials Neccessary:

  • Blackboard and chalk, or chart paper and markers
  • Pen or pencils and paper

Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Group Size: Entire class and individual

CA Reading Standard 2.2: Students ask questions and support answers by connecting prior knowledge with literal information found in, and inferred from, the text.

  1. As a class, brainstorm words and phrases that describe Tomasito. Record these words in a list. Make sure to include words that describe Tomasito in terms beyond those related to his disability (e.g., “smart” or “new to school”). As you brainstorm, encourage students to look for sentences in the book that illustrate their points.
  2. Next, take your list and ask the students if those words could describe anybody else in the book. Ask them to think about the bird, Featherless. How is he like Tomasito? How is he different?
  3. Draw a Venn diagram. Together, compare Tomasito to Featherless by filling in the circles. Your finished diagram might look something like this:
  5. Now that you've completed one Venn diagram, ask students if there's anybody else to whom you could compare Tomasito. Point them to page 26, where Tomasito admits to his father that he wants to be like the other students, and his father tells him that he already is like them — he's a Fresno Flyer. Ask your students how Tomasito is like the other Fresno Flyers and how he's different. As a group, create a second Venn diagram illustrating these similarities and differences.
  6. Finally, ask students to think about themselves. Ask each student to create a Venn diagram comparing him — or herself to Tomasito, thinking about both the strengths they share and the challenges they face.

Afterwords: Literary Response and Analysis


Students identify and analyze examples of poetic language in Featherless/Desplumado. They practice using this language on their own.

Materials Neccessary:

  • Blackboard and chalk, or chart paper and markers

Estimated Time: 45 minutes

Group Size: Entire class

CA Reading Standard 3.5: Students recognize the similarities of sounds in words and rhythmic patterns (e.g. alliteration, onomatopoeia) in a selection.

  1. Read the story out loud to students once more. Remind the class that this author is a poet. Ask students whether they think that Featherless/Desplumado is a story or a poem. Point out that the author pays a lot of attention to how words sound, like all poets do.
  2. As you read, ask students to raise their hands and let you know whenever they hear a sentence that strikes them as unusual or poetic. Record these examples on a list.
  3. Review your list, then ask students to sort the sentences into several categories: alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, and metaphor. Remind them of the definitions of each type of poetic techniques. Alliteration is the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds, at the beginning of words. Onomatopoeia is the use of words to imitate a sound. Simile is a figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as. Metaphor is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared without the words like or as. Code each sentence according to its type.
  4. Ask students why these beautiful sentences matter. What would be another way for Juan Felipe to write the same thing? As a class, brainstorm the most boring ways possible to convey the same information. What difference does it make? What does each type of poetic device add to the story?
  5. Remind students that sometimes, metaphors or onomatopoeia can be boring, too. As a group, brainstorm a list of trite examples, such as “buzz” for bee or “beautiful as a flower.” Record this list. Talk about why Juan Felipe's language is exciting – it surprises the reader with unexpected words and ideas. Take your list of boring clichés and, as a class, make it as surprising and new as your imaginations will allow!

* See the Children's Book Press Resources Guide to download worksheets and for a list of more online sources.

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Used with permission of the publisher, Children's Book Press, San Francisco, CA. Teachers Guide for Featherless/Desplumado ©v2004 by Children's Book Press. Visit the Children's Book Press website for a complete list of free, downloadable Teacher's Guides.


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.

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I think it is very important to teach children from an early age that even people who are different are still people! To give information about
the Braille alphabet and other things that are used by handicapped people is a great idea!

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