Circles of Hope Mini-Unit

The Mini-Unit Designer

Michelle A. Gajda, 2nd Grade Teacher

Hawlemont Regional School, Mohawk School District, Western Massachusetts

Mini-Unit plan created: July 17, 2015

Introducing the Mini-Unit

This mini-unit is designed for a second grade class in a small rural public elementary school. 

Student goals: Exposure to new and diverse cultures and experiences; to understand how children/people around the globe are similar and different from them.

My students come predominately from a low socio-economic, small, rural, agricultural community.  They have very limited global knowledge and/or experiences from which to build a knowledge base and appreciation of children and people from other cultures.  Having grown up in a rich, agricultural community, they do have a very broad knowledge base of agriculture and the importance of sustainability.  Many of my students’ families live off of the land on which they live.  The book Circles of Hope lends itself beautifully to making connections between their lives and other children’s lives and experiences in Haiti. This book has so many possible avenues from which to draw from and I am choosing to capture them all under the “umbrella” of the theme of “connections”:

Connections to:

  • planting and agriculture
  • family traditions
  • absent parents
  • feeling of protection and security
  • the global spirit of hope.

This book is also a wonderful mentor text to teach/discuss the following literary elements:

  • prediction
  • cause and effect
  • inferring
Learning Experience Design #1

Learning Experience 1: CONNECTIONS: Planting/trees/agriculture: 2-3 days

To introduce the story, begin by creating an anchor chart entitled “What Do Trees (and plants) Need to Grow?” Brainstorm with the children and list all of their ideas. Discuss what would happen if some of the criteria they contribute was not available? For example, what if there was no rich soil? No water? Etc.

Next, create another anchor chart entitled “The Importance of Trees (and plants)” Brainstorm with the children and list all of their ideas.

“Today we are going to read a story that is set in the country of Haiti.”

Show them a map of Haiti and discuss where it is located; paying attention to its proximity to the equator and what that means for its growing climate.

Read the first paragraph of the Author’s Note at the end of the story and discuss the geography of Haiti as the “land of many mountains."

Have the children think about, share and discuss what planting might be like in such a region. Show the front matter of the book: these two pages foreshadow the difficulty Facile will face when planting in the mountainous terrain.

Visual Thinking Strategies: Introduce the title page of “Circles of Hope” to the children:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • From that, what more can you find/see?

Vocabulary: Although there is a glossary at the end of the book that explains the meanings of the Haitian Creole words (combining elements of several African languages and French) many of the words peppered throughout the story can be learned through the use of context clues.

Key words to include in discussion:

  • Espere-hope
  • Kandelab-a type of cactus used in Haiti to make fences
  • Tikado- a small gift
  • Timoun-child
  • Tonton-uncle or grandfather

Read the story to the students. Then read the last two paragraphs of the Author’s Notes and discuss with children within the context of the story.

  • Why are trees important?
  • Why is Facile so determined to plant the mango tree for his sister?
  • What hardships does he face in trying to do so?


  • How is Facile’s life similar to your own?
  • Has anything that happened to Facile ever happened to you?
  • What would you have decided to do after each set back?

Critical Thinking:

  • What advice would you give to Facile for him to be successful?
  • Brainstorm with a partner or in a small group. Be prepared to share your ideas.
Learning Experience Design #2

Learning Experience 2:  CONNECTIONS: The Symbolic Meaning of the Tree and Circle: 2-3 days

In the story, the father tells Facile that “a strong tree protects its timoun (child).” In Haitian culture, it is tradition that when a child is born, the child’s umbilical cord is planted in the earth with the seed from a fruit tree. When the tree grows, the tree was seen as a guardian of the child.

The circle is seen as a representation of unity, wholeness and infinity. It is seen as a protective symbol, keeping safe that which is contained inside.

This book is rich and full of the circular symbol of protection and guardianship both in the obvious story line of Facile placing the circles of “protection and hope” around his sister’s mango tree, but also in the illustrations throughout the story.

Discuss the concept of the “circle” in the story.  Why might they be considered representations of protection and guardianship?  Hope?

Look critically throughout the book at the illustrations.  Highlight the use of circles, arcs and arches.  Notice how the illustrator used gentle, muted lines and curves in the illustrations.  

  • Why do you think the illustrator used that style to create the illustrations? Do the children notice the sun/moon circle on every page?  
  • Do they notice the gentle lines and slopes that the illustrator used to create the characters?  
  • What feelings do the circles and arcs give you in/for the story?

Story Theatre:  Warm Up by encouraging children to use their bodies to make/become circles, individually, with partners and as a group.  These can be big circles, small circles, skinny circles, fat circles, oblong circles, etc.  Next, divide the story into 3-4 page sections and group the children. Have children dramatize Circles of Hope.

Learning Experience Design #3

Learning Experience 3:  CONNECTIONS: Family Traditions and feelings of hope, protection and security: 1 day

Discuss the images of the tree as protection for children in Haiti, the stones as protection and “circles of hope”.

  • What is it that the people/children of Haiti hope for? Why?
  • What do you hope for?
  • What is important for you to protect or to be protected by someone?

Have the children design a mural with several trees indigenous to the geographical area in which they live. Give each child several construction paper cut out “stones” and have them write their answers to the above questions on them. Surround the trees on the mural with these protective stones.

Writing Extension: Children write about what they wrote on their stones and why they chose those words/ideas.

Extension: Instead of working the mural and stones on paper, create them on fabric and design a quilt showing the children’s circles of hope.

Extension: Continue the theme of tree-related cultural traditions by introducing the Chinese New Year Wishing Tree Tradition:

Summative Learning Experience

Summative Learning Experience: CONNECTION: Agriculture and Sustainability: 1 – 2 days

Share the Haitian Tree Project with students.  Have the children research fruit trees that are indigenous to their own area. Find seeds from their findings and plant in large pots (or outside if feasible). Children can search for stones outside to create circles of hope around their seeds. Encourage children to bring their fruit trees home once seedlings have started growing.

Using a Venn diagram, brainstorm with the children ways in which Facile and his life are the same and different from theirs.  Children can then use that information to write compare/contrast paragraphs.

The Haiti Tree Project. (n.d.) The Haiti tree project. Retrieved from


Common Core ELA:

Reading and Literature: RL.2.1 - 2.5, R.L.2.7, R.L.2.10

Writing: W.2.4, W.2.7

Speaking and Listening: S.L.2.1, S.L. 2.2, S.L.2.4

Language: L.2.1, L.2.2, L.2.3, L.2.4



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