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The Board of Trustees and staff of The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, Inc. would like to express their sincere gratitude and appreciation to those individuals and organizations that, since 1991, have given so generously of their time, talent and energy to make these guides possible.
Guide Authors

Martha Gillis

Louisa Birch

Mary Alyward Stewart

Kelly Keyes Smith

Sarah Beck

Jennifer Jerome Underhill

Teri West

Sophie Degener

Mairead Nolan

Julie Wood

Dr. Marcia Harris

© 2016 The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, Inc. Edited and Revised by Dr. Beth Herman-Davis
About The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, Inc.

The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, Inc. is a year-long language arts program dedicated to strengthening the character development and literacy skills of students. Since the organization’s founding, the Courage Curriculum has positively impacted the academic performance of more than 150,000 students in the Boston Public Schools and surrounding communities. Our programs are taught locally in sixth and ninth grade classrooms, and our reach has expanded to include a national essay contest and an international program taught in Thailand, Cambodia, Mozambique, and beyond.

The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum was founded in 1991 to honor the life of Max Warburg, a courageous young boy who maintained steadfast determination and heartfelt hope in the face of his battle with leukemia. After his death, Max’s parents, Stephanie and Jonathan Warburg, believed that Max’s story could be an example for other children. They worked with the Boston Public Schools and experienced educators to develop The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum.

The program’s sixth grade curriculum, Courage in My Life, features carefully selected novels whose main characters are courageous young people. As students become familiar with Max and the literary characters featured in each novel, they come to understand their own capacity for courage. Their personal stories are shared in the essays they write as the culmination of this year-long curriculum. Each spring, The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum honors students whose work, chosen from thousands of essays, is published in an anthology titled The Courage of Boston’s Children.

About The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum’s Guides for Educators
The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum’s Guides for Teachers provide suggestions for teachers on how to help students understand and appreciate literature, while engaging in meaningful classroom discussions and activities. Immersion in literature becomes a bridge for the development of students’ listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Using these guides, teachers can help students acquire and refine the skills they need to be effective communicators and excellent readers and writers.
The Boston Public Schools English Language Arts (ELA) Curriculum Frameworks and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have also been integrated into these Guides for Educators by incorporating the ELA educational principles of the frameworks, by embedding student products from the Student Requirements, and by helping students to explore the key concepts and questions in the Content Objectives. In addition the Guides for Educators employ a variety of pedagogical approaches for developing literacy and social skills.

ELA Educational Principles

The following education principles from the ELA Curriculum Frameworks and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have guided the development of The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum’s Guides for Educators.


Reading is an active, constructive and creative process that involves distinctive cognitive strategies before, during and after reading. Good readers access prior knowledge, establish purpose, preview the text, generate questions, make predictions, confirm and revise predictions, locate and clarify concepts that cause confusion, take mental or written notes, organize information into categories, inference to form ideas and conclusions, use a variety of word study strategies to understand unknown words, and use text features such as illustrations and headings to acquire meaning from print.


Writing is a process involving planning (pre-writing), context (drafting), reading aloud and reflecting on the product, collaborating with others (peer editing), revising (rewriting) and sharing the final product with others (publishing). Good writing reflects and stimulates thinking and allows students to find their own voices and to express themselves in an articulate, coherent manner. While it’s valuable to have a writing process in place for students, it’s advisable to allow students to use the writing process fluidly and not necessarily linearly so it fits the individual learning styles of students.

Social skills and values

While students develop their reading and writing skills, they can simultaneously develop their social skills and values. One important way for students to express themselves and become aware of other people’s points of view is by developing strong perspective-taking skills. The development of students’ perspective-taking sills contributes to the development of their conflict resolution skills. These social skills-- together with learning to value trust, respect, love, peace, self-esteem, courage, perseverance and freedom-- help students to develop healthy relationships while, at the same time, support the development of students’ literacy skills.

ELA Student Requirements

Students are expected to complete specific products for each grade level by the end of the school year. The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum’s Guides for Educators may include one or more of the following student products: reading review, autobiography, letter, essay, perspective-taking exercise, and conflict resolution exercise. The completions of these products may be used to satisfy the BPS ELA Student Writing Product Requirements.

ELA Content Objectives

Key questions are challenging, thought-provoking, age-appropriate, and generally open-ended. They are designed to engage students’ interest before, during, and after reading. Key questions direct students’ exploration of the most important topics, themes, characters, events, values, perspectives, and literary conventions. The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum’s Guides for Educators explore key concepts and questions through whole class, small group, partner, and individual discussions and activities.

Dear Teachers,
In 2016, the Bridge to Terabithia curriculum guide was revised and updated with a variety of helpful and interactive instructional activities/strategies and organizers.

This edition includes additional vocabulary instruction and tools that allow you to choose direct vocabulary instruction or independent vocabulary work for students. A few highlights include: the use of word walls, semantic gradients, and the Frayer Model. In addition, the vocabulary definitions have been revised to reflect student-friendly definitions. We encourage you to continue to inspire students to be word hunters and gatherers, and to develop a love of words and word consciousness. This edition also includes more detail on using context clues when determining word meanings, especially for students who may struggle with language.

While the guide offers excellent guiding questions for stimulating discussions and journal writing, we encourage you to allow for students to generate their own questions while reading the book. One option is to use The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) designed by Dan Rothman and Luz Santana. The QFT is a powerful and practical method that engages students in thinking critically to develop their own questions. For more information about QFT, please visit: or check out their book, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (2011), Harvard Education Press. Another option is to provide students with the Depth of Knowledge question stems by Dr. Norman Webb to assist them with deeper level questioning. See the appendix for those question stems.

The activities to extend comprehension and relate literature to life sections have been expanded to include additional writing options and interactive alternatives, including: a positive-negative chart, storyboarding, and life-size character drawings.

The standards have also been updated to reflect the Common Core State Standards that have been implemented across the United States.

Enjoy this revised edition and the wonderful journey of the Bridge to Terabithia.


Beth Herman-Davis, EdD

Dear Teachers,
This guide has been written according to current research and best practices in literacy instruction. There are many ideas and activities that will help you to explore the themes of the novel, deepening students’ comprehension, motivation and enjoyment. There are also activities designed to deal with specific instructional goals, such as writing skills and vocabulary development.
As part of The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, this guide focuses significantly with the theme of courage. Students are encouraged to think about examples of courage in their own lives, and make connections between Max’s story and Bridge to Terabithia. This guide has been written to reflect the Boston Public Schools’ English Language Arts Standards and Requirement for sixth graders. Many of the questions, activities and projects are designed to help you meet these requirements. Throughout the guide, you will find activities which relate to the standard requirements in one of four ways:

  • Activities that fulfill the sixth grade Language Arts Student Requirements (these can be found in the post-reading section);

  • Writing assignments throughout the book which can become part of students’ writing portfolios;

  • Research activities that require students to read other text genres, such as newspapers, which help to satisfy the requirement to read ten other genre pieces; and

  • Activities and questions throughout the guide that directly relate to the focus themes and questions. The goal is to help prepare students on an ongoing basis for their final key questions essay(s).

In addition, you will find in this guide important updates pertaining to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, reflecting current shifts in text complexity, evidence-based analysis, and more. This guide has been revised to align with these Common Core State Standards (CCSS) shifts. The mini-lessons, long-term projects and extension activity labels highlight the CCSS anchor standards.

Best wishes for a wonderful school year!
Dr. Marcia Harris

Dear Teachers,
Welcome! Bridge to Terabithia and Max’s Story offer opportunities for you and your students to discover the worlds of courage, inner strength and friendship. Max encountered great adversity and was faced with many obstacles. Not only did he rise above and overcome these obstacles, but in the process he found a way to send a message of inspiration and hope. Bridge to Terabithia offers another message of inspiration and hope- one that exemplifies the power that love, imagination and friendship have to bring about transformation in our lives.
In this guide we explore the powerful ideas behind these stories through a wide range of activities that reflect current research and best practices in literacy instruction. Some of the activities address specific instructional goals, such as vocabulary development, while others serve to enrich the reading experience, increase motivation and deepen comprehension.
As we wrote the curriculum guide for Bridge to Terabithia we were influenced by three guiding factors: 1. The story itself; 2. The themes of courage that relate to Max’s story; 3. The Boston Public Schools’ Citywide Learning Standards and Curriculum Framework. In order to make this guide a true partner to you, we have molded all three factors into a particular emphasis on helping students prepare for key questions. In the Post-Book Activities section of the guide, you will find five focus themes that reflect the three curriculum influences and many key questions that relate to each of these themes. You will be able to select the themes and key questions from those we provide, write your own key questions, or allow students to choose which key question(s) they would like to address.
Many of the activities and projects throughout the guide have been designed to help you and your students complete the key questions and Boston Public Schools Language Arts Students Requirements. As you look through the guide, you will see activities that relate to the requirements in one of four ways:

  • Activities that fulfill the sixth-grade Language Arts Student Requirements (these can be found in the Post-Book Activities section)

  • Writing assignments that can become part of students’ writing portfolios

  • Research activities that require students to read other genres, such as newspapers, which help to satisfy the requirement to read ten other genre pieces

  • Activities and questions that directly relate to the focus themes and key questions. The goal is to help prepare students on an ongoing basis for their final essay(s) based on key questions.

This guide is not meant to be followed as a strict prescription. Instead, it is a compilation of suggestions and ideas from which you can pick and choose. Ultimately, you will chart your own course through the literature, drawing from this guide, your past experiences and your own ideas. We have provided an abundance of activities so that you have many options. You should choose these activities based on your own teaching style and interest, your students’ interests and school-specific programs and curricula.

In the Guide Preview we introduce you to the main components of the curriculum. We wish you luck as you embark on your journey of learning with your students. Enjoy!
Jen Underhill Teri West

Author, Curriculum Guide Author, Curriculum Guide

Dear Teachers,

In these mini lessons, I have attempted to pull out the teaching points in the many activities that have been so thoughtfully planned in the original Courage Curriculum. The mini lessons are based on author’s craft, story structure and good reading habits. It is my hope that by pulling out the teaching point for these mini-lessons, teachers will be better able to use the curriculum within a workshop model.

I based these mini-lessons on the idea that teachers may teach the Courage Curriculum novels in any order. Occasionally some of the mini-lessons are repeated in multiple books. This repetition is deliberate in order to provide more practice with the skill. I envisioned the curriculum being used in a classroom which allows opportunities for students to do a majority of the thinking involved in reading a text. Many curriculums provide guiding or discussion questions for students. However, when students read for enjoyment they may not have a list of discussion questions to help them discuss the book with a friend or lead them to understand the bigger concepts.
Explicitly teaching students to create these questions on their own, to make connections, notice character traits, recognize authors craft, etc. will make reading a more enjoyable and efficient process for them. Allowing conversations within small groups around their own questions and ideas about the books will prove to be satisfying for all. As they share opinions, debate character motivations, discuss connections and ask questions of their peers they will become more and more authentically engaged with the text.
This type of independence and group work does not come naturally to all children. In order for this type of learning to work well there needs to be a lot of up front teaching around the expectations, routines and group dynamics before students are to be set free. I have found the Literature Circle model described by Harvey Daniels to be very helpful in establishing book clubs in the classroom.
As you already know, providing a variety of reading opportunities in the classroom is essential to effective reading instruction. At times you may read these or other books aloud to the class, have students read in pairs, or encourage students to read independently. You may also provide some students with a listening center, where they can listen to the book on tape. I have found that many of the books in this curriculum are available on tape or CD at local libraries.
As you use these mini lessons and the original curriculum to provide explicit reading instruction and establish a classroom of enthusiastic, critical, independent readers, I wish you many animated conversations focused around great literature and the compelling topic of courage.

Kelly K. Smith

Author, Mini Lessons
Guide Preview

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