James Hurst's story "The Scarlet Ibis" always quiets the class with sadness when they finish it. However, in our part of the world, none of our students have actually seen an ibis or know what it is.
This is the perfect opportunity to engage the students in a little cross-curricular work with animal biology, bird migration, and wildlife preservation. To get them started, I show this PowerPoint and answer questions they have about the bird. We write those questions down to research: How big are they? Why are they different colors? Where do they live? What do they eat? Why don't you see them in zoos? etc. etc. etc.
Once done, students go to the Internet, the books, and other resources to find out the answers themselves and put together their own notes and organize it into a presentation of their own (some on PowerPoint, some on display board, et al). Afterwards, we read the story and get into physical handicaps and other topics and themes the story brings up.