Weighing the Elephant

In the mountains of China was a small village living peacefully with their working elephants. They especially liked the baby elephant who would play with the children. The Emperor demanded the baby elephant but it refused to play with the Emperor’s children. The Emperor determined to put him death, but first posed an absurd riddle—whoever could weigh the elephant could win it. A little boy in the village solved the problem (by using displacement) and the baby elephant returned home.

Ting-xing Ye, ©1998, Annick Press, 0-978-155-037526-8

Impressing Students with Hei-dou’s Ingenuity

Read the story to the point where Hei-dou realizes how to solve the problem. In groups, have students propose methods for weighing the elephant. Discuss. Choose the best. Then read the ending so that the students can really appreciate the boy’s ingenuity.

Show images of scales in general. Ask students to explain how they work. (Bringing actual scales in to class would be more exciting.)

Extreme Writing Topics

Always present three possible topics for Extreme Writing so that students will have a choice. My book, The Power of Extreme Writing, is available at ASCD for a complete explanation of this unique approach to journaling.

  1. Stories about weighing things and being weighed yourself. What about measuring how tall things are?
  2. Times when you lost something or had it taken away.
  3. Stories about your pet.

Elephants and Humans

This might be a time to look into the difference between an African and an Indian elephant, and the range of their natural habitats, their behaviours in the wild, and what they have been trained to do by people or ways they have been used by humans.

Starting from this picture book as a stimulus, you can show the first few minutes of the BBC documentary on Hannibal’s army with elephants, to get them interested in elephants in history:

Students then see the list of what they might explore. There are 21 choices on the PDF you can open. With those in front of them, students could pose questions such as:

  • What role in history have elephants played?
  • Are their any patterns to their use?
  • What species of elephants are alive, and which are extinct?
  • How do humans use elephants now?
  • Etc.

As they research their individual topics, they should keep the questions they posed in mind.

Unless you have a small class, students can work in pairs to do their research. Give them a short period of time and ask them to write something like 20 interesting facts about their topic while keeping the class’s inquiry questions in mind. They can then use those facts to individually write a short essay. Finally, you can create a PowerPoint using images I have collected on Pinterest. Students would finally present their information for each page orally as each image appears, sharing their presentation to the class.

Finally, close with a discussion of the original class questions. Have you answered all of them? Are there any patterns to the information? Why have elephants been so important in history? How do you feel about elephants when you are finished?

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Weighing The Elephant to download.

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