The Highest Number in the World

1770495754Gabe is a hockey player whose lucky number is 22, the same number as her hero, Hayley Wickenheiser. But her new jersey is #9. She is crushed. Gabe’s grandmother explains that the #9 was the retired number of Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, bobby Hull, etc. and that #99 was Gretsky’s number. Gabe is reconciled, and dreams of her own retired #9.

Roy MacGegor, Tundra books, ©2014. 978-1-77049-573

A School Sports Survey

It’s worthwhile setting up an Inquiry about what sports are being played by students in your class, and potentially the whole school. Picture your students out there interviewing fellow students, learning the math of it, thinking about the questions they want answered so that they collect the best information to answer their questions.

Here’s a really simple question they might want an answer to: What are the most common sports played outside of school? Compare males to females and primary students (K-4), intermediate students (5-7), or middle school students (5-9) if that is how you are organized. Students learning percentage calculation can do the math as well for their results. Report results in a school announcement, in a school newsletter, and on your class blog so that they receive the maximum publicity for their results. The School Board may also be interested in knowing the kinds of organized athletic activities students participate in outside of school hours.

Students should first survey their own class, to become familiar with the form, as well as how to tally and use the results. In a single class, if it is a split grade, you can have four categories – male and female for each of the grades. Then, assign them in teams to fan out at recess and lunch and collect results. Teach them polite survey methods: “Will you please help our class with a survey? It will only take a few seconds.” Ask students to read it to students who look like they may have trouble (ESL students, or primary students). Students carry a book to balance the survey on, and a pen to write with. At the end, “Thank you. We’re going to announce the results over the PA.

A Discussion About Hockey

There are many discussion questions that can arise from this book:

  1. Why are hockey organizations reluctant to have mixed male and female teams?
  2. What is our opinion of violence in hockey? Especially now that we are finding that even one concussion can cause permanent brain damage.
  3. How will global warming effect hockey?
  4. When the kids say, “Hayley, Number 9” is that bullying? When does teasing cross over into bullying?
  5. Why are fewer Canadian parents signing their kids up for hockey?

Below are some of the reasons parents give for the decline in the percentage of Canadian youth enrolling in hockey. See what your students think.

Some Reasons Given for the Decline in Hockey Enrollment

  • New immigrants from warm countries have little experience of it.
  • Warmer winters make it harder to create home-made rink by simply flooding a field.
  • The equipment is very expensive.
  • Parents do not approve of body checking as it likely to cause brain damage.
  • Parents do not want to pay for expensive dental work to repair broken teeth.
  • Parents do not like the attitude of “hockey parents.”
  • The professional games are too expensive.
  • Rink times for less elite players are often at ridiculous times of the day.
  • The skill of teams have been diluted by opening up so many franchises.
  • Players are being encouraged to actually injure other players.

Hockey Songs

Two hockey songs could be played while using this book:

  • The Hockey Song by Jughead
  • The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors

There are a few others, but these are kid friendly.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Highest Number in the World to download.

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Wabi Sabi

WabiSabiWabi Sabi, the cat, goes on a journey to find the meaning of her name. She asks a cat friend, a dog, a bird, and finally a monkey. Each says, “That’s hard to explain”—the catch phrase of the book. Slowly she discovers that it is a kind of humble beauty, you will be exploring with student.

Mark Reibstein, Little Brown, © 2008, 9789-0-316-11825-5

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Wabi Sabi wants to know what his name means. What does your name mean? Tell a story about how you got your name(s), or nickname.
  2. Wabi Sabi goes on a journey to find the answer to her question. Write about any journeys you have been on.
  3. This story is set in Japan. Either write “Everything I know about Japan” or “Everything I know about Canada, B.C., or my home town.”
  4. Wabi Sabi asks for an explanation. Explain how to do a few things that were hard for you to do at first.

The Author

There is a nice YouTube video of how Mark Reibstein came to write the book based on what he learned about Wabi-sabi while teaching in Japan, and his adoption of his cat. Then Ed Young explains how he illustrated it, how the illustrations were actually lost or stolen, and how he came to use ordinary materials to create the next version. Rather nice.

Incidental Geography

Three Japanese locations are mentioned as Wabi Sabi conducts his search for the meaning of his name: Tokyo, Mount Hiei, and Ginkakuji. Put them on a simple map of Japan. Ask the students to think about how to calculate the distance of the journey, round trip from Tokyo to Mount Hiei to Ginkakuji and back to Tokyo. The fastest way will be Google. Just search “Distance from Tokyo to Mount Hiei” etc. and add the numbers which will turn out to be over 900 km—a long distance for a cat.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Wabi Sabi to download.

The Lost Horse

The Lost HorseA classic Chinese folktale, of a man who owned a horse and at each turn of fate believed that things were neither as good, nor as bad, as they might seem.

Ed Young, Voyager Books, Harcourt, ©2004, ISBN 0-15-201061-5

Oral Language: The Unfortunately Game
Ask students to stand in a large circle. Start with a line such as “James went to the library.” Continue from there with the next student saying, “Fortunately…”. Students alternate a fortunate, unfortunate circumstance as they go around the circle. This requires students to be a little inventive, and warms them up to the idea of writing their own book. Once students understand the system, playing in smaller groups creates more participation for each individual.

Write Your Own “Perhaps It Might Not Be A Good Thing” Story…

Create a scenario and then write a story in which a character repeats your catch phrase—each time saying “It might not be so great” or “It might not be so bad”.  This can involve something simple like forgetting your homework, lunch, library book, etc.  It could even be set somewhere such as the middle east, with the issue involving a camel.

The Lost Horse is written in only 207 words in total, and 17 sentences, so it is not a huge challenge.

Create Your Own Wisdom

What do you think the “moral” of the story is?  Discuss with the students.

Talk about using the idea of “what I learned from this was…” when they write their own personal writing anecdotes.  We take away a lesson from a lot of the things we do in life…that’s how we avoid making the same mistakes  over and over again.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click The Lost Horse to download.

From the Good Mountain

FromtheGoodMountainHow Gutenberg Changed the World. Illustrated like a medieval manuscript, the book shows how all the parts of the process came together to create the first printing press.

James Rumford, Roaring Book Press, ©2012, ISBN 978-59643-542-1

Writing From the Parts

The structure of this book is to describe something without saying what it is, and then to ask a question.

  • What was it?

Then it describes how to make the thing, and asks another question:

  • What was this thing made of rags and bones?

Then it answers it, and says it was ready.

  • It was paper, and it was ready.

Slowly, the story builds as the next thing needed is leather, then gold, then ink, then printing types, then the printing presses, then the person (Johannes Gutenberg) until finally the book is made.

It’s a gorgeous, rhythmical pattern that students could imitate with something easier, such as making fudge. To make fudge you need:

  • sugar
  • butter
  • brown sugar
  • icing sugar
  • a stove
  • a glass tray
  • a knife
  • a refrigerator

The recipe online for Cora’s fudge is the easiest one I know, because it doesn’t require any temperature gauge. Students don’t make the fudge—you do so that you can give out a sample.

“In the year 2012, in the city of New Westminster, there appeared a mysterious thing. It was made of sugar cane, cows milk, brown sugar, icing sugar, a stove, a fridge, a glass tray, and a knife. What was it?”…and so on.

It would be fun…and they could see that any time they needed to explain something where many other things had to come together first in order for the item to be successful…this pattern would be very impressive.

The recipe for Cora’s fudge is at here. (One tip: when it is partially chilled, make cut lines in the fudge, so that it comes out more easily in the end. If you forget, this will still work.)

Paper chase Vocabulary Game

Here’s a chance to develop the vocabulary of paper. Find samples of all of these kinds of paper and create 8 different packages with labels. Allow students to feel and look at, and study the names of the papers. Then remove these study material.

Next given them an envelope with sample papers and separate labels and ask them to match the word to the sample. Add a timing factor to make it more fun.

  1. bond paper
  2. cellophane
  3. parchment paper
  4. cardboard
  5. blotting paper
  6. carbon paper
  7. cardstock
  8. butcher paper
  9. newsprint
  10. crêpe paper
  11. glassine paper
  12. origami paper
  13. wax paper
  14. tissue paper
  15. wrapping paper
  16. manila tag
  17. toilet paper

 

For 10 creative writing ideas, click From the Good Mountain to download.

Chloe and the Lion

ChloeandtheLionThe author begins by presenting us with his character, Chloe, and asks the illustrator to menace her with a lion. The illustrator thinks it should be a dragon, which starts the quarrel. The illustrator torments the author sufficiently that the author fires him, and, in fact the lion the second illustrator creates eats him. Unfortunately, the second illustrator is really bad and finally Chloe and the author agree that they need to apologize to our first illustrator. They phone him, inside the lion’s stomach, and eventually he, the author, and Chloe become reunited.

Mac Barnett, Disney Hyperion Press, ©2012, 978-14231-1334-8

The Trailer

There is a great trailer that goes with the book, consisting of the further argument of the author and illustrator. I can’t decide which to do first with the students—they’re both so great. I particularly love the part where the illustrator is saying, “What is a book without the illustrator—a haiku. I’ve seen more writing on a t-shirt. That’s why they call it a ‘picture book’.”

Duck Amuck

This may not be the most academic activity but there is also a YouTube of the Looney Toons cartoon, Duck Amuck in which the character Daffy Duck attempts to play a part in the cartoon only to be erased, put in the wrong scene, coloured, blown up, etc. by the artist—who turns out to be Donald Duck. Discuss similarities and differences with the students.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click Chloe and the Lion to download.

The Exraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

mark-twain-coverThis is the story of Mark Twain’s life in picture book form, with accompanying anecdotes from Susy who is writing this memoir so we can meet the “real” Mark Twain.  Susy, Mark Twain’s favourite daughter, did keep a memoir of observations of her dad for a short period of time, and excerpts from it are included as little fold out pages.  She talks about their home, his writing process and the role her mom plays, his leisure activities, and much more.

Barbara Kerley, Scholastic, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6

Spelling Mistakes

Mark Twain says his daughter’s spelling was frequently desperate.” Give students her spellings and ask them to spell them correctly—time them if you want to add some pressure. They need to add 5 seconds to their time for every word they still misspell.

Her incorrect words are: discribed incorectly, mustache, exept, extrordinary, sute, doute, Misouri, in good trimm, varius, chreatures (for creatures), expergate, donky, prosession.

This is a good time to mention that the first English dictionary was written in 9 years by one man, Samuel Johnson, and published in 1755. By contrast, the first French dictionary was written by an entire French Academy and published in 1694. It took 69 years to write. The first American dictionary was Noah Webster’s in 1806. After this spelling began to “solidify” into “correct” and “incorrect” spelling. Susy was writing in 1885.

A Book “In the Style Of”

This book has a particular style. For the most part it is a kind of story of Susy’s foray into biography. However, glued into place in the book are miniature foldout excerpts from Susy’s actual words. This is an excellent model to imitate.

In Social Studies it could take the form of a report on an explorer (for example) with inserted pages from his “diary” commenting on the events described on that page. In Science, it could be a report on a whale’s life cycle, with examples interspersed from the whale’s diary. In art, a research report on a particular artist could be written, with short imaginary diary inserts on occasion. Be sure that students realize the diary entries need only be 2-3 sentences long.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click The Extraordinary Mark Twain to download.

The House Baba Built

housebabauiltEd Young is well known for his picture books. The House Baba Built is more in the nature of a memoir of his childhood in the house his father built in Shanghai in which the family lived during World War II. We learn about the war, school, family activities in the house, taking in refugees including a Jewish family, food shortages, being unable to fill the pool…all through his eyes as a child. You can take just a part of this book for a rich study of many different topics.

Ed Young, Little Brown and Co.©2011, 978-0-316-07628-9

Exploring a Photo

Ed Young uses family photos as one of the many methods he uses to illustrate his story. Ask students to bring a picture of themselves that their family has taken – it’s best if they bring a coy. If they bring an original, make a copy for them so that the original is not accidentally destroyed.

Students need to look at their pictures and ask themselves the following types of questions:

  • How old was I when this picture was taken?
  • Where was this picture taken – describe quite precisely?
  • Why was this picture taken and kept? (Instead of others)
  • What am I wearing in this picture? How do I feel about these clothes? Was this typical of what I wore at this time?
  • What sensory memories do I have about this place – food, feel, sights, taste, smell, etc.?
  • What emotions are around this picture and why?

Encourage students elaborate and then use a copy of the picture to illustrate their “story” of the taking of the picture.

Make an Origami Box

In early spring, when the mulberry leaves sprouted, Ed Young and his friends traded silkworm eggs. They made paper origami boxes for silkworm houses and fed them on mulberry leaves.

Watch the YouTube several times and make it yourself, before you teach the class. Once they know how, it is very easy. If you live close to Richmond, there is very inexpensive origami paper at Daizo.

For 16 creative writing ideas, click The House Baba Built to download.

Fu Finds the Way

fufindsawayFu is planting rice and is bored enough not to be doing it well, in neat rows.  When he is rebuked, he throws a rice plant out of the paddy into the path of the warrior, Chang.  The insulted warrior challenges him to a duel.  Fu finds the sword Master and asks for help in getting ready.  Through the night, all the Master does is teach him how to make and pour tea – with Purpose, Flow, and Patience.  When Fu faces Chang in the morning he faces him with a teapot and suggests a pot of tea.  Chang’s followers laugh at the boy, but Chang says, “There’s always time for tea.”

John Rocco, Disney-Hyperion Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4231-0965-5

Similes That Matter

Purpose, Flow, and Patience are the three lessons Fu must learn. To that end, there are three important similes in this story:

  • Just as a bamboo grows upward to reach the sun—you must have purpose.
  • Like a stream that flows from the mountain to the valley, the tea must flow from you to the cup.
  • Just as a caterpillar patiently waits in its cocoon to become a butterfly, you too must be patient.

Writing a Trailer

Just as movies have trailers to be shown in movie theatres and on TV, so does John Rocco (who has worked for Disney) constructed two wonderful “movie” trailers for his books, Fu Finds the Way and MoonPowder. Talk with students about what a trailer does: gives you a hint of the movie, tries to get you excited about seeing it, doesn’t give away the plot, etc.

These are the total number of words for the trailer for Fu Finds the Way:

  • A story of a distracted boy
  • A mighty warrior
  • And a duel
  • The Teacher who trains him
  • And the pot of tea that saves him
  • Fu Finds the Way

Ask students to work in pairs to write a trailer for each other’s most recent published story. Ask students to read them out to the class to see which trailers can drum up the most interest in reading the story without giving the plot away completely.


For 8 creative writing ideas, click Fu Finds the Way to download.

Dear Mrs. LaRue

Dear_Mrs._LaRueIke is sent to Obedience School because he misbehaves. Read his heartrending letters to his master in this witty story. With each letter, see the luxury in which he is really living, with the black and white picture of what he is writing about. Ike eventually escapes, returns home, and rescues his owner.

Mark Teague, Scholastic, ©2002, ISBN 0-439-20663-4

Double Takes

In this story, Ike tells the heartrending stories (in black and white) of his sufferings, while the other side of the page (in full colour) shows the true luxury he is living in. Instead of using illustrations as is done in this picture book students could write a research paper in which on the left side of the page they report their research, and on the right side a narrator describes the “true” story of the endeavor.

For example, the research could be on a specific explorer, while the facing page describes the “truth” from the point of view of a sailor…scurvy, dysentery, weevils in the flour, salt herring, storms at sea, etc.

Envelope Books

The Jolly Postman and several other clever books in the same vein, advance the story through a series of letters. Students could do the same, and enjoy binding envelopes into a hand-made book, including a letter in each envelope.

For 6 writing ideas, click Dear Mrs. LaRue to download.

The Plot Chickens

The Plot ChickensHenrietta, the chicken, loves to read and decides to write a book for herself.  Having trouble getting it published, she self-publishes, but is sad after a bad review in the “Corn Book”.  She is depressed until she discovers that children love her book.

Mary Jane and Herm Auch, Holiday House, ©2009, ISBN 13:978-0-8234-2087-2

Eight Rules to a Great Story

The Plot Chickens provides 8 great rules for writing a great story, as Henrietta slowly writes her own book. Read the story to the students, and then ask them during the second reading, to take notes for themselves on what the 8 Rules for Great Writing are. In Classroom Instruction That Works, Robert Marzano says that note making is one of the top two strategies that can be directly linked to student achievement.

Vocabulary of Paper and Printing

In the full PDF version of the writing tips for The Plot Chickens, there is a black line master for an activity to teach students the names for 11 different types of paper. Create 8 sets of papers (each about 10 cm by 10 cm) and number them in a random order. Keep the key at the desk, as they try to identify the papers using the black line master. When they have them all, collect the black line master, and ask them to write down, in order, the names of the 11 sample papers you have given them.

Students can also learn the printing terms that have moved into regular word processing…these are words that just a few years ago, only trained printers knew, but now everyone is mastering. Sample words might be: clip art, collate, crop, font, italic, bold, 12 point (well, that point means size of the letter), typo, bullet, template, justified, ragged right (where it is justified on the left but uneven on the right), cyan (blue), magenta (dark red).

For 10 writing ideas, click The Plot Chickens to download.