The Silk Princess

Hsi-Ling Chi is the daughter of the Emperor and is rarely noticed. The Emperor has been seeking for a cloth worthy of his nobility. One day, Hsi-Ling Chi notices a cocoon has fallen in her mother’s tea and is unraveling. They play a game to see how long it is and the little girl ties it around her waist. She goes out past the stone garden, past the spider, outside the palace, to the holy mountains where a dragon threatens her. Along the way she loses the thread, but meets a hermit who shows her how the silk can be woven, and offers to take her home. She falls asleep, wakens to no silk cloth but still with the silk thread tied around her waist—the whole thing was a dream. When she gets back her mother hears her story and thinks, “Hmm? Is this possible?” She summons the royal weavers and the rest is history.

Charles Santorre, ©2007, Random House books for Young Readers, 0-978-03-7-5883-664-0

A Fabric Study

Students could learn the difference between various kinds of fabrics. You will need study packets with labels—one packet for every 4 students. You will also need matching “test” packets where samples are only numbered. Students have a certain amount of time to feel and try to learn the characteristics and look of various kinds of cloth. You could include a note about each of them to help them understand which are artificial, made from wool, silk, cotton, etc.

Here are 16 suitable cloths that can be quite easily distinguished from one another: cotton, silk, velvet, faux fur, denim, leather, wool, brocade, burlap, cheesecloth, corduroy, flannel, knit, satin, taffeta, ultra suede. Choose 8 that would work for your class. Ask the fabric store to cut you 4 inch strips—use remnants if you can get them—then cut them up to create your samples. It’s a bit of work, but you can use it year after year.

Studying World Gardening Styles

Here’s an opportunity to inquire into different styles of gardens around the world. What are the characteristics of individual garden styles? What are the purposes of these gardens? What are the sizes of these gardens? Why were these gardens created? for whom?  Attached are 12 different gardening styles from different countries and different time periods that students could show images of and explain to their fellow students.

You can also choose to include: The Victory Garden (growing vegetables and fruit for the soldiers overseas in WWII), Shakespeare Garden (growing plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s pays), Biblical Garden (similarly, growing plants mentioned in the Bible), Herb Garden (a small garden growing herbs needed for cooking or sometimes medicines), orangeries (a protected garden for growing oranges and other fruits that could be killed in a harsh winter), and Rock Garden (a garden featuring smaller rocks and plants tucked into nooks and crannies).

Inquiry into Chinese Inventions

Begin with a provocation after reading this book, something to really stimulate their interest in Chinese inventions, like a class set of chopsticks. You also need a class set of small plastic zip top plastic bags from the dollar store. In each bag there would be 2 pieces of coloured 8cm x 8cm yardsticks, and about 8 pieces of uncooked bowtie pasta. Teach students who don’t know how, how to use chopsticks. Students then put the two pieces of card stock out, put the bow tie pasta on one of them, and use the chopsticks to transfer the pasta from one piece of card stock to the other.

Here is a slide deck of different Chinese inventions. Students can brainstorm their class inquiry questions: what, where, when, why, and how are good starting questions.  Another is “Is there a pattern?” and what purposes were these inventions for? Did they travel to Europe on the silk road? When? Were they invented independently in Europe and when?

Each student keeps those questions in mind as they investigate their particular invention. Have them start in Wikipedia, then ask for two more references. Ask them to write out 20 interesting facts about their invention—and then turn that into a mini-essay. Finally, show the slide deck, and have each student make an oral presentation of what they found out about the invention.  Conclude by referring back to the questions posted at the beginning of the Inquiry for discussion.

For 10 teaching ideas, click The Silk Princess to download.

 

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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.

The Real Story of Stone Soup

The fisherman in this story is fooled by his three nephews.  They persuade him that they will make stone soup, then distract him at each point, in order to add real ingredients to the soup.  He is

Ying Chang Compestine, ©2007, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 978-0-52547-493-5

The Chopsticks Game

Our fisherman makes bowls and chopsticks from bamboo. It might be fun to gather a class set of chopsticks.  Some students will be accomplished users, and others will never have held them.

Buy about 90 pieces of butterfly pasta.  Make 60 pieces of 4 cm x 4 cm coloured cardstock.  Each student gets one pair of chopsticks, 1 pair of yardstick pieces, and 6 pieces of butterfly pasta. (Put the cardstock and butterfly pieces in individual ziplock bags for ease of distribution.)

Ask students put their pasta on one of the pieces of cardstock.  They are then to transfer each butterfly pasta to the other piece, using their chopsticks.  When they are accomplished at the transfer, you could allow them to play with them during recess to have chopstick races.

I think that chopsticks may have “created” Chinese cuisine.  That is, Chinese dishes are cooked in sauces with small bites, easy to pick up with chopsticks.  Western cuisine on the other hand is eaten with a knife and fork because it is cooked before cutting it up.  The Chinese tended to think that all the “butchering” (that is cutting it up) should happen before the food is served.

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. Food I prepare myself
  2. Stories of playing a trick on someone, or having a trick played on me.
  3. Stories of working hard, and stories of being lazy (doing a whole lot of nothing

Stone Soup and Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings meets once a month and is an organization that is free to attend and belong to.  Speakers also speak for free to an audience of  about 200 “creatives”—writers, artists, software developers, advertising pr people, photographers, actors, etc.

Creative Mornings Stone Soup is made to demonstrate the values of community and sharing using the story of Stone Soup.  Each of their speakers over the last year or so, has one line from the story, and the effect is really terrific.  You could think of doing something like that with your students.

For 6 creative writing ideas, click The Real Story of Stone Soup 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.

Kamishibai Man

kamishibaiIn the country, in modern Japan, a little old couple lives quietly. The man says he misses his “rounds” (we don’t know what they are) and his wife makes him some candies so he can go into town on his bicycle and repeat what he used to do. He bicycles through busy streets to where the park used to be and sets up a little theatre. He recalls to himself what it was like to entertain crowds of children with his Japanese tales until television came. Coming out of his reminiscence he sees a crowd has gathered to hear these traditional tales and he gives out the candy his wife made.

Allen Say, Houghton Mifflin, ©2005, ISBN 13:  978-0-618-47954-2

Make Your Own Kamishibai Man

Students could work in teams to design a story in 12–16 frames that acts as a kamishibai tale—either one students have created themselves, or one of the traditional Japanese tales.

If you don’t have time for illustration (as we never do), used picture books telling the story can be taken apart and mounted on card. If you raise the theatre, the English version the students have written can be printed on the back of the mounted pages, and then the story would be told in the style of an illustrated Reader’s Theatre.

There is lots of information at here and kamishibai stories may also be purchased online (ready to go).

Traditional Japanese Tales

The book mentions 4 traditional Japanese folktales that the kamishibai might have told:

  • Peach Boy
  • Inch Boy
  • Bamboo Princess
  • The Old Man Who Made Cherry Tree Bloom

Students could tell these stories (and other Japanese tales) as kamishibai or simply as part of oral skills development and general cultural knowledge.

For 4 writing ideas, click Kamishibai Man to download.