The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

TheBoyWhoHarnassedTheWindThe true story of a boy living in Malawi who created a windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his village.

William Kamkwamba, Penguin, ©2012, 978-0-8037-3511-8

Science of Corn

As a science study, you could bring in jeweller’s loupes and enough corn so that each pair of students can have a slice. Use the loupes to have students ask themselves, “What does this look like? What does it remind me of?” They should think of 5-10. Some examples are:

  • tiny pats of butter
  • little yellow pillows
  • coated pills
  • colourful pool toys
  • little balloons

The science question is, “If it looks like a tiny pat of butter, is there any way it could act like a tiny pat of butter?” Of course, corn oil, is very high calorie and often used as a replacement for butter, so that isn’t too hard.

What about “If it looks like a little yellow pillow, is there any way it could be acting like a little yellow pillow?

A good Inquiry series of questions can come out of these, and often a little experiment can be constructed to test whether it is indeed acting like what it looks like. For example, could we extract a kernel carefully and see if it floats, like a pool toy?

Remind students that 95% of nature is function over form. That is, it doesn’t look beautiful just to look beautiful; there is a reason for it.

An Inquiry into Crops of the Americas

Historically, corn was one of the North American crops exported around the world, so it is interesting that it is the major crop of Malawai. Students may be interested in investigating what other foods originated in the Americas, including chocolate, tobacco, potatoes, vanilla, tomatoes, peanuts, avocado, chili peppers, papaya, pineapple, maple syrup, sunflower, wild rice, turkey, cranberry, sweet potato, quinoa, brazil nuts, cashews.

Art

The Internet has lessons for how to draw nearly anything—in this case, an ear of corn. You could start students with a cartoon corn:

Followed by a more sophisticated drawing:

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to download.

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Nine Words Max

NineWordsMaxMax is very verbal, and his two brothers are not. Tired of his constant chatter, they obtain a wizard whose spell limits Max to 9 words. This works well for the brothers, until Queen Spark, of the land of Flint, who must be treated in a very specific way that only Max knows, visits them. Without his knowledge, war may erupt.

Dan Bar-el, Tundra Books, 2014, 978-1-77049-562-3

The Nine-Word Sentence Story

First ask students to create a story, or take one they have already written. Then ask them to re-write it so that each sentence has exactly 9 words, and no more. Here is a sample.

Max was playing with his truck in the yard. He sat happily in the dirt getting totally filthy. His hands, arms, legs, clothes, and face were grimy. Occasionally he poured water into a shallow corner depression. Clutching his truck, he drove downhill through the “flood.”

Hello and Goodbye

Max’s kingdom signals goodbye to Queen Spark by wiggling their fingers. Ask students to brainstorm the hello/goodbye signals with which they are familiar. They may come up with:

  • handshake
  • hugging and kissing one cheek
  • a light bump on the shoulder
  • waving: hello or goodbye
  • rock on: small finger and thumb out, others in, and rock slightly
  • peace symbol: make a v with the palm out
  • fist bump

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Nine Words Max to download.

Who Put the B in Ballyhoo

WhoPutTheBInBallyhooA delightful ABC book of circus anecdotes principally focusing on the most famous acts of Barnum and Bailey. It is all done in the style of the big circus posters of the 30’s advertising the next circus to come to town. Visually gorgeous.

Carlyn Beccia, Houghton Mifflin, ©2007, 978-0-618-71718-7

Circus Words

There are many common words and expressions that come from the circus world. Here are a few to explore with your students. They have been taken from the circus and theatre episode of America’s Secret Slang, a worthwhile TV series:

  1. Circus: from the Circus Maximus in Rome (circo=-circle, maximus = biggest).
  2. Float: because they started out as decorated floating barges.
  3. Carnival:  from carne = meat, and val = removal. A celebration to eat all the food before the month of Lent in the Catholic faith
  4. Mardi Gras: mardi= Tuesday, gras= fat. Fat Tuesday. Again, the day to eat all the meat before Lent when meat may not be eaten.
  5. Dog and Pony Show: from a cheap circus that only had a trained dog and a pony. Now used to mean any pair of speakers—like politicians—with a simple “act.
  6. Jumping through hoops: from tricks done by trained dogs, to mean anyone who will do anything to get the deal.
  7. Jumbo: from Jumbo the elephant, but now meaning large, as in jumbo popcorn.
  8. Gimmick: a trick used by a carnie to cheat suckers at a carnival skill game.
  9. Close but no cigar: a prize at a carnival skill game was often a cigar.

Extreme Writing

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

  1. Stories of going to any tent show—a circus, Bard on the Beach, Children’s Festival, Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia, etc.
  2. Stories of being fooled by something or someone: a magic show, an optical illusion, a friend.
  3. The ABC’s of school words, with an explanation for each.
    A is for alphabet.
    B is for brush.
    C is for classroom, and so on.

Hoaxes Inquiry

Parts of the midway were often interesting hoaxes for fairgoers— the Fiji Mermaid perhaps being the most famous. There is a detailed list of hoaxes for a student inquiry in the pdf. Why do people create a hoax? What is the difference between fraud and a hoax? Why do people believe in hoaxes? How do we define a hoax?

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Who Put the B in Ballyhoo to download.

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 Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma

TheCatTheDogThe Cat tries to tell the Little Red Riding Hood story while the Dog, who loves superheroes, criticizes, adds his own thoughts, and questions the morality of the story. Lots of fun…very post-modern.

Diane and Christyan Fox, Scholastic Press, ©2014, 978-0-545 69481-0

Fairy Tale Poetry or Fairy Tale Slang

Working in pairs, ask students to write rhyming versions of the following list of 14 fairy tales. Just rhyming couplets is fine. It’s much easier for them to do than to write an original story in rhyme because they know the plot already.

Alternatively, the class could brainstorm slang expressions and words and write a slang version of the fairy tale. In either case, the object is to make amusing versions of all 14 of the stories:

  1. The Three Little Pig
  2. Snow White
  3. Cinderella
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  6. The Gingerbread Man
  7. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  8. Jack and the Beanstalk
  9. Little Red Riding Hood
  10. Goldilocks
  11. Rumpelstiltskin
  12. Rapunzel
  13. The Ugly Duckling
  14. Hansel and Gretel

The Favourite Fairy Tale Survey

Design a survey form to allow students to conduct a survey of students in the school to identify the top 3 fairy tales—or to rank them from most to least favourite. For math, students could construct a chart of their results.

For fun, students could carry random copies of each of the fairy tale or slang versions they and their classmates wrote, and give one as a “prize” to each survey participant. To add to the sense of adventure, save some of those miniature Halloween candies. Tell students who can find a partner with the same story to meet at by the front office to “meet the authors”, get their autographs, and receive a prize. Alternative prizes could be a juice bottle, or a free coupon for french fries, or a really cool bookmark.

Teach the students the “manners of conducting a survey”: “May I have a few moments of your time for a simple survey about favourite fairy tales? The results of the survey will be announced over the PA in two days.” Record the results in the correct column. “Thank you very much. Here is a randomly chosen fairy tale for you to read. If you can find someone else who got the same fairy tale, go together to the Principal’s Office and have your versions signed by the authors, and receive a candy prize.”

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma to download.

Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

help-me-mr-muttMr. Mutt is the Ann Landers of dogs. Six dogs write in with their problems, and receive answers from Mr. Mutt, along with critiques from The Queen (a cat with a point of view. Answers are accompanied by cute graphs, useful for teaching graphing to students. It also closes with two newspaper articles as the cats attack Mr. Mutt.

Janet Stevens, Harcourt Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-15-204628-6

We’re Off Exploring

It might be fun in a Social Studies unit for students to write an “Agony Aunt” column for crew members that are with an explorer:

  • Henry Hudson’s crew
  • Columbus’ crew
  • Cartier’s crew
  • Cabot’s crew, etc.

Students would need to research and incorporate the kinds of typical problems an explorer might encounter, as well an including details for the specific trip of that explorer (where are they, what is happening, the date?). The advice, on the other hand, need not be practical if you wanted to include a humourous element in the writing.

The Queen’s Advice

The Queen comments on Mutt’s advice each time, especially when she feels insulted by his remarks. On the back cover she advertises herself in the newspaper, “Do you have Dog Problems? Write to The Queen, the expert for cats, 9 Palace Place, The Catskills, NY.

Ask students to brainstorm the kinds of issues a cat might have—try to ensure each group has a cat owner in it. They may come up with: being overweight, eating foods you don’t like, going for a walk, not liking to get wet, licking yourself, dressing up, scratching furniture, walking around at night, going to the vet, interrupted sleeping in the daytime, walking over the owner’s newspaper, refusing to do tricks, hairballs, etc.

At this point they divide up the list, choosing one to write on as a “Letter to the Queen” of about 50-75 words. Students then pair up, exchange letters, and write The Queen’s Advice…remembering to stay in character as a snooty supercilious cat. The answers can be from 75-100 words. Collect. Read out some letters to the Queen. Ask the class, “What advice do you think should be given?” Then read out the actual advice given.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Help Me, Mr. Mutt! to download.

Dog vs. Cat

Dog vs. CatMr. Button buys a dog; Mrs. Button buys a cat. The two have conflicting habits and fight constantly until their owners bring home – a baby. The problem is solved when the cat and dog reconcile and build a home for themselves in the backyard.

Chris Gall, Little Brown, ©2014, 978-0-316-23801-4

If Your Friends Acted Like Your Dog and Cat

There is a terrific YouTube video using two human actors who are acting like the disdainful cat or the needy dog. Lots of fun. Talk about what characteristics of these animals the video is making fun of—and incidentally also making fun of us for loving them anyway.

Drawing the Dog or the Cat

Using quick cartoon drawings of a cat and a dog—maybe only the head—students illustrate a dog vs. cat story of their own. Students can see that just by squinting the eyes, and making the “smile” mouth fold down (and perhaps making the ears a little more pointed), the cat, for example, can look angry.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Dog vs. Cat to download.

The Lion’s Share

The Lion's ShareThe ant is invited to the lion’s dinner party and is shocked at the manners of the other guests as they greedily “share” the cake. When she herself is accused of being greedy, the ant turns the tables on the other guests.

McCelligott’s Math

On his website, McCelligott has an interesting step-by-step explanation of geometric progression, which is what this book represents. It culminates in explaining why we get I-POD in 2,4,8,16, or 32 GB and not other numbers. For your older students.

Math – Geometric Progression

Geometric ProgressionGive students a list of the animals and ask them to create a chart of the values in each division of the cake. Walk them through the first three, then explore the math pattern for solving the rest of progression and the equivalencies.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Lion’s Share to download.

Cinder Edna

Cinder EdnaCinder Edna is the liberated neighbour of Cinderella. Cinderella needs a fairy godmother to get her to the ball; Cinder Edna earns money mowing lawns and cleaning parrot cages. She earns enough for the dress, wears comfortable loafers to the ball, and takes the bus. She gets the best prince too—the brother of the one Cinderella marries.

Ellen Jackson, Mulberry Books, 1998, ISBN 0688162959

Here It Is, and Again, and Again.

A turning point in the story is going to be that Cinder Edna knows 16 ways to make tuna casserole. The fact is planted in the story when we first meet her and it is listed as one of her skills. It is mentioned again when she meets Rupert and discovers he likes tuna casserole too. Finally, Rupert uses the 16 types of tuna casserole to determine which is the real Cinder Edna.

This is a really great skill to teach students when writing a story. When you have decided on the solution to your problem, you can plant it into the story three times—the first two quite unobtrusively. It makes the whole story seem to come together perfectly.

What Happened Next Stories

In addition to being really entertaining, the “What Happened Next” story is a natural development of the predicting skill of reading. It is also easy to write because students do not have to create a character, a setting, a problem, etc. They can limit themselves to a problem or two for their character.

There are many existing “What Happened Next” stories, but you will not want to have the students read them before they write their own. However, studying them afterward can show students that many adults do what they have just done and make a good living doing it.

First, brainstorm a list of fairy tales where “What Happened Next?” Here are some possibilities: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs , Three Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Cinder Edna to download.

The Spider and the Fly

TheSpiderandtheFlyBased on the original poem of the story of the fly who is flattered into stepping into the spider’s web, this picture book is beautifully illustrated in black and white. The spooky Victorian house is the perfect setting for the tale.

Mary Howitt, Simon and Schuster, ©2002, ISBN978-0-689-85289-3

A Non-Aesop Fable

This is a fable not written by Aesop. What are the characteristics of a fable that demonstrate that this is one:

  • animal characters—behaving in their stereotypes
  • a moral to the story
  • succinct
  • animals are anthropomorphized
  • frequently doesn’t have a “happy ending”

The Moral of the Story

Fables always have a moral. The rhyming moral of this story is:

And now, dear little children, who may this story read, To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you neer give heed; Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye, And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.”

Be sure students know what that means. Do they agree that it is the moral of the story? What modern “schemer’s webs” might there be to tangle you up?

  • internet fraud
  • internet predator
  • free “start up” drugs

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Spider and the Fly to download.