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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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 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.

Tsunami

TsunamiIn Japan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village lives on the hill in his rice farm. In the village below, villagers are getting ready for a festival. Suddenly he senses a problem, and when he sees the waters recede realizes a tsunami is coming. He cannot get down to the village to warn them in time so he needs to draw the villagers to him. As a desperate act, he sets his crop on fire. The villagers rush up the hill to help put out the fire, and they are all saved.

Kimiko Kajikawa, Philomel Books, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-399-25006-4

Tsunami

This is a good time to study the science of the tsunami. These giant waves form where tectonic plates collide, where there is a gigantic (frequently underwater) eruption of a volcano, or after a meteor impact. 86% of all tsunamis come from underwater volcanoes or seismic shifts. These displace huge quantities of water suddenly. The water rushes in to fill the vacuum (thus explaining why the “tide” seems to go out suddenly and unusually far) and then rushes back out again in the form of a huge wave.

There are many websites with great information including the video below.

The True Story

This book is based on a story in the 1897 publication by Lafadio Hearn called Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. The original wise wealthy man of the village was Hamguchi Goryo and there is a Japanese museum dedicated to him. (He was 35, not an old man, when it happened but the story is still wonderful. Making him older makes it possible for “experience” to tell him what to do.) Ask students to research the real person at locations such as The Fire of Rice Sheaves.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Tsunami to download.