Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China

Yeh-Shen was the orphan daughter in her stepmother’s home, but the stepmother favoured her own daughter. Yeh-Shen’s friend, the fish, would come out of the water, rest on the shore, and she should feed it from her scarce resources. Her stepmother put on Yeh-Shen’s coat, lured out the fish, and killed it. As Yeh-Shen grieved, an old man appeared and told her to retrieve the bones, for they had power to grant wishes. Yen-Shen then wished on the bones for food. When the spring festival arrived (where young men and women could find partners), Yeh-Shen was not allowed to go. The bones of the fish made her an azure gown, a kingfisher feather cloak, and shoes of solid gold. When it looked like her stepmother would recognize her, she fled, leaving behind one gold slipper. In searching for his “bride”, the king noticed Yeh-Shen’s tiny feet, and when she tried on the slipper, her spring festival clothes reappeared on her. Ta da!

Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young, ©1982, Philomel Books, 978-0-399-21594-0

Comparison

Using a Venn diagram, students can prepare a chart comparing how this Cinderella story is the same as, and different from, the European version. It is your decision whether to read them a picture book, or count on their knowledge of the Disney version.

A simple method is to ask students to first write a rather pedestrian opening sentence such as: This is a comparison of the classic European Cinderella with the Yeh-Shen version; then they choose and write about at least three ways in which they are similar. Begin with the best idea for a comparison, end with the second best, put others between. Next, they write about at least three ways in which they are different then follow the same process of beginning with their best idea, ending with the second best, and putting the others between. They can conclude by stating whether the two stories are more similar or more different. At this point, the students can re-write the opening sentence to be more dramatic and interesting, and also write a conclusion that has pizzazz. (From analyzing the similarities and differences between the story of Yeh-Shen and Cinderella we may conclude that the tale began in China.) Voila! It may not be amazing, but it is serviceable.

Mutilating the Body

Another mini-research project topic could be customs that involve altering the body to create “beauty”, such as the custom of foot-binding in China. Customs, such as foot binding, actually distort the body to such an extent that it can even be crippling. A discussion with students, about potentially not making any changes to their body that cannot be reversed would be fruitful.

  1. Extending the ears (Inca, Tutankhamen, Africa, etc.)
  2. Tiny feet (China)
  3. Elongated necks (some African tribes where if the rings are removed the person suffocates).
  4. Teeth blackening (in Elizabeth I’s court she had eaten so much sugar that her teeth were black, so some women as a fashion statement blackened their teeth)
  5. Cranial binding (the head to create a shape. Very common in Incas)
  6. Facial Scarring (Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Aboriginal tribes in Australia, Karo people of Ethiopia)
  7. Teeth sharpening (Mayan, Vietnamese, Balinese, Africa)
  8. Lip plates (Ecuador, Sudan, Ethiopia, Central America)

CBS Storybreak: Yeh-Shen

CBC Storybreak has a really quite nice fully animated version of Yeh-Shen based on the book, but with more elaborated characters.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China to download.

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Town Is by the Sea

Written in the first person, a boy tells of his simple day. First he describes the setting by the sea with a house, a road, a grassy cliff, the sea, and the town and his father digging coal under the sea. Then getting up, going to the playground, having lunch, doing an errand in town, visiting his grandfather’s graveyard and and going home, listening to the radio, having dinner, An ordinary day, and at every stage he thinks of his father digging coal under the sea.

Joanne Schwartz, ©2017, Groundwood Books, 978-1-55498-871-6

A First Person Story of Your Day

Using the story as a model, students could write a simple story of what happens during a typical day in their life. They could then mark 5 places where they will place sentences, “And my mother”….. followed by “and my father.” They may need to consult with their parents to find 5 things that they typically do throughout a day. Putting these things together will show the three lives happening separately but at the same time of the day. It could be a rather powerful little piece of writing.

Mining Songs

In Canada, the song Working Man, sung by Rita MacNeil, is considered a classic. It is also a perfect representation of the life of the men of Town Is By the Sea. 

The Power of Repetition

At each point in the story, our narrator repeats that his father is a miner and that he digs for coal under the sea; this is repeated 5 times. Before that statement, each time, there is a description of the state of the sea—its white tips, its sparkle, its crash, its calm quiet, the sun sinking into it, the sound as you fall asleep. Under that sea is where his father digs coal.

Ask students to listen for the repetition—half of them listening for the description of what his father is doing, and half for the mention of the sea. They could make a quick note of each one, or they could just count how many times it happens.

For 11 teaching ideas, click Town is By The Sea to download.

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer

The story of how 200 years ago, the daughter of Lord and Lady Byron, Ada Lovelace, wrote the first program—before there was electricity to make it work. Working with Thomas Babbage on the Analytical Engine, she wrote step-by-step how Bernoulli numbers could be coded for the machine.

Diane Stanley, ©2016, Simon and Schuster, 978-1-4814-5249-6

Author Study

Because Diane Stanley has written at least 16 books about historic characters, now might be a good time to do an author’s study. Begin by gathering as many copies of all 16 of them as you can. For the purposes of an author study that can be done quickly, students should read 3 of them, not counting Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science. That would provide them 4 to consider. Below is a possible outline for their report:

  1. RANK
    List them from favourite (#1 ) to least favourite( #4). Summarize each book in a paragraph, with a sentence for each indicating why they are in that position.
  2. DIANE STANLEY’S LIFE
    Write 20 sentence facts about Diane Stanley’s life. Check out her biography on her website, Wikipedia, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Simon & Schuster. Include whether you think what she says about herself is reflected in her books.
  3. ART
    Check her website’s “art stuff” section for an explanation of how she does her illustrations. She has many styles of art. Of your 4 books, which did she illustrate herself? Which style of art did she use for each? Why do you think so?
  4. ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT THE HISTORIC CHARACTER
    Take one of the books that has the least number of additional notes about the historic character and research 10 additional interesting facts she does not include. Do they make a difference to how you see the historic figure
  5. HOW MANY WORDS IN HER BOOK
    Approximately how many words are in each book. Count 3 of the pages from the middle of the book, total, and divide by 3 to create an average number per page. Multiply that by the number of pages in the book (Usually 32). If you have something interesting to say about a topic you have gathered information on, this is all you need to write to be an author who makes money for your work.

Unrecognized Women Scientists and Inventors

Historically there has been a lack of recognition of the work of women scientists beyond Ada Lovelace. It is often true as well that their work has actually been credited to others. It might make an interesting quick inquiry project for students to select a woman to investigate. What was the discovery or invention? What happened? Is there any pattern in what happened? And any other questions the class as a whole wishes to investigate.

  1. Rosalind Franklin: DNA. The Nobel prize went to Watson and Crick.
  2. Chien-Shiung Wu: Disproved the law of parity. The Nobel prize went to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yan.
  3. Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Found the first pulsar and Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle got the Nobel prize.
  4. Esther Lederberg: Found a bacterial virus. Her husband and two others got the Nobel prize.
  5. Lisa Meitner: Found that atomic nuclei can split in two and Otto Hawn won the Nobel prize.
  6. Nellie Stevens: Discovered sex is determined by chromosomes. It was credited to Thomas Hunt Morgan.
  7. Margaret Knight: Patented a paper bag machine. The patent was stolen by a man although she won her case in court.
  8. Elizabeth Magie: Invented Monopoly (she patented it as The Landlord’s Game) and Parker Brothers credited it to themselves.
  9. Judy Malloy: Wrote the first hypertext fiction. That “first” was credited to Michael Joyce.
  10. Candace Pert: Found the receptor that allows opiates to lock onto the brain. Dr. Solomon Snyder received an award for it.
  11. Martha Coston: Designed the signal flares for US Naval vessels. Although he had been dead for 10 years, the patent went to her husband Franklin Coston.
  12. Mary Anning: Only now famous as a British finder of fossils. She was unrecognized because of her class and sex.
  13. Marthe Gautier: Discovered the cause of Down’s syndrome. Two men received the credit.
  14. Emmy Noether: Her theorem united two pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Her foundational work was used in the textbook by B. L. van der Warden but not mentioned by him until his 7th edition.

Algorithms

Because we we are introducing programming at earlier ages, now might be a good time to explain the concept of an algorithm—an incredibly detailed set of directions to do something . We have “algorithms” in our head to do many automatic tasks such as tying shoes, getting dressed, typing, searching on the Internet, etc.

For a computer, an algorithm can’t miss a single tiny step. To avoid having to develop a part of the code each time, if you need to count something in the game you are designing, you “plug in” the “count this” algorithm, already designed by an earlier programmer.

The Khan Academy has a really good explanation of algorithms at here.

Ask students to write the most detailed algorithm they can for something like borrowing a book from the school library, or riding on public transit, or making the grilled cheese sandwich.  Students can suggest other possibilities and they can exchange and “debug” each others algorithms, by pointing out essential, simpler steps that need to be included or errors that would have them frying the sandwich before putting the cheese in.

For 13 creative writing ideas, click Ada Lovelace 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.

King Louie’s Shoes

King Louis XIV ruled France (the superpower of its day) for 72 years. He had the biggest army, the biggest palace, the biggest parties and gifts, but, he was short. To compensate, he first commissions the highest throne, then the biggest wig, then the highest heels. Dancing in his new heels, he falls and is embarrassed.

D.J. Steinberg, ©2017, Simon and Shuster, 978-1-4814-2657-2

Vocabulary
Partly because England was invaded by the Norman French in 1066, many English words have French origins, and have made their way into everyday use.  In this book, baroque and derriere are two of the French words used.

From the letter B, here is a small sample of English words that began as French:

  • baroque, bachelor, bacon, bailiff, ball (the party not the toy), bandage
  • banquet, barge, barrette, barricade, base, basil, basket, basset (the hound)
  • baste (sew), batter, bauble, bayonet, beagle, beast, beautification, beauty
  • beef, beggar, beige, belfry, benevolent, berate, beret, bestial, beverage,
  • bias, bigamy, bikini, billiards, billion, binocular, biopsy, biscuit, bison
  • bistro, bizarre, biscuit, blame, blank, blanket, blemish, blister, block, blouse
  • boil, boisterous, bomb, bon appetit, butcher, bon voyage, border, botanic
  • bottle, butler, boulevard, boundary, bouquet, boutique, bowl, buzzard
  • brace, bracelet, Braille, branch, brave, bribe, brick, browse, brunette
  • brute, bucket, buccaneer, buffet, bugle, bulge, bullet, bulletin
  • bureaucracy, burglar, bushel

Several vocabulary activities are possible to play with words:

  1. FRENCH THROUGH THE ALPHABET
    Students in teams select 3 letters of the alphabet and find 20 English words that started as French words. Wikipedia has a good list—Google List of English Words of French Origin.
    Or, give them a list of countries in the world that have contributed words to English and have them identify 15 loan words and their definitions. One characteristic of English is how flexible it is in adopting words from other languages.
  2. COMPLETE SENTENCES IN FRENCH-ORIGIN WORDS
    Challenge students to write the longest totally English sentence, using as many words that began as French words as possible. For example, “The buccaneer berated the butler for boiling bacon for the buffet.” (6 words out of 11) and “The bestial brute (with bayonet drawn) browsed the banquet, barricading the beggar from crossing the boundary to the buffet.”
  3. CATEGORIES OF WORDS FROM FRENCH
    Put the words above on individual cards, and ask students create categories for the words as much as possible. For example: words about clothing include baste, bauble, beret, blouse, bracelet, brunette, bikini, and boutique; words about food include: basil, banquet, bacon, biscuit, bistro, bon appetite, butcher, bracelet, buffet, beverage, batter, boil, and beef. Discuss what the categories might mean; for example, the French are famous for good food, so a lot of food words were borrowed.

Roman Numerals

King Louis in this book is actually Louis XIV. This could be an interesting opportunity to introduce students to Roman numerals.

Teaching Roman Numerals below provides a clear and entertaining explanation of how to read the numbers. Plus, it gives the reasons to learn them: to read the titles of royalty, Egyptian dynasties, and the pope; to read the date of issue of movies; to read the titles of many computer games; to read the numbers on analog watches and clocks; Olympic Games (Games of the XXVIII Olympiad; for sections in the introduction to a book (section II); on public buildings and monuments; World War I and World War II; and so on.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click King Louie’s Shoes to download.

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.

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.

The Wolf’s Story

TheWolfsStoryThe Big Bad Wolf explains that he used to be a handyman for Grandma and that Little Red Riding Hood always ignored him. On the day Little Red Riding Hood came, Grandma was accidentally knocked unconscious in the wardrobe and everything went from bad to worse from there. All he wants is a new job with someone else.

Toby Forward, Candlewick Press ©2005, ISBN 978-0-7636-2785-0

Slam Dunk Echo

Older students can be taught a wonderful writing “trick” that never fails to impress the reader, and that is the Slam Dunk Echo. In this method, you introduce a phrase at the beginning of the story or essay that is repeated with significance at the end.

The example in this book is : “No, please. Look at me. Would I lie to you?” Frequently, the repeated phrase is a metaphor or simile. In Patricia Polacco’s Chicken Sunday, the line is “Sometimes when we are especially quiet inside, we can hear singing. A voice that sounds like slow thunder and sweet rain.” In I Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert, the line is “I am the mummy Heb-Nefert, black as night, stretched as tight, as leather on a drum.”

Vocabulary Thoughts

Grandma is knocked out in “the wardrobe”—which is pictured in the book. Students may not know this word as a term for furniture. It originated when rooms did not have closets. This is an opportune vocabulary expansion moment to ask students to go on line to find images of other furniture items they may not know: sofa, chesterfield, ottoman, chiffonier, armoire, roll-top desk, parson’s table, sideboard, cabinet, hutch, etc.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Wolf’s Story 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.