Lipman Pike

Lipman PikeLipman Pike is credited with being the first professional baseball player (then called “base”).  This is the story of his childhood, the development of his skills, the aspirations his father had for him, and how he came to be the first “professional” baseball player.

Richard Michelson, Sleeping Bear Press, ©2010, 978-1-58536-465-7

The History of a Sport

Working in small groups, students could investigate the origins of various common sports. This can be turned into a quick class presentation from each group with students sharing the task of presenting. If each group prepares an outline, a portion can be assigned to each member. If you have time, this oral language experience could become an illustrated Powerpoint. Sample sports could include:

  • basketball
  • football
  • hockey
  • golf
  • tennis
  • soccer
  • polo
  • badminton

Racing a Horse

As a listening skill, ask the students to listen for the number of times that someone in the story mentions that they think Lipman Pike could outrun a racehorse. When you finish, agree together on the number, and then tell them that he did once race a horse and won.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Lipman Pike to download.

Night Flight

NightFlightNight Flight has few words.  It concentrates on just 14 hours and 56 minutes of time, starting in the evening from Harbour Grace in Newfoundland on May 20th, 1932, and ending in Ireland.  The author recreates the experience in vivid descriptive language of what she had to do to stay awake, storms, failure of equipment, flying through the night.  The author also describes what is seen from the plane as she left, during the night, flying over tundra, approaching land in Ireland. Imagine the Irish farmer coming toward this strange vehicle that had landed in his field, and the woman waving and saying, “I’ve come from America.”  Amazing.

Robert Burleigh, Simon and Schuster, ©2011, 978-1-4169-6733-0

Talking With Amelia Earhart

The back of the book has many quotes from Amelia Earhart that are worth discussing with students, or using as prompts for journal writing:

  • Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
  • I prefer good mechanical work to rabbits’ feet.
  • I could not see.  I carried on.
  • Everyone has their own Atlantic to fly.  Whatever you want very much to do, against  the opposition of tradition, neighbourhood opinion, and so-called common sense—that is an Atlantic.
  • One of my favourite phobias is that girls, especially those whose tastes aren’t routine, often don’t get a fair break.
  • The most effective way to do it, is to do it.

 Journal Writing

Having students draw from their own experience is a good way to get a journal response to a piece of

writing.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Amelia had to stay awake a long time.  Describe a time when you were up very late.  Did you have to do anything special to stay awake?
  • Amelia was caught in a lightning storm.  Describe an experience you had with a storm?
  • Amelia had to be well prepared, but still incredibly brave.  Describe a time when you prepared very well for something and then did it.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Night Flight to download.

Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus

Ten-Rules-You-Absolutely-Must-Not-Break-If-You-Want-to-Survive-the-School-BusJames advises his younger brother on the 10 things you must not do if you ride the school bus.  They range from not sitting at the front, not sitting at the back, not making eye contact with the bully, to not touching the bully’s stuff, not sitting with a girl, and finally to not talking to the bus driver.  During the course of the day, his brother inadvertently breaks all 10.  But he discovers that things work out and makes a rule 11—you don’t have to pay attention to the rules.

John Grandits, Houghton Mifflin, ©2011, 978-0-618-78822-4

Listening Idea

With the PDF of lesson ideas there is a listening chart with the 10 rules cited on it. The second time you read the story, students could note how these rules are broken. Discuss at the end. For each one, ask if it is a sensible rule and why.


This is a good time to teach students the structure of a simile. Each of the 7 similes in the book is reflected in the illustration, which cleverly reflects the perception of the narrator. You may want to project the illustrations as you point out the similes in the book and ask the students to discuss their meaning. The only simile missing is that of the bus driver, although the illustration of her is of a predator bird. The similes are:

  • a dog…sounded like an arctic wolf that hadn’t eaten all winter
  • school bus …charging at me like a giant yellow rhinoceros
  • staring at me…I felt like a zebra at a lion party
  • big kid…up close, he was the size of a grizzly bear
  • girls…as mean as snakes
  • bus driver…illustration of a predator bird, no simile
  • brother…jumping up and down like a spider monkey.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Ten Rules to download.


souperchickenHenrietta loves to read and has hardly any time to lay eggs. The farmer says he is sending all the rest of the hens on a vacation as a reward for their hard work. As they leave, Henrietta reads the words on their truck which say, “ Souper Soup Company” and realizes her friends are headed for the soup. Along the road to rescue them she hitchhikes pigs and cows. At the factory she reads the signs in the hallways to find the chickens, reads the code to find the address, and, after the rescue, finally discovers in a magazine a vegetarian farm where they can live.

Mary Jane and Herm Auch, Holiday House, © 2003, ISBN 0-8234-1704-20

Literacy Can Save You

Read the story aloud to the students first. Then, to develop listening and note-taking skills, read it again. During the second reading, have students make note of the ways in which being able to read is important in solving the problems that Henrietta faces:

  • She reads the sign about the soup company on the truck.
  • She finds the address for the factory on the label of a can.
  • She reads the sign on the pigs’ truck.
  • She reads the sign on the cows’ truck.
  • She reads the signs in the hallways to find where the chickens are.
  • She reads the code to get in the door.
  • She reads the magazine covers in the mailboxes to find a good place to live, with a vegetarian.

Literacy Tales

Ask students to make up their own story in which literacy helps to solve the problems of the character. Remind them that the structure of a typical story is to present a problem, make 2-3 attempts to solve it, and then have the last one work.

In Souperchicken, the structure is:

  • Present the character, Henrietta, as a reader.
  • Present a problem for the chickens (this is not a vacation).
  • Reading makes the problem clear.
  • Attempts: chasing the truck, hitch-hiking on trucks, finding them at the factory, breaking them loose, finding them a suitable home.

When student shave finished, you could present some other picture books in which literacy is essential to solving the literacy problems.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Souperchicken to download.

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes

grapesA wonderful retelling of the Aesop fable where the fox makes frequent attempts to get at the grapes until he finally says that they are probably sour anyway. Hence the expression “sour grapes”.

In this version Fox attempts to reach the grapes but because he is “sly. Clever. Smart. After all, I am a fox.” He makes a plan and “voila!…Grapes!” Except it doesn’t turn out quite that way.

First of all he harnesses the energy of the bear. Then the beaver, the porcupine, the possum, each time making the plan more and more elaborate. Each time as well, the fox ignores the suggestions of his “assistants.”

When they point out their simpler plan at the end, the fox storms off in a huff. “Well, do as you wish. I, for one, wouldn’t think of eating those lousy, rotten, stinkin’ grapes now, even if I could…They’re probably sour anyway.” (While in the foreground his assistants are joyfully eating the grapes.)

Margie Palatini, Simon and Schuster, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-689-80246-1

Create Your Own Take on Aesop

Students will enjoy using this as a model to create their own version of an Aesop fable. They can add more characters, dialogue, a twist, additional descriptions, and a setting. This story is about 1,000 words, but students can write a terrific Aesop fable in about 500 words if you wish.

The Moral of the Story

Every fable has a moral. The original moral of this story is something like, “People who can’t do something, make up reasons why they didn’t want it in the first lace.” The expression “sour grapes” is used for someone behaving this way. This fable has that moral, but has several other morals worth discussing as well:

  • Don’t underestimate the help others can provide.
  • Don’t overestimate your own intelligence and underestimate that of others.
  • A simple plan can be better than an elaborate plan.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes 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.