The Bravest Man in the World

Wallace Hartley is the man who played the violin as the Titanic sank. He was praised as the “bravest man in the world” because he was offered a space on a lifeboat, but instead stayed to calm the scared passengers by playing as the ship sank. The story is told by Jonathan Harker, a stowaway befriended by Hartley, to his grandson who doesn’t want to practice the piano.

Patricia Polacco, Simon and Schuster, ©2019, ISBN 978-1-4814-9461-8

Inquiry: Famous Disasters at Sea
It might make a good “rapid research” inquiry topic for students in pairs to find the basic when, where, why, how for the disasters. They need to also create ten interesting sentence facts about the disasters.

They could also pose questions themselves for all disasters: What are the most common causes of marine disasters? Were any changes to the “rules” of the sea made after the disaster? Why do we particularly remember these disasters? How many people died? How do we know these disasters occurred?

It helps if the students generate the questions themselves. At the end, create a chart with questions down one side and disasters across the top. With each question, have students chime in anything that found that would help to answer the question. This is genuine evidence-based research of the kind for which scholars get doctorates. Example of past famous disasters at sea are:

  • The Mary Rose, 1545
  • The Spanish Armada, 1588
  • The Vasa (Swedish), 1628
  • The Merchant Royal, 1641
  • The Scilly Naval Disaster, 1707
  • The Black Swan, 1804
  • The Tek Sing, 1822 (China)
  • The HMS Birkenhead, 1845
  • The Titanic, 1912
  • The Kiche Maru Typhoon, 1912 (Japan)
  • The Great Lakes Storm, 1913
  • The Lusitania, 1915
  • The Halifax Explosion, 1917
  • The Bismarck, 1941
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff, 1945
  • The Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975
  • The Exxon Valdez, 1994

Other Picture Books About the Titanic
There seem to be innumerable books about the Titanic written with children in mind: pop-up books, colouring books, detective books, etc.

Titanicat (click for teaching ideas) is the story of a genuine survivor of Titanic who by a twist of fate did not get on the ship.

T is for Titanic is an ABC book for words from the Titanic. I have always had success with selecting a topic under study in Social Studies and having students working to create an ABC book of short paragraphs about that topic. If you have lots of time, students can work in pairs to create the book with each student doing 13 letters, but it can also be done where the class generates a list (or you do) of words that apply. Have students individually finds facts and write an interesting paragraph about the the word as applied to the topic such as the ABCs of Egypt, Haida, Japan, etc.

For more creative writing ideas, click on The Bravest Man in the World to download.

Pluto Gets the Call

Pluto loved being a planet but then receives the call that demotes him. He decides to head to the Sun to plead his case and on the way comments, mostly unfavourably, on the other planets as he passes them. The Sun consoles him with the fact that he now has a warm place in our hearts. With humour, we learn some facts about the solar system.

Adam Rex, Simon and Schuster, Beach Line Books, ©2019 978-1-5344-1453-2

Memorizing the Planets – In Order
Yes, there’s a mnemonic—My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Noodles—but for me it’s as hard to remember the sentence as it is to remember the planets in order. I was once taught a story that works, because narrative is easiest to remember.

First, remember there are 4 inner smaller rocky planets, and 4 larger gas planets. Also, this names the planets from the sun out which means, for example, that if I say “Jupiter” you will always be able to say it is between Mars and Saturn.

Right next to the Sun, there was a very zippy planet called Mercury, named after the Messenger God because of its speed. Unfortunately, Mercury sneezed on the next planet over, which was the beautiful planet, Venus. Now mercury is poisonous so Venus scooped it up and threw it on the next planet, Earth. Earth didn’t want it either, and threw it onto Mars, the next planet and an angry red planet named after the god of war.

Mars was just winding up to throw it, when over the hill came a giant, that reached to the clouds, Jupiter. He was wearing a t-shirt with a huge red circle in the middle surrounded by the letters S.U.N. (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). In the old days, he also had worn a ridiculous beanie cap on top of which was a tiny little model of the cartoon dog Pluto, but he doesn’t wear it any more.

Tales in Space
For general vocabulary, it’s a good idea to try out the Two Dozen Words You Need to Explore Space. Actually, I made that up, but they are still good words: satellite, orbit, rocket, space station, sputnik, comet, meteor, nebula, vacuum, astronomy, solar wind, big bang, Kuiper Belt, stardust, asteroid belt, International Space Station, telescope, cosmonaut/astronaut, heliosphere, black hole, galactic, magnetosphere, NASA, Canada Arm.

Once they have the words in their space suit, so to speak, ask them to write a story incorporating at least 10 of the words. It could be a space adventure such as Guardians of the Galaxy with a hero, an oddball sidekick, and a quest. It’s okay for them to create another adventure for characters they already know. The idea is to stretch their vocabulary into active use.

Ask them to highlight the words they use because there will be 2 marks: 1 for using the words, and 1 for the story, and you want your marking to be as easy as possible.

The Gods of the Greeks and Romans Are With Us Today
Give students a list of the products and events in our life that relate to the Gods of Greece and Rome. Ask each student to research one of them: what is the product and what does it do, what is the story behind the god it is named after, and why they feel that connection is appropriate. Prepare a quick PowerPoint or Keynote with pictures of the product or event. Students will turn in their paper, and also make an oral presentation. Two marks from one assignment and it’s fun too.

Here are some products: Nike shoes, Pandora jewelry, Versace designer uses the Medusa head, Ajax cleaner, Hermes fashion, Starbucks siren/ mermaid symbol, Trident gum, Goodyear tires with the flying sandal, FTD florists’ symbol of Mercury, Amazon delivers, Mars candy bar, Oracle database software, Ambrosia salad, Apollo Theatre in New York City, Delphi software, Vulcanized rubber, Centaur pharmaceuticals, Echo Digital Audio, Europa (website of the EU), Hyperion Records, Odyssey records, Pegasus travel, Poseidon Seafood, Prometheus books, Titans ()NFL team), Triton Tool and Die, Mercury Car, the Nissan Titan, the Volkswagen Phaeton, Venus Beauty supplies, Pegasus symbol of Mobil Oil. Honda Odyssey.

For more creative writing ideas, click Pluto Gets the Call to download.

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.

The Highest Number in the World

1770495754Gabe is a hockey player whose lucky number is 22, the same number as her hero, Hayley Wickenheiser. But her new jersey is #9. She is crushed. Gabe’s grandmother explains that the #9 was the retired number of Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, bobby Hull, etc. and that #99 was Gretsky’s number. Gabe is reconciled, and dreams of her own retired #9.

Roy MacGegor, Tundra books, ©2014. 978-1-77049-573

A School Sports Survey

It’s worthwhile setting up an Inquiry about what sports are being played by students in your class, and potentially the whole school. Picture your students out there interviewing fellow students, learning the math of it, thinking about the questions they want answered so that they collect the best information to answer their questions.

Here’s a really simple question they might want an answer to: What are the most common sports played outside of school? Compare males to females and primary students (K-4), intermediate students (5-7), or middle school students (5-9) if that is how you are organized. Students learning percentage calculation can do the math as well for their results. Report results in a school announcement, in a school newsletter, and on your class blog so that they receive the maximum publicity for their results. The School Board may also be interested in knowing the kinds of organized athletic activities students participate in outside of school hours.

Students should first survey their own class, to become familiar with the form, as well as how to tally and use the results. In a single class, if it is a split grade, you can have four categories – male and female for each of the grades. Then, assign them in teams to fan out at recess and lunch and collect results. Teach them polite survey methods: “Will you please help our class with a survey? It will only take a few seconds.” Ask students to read it to students who look like they may have trouble (ESL students, or primary students). Students carry a book to balance the survey on, and a pen to write with. At the end, “Thank you. We’re going to announce the results over the PA.

A Discussion About Hockey

There are many discussion questions that can arise from this book:

  1. Why are hockey organizations reluctant to have mixed male and female teams?
  2. What is our opinion of violence in hockey? Especially now that we are finding that even one concussion can cause permanent brain damage.
  3. How will global warming effect hockey?
  4. When the kids say, “Hayley, Number 9” is that bullying? When does teasing cross over into bullying?
  5. Why are fewer Canadian parents signing their kids up for hockey?

Below are some of the reasons parents give for the decline in the percentage of Canadian youth enrolling in hockey. See what your students think.

Some Reasons Given for the Decline in Hockey Enrollment

  • New immigrants from warm countries have little experience of it.
  • Warmer winters make it harder to create home-made rink by simply flooding a field.
  • The equipment is very expensive.
  • Parents do not approve of body checking as it likely to cause brain damage.
  • Parents do not want to pay for expensive dental work to repair broken teeth.
  • Parents do not like the attitude of “hockey parents.”
  • The professional games are too expensive.
  • Rink times for less elite players are often at ridiculous times of the day.
  • The skill of teams have been diluted by opening up so many franchises.
  • Players are being encouraged to actually injure other players.

Hockey Songs

Two hockey songs could be played while using this book:

  • The Hockey Song by Jughead
  • The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors

There are a few others, but these are kid friendly.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Highest Number in the World 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.

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.

Titanicat

Titanicat CoverJim is a cabin boy on the Titanic assigned to watch over a cat and her kittens. He sees the cat taking her kittens off the ship before it sails. As the “All ashore” is called there is one last kitten, so Jim takes it off and misses the ship. Based on a true story.

Marty Crisp, Scholastic, ©2008, ISBN 978-0-545-2880-2

Superstitions

Our cabin boy is saved from the Titanic because of the superstition that a cat leaving a ship is a sign of disaster. Show students the pictures on the Titanicat Superstitions PDF and have them describe what the luck is that the image is conveying (good or bad).

Cat Breeds

The ship’s cat is a tortoiseshell cat. This might be a good time to introduce students to the names and vocabulary of cat breeds, some of which are:

  • Ragdoll
  • Maine or coon cat
  • Bengal
  • Siamese
  • Manx
  • Persian
  • Abyssinian
  • Angora
  • Russian blue

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Titanicat to download.

Postcards from Camp

PostcardsFromCampMichael hates camp and informs his father in a series of self-designed postcards of the many trials of his life there.  His father returns reassuring postcards until Michael finally comes to love camp.

Simms Taback, Penguin Young Readers, ©2011 978-0-399-23973-1

Writing a Postcard Book

This is a simple model for students to follow. It consists of a supply list for the trip, a welcome card from the camp, and a series of 8 postcards to the father, and 7 responses from the father. It does not require a great deal of writing, but to be done effectively requires a sense of humour.
Students could write from camp, from staying with grandma and grandpa, from going on vacation to a friend back at home, from a new home to a friend in the old neighbourhood, etc.
If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Pluto

Students studying the solar system could easily write a series of postcards as though they were on vacation. Ask them to write 5-8 sentences for each planet they visit (and the demoted planet, Pluto) providing at least 5-8 facts about each planet. Ask them to make it amusing, perhaps complaining, but really factual.

For 8 creative writing ideas click Postcards from Camp to download.

Hello Muddah Hello Faddah!

Sherman HelloMuddahThe hit parade novelty song by Allan Sherman made into a children’s book. The book tells, in song, the tale of the letter from camp, and asking his parents to please bring him home immediately. It ends with the sun breaking out and him asking his parents to “kindly disregard this letter.”

Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, Dutton Children’s Books, ©2004, ISBN 0-525-46942

Writing the Complaining Letter

Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah! can be used to introduce the writing of the friendly letter. In this case, the author is a boy at campy who wants to be brought hom immediately and gives many reasons why his parents should not leave him there, before discovering that he really likes it. This is a picture book version of Allan Sherman’s famous song of the same name. Students could practice writing letters in a similar voice imagining they have moved to a different neighbourhood, joined a different baseball team, gone to a new school…any experience could precipitate the letter.

Comparing Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah! to Dear Mrs. LaRue

In Dear Mrs. LaRue, the dog, Ike, has been sent to Obedience School. Each day he describes the problems with the school and asks to come home. Using a Venn Diagram, students could compare the two books, and then, perhaps use that draft material to write a comparison of their own.

For 4 writing ideas, click Hello Muddah! Hellow Faddah! to download.