The Strongest Man in the World

In graphic novel style, we hear the story of Louis Cyr, a French-Canadian who was the “strongest man in the world.” His life story is told in flashback with some of his amazing feats of strength.

Nicholas Debon, Anansi Press, ©2007, 13: 978-0-88899-731-9

Writing in Flashback

This book begins with Louis Cyr’s report to his daughter that the doctor says due to his health problems he must retire. He then tells his daughter the story of his life, and ends with his final show. For students to imitate this style, I think they should begin with the complete draft of a story they have already written that is in time order. Then after you read them the story so that they can see how it is done, they would re-write their story, beginning with the moment before the ending, and then the full story, and finally the full ending of the story.

Other Books in Flashback

These picture books are variations of the concept of the flashback. They could be read as further examples of this style of writing. Point out that “money can be made” and “A’s can be gotten” by using an interesting style:

  • Miss Rumphius
  • Kamishibai Man
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
  • One Small Blue Bead
  • Pink and Say

Guinness Book of World Records

Students love the Guinness Book of World Records. Select several records a day to read aloud…and then be sure that the library has a couple of copies for students to read on their own.

If you look on the Internet, Louis Cyr is still considered to be the strongest man who ever lived. This Canadian boy apparently weighed 18 pounds when he was born.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Strongest Man in the World to download.

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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.

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.

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 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.

From the Good Mountain

FromtheGoodMountainHow Gutenberg Changed the World. Illustrated like a medieval manuscript, the book shows how all the parts of the process came together to create the first printing press.

James Rumford, Roaring Book Press, ©2012, ISBN 978-59643-542-1

Writing From the Parts

The structure of this book is to describe something without saying what it is, and then to ask a question.

  • What was it?

Then it describes how to make the thing, and asks another question:

  • What was this thing made of rags and bones?

Then it answers it, and says it was ready.

  • It was paper, and it was ready.

Slowly, the story builds as the next thing needed is leather, then gold, then ink, then printing types, then the printing presses, then the person (Johannes Gutenberg) until finally the book is made.

It’s a gorgeous, rhythmical pattern that students could imitate with something easier, such as making fudge. To make fudge you need:

  • sugar
  • butter
  • brown sugar
  • icing sugar
  • a stove
  • a glass tray
  • a knife
  • a refrigerator

The recipe online for Cora’s fudge is the easiest one I know, because it doesn’t require any temperature gauge. Students don’t make the fudge—you do so that you can give out a sample.

“In the year 2012, in the city of New Westminster, there appeared a mysterious thing. It was made of sugar cane, cows milk, brown sugar, icing sugar, a stove, a fridge, a glass tray, and a knife. What was it?”…and so on.

It would be fun…and they could see that any time they needed to explain something where many other things had to come together first in order for the item to be successful…this pattern would be very impressive.

The recipe for Cora’s fudge is at here. (One tip: when it is partially chilled, make cut lines in the fudge, so that it comes out more easily in the end. If you forget, this will still work.)

Paper chase Vocabulary Game

Here’s a chance to develop the vocabulary of paper. Find samples of all of these kinds of paper and create 8 different packages with labels. Allow students to feel and look at, and study the names of the papers. Then remove these study material.

Next given them an envelope with sample papers and separate labels and ask them to match the word to the sample. Add a timing factor to make it more fun.

  1. bond paper
  2. cellophane
  3. parchment paper
  4. cardboard
  5. blotting paper
  6. carbon paper
  7. cardstock
  8. butcher paper
  9. newsprint
  10. crêpe paper
  11. glassine paper
  12. origami paper
  13. wax paper
  14. tissue paper
  15. wrapping paper
  16. manila tag
  17. toilet paper

 

For 10 creative writing ideas, click From the Good Mountain to download.

The Qultimaker’s Gift

QuiltmakersGiftThis book is not new, but has been recently re-issued, so I am including it because it is great for writing ideas. The Quiltmaker makes quilts only for the poor. When the king covets one she refuses, but will make one square for each gift he gives away. After several threats, he gives in, and finds that giving to others is where he find happiness.

Jeff Brumbeau, Scholastic, ©2001, ISBN 0-439-30910-7

The Pattern Story

The quilting patterns shown on the 32 pages of the book have been chosen to echo the part of story told on each page. Give each student a page and a copy of the patterns in the book (on the inside covers.) First they find their pattern, and its name. Then they develop an explanation of why that pattern has been chosen for that page. Create a quick PowerPoint showing each of pages and a close-up of each of the patterns in order. Finally, you read the story (or students read the story), page by page. As each page is read, show the pattern. At the end of that page, a student explains the pattern and why he/she feels it was chosen for the page. There are 23 patterns in total, so some of the students will need to “double up” if you have a larger class. (The key to the match of the pattern to the page is included in the PDF you can download for this book.)

Vocabulary of Shimmer

In describing the king’s storehouse of gifts, the author says they “shimmer”. Ask students to brainstorm words that mean to reflect or give off light. Some words they may come up with are: shimmer, glitter, sparkle, glow, flash, shine, twinkle, scintillate, radiate, dazzle, glint, glisten, beam, emit, gleam, glare, etc. Give students a pair of words and ask them to tell you the difference—ie. shimmer vs glare or twinkle vs. gleam. Then ask them to arrange the words from least amount of light to most amount of light. In general, playing with the words solidifies the vocabulary.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click The Quilt Maker’s Gift to download.