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.

Wabi Sabi

WabiSabiWabi Sabi, the cat, goes on a journey to find the meaning of her name. She asks a cat friend, a dog, a bird, and finally a monkey. Each says, “That’s hard to explain”—the catch phrase of the book. Slowly she discovers that it is a kind of humble beauty, you will be exploring with student.

Mark Reibstein, Little Brown, © 2008, 9789-0-316-11825-5

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Wabi Sabi wants to know what his name means. What does your name mean? Tell a story about how you got your name(s), or nickname.
  2. Wabi Sabi goes on a journey to find the answer to her question. Write about any journeys you have been on.
  3. This story is set in Japan. Either write “Everything I know about Japan” or “Everything I know about Canada, B.C., or my home town.”
  4. Wabi Sabi asks for an explanation. Explain how to do a few things that were hard for you to do at first.

The Author

There is a nice YouTube video of how Mark Reibstein came to write the book based on what he learned about Wabi-sabi while teaching in Japan, and his adoption of his cat. Then Ed Young explains how he illustrated it, how the illustrations were actually lost or stolen, and how he came to use ordinary materials to create the next version. Rather nice.

Incidental Geography

Three Japanese locations are mentioned as Wabi Sabi conducts his search for the meaning of his name: Tokyo, Mount Hiei, and Ginkakuji. Put them on a simple map of Japan. Ask the students to think about how to calculate the distance of the journey, round trip from Tokyo to Mount Hiei to Ginkakuji and back to Tokyo. The fastest way will be Google. Just search “Distance from Tokyo to Mount Hiei” etc. and add the numbers which will turn out to be over 900 km—a long distance for a cat.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Wabi Sabi 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.

You’re Finally Here

You'reFinallyHereOur Bunny speaks to us about our tardiness in having taken so long to come to visit him in the book.  He even wants us to sign a contract about staying there.  But, he gets so involved in a phone call that he ignores us, and, in the end, we leave.

Melanie Watt, Kids Can Press, ©2011, 9978-1-55453-590-3

Using the Character

The character is drawn in many simple poses in the book. Scan or trace them onto a single sheet of paper and then make copies for students creating their own version of the rabbit story.

The pattern of this book is easy to imitate. In the center of the book the rabbit is complaining:

  • . . .”how long I’ve been waiting in here?” Long enough to . . . (4 times)
  • . . .”how unfair it is to keep me waiting?” As unfair as . . . (4 things)
  • . . .”how rude is it to make me wait?” As rude as . . . (4 things)

This could be a springboard for any character complaining about something.  Imagine it is a rabbit who is unhappy with his school lunch.

How many weeks have I had the same lunch?

  • since Christmas
  • since my birthday
  • since I accidentally said I liked bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, etc.

How much don’t I like lettuce?

  • as little as I like liver
  • as little as fried jelly beans, etc.

How long does it take me to eat it?

  • until all the other kids are already finished the first inning of baseball
  • until my teeth wear out from chewing, etc.

Personal Writing (Extreme Writing)

Some possible personal writing topics are:

  • times I have to wait and what I am thinking
  • times that are really boring
  • times that I was treated unfairly

For 9 creative writing ideas, click You’re Finally Here to download.

The Lion’s Share

The Lion's ShareThe ant is invited to the lion’s dinner party and is shocked at the manners of the other guests as they greedily “share” the cake. When she herself is accused of being greedy, the ant turns the tables on the other guests.

McCelligott’s Math

On his website, McCelligott has an interesting step-by-step explanation of geometric progression, which is what this book represents. It culminates in explaining why we get I-POD in 2,4,8,16, or 32 GB and not other numbers. For your older students.

Math – Geometric Progression

Geometric ProgressionGive students a list of the animals and ask them to create a chart of the values in each division of the cake. Walk them through the first three, then explore the math pattern for solving the rest of progression and the equivalencies.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Lion’s Share to download.

Cinder Edna

Cinder EdnaCinder Edna is the liberated neighbour of Cinderella. Cinderella needs a fairy godmother to get her to the ball; Cinder Edna earns money mowing lawns and cleaning parrot cages. She earns enough for the dress, wears comfortable loafers to the ball, and takes the bus. She gets the best prince too—the brother of the one Cinderella marries.

Ellen Jackson, Mulberry Books, 1998, ISBN 0688162959

Here It Is, and Again, and Again.

A turning point in the story is going to be that Cinder Edna knows 16 ways to make tuna casserole. The fact is planted in the story when we first meet her and it is listed as one of her skills. It is mentioned again when she meets Rupert and discovers he likes tuna casserole too. Finally, Rupert uses the 16 types of tuna casserole to determine which is the real Cinder Edna.

This is a really great skill to teach students when writing a story. When you have decided on the solution to your problem, you can plant it into the story three times—the first two quite unobtrusively. It makes the whole story seem to come together perfectly.

What Happened Next Stories

In addition to being really entertaining, the “What Happened Next” story is a natural development of the predicting skill of reading. It is also easy to write because students do not have to create a character, a setting, a problem, etc. They can limit themselves to a problem or two for their character.

There are many existing “What Happened Next” stories, but you will not want to have the students read them before they write their own. However, studying them afterward can show students that many adults do what they have just done and make a good living doing it.

First, brainstorm a list of fairy tales where “What Happened Next?” Here are some possibilities: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs , Three Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Cinder Edna 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.