Mother Bruce

Bruce, the bear, is gathering eggs for his dinner recipe, but unfortunately they hatch. The ducklings immediately imprint on Bruce and follow him everywhere. After trying to get them to leave he gives up and raises them, even trying to teach them to migrate. When that fails, they end by vacationing in Miami every year.

Ryan T. Higgens, ©2015, Disney Hyperion, 978-1-4847-3088-1

Teaching About Imprinting

The first research on imprinting was by Konrad Lorenz around 1935. He observed that certain birds will develop a rapid strong attachment to a certain individual, often a mother. Geese will imprint on the first suitable moving stimulus in the first 13-16 hours (called the critical period). After that it is hard to change. It can even be a box moving on a track.

It is particularly associated with “nidifugous” birds, that is, ones that leave the nest shortly after hatching. They are born with open eyes, are capable of independent motion, and leave the nest almost immediately. It is from Latin for “nidus” meaning “nest” and “fugeri” meaning “to flee” (hence the word fugitive).

The purposes of imprinting are to learn what species you are, how your species behaves, what the sounds of your species are, what would be the appearance of an appropriate mate, for protection by staying near mother, and to learn to find food.

Typical birds that imprint are chickens, ducks, geese, crows, kestrels, vultures, eagles, raptors, and wading birds.

Ask students to first brainstorm what questions they would have about what animals imprint:

  1. What kinds of birds imprint? List some. What other animals imprint?
  2. Why do they imprint—what is it for?
  3. What are some of the birds that don’t imprint?
  4. What are some of the birds that do imprint?
  5. What are the characteristics at birth of birds that imprint?
  6. How are the birds that don’t imprint different?
  7. Who discovered imprinting?
  8. What is the problem if birds imprint on humans?

It’s Bad Science

In the end of the story, a little baby turtle approaches a duck and says, “Mama?” It’s cute—but not good science. Ask students why? As mother turtle lays hundreds and hundreds of eggs that the male fertilizers, the eggs are buried, and both parents leave. The babies hatch and must flee to the sea under the assault of predators who have gathered for “lunch”. Barely 1 in 100 survive to return to the beach. They have no parent to which to imprint.

Extreme Writing and Grumpy Cat

Mother Bruce is grumpy, but not as grumpy as Grumpy Cat. For Extreme Writing, go to my Grumpy Cat Pinterest page that contains 26 Grumpy Cat statements with three choices for Extreme Writing topics.

For the Good luck… You’ll Need It image, for example, the three prompts are:

  1. Lucky things that have happened to me—or a friend.
  2. Good luck and bad luck—superstitions I know.
  3. “It started as a normal Monday morning,” and continue with alternating good and bad luck.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Mother Bruce to download.

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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.

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.

Weighing the Elephant

In the mountains of China was a small village living peacefully with their working elephants. They especially liked the baby elephant who would play with the children. The Emperor demanded the baby elephant but it refused to play with the Emperor’s children. The Emperor determined to put him death, but first posed an absurd riddle—whoever could weigh the elephant could win it. A little boy in the village solved the problem (by using displacement) and the baby elephant returned home.

Ting-xing Ye, ©1998, Annick Press, 0-978-155-037526-8

Impressing Students with Hei-dou’s Ingenuity

Read the story to the point where Hei-dou realizes how to solve the problem. In groups, have students propose methods for weighing the elephant. Discuss. Choose the best. Then read the ending so that the students can really appreciate the boy’s ingenuity.

Show images of scales in general. Ask students to explain how they work. (Bringing actual scales in to class would be more exciting.)

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. Stories about weighing things and being weighed yourself. What about measuring how tall things are?
  2. Times when you lost something or had it taken away.
  3. Stories about your pet.

Elephants and Humans

This might be a time to look into the difference between an African and an Indian elephant, and the range of their natural habitats, their behaviours in the wild, and what they have been trained to do by people or ways they have been used by humans.

Starting from this picture book as a stimulus, you can show the first few minutes of the BBC documentary on Hannibal’s army with elephants, to get them interested in elephants in history:

Students then see the list of what they might explore. There are 21 choices on the PDF you can open. With those in front of them, students could pose questions such as:

  • What role in history have elephants played?
  • Are their any patterns to their use?
  • What species of elephants are alive, and which are extinct?
  • How do humans use elephants now?
  • Etc.

As they research their individual topics, they should keep the questions they posed in mind.

Unless you have a small class, students can work in pairs to do their research. Give them a short period of time and ask them to write something like 20 interesting facts about their topic while keeping the class’s inquiry questions in mind. They can then use those facts to individually write a short essay. Finally, you can create a PowerPoint using images I have collected on Pinterest. Students would finally present their information for each page orally as each image appears, sharing their presentation to the class.

Finally, close with a discussion of the original class questions. Have you answered all of them? Are there any patterns to the information? Why have elephants been so important in history? How do you feel about elephants when you are finished?

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Weighing The Elephant to download.

It’s a Snap: George Eastman’s First Photographs

In 1877, George Eastman started what was then the complicated hobby of photography. He decided to invent a camera—the Brownie—that would make it possible for everyone to take pictures and today, we can take pictures with our phones.

Monica Kulling, Tundra Books, ©2009, 978-0-99776-881-1

Taking a Good Photo

Students can learn some of the basics of good photography. They can practise improving photos by cropping magazine and newspaper photographs. When so many cameras are now available in schools, students can practise taking good photographs, as well. (The first two tips in italics are also mentioned at the back of the book.)

  1. Frame your shot—look at what is behind the person. Why take their picture in front of a garbage can, or where it will look like a post is growing out of their head?
  2. Almost always you can move closer and get a better shot.
  3. Avoid clutter in the picture—a clean single image is best.
  4. No more than 3 people in the picture—unless it’s a crowd shot where you don’t want to see individuals.
  5. Keep the sun behind you, so that it falls directly on the subject.
  6. Fluffy or dramatic clouds always look good in the background of a picture.

Kodachrome

In 1976, Kodak had 95% of the market for film. Kodachrome film was the standard of photography, although kodachrome discontinued production in 2010 after over 75 years because there are fewer pictures now that are developed.

Paul Simon’s song, Kodachrome (below), has a chorus that celebrates photography.

KODACHROME
You give us those nice bright colours
You give us the green of summer
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
Oh yea!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

Students might be interested in writing their own 9-line poem celebrating or making fun of taking photos in their life, or being photographed. First, brainstorm words and phrases related to photography such as: snap, smile, say cheese, hold that pose, be natural, camera, capture, iphone, flash, pic, paparazzi, focus, selfie, lens, enlarge, digital, zoom, or edit.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click It’s a Snap to download.

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.

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.