When she wrote The Gruffalo, I doubt Julia Donaldson had elementary science lessons in mind. However, as a fifth grade teacher with a love for science, I couldn't help noticing some obvious connections to the fifth grade science course of study. Donaldson's story is a fantastic tale told in poetic form. Its main character is a mouse with an uncanny talent for survival and a measure of intelligence far greater than its size. Teachers who are pressed for time in the classroom will be happy to know that the book can easily be read aloud within 5-10 minutes. As a story, it is incredibly memorable, and easy for students to retell. As an introduction to a lesson about interactions of organisms in an ecosystem, it is almost unmatched. Keep reading to find some ideas for how you could use The Gruffalo in your classroom.
Engagement and Discussion: There's nothing like a picture book to grab attention. This particular book, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler, has outstanding pictures! I like using my Elmo TT-12 - document camera to project the pictures on my interactive white board in front of the room. Some teachers may not realize that the ELMO can take photographs and store them on an SD card right there on the device. Of course, you could also scan the pictures and put them into a Power Point presentation. Then, there are many teachers who prefer simply having the students sit near them on a rug as they look at the book together. Whatever way you share the book, it becomes a nice departure from the typical science lesson, and students always appreciate a break in the monotony.
Food Chains and Food Webs: As the mouse journeys through "the deep dark wood," he encounters various predators who are interested in having him for dinner. Each time he meets a fox or an owl or a snake, he avoids danger by evoking an impressive and terrifying image of The Gruffalo, a monstrous creature who (according to the mouse) has a taste for foxes, owls, and snakes. As you read the book, challenge students to draw a food chain or food web based on the characters in the book. When they are finished, they can add other organisms to their graphic.
Niches in the Ecosystem: Most stories have protagonists and antagonists, but the characters in The Gruffalo each have a role, or niche to play in their environment. Can they help it if they have to eat? My students love trading cards such as the Pokemon cards. Why not let them create cards for each character in the story explaining their role in the story and in the environment.
Animal Adaptations: As students create their trading cards, ask them to focus on each organism's adaptations, or characteristics for survival. This will be a convenient time to talk about the gruffalo himself. How is he similar to or different from real organisms? Julia Donaldson invented the gruffalo beast for her story by borrowing adaptations from actual organisms. What kind of fictional animal could your students create by borrowing adaptations from other animals? Ask them to draw a fictional animal and describe its adaptations for survival.
Creative Writing - Poetry: The Gruffalo follows a nice, predictable pattern and contains wildly entertaining rhyme and rhythm. It is conceivable that students could write their own version of the story, or at least create an alternate ending. Maybe you could have the students rewrite the story using different organisms from the original. If I were assigned this project by a teacher, I would probably want to put the poem to music. But that's just the kind of guy that I am.
Do you have some other ideas for using The Gruffalo in the classroom? If so, please include them in the comments section below. Thanks for visiting this site, and reading my article. I appreciate what you do for your students everyday in the classroom.