The Bonus Point Band
The Gruffalo - Ideas for Classroom Lessons PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 11 February 2014 19:32

The Gruffalo


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.

Highlights from Madness in May PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 19 June 2013 03:03

I promised to post some video from our May performance on this site, so I figured I'd better at least embed this video. I uploaded it to YouTube a while back, so maybe you've already seen it. There are more videos from the performance, but I'd like to do some editing using the three different camera angles we took before I post them on the web. 

This first video is a brief series of highlights from our first set. It includes: "The Transformers Theme," "Andy the Actor," and "Ethan". "Ethan" is an a capella song that Paul wrote for his nephew, and "Andy the Actor" is one of my old standards about adverbs. Before playing "Andy" we asked the audience to give us some adverbs to put into the song. It was a lot of fun incorporating their ideas. 

We used our looping machines right out of the gate with our very own version of the theme to the Transformers cartoon show. (This went with the theme for the event.) The crowd liked it so much, they asked us to play it again. Paul and I weren't happy with the performance because we never really got our machines in perfect sync. It was a challenge! 

Gifts to the World PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 March 2013 02:07


This winter, we'll have some great decorations in the hallway, and the lessons we've learned with them will continue to carry so much meaning. First, I used one of my favorite books called Snowflake Bentley for a read aloud. It is a biography about a man who loved snow and wanted his photographs of tiny snowflakes to be his "gift to the world". We used this line from the book to springboard into a brief writing assignment in which the students answered the question, "What will be your gift to the world?"

In math, we were studying symmetry as well as congruent and similar shapes. So, we used a handout from called "Snowflake Symmetry" to help us cut out six-sided, paper snowflakes. Students discussed with their teammates which shapes in their snowflake were similar or congruent, and we observed and counted the various lines of symmetry in each one.

As a technology and enrichment piece, I allowed the students to take turns making a virtual snowflake at Make-a-Flake. This activity is a lot of fun, and you can save a copy of your digital creation!

Finally, we mounted our writing on a piece of black construction paper underneath our paper flakes and put them in the hallway. We included some information about the real Snowflake Bentley and a large blow-up globe. See for yourself in the slideshow below.

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