How will the art of puppetry tie into a unit using Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear stories for teaching reading and the language arts? The art of ventriloquism has been in my teaching repertoire for almost thirty years. As a result, a family of characters with unique personalities, interesting voice variations, and a flair for bright colorful appearances has evolved over the years. Along with my family of characters, several classroom puppets have developed bringing their own magical charms into the first grade curriculum through the art of storytelling. For example, there is Willie Sunday, a favorite in the classroom who keeps the children spellbound by his expertise in phonics, or lack of it, as he misses letters and letter sounds to the squeals and delight of the children. Blue Monday cannot be missed with his indigo face and hot pink hair. Then there is Tuesday’s Cup of Sugar who just can’t help herself and sticks her tongue out at the children during our lessons. Of course, she feels very sorry and apologizes, saying that she will listen and act just as proper as the children sitting at their desks. These puppets along with Alphabet Thursday, a bright red furry character whose voice is very guttural, assist in introducing our writing assignments along with the integration of social studies and science. Wednesday Delight cannot be missed as she brings new poems for classroom discussion and reading on a weekly basis.
Who will help to coordinate our family of friendly puppets? Mr. Friday is a duck that resides in a brown drawstring bag. The children are soon caught up in the magical illusion surrounding Mr. Friday as he begins to bemoan the fact that his voice is a bit “scratchy,” and that he really cannot pronounce all of his words correctly while perched on top of his brown bag. However, he along with his friendly puppets will introduce the Little Bear stories by Else Holmelund Minarik on a daily basis for a total of three to four weeks. Besides talking about the life-style of bears, Mr. Friday and his friends will ask the children for predictions about the various little bear stories, and introduce vocabulary words found in the stories. The puppets will elicit discussions from the children about the stories we are reading. For example, in the book
there is a story, “Little Bear Goes to the Moon.” While thinking upon the title, the children may suggest that Little Bear will imagine or pretend that he is traveling to the moon. They will brainstorm about various ways for Little Bear to travel to the moon. They will be asked to listen to the story and think about how Little Bear pretends he is going to the moon. “Do you think that if you believe in yourself that anything is possible? Why or why not?” After reading the story, the children will be asked if they think the story is fiction or nonfiction. “Are there any events that happen in the story that could really happen? Which ones could not happen?” Mother Bear plays along with Little Bear’s imaginary game. “Does your mother play imaginary games with you? Tell us how your mother plays with you.” A follow up activity will be a written assignment where the children think about a pretend place that they would like to visit, and tell how they will travel there.
The children will also retell stories through their own puppet creations and illustrated works. They will be able to form groups of two, three, or four making puppets to represent various characters in a story, and then retell it in class.
Art activities will also be included in the lessons. One example will be illustrating the story in sequential drawings. Sequential activities are important and help to enhance comprehension skills. Various graphic organizers, story maps, and journals will also help the children in remembering and interpreting the little bear stories. Making an animated movie of one of Minarik’s stories, with the children making characters that move across a background scene while another child reads their written works, will be a fun activity.
We couldn’t omit trying our hand at cooking after reading
Father’s Flying Flapjacks.
Let’s hope that none of ours lands on the floor for the bugs to enjoy, as happened in the story.
A visit to a zoo such as Bearsley Zoo in Bridgeport or the Bronx Zoo in New York would be fun and interesting for gathering additional information about bears. Also, the children will discuss and make a graphic organizer showing characteristics of real bears and the pretend bears in Minarik’s stories. As a class, the children will brainstorm a list of responsibilities for a zookeeper. Our game center contains a zoo set. The children will set up a pretend zoo and play the role of a zookeeper. The Internet and library will be good sources for gathering information about bears. Those children who use these resources will report their findings in class.
A nature hike at the Whitney Water Works will help us relive the Little Bear stories as we pretend that we are Little Bear and his friends walking through the forest. We will pretend that our forest is enchanted and all of the creatures become our friends as we learn about the plants, insects, and animals that inhabit the area.
The children will interview various family members asking them about their childhood days and what they did for play. A special “Grandmother’s Tea” or “Mother’s Tea” will be arranged. Grandmothers or mothers will be invited to attend our class giving stories about their childhood days and allow the children to ask questions. We will learn about the traditions and customs of a “tea.” The children will be encouraged to practice their best manners.
A culminating activity will be a drama production called “Little Bear is Lost.” The production will be rehearsed in the classroom or in our Extended Day Academy and produced on stage for a school wide assembly sometime near the end of the school year.