Antarctic Adventures

Grade levels: I’ve done this with grades K-1. You could make it work for pre-K or 2nd grade with some modifications.

Duration: I teach this over the course of four hour-long weekly lessons, but it’s easy to pick and choose stuff from this unit for just one lesson, and you could also drag it out longer (especially if your class periods are shorter than ours!)

Essential questions
How do we differentiate between fiction and nonfiction?
How are the North and South Pole different?

Plenty of Penguins, Sonia Black
Penguin and Pinecone, Salina Yoon
Tacky the Penguin, Helen Lester
Polar Bears, Gail Gibbons
Polar Bear Night, Lauren Thompson
Northern Lights
Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights, Mindy Dwyer
Polar Opposites, Erik Brooks

At the beginning of the unit, have students start a KWL chart about arctic animals (or one for penguins and one for polar bears). With younger kids, solicit suggestions from the group. Older kids can write their existing knowledge, questions, and learning on Post-It notes and stick ’em up.

While reading each book, have students point out the features that help us figure out if the book is fiction or nonfiction. (Sometimes this is tricky! Kids often assume that books with photos are nonfiction and books with drawings or paintings are fiction, but that’s not always true – so we need to look a little deeper.)

At the end of each nonfiction book, have kids add to the relevant KWL chart. After fiction books, my students had a lot of fun pointing out all the things that the stories got wrong! (Penguins don’t wear clothes!)

Penguin Cam: After reading Plenty of Penguins, watch the Penguin Cam (there are many; we especially loved the one at the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Using the illustrations from the book, try to identify the types of penguins you see.

Songs & Rhymes
Penguin March: Oh man they love this song. From Perpetual Preschool. It’s like a military chant, and you have the kids waddle and flap their arms like penguins. A winner for sure.

I’m a penguin black and white
I can’t fly but that’s all right.
I’ve got feathers that’s not fur
and I lay eggs like other birds.

Penguins, 1, 2
Penguins, 3, 4
Penguins, 5, 6, 7, 8
Penguins, they are really great

I just swim to get my meals
But I watch out for leopard seals.
I’m from the south as you may know
And now it’s time for me to go.

Polar Bear Song: Honestly I just changed the words to “Teddy Bear Teddy Bear” to “Polar Bear Polar Bear” and nobody complained.

Penguin Puppet: I’ve done this craft one billion times. Kids loooooooove it. If you let them cut out the pieces, results are highly variable; I usually pre-cut, at least with K-1st kids. It’s enough of a struggle to glue stuff.

Aurora Borealis painting: These were stupid gorgeous. Each kiddo needs a piece of thick white paper (I used cardstock) and a piece of black construction paper (or a pre-cut/traced bear and tree – I pre-cut the bear but let them free-hand draw and cut the tree, and they turned out great). I had two sets of watercolors for each table. Students painted a background (we discussed which colors they had seen in the photos of aurora borealis), then we let it dry while reading another book and singing the polar bear song. After they were dry, we glued our bears and trees on top. Seriously, gorgeous.

Why We Live Where We Live

Grade level: 2nd-3rd

Background: This is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite units. …that’s all.

Big questions: Why do we live where we live? How do we express who we are? What makes a good neighbor – and a good neighborhood?

Resources: The Big Orange Splot (Daniel Pinkwater), Bottle Houses (Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker), If You Lived Here: Houses of the World (Giles LaRoche)


For art project: large paper roll, construction paper, pencils, scissors, glue, crayons, and markers

Instructional plan

Session 1:

Read: If You Lived Here: Houses of the World (LaRoche). Discuss how houses can look very different in different parts of the world, as well as within our own neighborhoods. How do these houses reflect the parts of the world they are in – the climate, the colors, the materials available? Locate the places described in the book on a globe or map.

Brainstorm as a class and write on the board: what are some common attributes of homes where we live? How do those attributes reflect our environment? (Lots of apartment buildings because we’re in a city. Brick walls because it’s cold here. Slanted roofs & rain gutters because it rains a lot etc.)

Extension: Students pick one of the houses from the book and create a T-chart comparing their own home to the house from If You Lived Here. What do they have in common? How are they different? You can also have students draw their home. Depending on your students, be a little cautious here; you may have students who are homeless or otherwise uncomfortable sharing their housing situation, so let students know that it doesn’t need to be THEIR home – they can share a relative’s or friend’s home, or just a home from their neighborhood.

Session 2:

Show pictures of unusual houses online. What do these houses tell us about their owners – their personalities, their interests? What can we know about them just from looking at their house?

Discuss some ways that we express who we are. What posters do we hang on the walls of our rooms? What do we choose to wear on the weekends? Does this ever conflict with the needs of other people? (if we share a bedroom, following the school dress code)

Read: The Big Orange Splot (Pinkwater).

Why did Mr. Pinkwater write this book? Talk about why Mr. Plumbean’s neighbors wanted to keep their “neat street,” and why it was important to Mr. Plumbean to have his house the way he liked it. Did his choices hurt anyone? Can he still be a good neighbor if he has a different house? Was the street better at the end?

Introduce art activity, to be completed in week two.

Activity: Each student will use construction paper and crayons and markers to design a house that looks like their dreams. When the houses are finished, we will put them all on a butcher paper “street” to hang in the hallway or library.

Session 3:

Continue work on art project. Begin to build “street” on butcher paper – students can decorate around their houses (their “yards”) as well.

Session 4:

Complete art project and hang street on the wall.

Read Bottle Houses (Slaymaker) and show some real photographs of Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village. Talk about “outsider art” – we have a whole museum of outsider art in Chicago!

Goldilocks and the Three What?!

Grade levels: 2-3

Resources: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, James Marshall; Goldilocks Returns, Lisa Campbell Ernst; Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Mo Willems

Week 1:

Ask students if they are familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Try to get a student volunteer to (briefly) retell/explain the story of Goldilocks.

Have student volunteers re-tell the story of Goldilocks via a short Readers Theater performance. You can either use five student volunteers (Narrator, Goldilocks, Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear), or have four students play the characters and ask all students to choral read the Narrator part.

Finally, read Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Now we’ve heard three versions of the same story. How were they different? What elements stayed the same? Why? What has to happen in the story for us listeners/readers to still recognize it as Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Week 2:

Read: Goldilocks Returns and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

How did Ernst and Willems change the traditional Goldilocks story, and what elements stayed the same? Do their new versions change the theme or message of the original story? What is the difference between what Ernst did and what and Willems did? (sequel vs. retelling). What kind of story do WE want to tell?

Weeks 3-4:

Mad-libs style re-write of the Goldilocks story: given a template (set up in advance on computer), class will work together to create a new version of the Goldilocks story, which we will then print and illustrate.

Each student will illustrate a page of the Goldilocks book. If necessary, students may finish their page the following week. During the final week, we’ll compile the student pages into a book and read it as a class.



Selling Series


Grade level: 3-4

Description: Acting as agents for their chosen author, student groups will pick a series to “sell” to their teacher, who is playing the role of a book publisher. Students will use technology and original writing for their presentations.

Essential questions for series unit:

– Why do authors sometimes write stand-alone books, and sometimes write series books?

– How do characters grow and change differently in series than stand-alone novels?


– Write book review, giving evidence from the text to support and explain opinions


– collection of series books

– booklist of third-grade series for students to choose from

– computers with Microsoft PowerPoint

– library databases


– Students will form groups based on shared interest in a particular

– At home, students will each read at least one book from the series

– Each student will write a review of their book, and as a group, they will use library databases to find at least three professional reviews of books from their series

– Student groups will use Microsoft PowerPoint to create a presentation featuring at least four slides:

1) Brief, student-written summary of the series, including the genre (fantasy, realistic, etc.), with pictures of at least three book covers from the series

2) Biographical information about the author, including an author photo

3) “Critical opinion” slide, featuring snippets from professional reviews

4) “Sales” slide, explaining why this series will appeal to the target audience, including quotes from student reviews and discussion of appealing elements (i.e. characters, plot, writing style, genre)

– Student groups will give 5-10 minute presentations in front of the class, using their PowerPoint presentations


Students will be assessed against a rubric including the following:

– Are the student reviews persuasive? Do they use proper spelling and grammar? Do they show evidence that the student read and understood the book?

– Does the PowerPoint presentation include all of the required elements? Are spelling and grammatical errors kept to a minimum?

– Are student presentations kept to the allotted time? Does each group member play a part in the presentation? Do students “sell” the books with enthusiasm and confidence?

Each student will also complete a list of which series they would like to purchase, based on the presentations given. These assessments will not be used to grade the presentations, but they will be included in each student’s participation grade.

Additionally, students will complete a self-assessment of their group’s teamwork.