Tradition, Tradition

Cue up the orchestra. Resurrect Zero Mostel. I can’t seem to speak or write the word “tradition” without hearing this classic chorus from Fiddler on the Roof .

But I digress. I am not here to talk about the little village of Anatevka. My tradition is a lesson that has become an old standard  in my teaching repertoire. Although I have been teaching it to first graders for over ten years, it remains fitting and fresh.

A classic tale by Leo Lionni

A classic tale by Leo Lionni

Elementary teachers, librarians and parents of young children are likely familiar with Frederick by Leo Lionni, a classic work of children’s literature. Bestowed with a Caldecott Honor in 1968, at forty-five years young it still stands the test of time. Lionni tells a simple yet powerful fable about individuality, community and the value of art and poetry. Equally important, though, are the simple collage creations that illustrate the story. The beauty of Lionni’s technique is that it is easily replicable.

After listening to and discussing the story we set to work. With construction paper, glue, scissors and felt-tip pens, my eager students create their own little field mice in the style of Leo Lionni. Like Frederick, these mice enjoy the company of their friends, so the children find a home for them on the rock wall mural that I have prepared in advance. We then come back together and, using Interactive Writing, create commentary for the hall display.

In a few short sessions, this unit encompasses language arts skills such as retelling, understanding theme, and writing simple sentences, as well as the creation of a piece of unique collage art. Science is introduced in a discussion of the habitat of the field mouse. Students will work individually, with partners and in a group setting.

There are no bells and whistles in this unit. No technology. It is a simple down-home thematic study of an author/illustrator and his craft. Tradition. And I’ll shout from the rooftops (no fiddle required) that despite my love of digital-this and electronic-that, there is something to be said for a good old-fashioned story and craft project.


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