Gigantic Learning with Giants
Go colossally creative with these fun, brain-stretching fairytale activities
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Fee Fi Fo Fum!
What kid doesn't tremble with anticipation at the thought of a cross-curricular unit on the big boy of the fairy tale, the infamous giant?
Beanstalk of Books
Everyone knows Jack and the Beanstalk, but you may be surprised at just how many wonderful and varied tales you can find, such as Kate and the Beanstalk, by Mary Pope Osborne (Simon & Schuster, 2000), The Magic Mustache, by Gary Barwin (Annick Press, 1999), and Mollie Whuppie and the Giant, by Robin Muller (Raintree Pub., 1989). Introduce your unit by giving students the opportunity to enjoy as many giant tales as they can. (See Giant Books.) Encourage students to find and bring in versions of these stories to share. Set up a special book nook for independent reading, stage small group read-alouds, or screen a few video productions. Once students are familiar with many stories, invite them to write their own book reviews, which you can fashion into a giant classroom beanstalk. Locate a professional review of a book all students have read and lead them through it. Did they agree or disagree with the reviewer? For students' reviews, ask them each to comment on the setting, characters, and plot of a giant story, and why (or why not) they liked that version. Students can also comment on the illustrations and how they were used to interpret the narrative. When each student has completed at least one, use green construction paper to frame and back all of the reveiws. Then stack the pages, layered with green paper "leaves," into a beanstalk display. Students can add a new review each time they read another version of a giant story. Watch your giant beanstalk grow!
Jack in the Arctic?
How would the classic Jack story be different if it were set in the arctic? Would Jack trade a polar bear for icicles and the giant live in a mountain ice cave? What if it were set on the streets of New York City? As a class, read a giant tale with a dramatically different setting — such as Jack Outwits the Giants, by Paul Brett Johnson (Simon & Schuster, 2002), set in Appalachia; or Jack and the Giant: A Story Full of Beans, by Jim Harris (Rising Moon Books, 1992), set in the Arizona desert. In the latter version, the giant has a singing banjo and a buffalo with chips made of gold! Ask students to each choose a favorite story and a new setting for it, or assign them a setting from a history or geography unit you are studying, such as Ancient Rome or the Rocky Mountains. Have students brainstorm all the words and phrases they can think of related to their settings, then rewrite their stories using the ideas they have come up with. For example, if the setting is the Rockies, Jack could trade a horse for pine cones which grow an evergreen tree, the giant could own a moose that sheds golden antlers, and so on.
Stretch kids' imaginations by asking them to look for personification in the stories, then trying it themselves. Begin by talking with students about the difference between what is alive and what is not. Read Jack and the Beanstalk, by Albert Lorenz (Harry Abrams, 2002), and other versions of the classic in which the harp speaks to Jack; and The Selfish Giant, by Oscar Wilde (Random House, 2000), in which Wilde personifies the seasons. Did students notice how the illustrators also give human characteristics to inanimate objects and ideas? Create an ongoing class list of all the examples students can find. Next, have each student choose an inanimate object or idea — either related to the stories they've been reading, or a completely new element — and encourage them to write a sentence or two to personify it. Encourage them to give evocative human characteristics to their objects or abstract ideas. Ask students to illustrate their sentences with drawings that make their selections appear human, and caption the drawings with their sentences.
Acting it Out
Performing a Reader's Theater script is a great way for students to develop reading skills and comprehension. For online script examples, see "Giant Resources." For step-by-step directions and other guidance, see our RT feature article. No costumes are required for this read-aloud activity, but students might enjoy bringing hats and other small props from home. Or bring in old newspapers, masking tape, and paint. Set a time limit, and invite your students to create quick, makeshift costumes and prop pieces.
A lively component of many of these stories are the giants' booming "fee fie foe fum" chants. Challenge students to create their own unique chants, either as part of their own stories (see "Jack in the Arctic?") or as a stand-alone activity. Get them started with these examples.
Yippee yi yay,
Yippee yi yeeew, I smell the boots of a buckaroo!
Fee Fi Fo Fum
I smell the socks of a little man,
Be he clean or be he smelly,
I'll soon have him in my belly.
Analyzing characters or elements of a story setting is easy with a diamante, a seven-line poem arranged in a diamond pattern. Invite students to pick antonyms or contrasting elements from the giant stories, such as big giant/little Jack, dumb and smart, rich and poor, and so on. Then have them brainstorm words to describe their chosen opposites. For example:
sneaking, climbing, creeping
boy, monster, human, mutant
snoring, groaning, belching
Put Jack on Trial
Give students practice in synthesizing ideas, evaluating story characters' actions, and learning about different perspectives while they work on mock trials. Divide the class into groups of three, with one acting as the plaintiff (accuser), one as the defendant (accused), and one as the judge in each group. Any giant story could be used as a basis for a trial; let each group choose their own, then present a trial for the class. In each, the parties will take turns explaining their sides of the case. Then the judge will ask both some questions to clarify, and render a fair decision of guilty or not guilty. The judge must explain his or her reasoning for the decision.
What is the biggest animal in the world? The biggest natural wonder? The biggest skyscraper? Invite your students to find these and other real-life giants, then let each choose one to research in more detail. Encourage students to find photos of their "giants" to share with the class as they present their research, then display all the reports and photos on a bulletin board titled "Real-Life Giants."
Invite students to do some more gigantic research by using a dictionary and a thesaurus to find as many synonyms as possible for the words giant and gigantic. Record student responses on a chart as a "gigantic" class list and discuss. Can students pick out the words that originated from a race of giants or gigantic things, such as gigantic, colossal (from the Colossus of Rhodes), titanic (from the Titans), gargantuan, mammoth (from the woolly mammoth), and astronomical (from the size of the stars)? Encourage them to look in encyclopedias and mythology books to find the word's origins. Then have them each choose four words, fold a sheet of paper into quarters, and illustrate the origins they've learned.
Gigantic Number Game
Help students understand place value with this exciting number game for small groups of players. Create reusable game boards by cutting 22" x 28" poster board sheets in half lengthwise. Instruct students to divide their half-sheets into eight place-value columns by drawing seven vertical lines, then writing the place value at the bottom of each column. For example, ten millions, millions, and so on. For playing cards, remove face cards and tens from a regular card deck, with aces having the value of zero. Or use index cards to create a deck of cards for each player consisting of four sets of numbers from 0-9. To play, one student shuffles the cards and deals out eight to each player face down. The first player draws a card and places it on one of the eight spaces. Play continues until students have laid out all of their cards. Then players must read their numbers aloud to the group. Whoever has the most gigantic number is the winner!
Writing a Dramatization
Have the class try "Acting it Out" to familiarize themselves with Reader's Theater. Then invite groups to write dramatizations of their favorite stories. Talk with students about how recognizing and summarizing the main ideas in a story, and coveying these through vibrant dialogue, are crucial to the writing of a dramatization. When all students have finished writing, give each group a chance to rehearse and perform its script for the rest of the class.