Creating Reading Memories With Because of Winn-Dixie
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Kate DiCamillo’s novel Because of Winn-Dixie has quickly become one of my favorite books. We start the year by reading this story of friendship and belonging. To spice up the reading, I created a lapbook that allows students to show their creativity while they learn. At the end of the third week of school, I reward my class for their hard work with a Because of Winn-Dixie Day. It is a grand celebration that my students talk about the rest of the year.
Plan Your Own Unit
I’m highlighting one novel, but this excitement for learning can be brought to any story with a little creativity. Go online and search for ideas others have already developed to get started. Take the main events of the book and recreate them. Don’t try to do it all! Start small with one or two fun ideas and see what you can develop from there. Even small additions make a big difference to students.
Components of My Winn-Dixie Unit
Students are first given a double lapbook that we work on throughout the story. I use a Notebook lesson for SMART Board to guide us through the activities in the book. Directions and a rubric guide the process. My requirements are:
A New Cover
We discuss what makes a good book cover and why certain things, such as the author's name, are usually included. Students create a new cover based on the book for the front of their lapbook.
Students select two characters, draw just their heads, and then elaborate with ten comments or ideas that character would have.
Students use the online Scholastic scrapbook tool to create “10 things” lists based on two characters in the book.
Students have a flip book that I assemble with open-response questions. They answer one question after every five chapters.
Civil War Information
A map showing the southeastern United States is colored and labeled. It should include a line showing Littmus’s journey from Virginia to Georgia. A folded chart shows the four main causes of the Civil War that Miss Franny Block alludes to in her story. Each student selects an image of a Civil War soldier to color and add to their book.
I give students a “word wall” to add to their book. There are extra spaces they can use to add other unfamiliar words. Students make a piano-style flip book of the tested vocabulary words for the story, writing a definition or using them in a sentence inside each flap.
Cause and Effect
When we are done reading, students create a cause and effect chart showing different events in the story.
In the story, Gloria Dump has a tree filled with empty bottles that represent her past mistakes, which is hard for the students to relate to. My students each take a plastic bottle, add some paint, and shake the bottle to cover the inside with the paint. They each write a past mistake or regret on a piece of paper and insert it into their bottle. We hang them over desks and on a paper tree in the hallway to remember to act better. It is always a moving experience for my students.
Littmus takes a painful journey through the Civil War and ultimately makes a candy factory. I purchase horehound candy that comes in the old-fashioned hard candy bags sold at places like Cracker Barrel. I tell my students it is a Littmus Lozenge, and they sample the candy while we read. I buy extra to have at our final celebration.
Near the end of the book, students explore the Scholastic interactive website created to mirror the book. The scrapbook exercise is there, along with other fun games, a reader's theater, work from Kate DiCamillo, and reminders about different sections of the book.
The last few chapters in Because of Winn-Dixie are a party at Gloria Dump’s home. Following our class test, I mirror her party in our classroom. We string yellow, pink, and orange crepe paper from the ceiling and decorate with cut-out pictures of a dog that looks just like Sweetie Pie. I prepare egg salad sandwiches and a Dump punch, and bring a big jar of pickles. We watch the movie Because of Winn-Dixie and make comparisons to the book. It is a great Venn diagram activity, and it's really fun to see the students' reactions.
All of our lapbooks, Venn diagrams, and bottles hang in the hallway around a giant butcher-paper tree. We made a video about our experiences to share with other classes and have sent some of the lapbooks off to Kate DiCamillo. She wrote us back and said she enjoyed them!
Creating an experience around a novel or unit is something that energizes both me and my students. It is the kind of day they will remember long after they finish elementary school and helps build an unmatched passion for reading. What kinds of themes have you used or do you want to develop in your classroom?