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Bringing Books to Life: The Whipping Boy

By Meghan Everette on December 21, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Too often in class we read a book to get to the end. Would you ever do that with reading you enjoy? No way! Rather than reading just to get to the end and take a test, bring reading alive for your students. I try to invigorate the experience by finding places to add in art projects, or work across the curriculum and tie fiction and nonfiction together. Possibly my favorite book to teach all year is The Whipping Boy. You might not tackle this novel in your room, but maybe the ways we enjoy reading will inspire you to break out of the read-test-read-test pattern with your next story.


Building Background

Setting the stage is important. The afternoon before we Castle Decorstart our reading, I decorate the outside of my room as a giant castle. I include signs that will have meaning once we read the book and other details, like little rats around the bulletin board. Students are interested the moment they walk in, and they feel as though something special is about to happen. And it is: reading!

Accessing prior knowledge is always a good place to start in reading, but what if your students have little or no information on the topic? My inner-city students have a hard time understanding the 1960s, much less the medieval period. To bring them up to speed, I created a whiteboard file with many pictures and information about the time period.

Then we read the Magic Tree House nonfiction companion Knights and Castles. These information texts are great for getting students to read nonfiction with a higher reading level than the standard Tree House books, but also for giving them a sense of security with familiar characters. Words are clearly explained and Jack and Annie appear throughout to add notes and interesting facts.

Students make Cornell Notes throughout the text while we pracKnights and Castle Readerstice summarization skills. We also examine the table of contents and index. Students are challenged to locate terms using the index or determine what chapter would have certain topics. We use secondary skill pages to support the learning, and complete a quiz using a copy of parts from the actual book. A reading selection is tested using comprehension questions.



The Whipping Boy is not a long read, but the vocabulary makes it difficult. To prepare students and stick with the medieval theme, we create vocabulary shields. The idea came from Crayola’s Dream Maker vocabulary webs, but I use a giant shield for the shape. I trace one onto butcher paper for each student and add dividing lines. Then students find synonyms for each of the vocabulary words we are studying. Students fill in the vocabulary word and place synonyms in the concentric circles towards the center. Then they add illustrations and color, giving us a wall of vocabulary. We do take a vocabulary test, but they are ecstatic to show off their learning!

Vocabulary Shield


Personality Shields

Common core dictates that reading and writing be intertwined. While working on expository writing, we combine some of our medieval knowledge to make personality shields and write about them. Students draw or cut out images to show important information about their hobbies, family, travels, and aspirations. They can either use their name or a personal motto on the shield. Then students create an expository writing explaining why they made the choices on their shield and what each item means. The result is a very personal writing that still shows their expository writing skills and ties to reading. A winning combination! My mom’s middle school class does a similar lesson with Freak the Mightyand we share writings between the classes.

Whipping Boy Writing

Celebrate, Medieval Style!

Once we finish the novel — and we do take a written test — we have a Whipping Boy Day. Students look forward to this celebration of their reading and this chance to tie all of their work together. The walls are lined with their vocabulary and personality shields. I’ve put together a collection of new and old lord and lady costumes from tag sales, church basements, and the dollar store. I help students dressGirls Celebrating Reading, and they get to wear their costumes to lunch, which is a special treat.

It takes a little bit of money, I’ll admit, but I create a mini-feast for my students with foods from the book and food that would be typical in the medieval period. Students get goblets and all the foods are eaten with foods. Forks weren’t invented yet! I have one VCR copy of The Whipping Boy movie I found secondhand that we watch. Spoiler alert: It is nothing like the book! Students have fun comparing and contrasting the movie and the book, and we talk about why the director might have made different choices.


Creating Memories

Having a themed unit takes time and even money. When my students look back at school, they won’t remember the tests, class rules, or what they did in PE. What they will remember is that cool book they read and all the fun activities that brought it to life. Whether you give The Whipping Boy a try, create smaller-scale activities, or do something totally new and different, give reading engagement a twist.

What special book activities have been successful for you?


Whipping Boy Class Picture Baguette Bread Door Signs

Invitation Posing Ladies Engaged Readers

Comments (12)

Thanks for posting this and giving me the motivation I needed to make my reading more interactive! Are you reading The Whipping Boy as a whole class novel or as a read aloud? Thanks again!

We did it as a class novel. Each kid has a book, though I read it aloud to them while they follow. I find I have to stop and explain vocabulary or check for understanding too much for a straight listening experience.

We are reading The Whipping Boy in Third Grade and I love how you made it fun! I will definitely try this with my students (and share with my team)! We made (paper) quilts when we read about the Underground Railroad. The kids enjoyed learning about the secret symbols escapds slaves and conductors used on the quilts!

I love the paper quilts idea. I'll use that for sure! Thanks - I hope they enjoy!

Awesome--I love to see other teachers going all-out to help their students love literature! I write cross-curricular literature projects for each book that we read. Usually there are around 15-20 projects, and the students select three to complete (at least one of which is required to be a writing project). These cover a wide range of topics that are inspired by the book, and are expressed through writing, art, music, drama, research, technology, engineering, even cooking. We have a celebration at the end of each book, and the students present their literature projects to the class. We have a ton of fun, and I love watching my students be able to follow areas of their own passion while "going deeper" with an area that interests them. I also enjoy having my students design and submit their own literature projects once or twice a year.

I love the idea of choice in what you are doing. 15-20 projects is a ton to develop! That's amazing!

I wanted to read the whipping boy after this article and can see why your students would too! Excellent way of teaching a subject across different disciplines. I will definitely employ some of this when I am able too teach. Thank you!

That's the best compliment ever! Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I think it is a really amazing read for kids.

What an inspiring way to encourage reading! You really engaged all of their senses. I write fiction about the Underground Railroad for middle graders. I want to inspire students as well. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for sharing this. I can see that a lot of thought and work goes into your work.
I'm sure your students will always remember what they learnt!!
I love what you do.

Thank you. That's so kind! A lot of work goes into the ideas, but I can usually use them year to year. That helps a whole lot. I hope they remember those special days in my class. I certainly remember them from when I was in school.

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