A few months ago my fellow blogger Alycia Zimmerman wrote an amazing post about class pets that I read with envy. I would love for my class to experience a live pet they could bond with, but given my abysmal history with classroom plants and crayfish that have made a break for freedom on my watch (more than once!) never to be seen again, I know better than to risk it. Therefore, our classroom doesn’t have a class pet to look after; instead we have a class mascot — Leo the Leopard.
From the first day of school, this cute, stuffed leopard makes his presence known. He watches over the lunch count in the morning, stands guard on the reading table, and joins the star student on the carpet during read-aloud time. Leo spends the first half of the school year embedding himself as an important member of our classroom community.
During the second half of the year, when my students have become more proficient writers, Leo becomes more than a stuffed animal. He becomes a tool to help my students write expressively and from different perspectives.
About a week before this writing project begins, I let my class in on what is about to happen, relating it not as a writing assignment, but as an adventure that they are about to take part in. With Leo on my lap and my students gathered on the carpet around me, I tell them that, while Leo has loved being with us every day for over four months, he has become just a little bit bored, and he is curious about the world outside our classroom doors. Their job will be to take Leo home with them in order to show the little leopard cub what happens in the real world, and of course they will need to write about it.
As a class, my students brainstormed different ideas on chart paper of what they might like to do with Leo when he visits. This year they came up with the ideas below.
I type up all of their ideas and put them on a page that goes into Leo's binder.
At that point, I show my students Leo’s binder and his travel bag. We post the schedule and everyone clamors to find out when it will be their turn to take Leo home. Each student gets to take Leo home for a minimum of five days.
Below you will find the notes, schedule, and paper that go home with Leo. Each student is responsible for writing a minimum of two entries in Leo’s journal, one of what happened from their perspective and one from Leo’s perspective. I also ask for at least one photo that shows Leo in action.
Whenever Leo returns, the class is always eager to hear his guardian read their journal entries aloud to the class, and they especially love seeing the pictures of what Leo has been up to. Currently, Leo is in Mexico for spring break and his guardian has emailed us a short update of his adventures south of the border, which definitely has helped build anticipation for his return.
In addition to students putting the photos in the binder with their writing, parents also send in the pictures so we can add them to a special Leo page on our class website.
I’ve discovered that the excitement of taking Leo home transforms many writers from reluctant to prolific. With Leo acting as a springboard, students who normally struggle to write a few sentences come back with pages and pages about their adventures with Leo.
While the journal entries from the students' points of view are quite good, their best work comes out when they take on the world from the stuffed animal's point of view. Their journal entries often show that Leo is confused with this new world around him and that he relies on his guardian to show him the ways of the outside world. The students love listening to Leo's take on riding in cars, cooking food he can't eat, being dressed up like a girl, and playing basketball.
My class mascot writing project is one of my favorite things we do in our classroom. I think I love it so much because of the excitement and enthusiasm it generates on a weekly basis. I hope you'll use the comments section below to share your thoughts, comments, or any ideas that you use in your classroom to get your students excited about writing.