Tell students that they will be reading Alice in Wonderland, one of the most famous children's stories ever written. Explain that the story has been retold in many versions over the years. They will be reading the original version, first published in 1865.
Tell students that Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll for a real girl named Alice Liddell. Carroll was a friend of Alice's family and would often make up stories to tell the three Liddell daughters. One summer day, after a riverside picnic, the girls begged him to tell them a story. He began by sending Alice down a rabbit hole, having no idea of what would happen to her next. Carroll made up Alice's adventures in Wonderland as he went along; several years later he wrote down the story from memory for publication.
Ask students to define fantasy and discuss the characteristics of this genre. Explain that Alice in Wonderland is a classic example of a kind of story called fantasy. If the students are unable to provide the characteristics, then list the following three elements of fantasy on the board and discuss them:
- The setting may be a strange or unusual place.
- Some of the characters may not look or act like real people or animals.
- Things happen that could not happen in the real world.
Choose the activity that is best suited for your class.
Explore the genre of fantasy by drawing on students' prior knowledge of literature. During a whole class discussion, make a list on the board of books students have read that are fantasies. Examples might include Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Wizard of Oz, or The Wind in the Willows.
Assign students to small groups, selecting a title for each group that is familiar to all of them. Ask each group the following questions about their title:
- What was strange or unusual about the characters in the story?
- What was strange or unusual about the setting of the story?
- What events happened in the story that couldn't happen in real life?
Have the groups share their responses with the class and make comparisons about the fantasies they discussed.
Remind students that each of us enters our own fantasy world while we're asleep and when we daydream. Ask each student to make a “Dream Book,” by folding and stapling together several pieces of paper.
Have students draw an illustration for the cover. Then ask them to record a dream, or part of a dream, they remember. They may also record daydreams they've had in which they've done things that they couldn't do in real life.
Distribute copies of Alice in Wonderland, and call students' attention to the cover illustration. Ask students what clue they can find in the illustration that the book is a fantasy. Have a volunteer identify the animal in the tree as the Cheshire Cat, and discuss how it is different from a real cat. Next have students study the title; ask them why they think the place Alice visits is called Wonderland.