Teaching Day-by-Day: Monsters and other Strange Creatures
This month we're focusing on strange creatures of fiction and fact to learn more about the unknown, the real and the unreal in the world.
Ask your media specialist to collect fiction and nonfiction books on monsters and other strange creatures of nature and display them in your classroom.
Read the books The Everything Kids' Monsters Book by Shannon Turlington (Adams Media, 2002) or The Encyclopedia of Monsters by Jeff Rovin (Facts on File, 1989) to your students. Your class will delight in these stories about ghosts, goblins, gremlins, vampires and mummies.
Words can hurt. Ask your students if they ever called anyone a monster. Together, look up the definition of the word "monster" in a dictionary. Discuss how you can help stop name-calling.
With your students, organize a Monster Read-a-Thon and have the kids read books like Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg (Putnam, 1997) or The Monster Who Loved Books by Keith Faulkner (Scholastic, 2002) to younger students.
Visit the website mathforum.org and play the game Monster Math with your students. This is a really fun game, similar to Old Maid, but using math facts.
Build listening skills by having each student draw a monster and write a paragraph describing it. Group students in pairs and have one student read his or her story and the other student draw the monster he or she hears described.
Provide the students with cut-out circles containing fractions (1/2, 1/3, etc.) Have the students glue the circles together to create Fraction Monsters. After embellishing their Monsters, the students add up the total value of fractions on their monsters' bodies.
Learn about Gila Monsters from Dr. Mark Seward's Gila Monster webpage at www.drseward.com. This unique lizard is the source of superstitions, legends and fables. Have the students write their own creative stories using their new knowledge of Gila Monsters.
What is a chimera? Look up the word in the dictionary and ask the students to draw a chimera based on the definition you find.
Introduce students to the Tasmanian Devil. Discuss its life cycle, eating habits and activities – a good resource is Tasmanian Devil: On Location by Kathy Darling (HarperCollins, 2002). Hear the spine-tingling cry of this creature at www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au.
Read the book Komodo! by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, 1993). This is a story about a boy who goes to Indonesia to find out more about his lifelong fascination with Komodo Dragons. Where in the world would your students travel to and what animal would they meet?
Did you know that a Praying Mantis is a carnivorous insect? You can intrigue your students with more facts about Praying Mantises by reading Praying Mantises by Larry Brimmer (Scholastic, 2000) or visiting insecta-inspecta.com.
On a map of the world, label each country with the name of the monster or strange creature that students have learned about this month. Have the students create their own strange creature and choose one of the remaining countries it might hail from.
Visit the website www.nashvillezoo.org to learn more about bats. Help students learn how and why bats use echolocation or sonar "sight."
Compare and contrast mammals and bats and bats and birds by making Venn diagrams. In what ways are students surprised to learn that bats are similar to birds?
Meet a marine science writer at www.susanscott.net and click on "Ocean Watch" to learn about monk seals, surgeon fish and other fish sightings on which Susan Scott reports monthly from Hawaii.
Invite a science teacher or an area fisherman to visit your class to talk about the strange creatures that live in the rivers, ponds, streams or lakes nearby. Make sure the students brainstorm a list of questions they'd like to ask beforehand.
For cool pictures of sting ray, tiger knife fish, very blue fish and other strange ocean creatures, go to www.fishchannel.com.
Ask the art teacher to create with your students collage art that depicts their favorite strange creature. Ask the kids to write brief reports that include the creature's name, physical description, habitat, food, predators and interesting facts to go with their artwork.
Learn all about Anansi, a spider who is a West African folk hero, in Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott (Holt, 1987). Read this story to your students and discover how his six spider sons save him in this folktale about cooperation.
View film footage of Bigfoot or Sasquatch at www.youtube.com. Then read the books The Search for Bigfoot by Peter Byrne (Simon & Schuster, 1998) or Sasquatch: Wild Man of the Woods by Elaine Landau (Millbrook Press, 1993). Do the kids think the creature is real or a hoax?
Read Loch Ness monster stories as a class and see a list of sightings, film evidence, sketches and other info about this mysterious reptile at www.nessie.co.uk.
Find out about other Loch Ness-type sea monsters in North America at the website unmuseum.mus.pa.us. Ask the students to calculate how far they are from some of these locations. Do they think any of these creatures could survive in a local lake, etc.? Why?
Introduce your class to Yeti or the Abominable Snowman, a mystery of the Himalayas, at unmuseum.mus.pa.us. Encourage your students to carefully weigh the evidence and determine if they think he is a legend or a real creature.
Create a "Mythical Monsters" class book by having students draw their own mythical creature and writing a story about it.
Find lyrics for the song Monster Mash at www.lyricsondemand.com. Print them and ask your school's music teacher to create new lyrics to reflect your students' newly created Mythical Monsters class book.
Ask your students to survey classes in your school to determine favorite monsters. Then, count the votes together and make a bar graph on chart paper to show the results and post it outside your classroom.
Look up various definitions of the word, "monster." Have the kids select one definition to illustrate. Hang the illustrations of the various definitions in your classroom's Language Center.
Create "Name Monsters" by folding a piece of paper in half and then opening it up. Students write their name on the crease in cursive and using chalk. Press on the paper to transfer the name to the other side. Trace name with black marker and color in "monster" shapes!
Week One - Getting Started
Week Two - Strange Creatures on Land
Week Three - Strange Creatures of the Sea and Air
Week Four - Mythical or Real?
Week Five - Finishing Up
Karen Bromley is a Professor of Literacy in the School of Education and Human Development at Binghamton University in Binghamton, NY where she teaches graduate courses in literacy, language arts and children's literature.