Learning with Roald Dahl
Engage critical thinking, comparison skills, and 21st century learning while celebrating a beloved author.
By Ann Whittemore
An author once wrote, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” A little nonsense, a dark and sinister twist, rich dialogue, and a way to capture the imagination of children all over the world, that is Roald Dahl. He was born September 13, 1916 and has penned some of the most beloved children’s titles of all time: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and James and the Giant Peach, to name a few. To honor one of my favorite authors, I’ve decided to share some ways you can incorporate Roald Dahl and his fabulous stories into your classroom using a variety of lessons and activities.
Roald Dahl had a very interesting life. He was born in Wales and was a pilot for the Royal British Army in WWII. He was also an intelligence agent and lived in a variety of places in Africa. His life was quite tragic as well. In his lifetime, he lost his sister, father, and two of his children. It is reported that he was a trouble-maker in school and played nasty tricks on the teachers. Conducting an author study on Dahl is great because the more you learn about him as a person, the more you realize how much of his life is intertwined in his stories. Have learners visit his website, take notes, and identify important information about his life. They can use their newly acquired information to make a fold-out time line. Here, they can draw a picture and type a short blurb representing various parts of his personal history. Save the last few pages for a critical-analysis assignment where learners use their findings to examine a book such as Matilda. Encourage them to think about which parts of the book seem semi-autobiographical. For example, it is said that Dahl was expelled from school for putting a mouse in the teacher’s water jug. In this story, Matilda slips a newt into the Trunchbull's water jug. Learners will be able to gain a deeper insight into the works they are reading when they have a solid context with which to understand them.
The Common Core standards require learners in all grades to make comparisons across media types. Because many of the Dahl books have been made into films, they are perfect for comparing various media portrayals of a single concept. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, and Fantastic Mr. Fox have all been made into feature films. Read one of the aforementioned books with your class. When I read a book with my class I like to have them identify the main idea of each chapter along with evidence that supports that assertion. I then have them draw a picture representing the main idea and write a paragraph summarizing key events. I make this into a small book. The book can be used for reference as they view the associated film and make comparisons as to how the content was portrayed or retold. Make a worksheet to accompany the film in order to guide viewing.
21st Century Book Club
A great way to delve into any book is through a book club or reading circle. Make cross-campus connections by adding a 21st century twist to an age-old discussion group. Connect with a teacher or two at different schools. Give each child (in each class) the option of reading 1 of 3 Dahl titles. Each book is assigned a discussion group which will use the Internet, classroom blogs, and email to interact with students from the cross-town school. This way children will be exposed to correct use of technology and media etiquette. It will also boost written communication skills and deepen their understanding of the book through guided discussion. Each child will need to post a comment based on the discussion question you establish, and then respond to 2 comments made by others in their discussion group. Each chapter will end with a written paragraph summarizing and analyzing the text, requiring learners to use what they learned in discussion in their summaries. A great way to end this multi-media book experience is to have each group script and film a short video summarizing 1-4 chapters. Each video can be uploaded for fellow readers to see. If applicable, have a class book party where discussion groups get to meet in person.