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Teaching with Dr Seuss

As well as being fun to read, Dr Seuss's books cover themes including the environment, the value of community, friendship and growing up, so they are very useful in the classroom, too.

When Theodor Seuss Geisel - or Dr Seuss as he became known - was challenged in 1954 to write a book for school children using 250 of the words children use the most, he wrote The Cat in the Hat (using 236 words). This was soon followed by Green Eggs and Ham when he was challenged to create a book using only 50 words.

Since then, Dr Seuss's stories have been enjoyed by children at home and in schools around the world. With a number of his titles getting a brand new look from Publisher HarperCollins Children's Books, we wanted to take a closer look at how children respond to Dr Seuss's stories and how these stories can be used in class. We asked teachers Lucy Newton and Lynnette Voisey to help us.

As well as enjoying the stories, Dr Seuss's writing style and vocabulary can help inspire letter-writing, creating posters and creative writing, drama and role play activities. His books can also be used across other areas of the curriculum, including Geography, Art, PSHE and RE.

Here are some ideas for using these four Dr Seuss titles across the curriculum, which are explored in more detail below:

The Lorax (for questions around the environment and sharing our resources)

Horton Hears a Who (for writing stories, letters and newspaper reports)

Oh the Places You'll Go (for PSHE lesson around 'myself and my life' / Geography)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (to celebrate the community, special festivals, report-writing and play scripts / drama)


THE LORAX

The Lorax is about a Once-ler who chops down Truffula trees to make Thneeds. At the beginning of the story, the town has lots of animals, trees, and green grass but as the Lorax's ambitions grow, and despite remonstrations from the Once-ler, the trees are all destroyed and all the native creatures have left.

The story encourages us to think about the environment and is an example of how easily it can be ruined. The Once-ler is so busy creating a business for himself that he is oblivious to the negative impact his actions are having on the environment.

ACTIVITIES: Environment

Younger children can be encouraged to discuss issues around caring for our planet. For example, how would we look after the last tree seed? What could we do to make it grow? Extend the ideas to how do we take care of our home/ class/ school/ planet?

At KS2, this would be a great book to use as an introduction to a Geography topic on 'Looking after our Environment'. Older children may be able to think about real life examples of damage to the environment, both locally and more globally.

It would be a useful starting point to think about the local area; how clean is our local environment? What could improve our local environment? What might be making it worse? Discuss what we can do in school to take care of our environment e.g. recycling paper.

ACTIVITIES: Literacy

Encourage younger children to listen out for the rhymes when the story is read aloud to them and try to repeat them, which will entail lots of laughter. Children will also be introduced to some unusual vocabulary; can they solve the puzzle of the unknown word by reading around the unknown word and its context?

The characters and settings would provide an excellent focus for work on descriptions among older children (KS1,KS2); they can describing the settings from the story, as well as designing their own similar settings. They can continue the story and write their own ending, describing what happened to the last seeds.


HORTON HEARS A WHO!

Horton is an elephant who hears a voice; he realises the tiny voice is calling for help from a speck of dust and he is determined to help; a person's a person, no matter how small. However, other creatures can't hear the tiny voice so don't believe him and want to destroy the dust speck, until the population of whos that live on the dust speck finally make themselves heard.

Horton hears a Who! focuses on the importance of looking after each other, especially protecting others that are more vulnerable than ourselves.


ACTIVITIES: Literacy

This is a brilliant read-aloud for the class, which can link nicely to children using their 'listening ears' for sounds in phonics for reception children. Older children up to KS2 will enjoy the humour of the story with the exciting pictures and the rhyming words.

At KS2, the story could be used to start a writing topic, either writing stories or non-fiction text types. There are many different topics you could link it to in English; children can be asked to re-write the story, focusing on writing in rhyme or to re-write it from a different perspective.

Non-fiction topics it can support include writing a newspaper report on the disastrous effects on the Who town, should the dust speck be dropped, or writing letters from the whos to thank Horton for his help or to ask for help from the other animals.


OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!

Oh, the Places You'll Go! is a story about the journey of life. A character, who we can all relate to, takes a journey through the twists and turns of life and is guided through the good times and bad. The story ends with an empowering message to encourage the reader take life into their hands and enjoy it!

This is a story that encourages bravery and touches on the excellent things that will happen in one's life, as well as opening our eyes to the more unfortunate things that might happen. Children can begin thinking about their own lives; their attitude to their everyday lives or more generally their hopes and dreams.

ACTIVITIES: Literacy

This is a good story to read aloud or independently; reading aloud would give the opportunity for more in-depth discussion about its meaning, however, older children may be able to appreciate this independently.

ACTIVITIES: PSHE / Geography

Used in PSHE with the focus on 'myself and my life', Oh, the Places You'll Go! provides a good starting point for talking about the future and children's hopes and dreams for when they grow up.

Among younger children, it could be used at the end of a year to think about new places and experiences and how the future can be frightening, only because it is unknown. If read during a circle time, it can provide a useful spring board for children to discuss new things that feel scary or wonderful.

At KS1/2, this could be combined with a Geography focus; discussing places the children have been, where they hope to go - both physically (travelling) and mentally (goals for the future).


HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS

The Grinch lives just outside of who-ville and, unlike the residents of who-ville, he hates Christmas. As Christmas comes around again, the Grinch decides he has had enough. He dresses up to look like St. Nicholas and riding on his sleigh, swoops around who-ville stealing the presents, food and decoration from every house! But just as he is about to dump all the goodies, he hears a noise - the whos are singing! The Grinch realises that Christmas isn't all about presents but is much more than that. He returns their gifts and decides to join in with Christmas after all.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas focuses on the value of love and community. The story captures the true spirit of the festive season and the importance of enjoying special times with family and friends, and not focusing on the gifts you may receive. This is a really important message for young children and a simple but effective way of getting it across.

ACTIVITIES: Literacy, Writing Reports, Drama

This would be a good story to read aloud to a group or for children to read independently. It is a fantastic book to read with young children (EYFS and KS1) to discuss the importance of friends and family compared to material things. It could be used at any time of year to relate to many festivities, birthdays and special events, as well as discussing Christmas which is the example in the story.

The story also provides opportunities for some work on playscripts; the children could turn the story into their own playscript and then act it out. They could also do some more drama, hot seating different characters - how does the Grinch feel at different points in the story? How do the whos feel? They could also pretend they were visiting who-ville over the Christmas period and they could write a newspaper report about the Grinch's attempt to ruin Christmas.

You can find further Lesson Ideas based on Dr Seuss's books here:

Teaching with Dr Seuss
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