Teaching Guide for Suse MacDonald's
ELEPHANTS ON BOARD
Harcourt Brace, 1999 - ISBN 0152009515
by Mary Lou Meerson
Before reading the book
Ask a parent or a friend to allow the children to examine a truck
closely and to sit in the truck bed (while the truck is parked, of
course) to become aware of its size. Have them notice how many children
can comfortably fit into the truck bed.
Take the children to a construction site. Identify for
them as many construction vehicles as you can. Perhaps a parent or
a patient construction worker can help you out.
Back home, have the children sketch their favorite piece
of construction equipment, whether or not they know its proper name.
Have the children estimate how many children might fit
into the vehicle they sketched. Check for realistic estimates. Then
have them estimate how many adults might fit in and how many dogs.
Have students list all the trucks or construction machinery
they have seen in action. Have them explain how each one works. Help
students find an action word that describes each vehicle (digs, lifts,
Ask how many children have been to a circus. Ask them
to share experiences. Have them list all the animals they saw and
pick their favorite one.
Read the book aloud, giving students lots of time to
anticipate and enjoy the illustrations. A you read, ask the children
to predict whether or not the elephants will be able to fit into each
vehicle. Then turn the page to confirm their predictions.
After reading the book, choose several activities from
those listed below to support and enhance your own curriculum. Many
of the activities call for the students to re-visit the text.
Look at the first two pages of text and point out
the two signs: the poster on the fence that says "Dooley's Circus"
and the sign in front of the pile of dirt that says "No Trespassing".
Ask the children why they are there. What are they supposed to accomplish?
Then take a "print walk" around the neighborhood or school. Have
the children point out and copy any signs they see. Back at home
or class, share the signs and discuss why they were posted.
Page through the book and point out the sound words,
such as whoosh, pop and plop. Ask the children to examine that illustration
and decide if the sound word aptly describes the action which it
accompanies. Turn to one of the other pages, discuss the action
in the picture and have the children suggest an appropriate sound
word. They can get ideas from the comics page of a newspaper, which
often uses such words.
There are six pairs of rhyming words that end sentences
in the book. Point out the first two (time-nine and do-two) and
ask the children to look for the other three more common ones (worry-hurry,
top-plop, and go-show). They may not be familiar with "ascent-bent"
yet. (See next activity). You may need to explain that words that
rhyme are not always similarly spelled.
Turn to the page showing the elephants climbing
up on the cherry picker. They will probably not be familiar with
the word ascent, so this is a good time to expand their vocabulary.
You can teach the words ascent, descent, ascend and descend by having
them go up and down a flight of stairs as you say the appropriate
Build word families for two or three of the simpler
words with regular spellings (such as top, nine, fit, will or ride).
Write the last letters of the word on a piece of paper or chalkboard.
Then write each letter of the alphabet in front of them, saying
"Is this a word?". Keep a list of the real words you find.
Create math problems at the children's level of
ability, using situations from the book. For example: If 7 elephants
tried to sit in the mixer but 3 fell off, how many were left? Or,
if 5 elephants were in the loader and 3 more squeezed in, how many
were in the loader all together?
Illustrate telling time, or create time-telling
problems, depending on the children's abilities. The times of 12:09,
12:22 and 2:00 are mentioned in the book. You could simply show
them these times on a cardboard clock or have them figure out elapsed
times between incidents.
Problem Solving and Logical Thinking
Look at the picture showing the blowout. What caused
it? What could have been done to prevent this happening?
Have the children brainstorm other solutions for
the elephants when the tire blew out.
Do you think that elephants can really fit into
a truck? Read the back book-flap to check your answer.
Read aloud from a nature book or children's encyclopedia
about elephants. Have the children make a chart of where elephants
are found in the world, what they eat, how they are used by humans
and what distinguishes an African from an Indian elephant.
When the elephants finally "climb on board" what
do they use to help them? Have you ever used one of these for any
purpose? Why are they useful?
For large groups, divide the children into five
teams. For smaller groups, individual children may do each activity.
Have the children create short pantomimes illustrating these five
phrases from the book:
we all squeeze in
we ride on top
we drop with a plop
we climb on board
we are off to the show
They do not have to be elephants in their skits!
Play the section about the elephants from The Carnival
of the Animals by Saint-Saens. As they listen, have the children
imitate an elephant parade by walking in a line, bent over at the
waist, clasping their hands in front of them like an elephant's
trunk. They can slowly swing their "trunks" to and fro as they walk.
Does anyone know how to ride a unicycle? If not,
you can have a bike rally anyway, using bicycles or tricycles.
Page through the book and see if the children can
identify the musical instruments that are shown (drum, trombone
and trumpet). Talk about the different sounds that these and other
instruments make. If possible, listen to a recording of Peter and
the Wolf to identify more instruments. The children can also create
their own band using tissue-wrapped combs as kazoos, any hollow
container as drums and paper-towel rolls as horns.
Have the children examine the fanciful costume that
each elephant is wearing. Make large elephant outlines from 12x16
pieces of gray construction paper. Provide scraps of colorful fabric,
glitter, ribbons, etc. and have each child "dress" his or her circus
Have each child choose a favorite zoo animal and
draw and color a large picture of that animal. You can create your
own zoo by placing all the pictures around the walls.
Hold a class or neighborhood circus. Putting on
costumes and eating popcorn are the best parts, but you can also
have animal acts with pets, tightrope walkers (rope on the ground,
of course) and jugglers.
Click here for a Find-a-Word
puzzle to print out.