Tips for Teachers

Tips for Teachers

What is the best way to use my books in your curriculum?
In my travels, visiting schools across the country, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many creative teachers and librarians. Not only have they read my books in their classrooms, but they’ve gone on to design some imaginative and thought-provoking activities to go along with them, as well.

If you have any great activities that you’d like to pass along, please email me and let me know about them. Unfortunately, I didn’t take down names over the years of the many teachers who deserve recognition here. So if you find an activity that you’ve created, be sure to let me know your name, and I will gladly give you credit.
Here are some I’d like to share with you…


Book cover for Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground RailroadActivities for Dear Austin

  1. Create a map of safe houses in Dear Austin.
  2. Design a safe house and draw house plans.
  3. Build the house out of any material you can find that is free!
  4. Would Dear Austin be a better book if it were just a light sequel? Write a letter to the author to let her know how you feel.
  5. Do you like history? Dear Austin is a good example of Historical Fiction. Research another time or event in history (American or otherwise) and write letters to your brother, sister or friend just like Levi and Austin did.
  6. Act out one of Levi’s “scrapes” or a consequence (e.g. the plucking chickens).
  7. Look up these words in the dictionary or thesaurus:
    1. Misdeeds
    2. Envisioning
    3. Veering
    4. Innocence
    5. Resiliency
    6. Risked
    7. Marvel
    8. Counter

    Or…Find words in Dear Austin that you don’t know, make a list and look them up.

Book cover for Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail

Activities for Dear Levi
Twelve year old orphan, Austin, writes letters to his brother as he travels the Overland Trail en-route to land left him by his father. A sensitive observer, he details the slow journey, untimely deaths, niceties bestowed on him by friends and the violent relations with the Sioux and Pawnee Indians.

  1. Play the computer game “Oregon Trail”.
  2. Design and create your own button. Make enough for everyone in your class. Swap the buttons with your classmates. Create your own button books.
  3. Map the trail that Austin and his fellow travelers used.
  4. Keep a personal diary in letter form for a specified amount of time.
  5. Write several letters to Austin from Levi depicting what is happening back home.
  6. Make a diorama of one of the story scenes.
  7. Make a bookmark that highlights the book.

Book cover for George Washington's Socks

Activities for George Washington’s Socks
Download the teacher’s guide

  1. Create a diorama for your favorite adventure scene.
  2. Create a moving story box.
  3. Write another adventure for the Adventure Club to go on.
  4. Create travel brochures for your favorite adventure stories.
  5. Think about what would have happened if the boys and Katie had told their parents about the trip and rewrite the last chapter.
  6. Map the club’s adventure and calculate the number of miles they traveled,  and how long it took.
  7. Write chapter heading for each chapter with illustrations to go with them.
  8. Design a book jacket for George Washington’s Socks, using your favorite characters from the story.
  9. Do some further research about what it is was like to be a soldier in Washington’s Army. Write a letter home as if you were a young soldier yourself.

Book cover for The Magnificent Mummy Maker

Activities for The Magnificent Mummy Maker
Download the teacher’s guide

  1. Describe why Andy always feels ordinary. Have you ever felt this way? Why?
  2. How would you cope if you felt you were always being compared to someone like Jason? Write a paragraph telling what you would do.
  3. If you were granted four wishes from a mummy, what would they be? List them and tell why you chose them.
  4. Create your own Magnificent Mummy. Why is your mummy so magnificent?
  5. Create a Venn diagram of Andy and his stepbrother Jason. Write 4 ways they are different and 3 ways they are alike.
  6. Andy enjoyed writing hieroglyphic messages. Write your own messages using hieroglyphic.
  7. Do you think the mummies’ ka was really in Andy’s paper mummy? Why or why not?
  8. Create a class museum of Ancient Egypt. Decide on the types of displays you would have. Plan out on paper where everything would be located. What would your museum teach it’s visitors?
  9. Create a poster, flyer? And/Or a commercial advertising your class’ museum.
  10. Write the author (Elvira Woodruff) a letter giving her suggestions for a future book.

Book cover for The Orphan of Ellis Island

Activities for The Orphan of Ellis Island

  1. Research your family history. How did they come to be in America? What was their country of origin? Have a cultural arts day, sharing music, food, and art.
  2. Make a family tree, beginning with your immediate family.
  3. Interview your elder family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or elder person who can share with you their memories of their family’s past.
  4. Make a map of Dominic’s journey, from Italy to America.
  5. Imaging that you are an immigrant and write a letter home to your family about your journey to America.
  6. Write a poem titled “My First Look at Lady Liberty” – imagine that you are an immigrant and you are seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time as your ship comes into port. Draw a picture to go with your poem.
  7. Make a timeline of your family and their journey to America.
  8. Imagine that you can go back in time as Dominic did. Choose a country and a family and write a story about your trip – remember to choose a pet!

Picture Books

Book cover for A Dragon in My Backpack

Activities for A Dragon In My Back Pack

  1. Have your picture taken by your teacher in the class’s King or Queen cutout. Then write a poem about what it feels like to be King or Queen for a day!
  2. Make a King or Queen crown.
  3. Draw a picture of your favorite thing to do at school. The teacher can compile these pages into a class book to read to Bumps.
  4. Discuss what you are/were afraid of when you started school, and how you overcame it.
  5. Introduce the word “phobia”. Create and illustrate your own phobia.
  6. Write a story about your pet dragon. Draw a picture to go along with it.

I saw this royal idea put into action at Windermere Elementary School in New York.

Book cover for Can You Guess Where We're Going?

Activities for Can You Guess Where We’re Going?

  1. Write a journal entry of something you would like to do with your grandfather (uncle, father…)
  2. Create a different cover for this book.
  3. Think – Pair – Share: Which characters in the story could be real and which are fantasies.
  4. Find out how to get a public library card.

Here’s a really creative idea that teachers at Windermere Elementary designed.

Each classroom chose a place in the story that Jack and Gramps might have been going to, the zoo, the bakery, the aquarium, etc. Then they created their own bulletin boards based on those places. What fun the halls were to walk down! It was so eye-catching I thought I was walking into a theatre set!

Book cover for The Wing Shop

Activities For The Wing Shop

  1. Choose a bird and find out how they fly, and what their wings look like.
  2. Make wings.
  3. Research the wings in the book to discover why Matthew gets into certain predicaments with each different pair of wings.
  4. Write a journal entry and describe how it would feel to fly, what wings you would use, where you would go, and describe what you would see.
  5. List as many things as you can that have wings.
  6. Compare and contract your old school, or your old classroom, to your present school or classroom. You can use a Venn Diagram for this.