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Novels: TheTaleOfDespereaux

The Tale Of Despereaux
Kate DiCamillo

More Information About The Tale Of Despereaux

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Reading Activities

Reading Strategies

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After covering these words in class, use them within your routine vocabulary building quizzes. In addition, students may be given a list of short sentences with vague and/or boring phrases (i.e. “The man walked down the street”) and asked to use more descriptive, active wording to enliven these phrases (i.e. “The grizzled hermit slowly clomped along the parkway”). Use this to demonstrate and explain that proper word choice makes papers more interesting for the reader.

“Ahhh, Daaad!” I whined, “Can’t I go out and see my friends, pleeease!” “No!” Dad shouted as he waved his finger in the air, “You’re grounded!” I angrily rolled my eyes and stomped up to my room.

Have the students write out at least 1 example from this paragraph of each of the 3 ways from above by which voice was demonstrated. Finally, bring a plate made of fine china, a plain white dinner plate, and a paper plate to class. Explain that there are different situations and instances in which each plate might be used. Extend to the students the analogy that writing also has varied formal levels. Explain that the essays which they write to their teacher should display the level of respect and authority that a china plate would, whereas the informal (“dinner plate”) writing is to be used among peers, and abbreviated (“paper plate”) writing is reserved for very informal notes and text messaging. Students will be asked to give 1-2 sentence examples of each of these levels and to explain what elements within their writing (slang, referencing the reader, mechanical errors, abbreviations, etc.) define their level of formality.

Though undefined, the story which Despereaux reads could very well be similar to “St. George and the Dragon,” which can be found at the Yesterday’s Classics website. Students may read this story and highlight 3 instances which demonstrate chivalry and/or courtly love and explain why they demonstrate this. Additional codes of chivalry and courtly love are available at the Arts Edge website for further discussion (this is a great resource for lesson plans related to medieval and Arthurian topics). Following this activity, students may be asked to write a brief (1-3 page) fairytale story involving a knight, a princess, and a quest. This assignment should be open to appropriate creative embellishment. After completion of this assignment, 2-3 students may be given an opportunity to read their papers before the class, or small groups may present skits, which will provoke the full class discussion of the following questions: • What is the definition of a hero? • What makes a person into a hero? Who are some of your heroes and why? • Do chivalric codes contribute to heroism? Why/Why not? • How is heroism demonstrated today?

Setup a system so students may call each other, participating third-person parties, or simply pretend using old phones or a similar substitutes. Have them:

• Make a call as if they were trying to obtain a job interview • Make a call as if they were checking on information (i.e. a price or time). Require them to take notes on what information they obtained, to whom they spoke, and how they might verify this information in the case of a misunderstanding • Leave a message that will tell the recipient who called, why, and how the caller can be reached again.

Discuss with the students the level of formality which one might use in these situations (i.e. avoiding “cuz” and “cool”). Coach the students on eliminating distractingly excessive amounts of words including, “um,” “uh,” and “like,” as well as extremely long run-on phrases connected by “and.” You may similarly wish to cover the appropriate language used in writing a business e-mail or text. Review positives and negatives about a few examples and assign the students to e-mail you or call a designated site to obtain certain information to check their understanding.

• A brief summary of what occurs in the novel within their assigned section • A brief skit depicting a scene of particular significance within the assigned reading. Every group member must play (at least) one role. Afterward, the group should explain why they chose to perform that scene and what implications it has for the novel. • A Q&A period (minimum 7 questions) where the group poses questions to the remainder of the class. Be sure to give an appropriate premise for these questions (i.e. no yes/no answers allowed and questions must go beyond identification and recollection into application, analysis and synthesis) • Drawings of scene or symbols from the reading section and explanations of what they are, why the student chose to draw it, and how it relates to the book. • A game or activity. Leave this very open to creativity but make sure there’s at least a loose tie or analogy with the book. A few examples could be Bingo and Jeopardy.

The benefit of this activity is that it covers the entirety of the novel with a greater depth and application than is typical. It requires far more application and thought than mere reading. By assigning the reminder of the class to take notes on a handout that they will turn in at the end of the presentations, you can be sure that everyone will tune in for the duration. It will also clarify expectations and guidelines if the teacher models and demonstrates the first group presentation.

“The Tale of Despereaux” plays on several key symbols, the most prominent being the contrast between light and darkness. Highlighting these symbols within the text and enlisting them for classroom discussion is an easy way to address how authors in all genres, times, and cultures use symbols to intensify the meaning of their works. One activity would be to have students form small groups of 4-6 people. Assign each member of each group with a specific assignment (recorder, researcher, artist, presenter, etc.) and have them fulfill these rolls as they choose a culture (freely or from a pre-approved list, perhaps by drawing out of a hat) and research 5-10 symbols which commonly accompany that culture (i.e. Judaism and the Star of David or the Temple of Solomon, China and Dragons or Feng Shui). Having a preapproved list of cultures and symbols may help speed the process along if time is a factor. Ask the students to research the origin and significance of these symbols to their corresponding cultures. Ask them what symbols exist in their own culture and what significance they represent. These may include clothing, classical and contemporary media, art, transportation, etc. Use creative ideas such as drawings or skits to increase student involvement and have them present their work before the class or in a portfolio. Refer back to the student’s presentations as you discuss the symbols found within “The Tale of Despereaux.”

The qualities for description on the attached worksheet include:

Circumstances of birth are unusual

Leaves his family or land and lives with others

An event (often traumatic) leads to adventure or quest

Has a special weapon, often that only he alone can wield

Has supernatural help

Proves himself many times while on adventure

Takes a journey and becomes wounded

Experiences atonement with father

At the end of the quest or when the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually

Items included on worksheet:

Definition of Coat of Arms: An arrangement of bearings, usually depicted on and around a shield, that indicates ancestry and distinctions (i.e. the official symbols of a family, state, etc.).

The Assignment: Coats of arms were an official distinction of ancestry and achievement among many cultures, including the pre-renaissance Europe seen in our reading of The Tale of Despereaux. You will now join art and literature by creating a visual image based on an event in the book.

The Process: 1. Write your name, the date, and the period number on the back of the provided paper. 2. Decide on a scene from The Tale of Despereaux which you would like to use as the topic or theme of your coat of arms. 3. Follow the example to the right to create a coat which symbolizes the actions, emotions, morals, etc. of that scene. Your coat does not need every element shown in the example, but it must at least contain a crest, a supporter, a shield with at least one field and charge, and a motto. 4. Write a short review of your coat of arms. Explain which scene the coat depicts and why you chose that scene. Then, for each at least 4 of the elements you’ve included, write: a) What the element is and what it represents. b) How it relates to the scene chosen from the novel. c) Why you chose that symbol and scene. Explain what significance or meaning it has for you.

Example: The shield on my coat of arms has a spool of red thread, which symbolizes the red string that was placed around Despereaux’s neck. Despereaux wore this string as a mark of his shame when he was thrown out of his family and into the rat’s dungeon. Sometimes people want to mark others as outsiders because they are different. Despereaux was marked by a red string because he was different, but he used his differences to reunite the kingdom and help the other mice. If we too are courageous, we can turn bad situations into good.

A picture of a coat of arms is meant to be included on the worksheet

Sell Your Junk: Persuasive Arguments

Use the following format to develop persuasive arguments that will help you create a magazine ad. Each group will be given three items. They might be strange, broken, or seemingly useless, but it’s your job to sell them. For each item, start with a claim like: “You should buy ________________.” In order to support that claim, come up with two pieces of data and connect each of these pieces of data to your claim through a warrant.

Claim: You should really buy this empty CD case. Data: The case is still very functional for (1) holding CD’s and (2) keeping them safe. Warrant: If you buy the empty CD case, you’ll have a spare the next time you find an unprotected CD. After all, a protected CD lasts longer and you’ll be able to enjoy it for years to come!




[Teacher: continue this format for the other 2 items on the back of the worksheet]

The worksheet has a picture of a top bun, meat, and a bottom bun. Within each are the following texts:

Top: Introduce quotataion, transition into quote, The first time use the author's full name and thereafter use only the last name, title of source, preface situation

Meat: Give quote using " ", Summarize/Paraphrase, Any changes to the quote use [ ], portions left out use . . .

Bottom: End with proper MLA Format - example: "Quotation" (last name, page#).,transition out of quotation, use ratio of 2:1 commentary:quote, explain meaning

The Peer Review worksheet includes the following details with a scale of 1-4 written beside each for easy circling

Read the descriptors under each of the 6 traits and circle the appropriate number (1=F, 2=C, 3=B, 4=A)

Ideas  Introduction invites the reader into the paper  The conclusion summarizes the main points  Topic sentences provide correct overview of body paragraphs (BPs)  Specific quotes, or concrete details (CDs), in BPs  Commentary adds or builds on the CDs and doesn’t summarize it

Organization  Original title  Well written thesis  Ideas in paragraphs logically divided  BPs contain 2 quotes each

Voice  Writer is aware of the audience and writes appropriately for them

Word Choice  Writer stretches to use descriptive, intelligent words  Combinations of words relay a specific effect

Sentence Fluency  Sentences vary in length as well as structure  Uses connectives between sentences  Quotes are placed in context so they blend into paper

Conventions  Spelling is generally correct  Correct use of commas  No run-ons or fragments  Grammar usage is correct  MLA format  Quotes accurately cited

Have the students complete the attached 2-sided Civil Obedience worksheet below. This may be an activity to take home and research or it may require a trip to the school’s media, if available. It should be largely self-explanatory. As always, it’s most helpful to first explain concepts, then give models and examples, then do part of the work together, and then allow the class to work on its own and demonstrate its understanding. Either afterward or when the moment makes itself naturally available, don’t hesitate to hold appropriate discussions in which the students can express their opinions and evaluate the thoughts of their peers. They are a miniature model society, a microcosm of the topic they are discussing, and as such they stand to learn greatly in this activity by experience as much as (or more than) bookwork.

Modern Examples of Civil Disobedience

Select 3 figures or organizations from history that used civil disobedience to encourage change. After finding out a little about them, complete the chart below. The following are suggestions, but you may find your own. A good search term to use is “Non-violent Resistance.”

Make a table that allows the students to give the following details for each of the 3 chosen figures

Person or Group For what purpose did this person/group use civil disobedience? What specific action was taken by the person/group (how did they show civil disobedience)? What, if any, changes resulted in the use of civil disobedience? Evaluate the success or failure of the person’s/group’s actions. What went well? What should they have done differently?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cindy Sheehan

Rosa Parks

Caesar Chavez

Nelson Mandela

Harriet Tubman

Vidkun Quisling

Mahatma Ghandi

Lech Walesa


1) Brainstorm a list of ways to oppose your school’s attendance policy using civil disobedience:

a) b) c) d) e)

2) Select the 2 most reasonable options from your list above. List them below:

a) b)

3) Now, using option 2a, write about the possible outcomes below. What might be the consequences of your plan? How will it impact students, parents, the administration, or law enforcement? What are the possible problems your plan might encounter? How successful might your plan be? Do the same for 2b.

a) b)

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Page last modified on February 16, 2009, at 10:48 PM