From the Cat in the Hat to the Lorax, the characters of Theodore Seuss Geisel -- better known as Dr. Seuss -- have been children's literature staples for more than 50 years. Reading Dr. Seuss can increase students' enthusiasm for books, as well as teach them about important issues like environmentalism, kindness toward others and future life journeys. Artwork, writing and class service projects can all help Dr. Seuss's literature become an integral part of your classroom.
When I Grow Up
Begin the lesson by asking students what they want to be when they grow up. Ask for volunteers to share their future career plans and why they've picked that profession.
Read the book "Oh, the Places You'll Go" out loud. Discuss the steps the narrator explains people will face on their life journeys. Make a list on the board of the successes, obstacles and turning points the story predicts.
Distribute sheets of blank white paper and markers, or ask students to take out their own. Explain that they will now look into the future and make their own picture books of the "places you'll go." Like Dr. Seuss's story, have them illustrate the achievements, major decisions and challenges they'll face as they pursue what they want to accomplish.
We Speak for Our School: The Lorax
Before reading "The Lorax," ask students to share the things they like most about the environment. These could include trees, favorite animals, the seasons and favorite outdoor places like parks.
Read "The Lorax" to the class. Then, make a list on the board comparing and contrasting the Lorax's environment before and after the Once-ler took over. This could include the clear water, green grass, wildlife and the Truffula Trees. Talk about what motivated the Lorax to speak out against the Once-ler and whether he did the right thing.
Ask students if there are any parts of the school that need to be "spoken for." For example, littering might be prevalent on the playground or the school grounds might need more trees or flowers. As a class, select one of these places to adopt and decide on a class service project for its benefit. For example, you might choose to pick up litter, plant a tree or start a class garden.
Have students prepare a presentation for the school principal and administrative personnel about the project they want to do. Rather than asking permission yourself to pick up litter or plant flowers, let students take ownership of the issue and speak up in its favor, the same way the Lorax did.
Once you have permission, spend a day doing your class project. Allocate responsibilities so all students have a way to help out, such as digging a hole for a tree, creating awareness posters to inform the school about your project and telling students and teachers who pass by about what you're doing. If your project requires purchasing a tree or flowers, you might get the school involved through a class fundraiser like a bake sale, which can be used to spread awareness about the issue you've chosen.
My Lifechanging Friend: The Cat in the Hat
Read "The Cat in the Hat" to the class. Then, talk about how the narrator and his sister, Sally, change as a result of their encounter with the Cat in the Hat. You might talk about how prior to his arrival, they were filled with angst and boredom about having nothing to do on a rainy day. By end of the story, they've had a fun-filled afternoon of adventures with the Cat.
As a class, brainstorm what lessons the narrator and his sister learn from the Cat in the Hat. Students might say that he teaches them to have fun when they're bored, to change their attitudes or to find the positive side of hard situations.
Ask students to think of a person, such as a friend, teacher or family member, who taught them an important lesson. Then, ask them to write a rhyming poem in the style of Dr. Seuss where they tell the story of the impact this person had on them. You might do the activity yourself to give them an example to follow.
Ask for volunteers to talk about their Dr. Seuss poetry imitations. Students can first tell a brief account of what their teacher, family member or friend taught them, then read the poetic version.
As part of your Dr. Seuss unit, take time to define literary devices he uses, such as rhyme, consonance and onomatopoeia. This will not only help them write their own poems, but show them what techniques give Dr. Seuss his witty, enjoyable style.
Be careful to adapt these activities to your students' grade level if necessary. For example, while fourth- and fifth-graders may find it easy to write a Dr. Seuss-styled poem, this may be too challenging for younger students. Instead, they could write a brief paragraph describing the encounter and lesson.