It’s stay-at-home time in Illinois with COVID 19 everywhere. We left school on a Thursday afternoon expecting to return on Friday. But after an emergency school board meeting, our superintendent (rightly) decided to close school that night. School as usual was cancelled, and we have not been allowed to go back.
For me, it’s presenting a problem because all of my treasured personal picture books, a collection built up over years of reviewing superb books, are in my classroom. But a few new picture books have arrived in the mail, and one, in particular, is going to make for an excellent lesson with my first and second (and maybe third) grade students.
“The NOT Bad Animals” by Sophie Corrigan is a fascinating and thoughtful nonfiction picture book filled with animals that some consider “bad.” Each animal gets two two-page spreads. The first features all the myths about the particular animal. For example, the spread with the “bad” black cat says that they are sneaky, they scratch things, and they bring bad luck.
But actually, black cats are sweet and wonderful. Most of them, at least. They make fabulous pets and in some cultures are GOOD luck charms. I’m not superstitious, but I believe that having a cat brings goodness because they are loving and affectionate and easy to care for. In this book, the author notes that cats only scratch because it’s their natural instinct, and that if you provide a scratching post, they will most likely leave your furniture alone. They sleep most of the day and spend a good amount of time grooming themselves. Did you know that cats’ hearing is five times better than ours?
I plan on reading several of the pages with my students about different animals including: cat, opossum, spider, snake, and wasp. During our Zoom meeting, we will discuss how prejudice and preconceived ideas can color our thinking about animals and even other people. The students will then have the opportunity to pick a different so-called “bad” animal and do their research on that animal. When we next meet, they can present the myths about that animal and the real facts they learned through their research. Teachers can make a T-chart on a Google document that the students can fill in, or teachers can demonstrate how to make a T-chart on a piece of paper for them to take notes on their research. One heading should be “Myths” and the other “Facts.”
This is an activity that is suitable for a wide range of students because the depth of the response can vary from student to student. Some students have access to books and parents who can help research. Some might love to draw or write. But for those who don’t like to draw, they can simply write. And for those who might be intimidated by writing, they can just talk to their teacher and the other students about their findings.
What is important during these times is to keep any assignments stress-free and engaging. This assignment will be entirely optional, but many might like to participate because learning about animals is usually fun. This clever book can be purchased online — maybe from your local indie bookseller? Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (Quarto Press), this is one book you will want to add to your classroom-at-home library!
For fun, here are some facts about big, “scary” dogs like pit bulls, Doberman pinschers, and other ostensibly “bad” dogs. And remember, while I plan on using this book with primary grade students, this would also be a productive activity for intermediate students who love animals. It incorporates many different learning modalities, and students could decide how to share their research in terms of drawing, writing, or even a video.