Charlotte's Web Lesson Plans
A Favorite Read-Aloud
I've known Charlotte's Web since I was seven. Isn't that the case for so many of us? The story of the amiable pig and the clever spider who saves him never does go out of style. But 2012 proved quite a year for the spider-pig duo -- and not just because they celebrated their sixtieth birthday.
Charlotte's Web was chosen as one of two books for the Global Read-Aloud Challenge. Students in different parts of the world listened to the story and shared their thinking via technology. The GRA even invited families to become involved.
What else is new? Charlotte's Web has also been touted as an exemplar text (a read-aloud selection for second grade) by the Common Core. This means it's offered as an example of the level of text that we want our second graders to be able to comprehend and respond to.
The Common Core work goes back several years, but is gaining momentum. One thing its inclusion means: We can expect even more great resources as teachers work to create lesson plans for this tale of barnyard friendship.
Image by the Author
Plot Structure and Basic Comprehension
Charlotte's Web is a good book for discussing plot structure because even though it's long, it's pretty obvious what the problem is and what the attempts are at solution. When Wilbur learns that the Zuckermans plan on killing him... well. that is a much bigger problem than he has encountered before! Other problems are in the order of what children face in their own lives. This one isn't.
Charlotte works on saving his life by writing words in her web, beginning with "some pig". Each word she writes can be seen as an attempt at a solution.
- Graphic Organizers from Scholastic
Problem/ solution, story train, Venn diagram etc.
Charlotte's Web Vocabulary
No controlled vocabulary here. Here is a list of some of the difficult vocabulary words in Charlotte's Web. The level of vocabulary will be more of a challenge of course to a child who is reading the text on her own.
Many of the truly difficult words are presented in groups -- when, for example, a whole string of derogatory words is used to describe the rat Templeton. Thus, there's more context than there might be if the words were presented in another context. Students can grasp, at the least, that those words mean that Templeton just isn't nice! They'll generally follow along, even if it takes a lot more repetitions to know what the word means -- one of those cool things about literature of this caliber!
So what level of vocabulary will you find within the covers?
1. runt, injustice, blissful
3. discarded, orchard, captivity, appetizing
4. frolic, crafty, dreary, dejected
5. motionless, salutations, whereabouts, blundered, scheming, clever
6. jubilee, goslings, unremitting, cautiously, compunctions, appalled
7. campaign, conspiracy, hysterics
8. thoughtfully, rambled
9. witnessed, spinerettes, sedentary, thoroughly
10. affectionately, straddled, swayed, scuttled, heartily, bestirred, drowsed
11. uttered, murmured, exertions, bewilderment, miracle, wondrous
12.idiosyncrasy, destiny, quivered
13. radial, foundation, descend, galloped, radiant, thrashing, remarkable
14. fascinating, mercilessly, remark, chuckled
15. monotonous, attraction, distinguish, versatile, moodily
16. filthy, foul, resisting, faint
17. moistened, overheated, midway, ascended, unattractive, personality
18. mumbled, refreshed, clipping, humble, homesick, masterpiece
19. nifty, occupied, down-hearted, efforts, languishing, fluttered
20. pompous, extraordinary, proceed, embraced, distinguish, mysteriously, phenomenon, engraved, appreciation, complimentary, collapsed, modest, drenched
21. ceremony, assured, precious, generous, sentiments, ridiculous, imitating, relaxation, desperation, adrift, waterproof, belongings
22. beloved, homecoming, skillful, affectionate, chilly, trinket, gigantic, strengthened, forelegs, frantic, drifting, constructed, trembling, daintily, pledge
Vocabulary Extension: Students can write in the style of EB White by putting together their own string of descriptors for characters and settings. (What, for example, might those now grown goslings shout at Templeton?) They can work together to accomplish this.
From Visual Thesaurus, we get another Charlotte's Web themed vocabulary enrichment activity, one that is designed for students in grade three and above.
Themes: Friendship and the Cycle of Life
The "big ideas" in Charlotte's Web include friendship and the cycle of life. Remember the "Mother and Father Time" song from the original movie? That's one of the themes children can trace (even if it not summed up quite so succinctly in a theme song in the text).
Harper Kids Book Trailer - For the 60th Anniversary Edition
This is the official book trailer, by Harper Kids. The publishers do more than read a few lines and show off a few pictures. They also attempt to get at the heart of the book.
In this day and age, even children can make a technology-enhanced book trailer! Perhaps they'd like to try summing up the heart of the story in two or three minutes.
Can you find examples in the story of Charlotte being a friend to Wilbur?
Can you find examples in the story of Wilbur being a friend to Charlotte?
More Reading Response Activities
- Charlotte's Web Open House
See what one 3rd grade classroom did and showed off for parents at open house! You'll find venn diagrams comparing Wilbur and Charlotte, Diary of a Pig responses, character trait paragraphs, and watercolors.
- Diary of a Pig Response Activity
Here is the Diary of a Pig reading comprehension/ response activity. Students wrote from Wilbur's perspective in the style of Cronin's "Diary of a..." books
- ProTeacher Discussion
My favorite is one that develops imagery and appreciation of descriptive language. The teacher puts a passage up, has the students draw it, and then discuss how they knew what to draw.
- Web English Teacher Finds
Web English Teacher has annotated additional Charlotte's Web activities.
- Wild Swan Theater Study Guide
Scroll down to Charlotte's Web (one of the offerings for the current season) and you will find a study guide with Charlotte's Web-themed sign language, reading material about pigs, and comprehension and extension activities. Part of the goal of Wild
- Ten Day Unit from MSU
This two-week unit, designed for third grade, features creative activities like a newspaper article that develops students' typing skills. The unit is published on the Michigan State University website.
- Web Quest
From ASU: a web quest that includes comprehension questions and vocabulary.
- Doing a Close Read of Charlotte's Web
This article/ lesson idea is by a teacher who didn't particularly like Charlotte's Web until she studied it in a children's literature class and did a close read -- and also look at some of E.B. Whites drafts. Now she has 4th graders doing their own
- Theme Development from Boston University
Resources from Boston University's Center for Character and Social Responsibility focus on the friendship theme. You'll find a lot of comprehension questions grouped by chapter cluster. They develop reading comprehension skills like cause and effect
- Visualization Lesson Plan from the Reading Lady
Here's a short lesson in visualizing, based off a descriptive passage from Charlotte's Web. It's not necessarily intended for students who are listening to/ studying the whole book, but can be used that way.
- Listening Comprehension Lesson from Colorado Unit Writing
Here are nine hour-long lessons and a culminating activity, designed for second graders who are listening to the story as a read-aloud.
Student Responses - A Lapbook, a Presentation, a Lit Circle
Charlotte's Web: Global Read Aloud 2012 - An October Event
What is the Global Read Aloud? Teachers from different nations connect via technology and agree on a book that their students will listen to and respond to. They then share students' responses through various technological means: a Wiki, an Edmodo blog, even Skype. In a way, it's like the pen pal concept revisited -- but it's carried much further. Book talk gets kids connecting on a deeper level.
Big ideas often come through discussion and sharing with others. Finding the big ideas inside the book isn't the largest or loftiest goal. But you better believe students find the big ideas.
If you didn't have the chance to participate, or happened into the resources too late, you may still want to check out the kids' literature responses.
Paragraph Writing Activity
Describe how Fern changes in the book. (Depending on the age of the children, it may be helpful to brainstorm transitions: At first... Later... At the end of the story...)
Alternate Writing Activity: Describe how the Zuckerman's barn changes with the seasons.
More Charlotte's Web Discussion
- School Library Journal Discussion
Charlotte's Web was recently selected as the #1 children's novel since... ever, I believe. Read people's responses!
- Reflections and Extensions from Carol Hurst
The first part of this article is a well-written reflection. Then we get some ideas for extending the book. I like the idea of connecting Charlotte's Web to advertising and political campaigns.
Charlotte's Web Guided Reading Sets
Sometimes teachers 'unload' guided reading sets because they're moving or changing grade levels. The covers won't always match, but the content tends to be the same.