This Newberry honor book written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams is a popular middle-grade novel to read aloud in the classroom or to use as a literature study resource for lesson planning.
About the Book
The novel Cricket in Times Square, stars Chester, a musically talented cricket, who accidentally finds himself in Times Square. He misses his home in Connecticut, but he has grand adventures in New York City once Mario, a boy whose parents own a newsstand, finds him and keeps him as a pet. While at the newsstand, he meets Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, who become his best friends. Throughout the story, Chester experiences many different feelings as he has city adventures.
With these lesson plan ideas, students can obtain valuable reading comprehension skills while enjoying reading at the same time.
Students will meet several objectives in the following lessons:
1. Students will understand what character motivation means and how it effects the characters' decisions and actions in a story.
2. Students will describe various characters' motivations.
3. Students will use different feeling words to describe characters' emotions.
4. Students will define story elements such as theme, setting, characters and story problems and solutions.
Character Motivation and Feelings
The first lesson plan focuses on character motivation:
- You can do this one while students are still reading the book or after they have finished. To begin, students make a list of the important characters in their reading response journals. They should list: Chester the Cricket, Harry Cat, Tucker Mouse, Mario, and Mario's parents. They can list others if they wish.
- Students share their lists with the class while you make a list of the characters on chart paper.
Explain what motivation means to students. Use an example from a familiar fairy tale, such as The Three Little Pigs. (Example: The first and second pig have similiar motivations. They want to get finished fast and play or relax, so they build unsturdy houses quickly. The third pig has a different motivation. He wants to build the best house he can, and so on.)
- Start a discussion on a particular chapter or scene in the book, such as when the newsstand catches on fire and Mama Bellini wants to get rid of Chester. Ask students, "What is Mama Bellini's motivation in this scene?" "What is Mario's?" and so on. Write a sentence (or phrase) on the chart paper about each character involved in the scene and his or her motivation. Do this with several scenes or chapters until you observe that students understand the concept.
- For individual practice, ask students to pick a scene you did not discuss in class. In their reading response journals, they should write a quick summary of which scene they are choosing and then the characters' motivations in that scene. They will use the same process you used when doing the instruction and guided practice.
To extend this lesson, you can also discuss characters' feelings with students. Motivation and feelings are often connected. For example, ask students: "How is Chester feeling at the end of the novel? How does this motivate him? Then, what is his motivation?" Students usually understand feelings and emotions more than motivation, so it is best to teach motivation first and then discuss character feelings and how the two relate. One thing to be careful of is that students want to always use "happy" or "sad" to describe the emotions. Discuss with students some other emotions such as disappointed, frustrated or pleased.
You can also teach lesson plans on The Cricket in Times Square that may incorporate story elements such as setting, problems and theme. Students can write about these elements in their reading response journals while they are reading the novel. Each day, you can talk about one of the story elements in a mini-lesson. By the end of the novel, students will have a better understanding of what they are.
Here's an example for story problem:
- Ask students about a problem in the novel. They will offer several different problems. Choose: Mario wants to keep Chester as a pet, but his mother doesn't want to.
- Discuss with students why this is a problem and how it affects the novel. What are some of the scenes that center on this problem?
- In novels, the plot includes solutions. Make sure students understand what a solution is. (You might have to use an example from your classroom, such as: We had a problem with our recycling area being messy; how did we solve it?)
- Discuss with students how Mario solves the problem of keeping Chester as a pet when his mama does not want him to.
- Students write the problem and solution in their reading response journals.
Wrapping Up the Lesson
Once you have finished reading The Cricket in Times Square with your students and teaching them about character feelings and story elements, you can wrap up this reading unit with an assessment project. Students can do a writing project, such as pretending they are a favorite character from the story and keeping a journal. In the journal, students explain how they are feeling and what they are thinking during various events in the story. Creating a writing project for students to accomplish when they are finished reading will increase their comprehension skills and give you a way to assess their progress.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Sheldon; illustrated by Garth Williams. Publisher: Yearling, 1960.
Personal experience teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade