Discovering the World
The book Flat Stanley is a wonderful way to teach students about the world beyond their own communities. Teaching with textbooks alone is often boring for elementary school students, who thrive on hands-on learning. Flat Stanley projects are an excellent choice for teaching across curriculum.
This children’s book by author, Jeff Brown, tells of the escapades of a young boy who becomes flat. His new flat appearance allows him to do many things he never before was able to do, such as, slide under a door, or fly like a kite. His fun really begins when he “mails” himself to friends. And so, the adventures with students begin.
Creating Flat Students
The use of Flat Stanley as the theme for the year is recommended. Begin by introducing students to author, Jeff Brown’s books.
After reading the original Flat Stanley to the class, teachers may then have the class make their own flat persona. If their flat personas are to be life-size, the students will need to trace their bodies onto sheets of brown paper or newsprint paper. Adult assistance may be needed for this project, especially for younger children.
After the bodies are traced out, the students then color in their individual flat persona. Students may be encouraged to make their flat persona into a self-portrait or to create their own unique version.
An option for the younger students, or for classes where making life-size Flat Stanley’s is not an alternative, is to create small flat people, which the students can color and send with their letters. (Click here for template.)
Write the Word, Write the World
One of the best parts of Flat Stanley projects is that they incorporate various aspects of literacy. Letter writing is the next step in this lesson plan.
Teachers might send a note home ahead of time to request that families brainstorm the person who lives furthest from the student. That person’s name and address is then sent to school with the student. If this is problematic, teachers may ask colleagues who live in other parts of the world to participate in this project. Students might even send their letters to another school that is also doing a unit using this book.
Teaching students how to write a letter is an excellent way to practice literacy skills. Students write a letter to their friend or relative telling them about their flat persona, which they send to that person. They ask for their friend or relative to take a photo of their flat persona doing something with them. The photo is then sent back to the student to share with the class. Depending on the distance, completion of this part of the project could take several weeks. However, if the school has email access, the teacher could include an email address to have the photos sent via email. Once they arrive, they can be printed out and hung up in the class.
For early elementary students, letter writing can be simplified by using a template that has the introduction and directions on what to do with the student’s Flat Stanley created by the teacher or adult volunteer. Students could then write the name of the person receiving the letter, sign their name and perhaps add a few words that are left blank within the letter. (Click here for downloadable example.)
Across the Curriculum
Teaching across the curriculum allows teachers to use this theme as the focus for all lessons. For instance, waiting for photos of their flat personas to return can be excruciating for young students. However, keeping little minds and hands active makes the wait pass quickly. A lesson on maps scaffolds on their knowledge of place, as well as opens the doors to learning about new cultures.
Create a map on which students can show where their flat personas went. This is best accomplished with a large world map as well as a large map of the country the school is in (i.e., a large map of the United States, or Canada or Brazil, etc.) This allows students who mailed their flat persona within their country a way to show exactly where it was sent.
As pins or flags are placed on the maps, teachers can take the opportunity to ask students to share experiences they had going to these places. If students did not travel to the places their flat personas were sent, they could share experiences of when they did travel.
Once the maps are set up, further learning can include researching the countries where the classes' flat personas were sent. Units on those countries can include discussions on the culture, art, natural resources. Teachers can bring in tapes of music from that country, as well as ask the school librarian to pull books on the various cultures for the students to read.
Discussions on how cultures are different as well as alike help aid the understanding of diversity and multiculturalism. Children can be asked to mind map ways the people in the different countries are similar and ways they are different. To model that diversity is everywhere, the teacher can also have students mind map similarities and differences within the class or community.
If people from the various cultures live in the community, (usually this would be relatives of the students) they could be asked to come and share their culture with the class. Teachers can ask if they could bring an artifact to share with the class, such as a doll from that country or a musical instrument, or piece of art.
By incorporating units on different countries, these lesson plans can span the subjects of history, geography, social studies, literature and art. Teaching one theme across curriculum allows students to stay focused and interested.
As the Flat Stanley photos return, they can be either pinned to the maps or put up in a Flat Stanley Gallery with captions that the students create. Students can research information on the places their flat personas traveled to, writing essays that can then be placed with the pictures, as well.
Flat Stanley creates an exciting way to teach elementary students about travel, maps, letter writing and more. When students are engaged in their learning, they “own” the lesson, thereby retaining what they have been taught. This is one unit of study that is sure to be remembered.