Putting Your Students in James’ Shoes
James and the Giant Peach is a story about an orphan who lives in cruel surroundings who gets a marvelous chance to escape the clutches of his aunts. As an introductory lesson plan to this novel, ask your students to write down some ways their lives would change if they became orphans. Where would they go to live? What other changes would happen in their lives?
Then, move on to a discussion of James’ situation. His aunts have basically made him their servant. Ask your students to come up with some other stories with similar situations (Cinderella, among others, should come to mind).
One afternoon, while James is crying outside in the shrubbery, he meets an odd wizard, who is familiar with James’ story and gives him a bag of magic crystals. All he has to do is add some water and some of his own hair, and he will have a potion that will bring him a lifetime of joy and adventure. Of course, James falls down on the way into the house, and the crystals spill out and wriggle into the ground next to a dead tree. The crystals bring the tree to life, and a house-sized peach eventually appears.
Give each student a paper sack with several green beads inside. On one side of the outside of the sack, have students write one wish they think James would make for each bead in the bag. On the other side of the bag, have students write one list that they would make, if they had a magic sack, one wish for each bead. If you decide to grade this, gauge how their wishes for James square with what they should know about his life.
1. Life-size Characters. Divide your class into small groups of two or three. You can have as many as eleven groups, so make your calculations based on the needs of your specific classroom. Give each group seven feet of butcher paper, and the name of a character from the story: James, Aunt Spiker, Aunt Sponge, the Old Man, the Centipede, the Earthworm, Miss Spider, the Old Green Grasshopper, the Ladybug, the Glowworm and the Silkworm. (If you have fewer than eleven groups, you can eliminate the Glowworm, the Silkworm, and the Old Man first, and then take more out as you need).
Have each group draw a life-size illustration of their character. Be sure to have them use the details that Dahl provides in his narration, and add elements that show the characters’ personalities. If you are going to evaluate this, use a rubric that lists personality, creativity, and attention to detail in the book as criteria.
2. News Reports. Divide your class into five groups. Each group is responsible for filming a news report about one of the following events: the appearance of the huge peach (including the paid showings), the crushing of Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge, the sighting of the peach by a ship, plane or satellite, the early-morning sightings of the peach above Manhattan, and the events after the peach lands and the characters get out.
This will require a digital camera or flip camera. First, though, have students write out scripts for their news reports – for added fun, have them write some commercials to go in with the news story. For evaluation, provide a rubric that includes such elements as attention to detail in the story, humor, and creativity.
This post is part of the series: Teaching “James and the Giant Peach”
This series of articles includes lesson plans teaching the book James and the Giant Peach to upper fourth graders or lower fifth graders. With modifications, the book could be taught anywhere from third to sixth grade.