It is amazing to think that a book written in 1938, over seventy years ago, still remains popular for elementary students and teachers. Mr. Popper's Penguins surely is considered a classic! Richard Atwater began writing the book after watching a movie about Admiral Byrd’s expedition to Antarctica. When Mr. Atwater became ill, his wife, Florence completed the book for him.
The story features a hard-working painter, Mr. Popper, who dreams of seeing the world outside of his little town. His greatest interest is in the Artic and Antarctic with its vast expanses of snow and ice. He reads every book he can find on the subject. He even wrote to Admiral Drake, who was on an expedition to the Antarctic. Touched by Mr. Popper’s letter, Admiral Drake surprises Mr. Popper by sending him a penguin! That’s when the adventure begins!
Vocabulary Mini Lesson
Read the words as they are used in the book. See if the students can use context clues to discover the word meaning. Discuss the words as a class. Then the students can put the words in alphabetical order and write a sentence for each. Provide dictionaries to use for extra help if needed.
1. calcimine- page 3: a white or pale blue wash for walls
2. heathen- page 12: uncivilized, lacking morals
3. stout- page 18: somewhat fat or with a heavy build
4. pompous- page 19: grand, self-important
5. rookery- page 48: a breeding colony of seabirds
6. promenade- page 50: unhurried walk or stroll, often in a public place
7. derby-page 51: stiff felt hat often called a “bowler”
8. rotogravure -page 62: a type of printing process
9. riotous-page 106: unrestrained, loud behavior
10. Monsieur- page 106: means mister or sir in French
Fact Finding Project Mini Lesson
Empty cans (coffee can size is good)
Construction paper (black, white, yellow, pink or orange)
Students should cover the can with a piece of black construction paper, leaving the top uncovered. Add wings and other features to make a penguin. Inside the can, the student should have ten slips of white construction paper on which are a written fact about a penguin.
To find information for their facts, students can use an encyclopedia, animal fact books, or the Internet. Here is a site that is appropriate for the research: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/emperor-penguin/
Sequence of Events Mini Lesson
The format for this project can be done in a few different ways. You may choose to have students do a timeline of the events. For that, use a long piece of construction paper and a ruler to draw a horizontal line. Add each event with a vertical line, label, and small picture.
Another choice is to divide a piece of construction paper into eight squares by folding the paper. Number the squares, and put the events in order, one in each square, with a picture.
A booklet can also be made with one event and picture on each page in the order that the event occurred.
Here are the events: (Mix them up when you write them on the board.)
1. Mr. Popper hears Admiral Drake on the radio.
2. Captain Cook sleeps in the icebox.
3. Captain Cook meets the neighbor and the barber.
4. Greta arrives.
5. The Poppers and the Penguins visit Mr. Greenbaum’s theater.
6. Monsieur Duval nearly falls from the high wire.
7. Mr. Popper goes to jail.
8. Goodbye, Mr. Popper!
Roman Numeral Practice Mini Lesson
The chapters in this book are numbered with Roman numerals, so it’s a great time to have a short review of Roman numerals. Discuss the prior knowledge that they have obtained, and then on separate sheets of heavy paper write the Roman numerals I through XX. Pass out a paper to each student, and have them line up in the correct order the numbers 1 through 20. Mix them up, and time them while they repeat the activity.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is such an entertaining book to use with your elementary students. At the same time, you can incorporate many objectives by using these mini lessons.
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