New Ways to Teach Old Yeller: Creative Interactive Ideas for a Classic

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New Approaches to a Classic

Coming-of-age novels provide nearly unlimited opportunities for discussion about the themes found in the books, and it is easy to skip other types of activities. Out-of-the-ordinary comprehension, analysis and synthesis activities can combine individual responses to the novel, like analysis of characters or personal connections with group discussion by serving as talking and sharing points.

Old Yeller is a novel about letting go of childhood and embracing the responsibilities of manhood. Travis struggles with some of the same issues your students find in their own lives–annoying sibliings, straddling the line on one side of which is parental control and on the other, autonomy and independence. It is the perfect tool to help students learn how to trace growth and change in a character.

Remember and Retell

  • Allow students to demonstrate an understanding of the setting, characters and story action by creating illustrated bookmarks and dust covers. One side of the placeholder or the front of the jacket should be a picture of the student’s favorite scene or a collage of scenes. On the back of the bookmark or the inside flaps of the cover, students write paragraphs describing the setting, introducing the major characters, and summarizing the plot

  • Ask students to pick a specific event from the book, such as the discovery that Old Yeller is stealing eggs, and write a newspaper article about what happened. Articles should have a solid lead with journalism’s 5Ws and 1H, as well as quotations from characters. Expand the activity by requiring students to write a summarizing headline and to include a graphic and cutline.

  • Tie the activity to history studies by creating an entire frontier newspaper, with articles about other issues and events that are relevant to the novel, such as scientific features about hydrophobia, editorials, personality profile features and advertisements.

Connecting to the Story

  • Provide sentence stems and ask students to use them to connect their reading to personal experience or to other books they’ve read. Solicit personal links with the prompt, “If I were (character name), I would (action, feeling or response).” Introduce or practice analogies where students complete, “(Character name) is like (type of food, place, character from another book, color, etc.) because ________.”

  • Let students demonstrate understanding of the personality traits and motivations of characters by writing a series of Twitter “tweets” or Facebook status updates. Encourage them to go beyond a static report of events to writing to convey the character’s feelings about the action.

  • Have students demonstrate their interpretation of the themes and moods of the novel by creating a movie soundtrack/playlist for the story. Explore the way composers and music directors use music to portray mood and theme in movies first, and then ask students to select appropriate songs for the novel. Extend the lesson by allowing students to compile a musical collage or to compose lyrics or music of their own.

  • Provide students with a 3 x 3 grid for 32 reflections that include three quotes they found meaningful, three facts they consider important and three connections they can make to themselves or to other literature.

Paired Passages

Provide related nonfiction pages and turn your students loose on these activities to connect the facts to the fiction. Look for or compose articles on cattle drives, frontier life or hydrophobia, among other topics.


Combine details from the novel, a passage about frontier houses, and math when students make scale models of the home in which Travis and his family lived. Use modeling clay, paper or dowels, or have snacks at the same time with pretzels and peanut butter as building materials (being mindful of food allergies).

Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out

Help students visualize the setting when they draw maps on which they chart the most famous cattle drive routes, as well as those in the site of the novel. Encourage them to create illustrations that symbolize facts about the different trails.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

Reinforce the use of skills from other school subjects by having students write math word problems based on ideas from the book.

More Info, Please

Introduce students to annotated bibliographies by asking them to create “Recommended for Further Reading” lists of books or websites about topics in the book. The list should include a correctly formatted bibliography entry and a summary of the book or site.

Wrapping It Up

Divide the class into small groups and let each prepare a segment for an entertainment television broadcast based on the book. Groups could create podcasts of a reenactment of a critical scene, author or character interviews, book review and critiques or dramatic readings of key scenes.

With these Old Yeller interactive activities, your students will be actively engaged and involved in the book, and you won’t be bored by studying the same book for yet another year.


“Creative Assignments to Use With Any Novel”,

Gibson, Fred. Old Yeller. HarperCollins Publishers, 1966.