Ignored, stereotyped and diminished, if the crayons in your classroom could talk, they might object to their treatment. Understanding why leads to great lesson activities, says Sue Cowley...
One day in class, Duncan goes to take out his crayons. But instead of his crayons, he finds a stack of letters with his name on them. Who has written to him and what do they want? In The Day the Crayons Quit (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013), Duncan’s crayons decide to make their views known to their owner. But will their letters persuade Duncan to change his colouring habits? Which crayon is the colour of the sun? Why does stubby blue crayon need a break? And will poor embarrassed peach crayon ever make it out of the box? This delightful children’s book by new author Drew Daywalt and well-known illustrator Oliver Jeffers offers plenty of inspiration for lesson activities, and is sure to become a firm favourite with both children and teachers.
Introducing the story
Show your class a box of crayons – some broken, some stubby, some whole, and some with the wrappers taken off. Ask the children to talk in pairs or groups about why the crayons look like this:
* What has happened to the crayons to make them this way?
* Why are some crayons much shorter than others?
* Which crayons do the children think are the most popular?
* Are there any crayons that seem never to have been used? Why might this be?
Next, look at the front and back covers of the book together. What do the children think the story might be about? How can they tell this from the pictures? What information does the title of the story give them? Read the book to the children and afterwards talk about what happens in the story. What did Duncan learn from reading the letters from his crayons? Why did Duncan’s teacher give him a “good work” sticker for colouring, and a gold star for creativity at the end? And how do the children think he will treat his crayons in the future?
* Looking at the letters
Now look more closely at the letters in the book with your class to explore how they are written. If you have time, it is a lovely idea to present the letters in the same way they ‘arrive’ in the book – in envelopes, saying ‘To: Duncan’ and tied up together with string.
Divide your class up into small groups, and give each one of the letters to re-read together, and then to study in more detail. Ask the children to consider the following questions:
* How has Duncan used this crayon in the past?
* How does this make the crayon feel?
* What does this crayon want to persuade Duncan to do?
* What words does the crayon use in the letter that might get Duncan to behave differently?
* Can you spot any other methods that this crayon uses to try and persuade Duncan, for instance anything about the way that the text is written or laid out?
Ask the children to consider why some of the crayons use capital letters in their writing. What emotion does this help them express? How could we read these bits out when we are telling the story? Help the children create ‘voices’ for the crayons when they are reading the letters out loud.
* Exploring emotions
Create a series of ‘emotion’ cards or posters, each featuring a single emotion. Explain to the children that you are going to explore the emotions that each of the crayons express in their letters. You might use the following emotion words, or choose some alternatives of your own:
Blue: Worn out
Can the children match the emotion cards to the letters that the crayons have written? What words or other features in the letter tell them this is how the crayon is feeling? What other ‘emotion words’ can they come up with to describe how the crayons are feeling?
To build the skill of empathy, encourage the children to talk about their feelings towards each individual crayon:
* Which crayon do they feel most sorry for, and why?
* Which crayon seems happiest and why do they say this?
* Which crayon would they most like to cheer up?
* What could they do to make one of the crayons feel happier?
* Which crayon is the angriest one and why?
* What could Duncan do to calm this crayon down?
* Dramatising emotions
Look at the illustrations of each crayon in the book – what is it about the face and the body of each crayon that puts across the emotion? Talk about how the drawings are quite simple, and yet we can still tell how each crayon is feeling. For instance, you might talk about how the beige crayon is bent over, with its arms drooped downwards and a frown on its face. What emotion does this body position and facial expression convey?
Now divide the children up into small groups, one for each crayon. Ask the children to devise a still picture to dramatise and sum up the emotion that their crayon is feeling. How would their faces look if they felt like this? How would their bodies appear if they were feeling this way? What images might they include in their freeze frames? Get the children to show their frozen pictures to the class and talk about how emotion is conveyed. Can the children tell which emotion is being expressed, just through how the faces and bodies of their classmates look? Next ask each group to bring their still picture to life for a few seconds – what kind of movements can they use to convey the emotion?
* Creative colours
Talk to the children about what their favourite colours are, and why they like these particular colours. Is it because of the colour itself, or the things that are drawn in this colour? What emotions do we associate with particular colours? How does yellow make us feel, and red, and black?
In the story, Duncan normally uses his colours to colour things the ‘right’ colour. Talk with your children about what using the ‘right’ colour means. Do the children always colour their drawings in the ‘correct’ colour? If not, why do they sometimes choose to use a different colour?
Both yellow and orange crayon think they are the colour of the sun – which one do the children think is correct? Do they have any alternative solutions to saying one crayon is ‘right’ and another is ‘wrong’?
Duncan has not used the pink crayon all year. Why do the children think this is? Asking them whether pink crayon is right to say that Duncan thinks pink is a ‘girl’s colour’ can create some interesting debate. Where else have the children seen pink being associated with girls?
Why does Duncan’s teacher says he is more ‘creative’ when he decides to use the colours in unusual ways?
Look at the final two-page spread picture in the book. Which objects has Duncan coloured in the ‘wrong’ colours and why do the children think he chose these particular colours to use? How has Duncan responded to the crayons’ complaints in this picture? Can the children spot all the places in this picture where Duncan has taken account of a particular crayon’s complaint?
* Writing to persuade
Explain to the children that they are going to write a persuasive letter. Talk together about what the word ‘persuade’ means, and about how the crayons try to persuade their owner in this book. Find some other words connected to this idea. The children might come up with words such as: encourage; convince; win over; push; promote; urge.
Ask the children to pretend they are an item in their pencil case. They could be a rubber, a pencil sharpener, a pair of scissors, and so on. They are going to write to their owner to talk about what is wrong with the way they are being treated, and how they would like to be treated in the future. Talk with the children about the most appropriate language, format and structure for writing their letters.
Because they are going to pretend to be the item, they need to write ‘as’ that character, using the first person. This means that they should use language such as ‘my’, ‘I’ and ‘me’ when writing their letter. They should also remember to use words such as ‘you’ and ‘your’ when referring to the owner of the item.
Model the writing of the letter on your board, together with your children, to ensure understanding of the letter writing techniques you want to see. Depending on the age and prior writing experiences of your children, you might offer them a template or scaffold for writing their letter, or you could ask them to write it independently. Your writing frame might look something like this:
I am your ... I am writing because I feel ... You have been ... and I am ... I don’t like it when you ... In future, please could you ...
About the author
Sue Cowley is an experienced teacher, author and presenter. Her latest ebook is The Seven Ts of Practical Differentiation. Visit suecowley.co.uk to find out more.
In the story, the crayons are given human-type features, but in a simple, cartoon-like way. Ask the children to choose a writing implement – a pen, pencil, felt tip, etc. – and turn it into a cartoon figure of their own. They could draw their cartoon figures with all kinds of different emotions, to explore how small changes to a piece of art can help communicate different feelings.
Oliver Jeffers, the illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit is well known for his children’s books. His other titles include Lost and Found (HarperCollins, 2006) and The Incredible Book Eating Boy (HarperCollins, 2009). If you can get hold of copies of some other books by Oliver Jeffers, the children could compare and contrast the way he chooses to illustrate the stories.
* Do the children notice anything similar about the way that the books are illustrated?
* Can the children spot anything interesting about the kinds of text Jeffers uses in his books?
* Why do they think that he uses child-like drawings? Do these appeal to them as readers, and why?
* What do they think about the way that Jeffers uses colour in his stories?
* Can they think of any other books they know where the illustrator uses colour or images in a similar way?
Outstanding schools: RJ Mitchell Primary