"Faithful Elephants" is a stirring story by Yukio Tsuchiya about animals in a Japanese zoo during World War II. First published in Japan in 1951, the book tells the tale of a zookeeper forced to put large animals to sleep out of government fear of the zoo being bombed and animals escaping into cities. The last to be killed are three performing elephants who are starved to death when the means of killing other animals, poison, doesn’t work on them because their skin is too thick to inject and they are too clever to eat poisoned food. Though controversial for its subject matter, "Faithful Elephants" activities are ideal for intrepid middle grade teachers to use in lessons on cause and effect relationships and human and animal experiences in times of war.
Have students read Faithful Elephants then ask them to write a book review. Book reviews are great ways to engage students' critical thinking about what they just read. A book review worksheet is available from superteacherworksheets.com in the website's "reading worksheets" section. The worksheet helps students remember details in a story by first asking them to describe what happened in the book. The worksheet then instructs students to write about why they liked or didn't like the book and asks them to give the book a star rating. Without a worksheet, students can write reviews exploring their thoughts about the book in journals or on notebook paper.
Divide your class into teams. Give each team a copy of "Faithful Elephants." Have students find the page numbers of particular objects, people or events. Ask them to raise their hands and say "elephant" when the object, person or event is located. If enough copies of "Faithful Elephants" are available, this activity can be done with individual students. Announce the prize for the winning student or team before starting the scavenger hunt.
Letter writing through a character's point of view helps children empathize with characters and think deeply about their choices. After students read "Faithful Elephants," discuss the characters. Ask students questions like, “How did the zookeeper feel about the war?” or “What else could have been done to save the animals?” After the discussion, have students write a letter to a friend or family member from the viewpoint of one of the characters describing how war has affected his or her life. In stories like "Faithful Elephants" where major characters are animals, allow students to write from the animals’ perspectives as well.
Discussion Webs teach students to look at both sides of an issue before reaching a conclusion. Unlike standard discussions monopolized by a few, Discussion Webs involve all students and encourage participation from shy students and those whose first language is not English. Using the "think-pair-share" method, Discussion Webs ask students to answer a yes-no question using texts, previous discussions and their own experiences. They are then paired with another student to discuss the question and write down evidence or opinions supporting the "yes" and "no" positions. Partners are then paired with another set of partners. Together, they eliminate contradictions and inconsistencies in their thinking and decide if their collective response is “yes” or “no." A spokesperson from the group is then elected to share the group's answer with the class. Example of yes-no questions teachers can use in Faithful Elephants Discussion Webs include "Should the animals have been killed?" and “If you were the zookeeper, would you have killed the animals?”
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