Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" quickly became a popular seller after its release in 1961 and has since become a classic. Third- to fifth-graders find it most engaging, but you may need to help them understand some of the vocabulary. It is best used as a guided, shared novel, with the teacher reading aloud as the students follow. Of course, highly skilled students can successfully read it independently.
Act It Out
Students can act out a scene or a summary of the entire story through a readers theater or other short skit. By acting out scenes, students must think about the characters and plot from a different perspective, as if a participant in the story. Have groups of students plan out a scene to expressively read to others if conducting a readers theater. If creating a skit, decide whether students will summarize the entire story or a favorite portion of it. Students can act out the skit with no props or use available objects you have on hand.
Collage and Rhyme
A collage scene can be made with scraps of torn paper from any magazine or other source. Have students create a torn paper collage that illustrates a central idea from the story in detail. By creating the collage, students practice identifying and representing a central idea. You might inspire students with some examples of collages in the style of children's author and illustrator Eric Carle, known for his bright, hand-crafted collage art. In addition to the collage scene, add a writing component by having students write a short rhyme describing the scene. In writing the rhyme, students practice focusing on and summarizing important details. Discuss genre with children and describe that a story can be told in either narrative form or in a poem.
Theme and Genre
The themes in James and the Giant Peach involve responsibility, getting what one deserves, leadership and magic. The genre of the story can be described as either fantasy, comedy or adventure. Discuss both theme and genre with students. Explain that they will decide on the theme they think best fits the novel then justify their thinking with a class debate. Instruct students to prepare for the debate with examples from the story that support the theme they chose. Have students form debate teams based on like themes. Student teams then participate in the debate, taking turns presenting their thesis, proof, rebuttal and final summary.
The story features a ladybug, earthworm, grasshopper and centipede. Have students make quick sketches of these creatures based on the descriptions in the book. Students also should make some notes to describe the creatures' activities and habits, such as how they eat or move. Students can then make scientific connections to the story by going outside and locating live specimens. Instruct them to safely, humanely capture the creatures in suitable containers in which they can live for a few hours. Have them add some grass, sticks, dirt and leaves. Students observe the real creatures to find ways that they resemble the fictionalized animals. For example, the earthworm is described as slimy and sad looking so students examine the earthworm for these qualities and record their findings on a chart.
- Laura Beth Drilling/Demand Media