December 23, 2015

Jan Brett

Once upon a time, a close knit team of 2nd grade teachers decided to ring in Winter with a Jan Brett author study. They read books, did activities, and even hosted a Rotation Day for related crafts and snacks. Changes have happened, all for the good, and these three teachers no longer teach at the same school together...

...But THIS teacher keeps ringing in the holiday break with a Jan Brett author study. Even when she doesn't really have time for it because she is supposed to be stressed out by her Expeditionary Learning "Showcase" scheduled for the three days before the holiday break (What?! How did that happen?!)

Anyways, I wanted to share a few ideas for using Jan Brett's books in a middle elementary classroom. I think that her most famous book, The Mitten, is one often shared with younger kids for a variety of reasons, but there is so much good stuff that older kids can learn from her books as well! You might be surprised by just how excited your “grown up” students will get about reading her stories.

You should know that while many of her stories have a holiday theme, many of them do not-they just happen to be set in snowy places! This may help you if you have students of different cultural or religious backgrounds in your classroom.

Let's get to the learning point. Jan Brett's books can be used to teach many of the Literature common core standards. Here are a few of my favorites:

Teach or review traditional literature by sharing The Mitten, Gingerbread Baby, and Goldilocks to name a few. Some of her pieces, like The Umbrella, or The Three Snow Bears, are traditional stories re-imagined in a new setting. 

Compare and contrast Jan Brett's traditional literature with more familiar versions. Compare and contrast The Mitten and The Umbrella or The Three Snow Bears with Goldilocks. Students could draw and build their own Venn diagrams to compare and contrast two of her books. 

Study the ways characters change and what they learn through their experiences. In The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Teeka learns to use love and patience to train Santa’s reindeer. In Home For Christmas, Rollo the troll loses his tail when he learns a lesson about being part of a family.

You absolutely must watch some of Jan Brett’s videos where she gives lessons on how to draw some of her characters. Not only can students follow along, learning to draw in Brett’s style, but they learn about her process, inspiration, and craft as she describes her work. My favorites are How to Draw a Hedgie, Gingerbread Baby, and A Baby Polar Bear. You can access her videos by clicking here.

I suggest that you stay close to the computer to pause the video as students are following along. Jan can move rather fast. I also suggest letting students use dry erase boards for their first go round. If you have time, they can transfer their work on paper after that. If you have a lot of time, they can also use watercolor and sharpies to make their picture look great! In How To Draw a Gingerbread Baby, Jan gives instruction on watercolor which may give new ideas for students to try.

Throw a Jan Brett winter party! Many school districts are moving away from the traditional Christmas party, and I promise you that if you throw a Jan Brett party, your kids will not miss the Christmas theme!

Serve mitten cookies, make a Swedish heart ornament, do a Hedgie craft, eat Gingerbread, and more! The possibilities are really endless and so much fun.

I hope you enjoyed my ideas. I tried to keep things simple this year because we were preparing for a showcase. My main goal is to enjoy the books, learn from the author/illustrator, and keep those kiddos excited to be at school with me!

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