Grand Conversations - Activities to do while you read Paul's stories

Rogue's Gallery – Read a few of Paul’s stories and pick out the mean characters. Choose one and build up a profile on that character. Here are a few ideas to start you off:.

  • Draw the character. Include physical features such as colour and style of hair, shape of face, eyes, nose and mouth. Don’t forget to dress the character in appropriate clothing. How does this person walk and talk and what would be his / her hobbies or favourite pastimes?
  • Make a list of words to describe your character’s behaviour.
  • Make a list or draw some pictures showing the mean things the character has done in the stories.
  • Make a wanted poster using some of these ideas.
  • If you have more than one mean character then you can place them in a lineup from just ordinary mean to very mean and nasty. * This could become a class project to start a Rogue’s Gallery.

Popularity Contest – Select a character from Paul’s stories that you like.

  • Draw the character. To make it more interesting you may be able to collect and use ribbons, tinsel, beads and sequins, buttons, material, paints, crayons and old gift wrapping paper.
  • Write a description of why you like this character. You might talk about what the character looks like. What the character does in the story that you like.
  • Does this character remind you of anyone you know; a friend, a relation or another book character.
  • To make a class or small group Popularity Contest, you can hang other people’s examples up on the wall and vote for the funniest, the weirdest, the most charming, the most different, the happiest, the most mysterious.
  • Each person could give a short talk to the class about their character. Ham it up. Exaggerate the features of your character’s physical appearance and behaviour.

Where in the World – If you have read some of Paul’s stories, select a favourite one and think about where it might be set. Look for clues as you read or reread the story. For example, what is the weather like? Does Paul mention any particular places like rivers, the seaside, a desert, mountains, the city, or a country town? If there are no clues then you might like to make up a setting. Could the story be set on a boat, an aeroplane, in a dungeon or cellar, a cave, a train, or a country you don’t know much about. You might like to look up an atlas to help you select an interesting country. You might even find some books to tell you more about that country.

Mix and Match – If you are a Paul Jennings fan and you have read a lot of his stories, then you might like to have a bit of FUN. You could select the beginning of a story, use some ideas from other stories, then, choose an ending that you like. You might end up with a great story or just a mad bunch of ideas. In your class, who can create the wackiest story from some of the ideas in Paul’s collections.

Literary Letters – If you have just finished reading a Paul Jenning’s story you might like to compose a letter to one of the characters. Think about how the character is feeling in the story. Is she / he sad, happy, frightened, curious, mischievous, funny, shy, bossy or any other emotion you can think of. Write a letter to this imaginary character. What is the problem that the character had in the story? Tell them what you feel about their problem and ask them how they feel. You even be able to give them some ideas to solve or avoid that problem. Or just some sympathy might do. You might want to tell them if you have had a similar problem. Maybe you might just want to write a ‘pen pal’ type of letter where you introduce yourself by writing a profile on what you are like. You might even be able to compare yourself with the character. * This is a good activity to with a character that has been your favourite because you will feel close to this character.

Quirky Quiz – You can work in pairs to interview each other on a story or stories from some of Paul Jennings collections. A list of questions about the story or about characters in the story can be made up. The person being interviewed can see the questions before the interview if they want to. The audience may want to ask questions as well.

Book Talk – Work in pairs or a small group to spend some time talking and thinking about a story after you have read it. Here is a list of ideas to help you.

  • Remember that all comments considered in the discussion are valuable and worthwhile contributions.
  • Ask specific questions rather than ‘why’ questions. The answers will be easier to give.
  • Delay asking questions about meaning. By ‘teasing’ out the problems you can gradually build up your own (and the author’s) UNDERSTANDINGS.
  • Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Sometimes what is obvious to you is not obvious to someone else.

The teacher could be the CHAIRPERSON by

  • Asking appropriate questions (see types of questions below) at appropriate times
  • Highlighting popular aspects of the discussion
  • Frequently summing up the discussion to develop clear lines of thought
  • Allowing students reading to SHAPE the discussion
  • Students may take on this role after the models it a few times
  • Possible questions: Tell me …when you first saw the title of the story, even before you read it, what kind of story did you think it was going to be? What made you think that? Now that you have read it, is it anything like what you expected?
  • Tell me anything that particularly caught your attention.
  • What will you tell your friends about it?
  • Tell me about the parts you liked the most.
  • Tell me about the parts you didn’t like. Were you bored? If you gave up reading, can you tell me where you stopped? What might have caused you to stop?
  • Was there anything that puzzled you? You thought strange, or that surprised you?
  • Does this story remind you of any other stories. Tell me about them, how they are alike or different.
  • Was this a story you read quickly or did you read it in separate session?
  • What character interested you the most? Was this character the most important person in the story? Did any of the characters remind you of people you know? Where there any characters you didn’t like?
  • Who was telling the story?
  • Were there any patterns or themes in the story? What was the story really about? Love, friendship, loneliness, etc
  • When you read the story did you feel it was happening now? Or did you feel it was happening in the past? What made you feel this way? Did you feel the you were the person in the story and that the events were happening to you? Or did you feel as if you were an observer, watching what was happening but that you were not part of the story? Can you describe this feeling?
  • Where did the story happen? Could the setting have been anywhere else? Would this have changed the story in any way?
  • Did you ever feel that you knew what the characters were thinking?
  • When you are reading a story do you see it happening in your imagination? What kinds of detail help you see the story unfold clearly?
  • If the author asked you what could be improved in the story, what would you say?
  • As you have listened to other people’s ideas about the story, and noticed how they are different in many ways, are you surprised by any of their responses? Has your mind been changed about anything in the story now? Do you have a better understanding of the story now? Tell me about some of things people said which struck you the most?
  • When you think of this story now, after all that has been said, what is the most important thing about it for you?
  • If I was to share this story with someone else, should I read it to them, or let them read it for themselves? Should we talk about it afterwards, as we have done, or just read it? Do you know people who might like this story?
    (adapted from Booktalk by Aidan Chambers, The Bodley Head, 1985)
  • These questions could be used to guide Literature Journal responses.

Talking Drawings - You could respond to a story by drawing it. Try some of these ideas:

  • Look at the title of the story. Make a drawing based on what you think the story might be about.
  • Share your drawing with two other people and compare. Look for similarities and differences.
  • Share responses as a whole group or class. Discuss what you thought about the story and how you knew this.
  • Perhaps you could draw a story map about how the story may unfold.
  • Read the story. This could be done individually and silently or in pairs or small groups. Or someone could read it aloud. This is the listening part.
  • Draw a second sketch or adapt and alter the first one. Compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’ drawings.
  • Share the ‘before’ and ‘after’ drawings. Discuss reasons for any changes. Look back to sections of the story to assist you.

A Patchwork Quilt of Stories – sitting in a circle, students share their favourite parts of Paul’s stories. They have an allotted amount of time in which to present their ideas. This can be oral or oral and drawing or written. If students have represented their favourite bits in pictures (or some other mode, eg. poem), then they can form a patchwork quilt or a wall mural as the group presentation proceeds. All participants will see the quilt grow as the mini stories unfold.

Storying – It is fun to learn to tell stories. You don’t have to learn them off by heart. If a story really moved you to tears or laughter or in some other way, then you will find it easier to remember. Read and reread the story a few times. Even have someone else read it to you to test your listening skills and see if there are any parts you might have forgotten. Draw a story map to represent the main sections of the story. This will be a memory jogger as you tell the story to an audience. Practise in front of the mirror first. Then tell a family member or your best friend. When you feel confident you can try it in a small group in class. If you are super confident you can suggest a ‘Storytelling Festival’ for Bookweek or Library of International Literacy Day and volunteer your professional services.

Story Journey – Prepare a one minute talk on your journey through Paul Jennings collections of stories. Start with the story or book that you first read or heard and how this effected you. Then tell briefly what other stories and books of this author you have travelled through. You may be amazed at how much you have read.

Top Ten – Make a list in order of favourites to least favourite of Paul Jennings stories. Later in the year you may wish to reread some and see if you would reorder their place on your list.

Created by Claire Jennings. Master of Arts, Bachelor of Edu., Graduate Diploma in Children’s Literature, Diploma of Edn., TPTC.
  • Author of: Children AS Story-tellers – Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1991.
  • Planning For The Key Learning Areas – co-authored with Julie Shepherd. Eleanor Curtain, Melbourne 1996.
  • Planning For English – co-authored with David Hornsby + Debbie Sukarno. Eleanor Curtain, Melbourne 1996.
  • Literacy and the Key Learning Areas – co-authored with Julie Shepherd. Eleanor Curtain, Melbourne 1998.