Curriculum Connections With Calvin Coconut
Dear Crazy Good Teachers (and parents):
Fun-filled adventures await your students in the new Calvin Coconut series by award-winning author, Graham Salisbury. We created this guide to help you turn excitement about the books into deeper understanding across the curriculum. It contains engaging activities that will inspire your students to use their creativity, develop new skills, and explore the important themes addressed in the series.
Graham Salisbury created Calvin Coconut and the series’ other characters in the setting of his native Hawaii. After reading, students can create a profile of Calvin or another character they found interesting. An alternative is for students to create their own original character who lives in their town or another interesting setting. Either way, their “Character Profile” should present the following for their character:
- Description of the setting in which the character lives
Create a Story
Once students have profiled a character, they can use them as the main character in their own original story. They should first start with a plan:
- What action (the plot) and conflict will their character experience? They should list ideas for the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
- What supporting characters will the main character interact with?
- Will their character learn anything in the course of the story? (These are the themes, such as those discussed in the activity below.)
Tell students to decide if they will be writing in “first person,” from the main characters’ point of view like the Calvin Coconut books, or in “third person,” where they tell what is happening to the character. They should choose either present or past tense and stick to it. Graham Salisbury also wants young writers to remember to add lively dialogue and that the key to good writing is revision. “The first draft can be crummy, because I always know I can go back and revise.”
Role playing is a great way to address difficult issues and help students remember what they learned. Begin with a discussion of a theme like bullies or responsibility, as discussed below, then have students pair up and act out scenarios. It is fun to improvise, but students could also prepare scripts. Conclude the activity by having students reflect on the themes and role-plays in writing.
Calvin is tormented by Tito, the bully of the 6th grade class. Have the students seen other kids getting bullied—or had it happen to them? It is likely they have, because 75% of children report being bullied. What are the best ways to deal with it? Excellent discussions of the topic can be found online at sites such as KidsHealth.org. Have students role play scenarios in which someone is being bullied or called names to get the discussion going about how best to respond. As the teacher, have fun playing the role of the bully the first time and be sure students know it is not OK to respond with physical aggression.
Like many students, Calvin comes from a single-parent family with a hard-working mom. This is one reason why he needs to learn to take on extra responsibilities like walking his little sister Darci home from school. Students should role play different scenarios from the books or their own lives in which they act both responsibly and irresponsibly. What does it mean to be responsible, and why is it so important?
Other issues raised in the books that would make good role-plays include carelessness, guilt, apologies, sacrifices, starting a new school year, and following rules.
Local talk vs. Standard English
Make a chart on the board with two columns: “Local Talk” and “Standard English.” Ask students to identify words, phrases and ways of speaking used by Calvin and the other characters in the books that are unique to Hawaii or different from Standard English. List these under “Local Talk,” and then ask the students how they could say the same thing in a formal way. Record these in the “Standard English” column. Then ask the students to list words or ways of speaking that they use personally that are not part of Standard English. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of language? When is it appropriate to use local talk or slang, and when is Standard English required?
This activity helps students to value local dialects and cultures, as well as the importance of being able to use Standard English. Martha Demientieff, a Native Alaskan teacher, inspired the idea with a bulletin board she created with areas for “Our Heritage Language” and “Formal English.”
Apart from calling Calvin names like “Coco-dork,” Tito is always ripping him off. Students can write their own word problems in which Calvin or another character loses money or other stuff to Tito, and then trade them with a friend to solve. What other kinds of math word problems could they create for each other? Examples:
- Calvin had $4.00 and Tito took $1.75. How much did Calvin have left?
- Calvin has $3.75, but Tito takes one-third for himself. How much does Calvin have left?
- Maya, Julio, Willy, and Calvin each want a drink that costs $1.50. How much will they need in total? How much will they need in total if they are also charged a deposit of 5 cents per can? How much will they need in total if Tito takes one of the drinks and they need to buy another one?
- Kimchee at Uncle Scoop’s Lucky Lunch costs $3.00, but Rubin only has $2.15. How much more does he need to buy it?
- Maya and Calvin each have a skateboard costing $22.50. How much did they spend for both boards? How much did they spend including 4% sales tax?
The “Coco Math” activity sheet on the Calvin Coconut website lists these problems, which students can use as warm-ups/examples. How many different ways can students think of to solve problems like these? Which methods are the fastest? Challenge: What is the most difficult problem they can create and still solve successfully?
A large centipede Calvin brings to class causes chaos when he escapes. Safely back in his jar, however, he becomes Manly Stanley, the class pet. Have students research centipedes to learn more about them. Do they really have 100 legs? How many different kinds of centipedes are there? How long do they live and how long can they grow? Where do they live and what do they eat? Why do insects like centipedes tend to grow so large in tropical environments like Hawaii? Students could also research a different organism, such as one that lives in your local area.
Students can take a cue from Calvin and collect a common organism of their choice, and then go a step further to create a self-contained habitat in which it can thrive. They should first research the organism to learn more about it. Will it prefer a wet or dry habitat? Sun or shade? What does it eat? Students should also use trial and error to determine its preferred foods and conditions and then record the data in a science journal or computer spreadsheet. What other data can they observe and record? For example, when does it sleep and eat? How long and wide is it? Is it social or hostile with others of its kind? Students should draw, photograph, or video tape their “pets” and return them to the wild when they have collected sufficient data. Their findings can be shared with others through a poster, book, presentation, film, blog, or website.
“Class pets” can be educational, but there is no substitute for observing organisms in their natural environment. Calvin observes insects, birds and other organisms in and around his home; what organisms can students identify in their own neighborhood or local natural areas? Their discoveries can be recorded in a special field guide notebook, or they can create their own by simply folding pieces of paper in half and stapling along the fold. In it they can draw or paste in pictures of each organism and record data about each; such as color(s), approximate size, and number observed together. Students can research the organisms using print or online sources or even contact experts on a particular species and add the details they learn to their guides. Completed guides can be shared with other students around the school, their parents, and/or other members of the community during a “Celebration of Learning” day or similar event.
The visual information in the map at the start of each Calvin Coconut book helps readers to better understand Calvin’s world. A fun activity that will build geographic literacy, spatial awareness, and knowledge of their own communities is to have students draw “mental maps” of their own neighborhoods. They should include the types of features found in Calvin’s map: homes, schools, stores, roads, parks and natural features. A compass rose which marks north, south, east and west would also be beneficial. Students can then check them for accuracy by trying to use them to navigate the neighborhood or by comparing them to an actual paper or online map. Did they place features in the correct relative locations? Encourage students to draw a second, more accurate map, and then color it in with colored pencils or crayons. Mental maps can also be created for your town, state or country.
Boot Camp Rules
Mr. Purdy runs a tight ship in his 4th grade class. Do students think his rules (p. 57 in Trouble Magnet) are good ones? Why are rules important and how do they compare to your class rules? Have students create a list of rules that would apply to everyone in society—not just kids in school—and then share them with the class. Why do they think living by their rules would make the world a better place?