Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Chicken Soup with Rice" by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, in the words of my students, is BAE. I love his bizarre sense of humor, and "Chicken Soup with Rice" is no exception. This book follows one of Sendak's boys through all of the months of the year as he eats up chicken soup, no matter the weather or celebration. The book notes many holidays and events in its fun, song-like rhyme scheme.

Mr. Shaw, in the kitchen, with the book.


This book can reach young preschool all the way up to third grade (It is AR Level 3.2.). I love using it year-round in programs that allow celebration of holidays (or at least studying of holidays). So here are some ideas to use with the book...

1. Sing, Memorize, and Preform:

Awhile back, Psychology Today shared an article (here) that discusses why we should memorize, and I tend to agree. So my belief is we should memorize a new poem, song, or quote at least once a year. That goes for kids, too.

One way to do this is to take Sendak's book and use it month-by-month. What I did in my K-2 class was this:

In August, the first month of school for us, I made a photocopy of page 20, August. I then posted that copy in my Calendar Corner, and each day we sat down to do the calendar, we read the poem (well, we actually sang it, thanks to Carole King).

Each month I would change the photocopy and we would move on to the next part of the poem, leaving the other one up just behind the new one. Every first day of the month we would spend time spiraling back to the old poems. The result?

In June, our last month of school, my Kindergarten, first and second grade class had memorized 11 of the 12 stanzas. I squeezed in one more in the last week, July, and then the kids got up at Open House and sang the entire poem. 

Parents were amazed, and I was happy. It just goes to show how much we can do if we slow down and take it one step at a time.

2. Write the Recipe: 

There are only two ingredients that are mentioned in the book: chicken and rice. But you can do much more. For those of you soup lovers (sadly, I am not a soup man), there are many additions to make a soup flavorful: salt, pepper, carrots, and... well, you get the idea.

I start this project by showing kids real recipes from cookbooks or online--like Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray. I remind them someone, Ms. Stewart or Ms. Ray perhaps, has written it. This is real writing! We make a list of what elements make a typical recipe. The kids note they list ingredients, amounts of each ingredient, step-by-step instructions, numbers organizing the instructions, and a photo of the finished dish are all commonly noted elements.

Once they have seen recipes, I show them ones to make soup. We talk about the process and common tasks: boiling, simmering, chopping, and such. I write these terms on a word wall. After assembling this list, I talk to kids about what they like to eat, and we imagine which of those ingredients would make the best soup--a soup so good you'd want to eat it every month of the year. The only two required ingredients are chicken and rice--and even those can be thrown out since I will deal with kids who are vegan/vegetarian or those who don't eat rice (I don't know who that would be, but I assume there are some out there).  We list the ingredients on the word wall, and then I give the official task:

Write a recipe to make a "slurp-it-up-every-month-of-the-year" kind of soup. With all of the prep work, the kids should now be well prepared to construct their own recipes. Have the kids mimic the format studied and even use a book, online source, or a printout as a guide.

Once finished, have the kids illustrate a picture of their perfect soup.

The above mentioned starting page for my class to learn the poem.
3. Quick Watercolor Project:

Above, I mentioned I copy the pages of this book; I also make additional black and white copies and have students watercolor them. Regular printer paper works great, but if you have watercolor paper I suggest printing the pages on that--the quality is great. Either way, I adore the kids' color choices, and the project is really short and, more or less, open ended fun. Simple and fun.

4. Sequence and Reading Game:

I continue to make copies of the book (EEK! I am suddenly concerned with copyright laws), and I have a page for each kid (if you have more than 12 as most teachers do, have kids form pairs and work together on a page or divide the class in half and make it a competition between the two sides). Give a page to each child and have the kids read them to themselves. Then, after all have read their pages, have each child get out of his/her chair and try to get organized in the proper month order--January, February, March, etc. To test if they got the order correct, have the kids read/sing their pages aloud. You can do the game a second time by having kids trade papers.

The game is fun and is a way for kids to practice sequencing the months, get a chance to practice reading, and to work in a team. The same project can be duplicated with a child on his/her own and you can time him/her to keep the excitement alive.

5. Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!

1. Which month of the year offers the best time for eating Chicken Soup with Rice? Why?
2. If you could convince the author to change the food from soup to another dish, what would you like? What makes that dish so good?
3. When you look at the poem, what do you notice about its structure? Are there the same amount of lines? Do any repeat? Why does the author/poet do this?
4. We don't know much about the boy in the book, other than his love for Chicken Soup with Rice. Write a story that tells how he came to fall in love with his soup.
5. If you wanted to convince someone to eat your favorite food, how would you convince them?

I hope you enjoy this catchy classic, "Chicken Soup with Rice"... And I hope you and your kids are inspired to cook up some fun together.

Happy learning!

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