The classic childrens novel by E.B. White opens a world of possibilities for classroom projects and lesson plans. Full of themes involving friendship, loyalty, farm animals, this list goes on and on. In fact, we have a rather long list, submitted by another one of the dedicated T2T contributors. While these ideas aren’t complete lesson plans, we know a little creativity can go a long way.
1. Fern thinks that her father is being unreasonable about getting rid of the smallest pig. He says, “A weakling makes trouble.” What does that mean to you and what did that mean to Fern? (Fern describes her father’s behavior as an injustice to all small and weak. She asks if her own life would have been taken if she were not born an appropriate size.)
2. What does Wilbur do that shows that although he is cute and cuddly, he still behaves like a pig? (He grunted, he poked around in the straw with his snout, he played in the mud that was warm and moist, and delightfully sticky and oozy.)
3. The author describes things in this chapter by referring to the senses. Can you find examples of things that the author lets you see, hear, smell, or feel? (The barn smelled of hay, manure, the perspiration of tired horses, the sweet breath of patient cows, grain, harness dressing, axle grease, rubber boots and fish. See: ladders, grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, etc., Feel: warm in winter, cool in summer; Hear: the animals, the people yelling, Wilbur eating, Lurvy hammering.) Why do you think the other animals got excited when Wilbur got free? (They were happy that an animal got free; they knew that the people would try to catch him.) Was the goose trying to be helpful when she told Wilbur how to get out or as she trying to get him into trouble? (probably helpful but she might have gotten tired of listening to him complain)
4. Why do you think someone would want to be Wilbur’s friend? If you were there how would you convince someone that Wilbur would make a good friend?
5. What does, “Your stomach is empty and your mind is full” mean? Can you think of a character in another story who seemed cruel at first but was actually good and true in the end? (The Selfish Giant,The Grinch, etc.) *But what a gamble friendship is.
6. “Early summer days are a jubilee time for birds” – Are there other animals or insects that you think about as celebrating at this time of the year?
7. The animals think that the humans are in a conspiracy about butchering the pigs; what do you think the humans would say?
8. Does Mr. Arable really believe that animals talk or is he teasing Mrs. Arable? * Kids think they hear all sorts of things.
9. Charlotte says, “I know a good thing when I see it. I stay put and wait for what comes.” How does she say that people act? Why does a spider need legs with seven sections? (for crafting the webs) What could you do if your legs had seven sections? How old do you think Charlotte is? What do you think her advice to Wilbur makes her sound like?
10. Fern and Avery like to swing. What other things do they like to do that you like to do? (catch a frog, pick raspberries and eat them, want to build a treehouse) How did the various people and animals react to the egg? (Fern screamed, Avery jumped and ran, the animals complained about the odor; Lurvy complained, then covered the egg with dirt.) * People are not as smart as bugs. * Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.
11. How did the different people react to the words in the web? (Lurvy got faint and then knelt and said a prayer; Lurvy and Mr. Zuckerman trembled; Lurvy and the Zuckermans stared for an hour; Mr. Zuckerman went to talk to the minister; people came from all over to stare; the Zuckermans got so busy with visitors that they forgot to do other things on the farm.) This chapter contains several similes. Tell the children that a simile is a comparison that contains like or as. Give an example. Similes – Grass looked like a magic carpet. Asparagus patch looked like a silver forest. The web glistened in the light and made a pattern of loveliness and mystery, like a delicate veil. *Secrets are hard to keep.
12. How do you think Templeton feels about what the old sheep says? (He is worried. He doesn’t want to have to do things for others but he knows that his life depends on it.) * People believe almost everything they see in print.
13. How do you think Lurvy feels about Wilbur when he finds out all the extra work he has to do? (Lurvy might feel proud of Wilbur and want him to look good, or he could feel angry that now he has extra work to do.) Is radiant a good description for Wilbur? What word would you choose?
14. Dr. Dorian says two very important things: “Children pay better attention than grownups” and “Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more.” Do you agree with him?
15. If the crickets warn everybody that summer is almost over can you think of some animals and insects that would listen, and what would they do to get ready for the fall and winter? Are you versatile? How? Can you think of someone else who is? When Wilbur says that he realized that friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world what did he mean?
16. How do you think Charlotte and Templeton will help at the fair?
17. Why doesn’t “Uncle” have a real name? Do you think that has anything to do with the way he treats others?
18. What do you think is happening to Fern that she is suddenly so interested in Henry Fussy? (Fern is growing up; she is interested in boys.) Why does Templeton call Charlotte “you old schemer”? Is that supposed to be a compliment?
19. Charlotte calls her egg sack a “magnum opus” and a “masterpiece.” What does this say about how she feels about her eggs? Why do you think so many eggs are contained in the egg sack? (Many of the new spiders will be killed. It is important that there are a lot of them so they will live.) When Fern starts to cry do you think it is because of Wilbur? (probably not, she wants to go and find Henry)
20. Why does Wilbur get an award? (because he attracts so many visitors to the fair) What do you think it says on his bronze medal?
21. This chapter covers such important and sensitive information that it is best enjoyed as is.
22. What would you tell Joy, Aranea, and Nellie about Wilbur?
23. Students are asked to select two characters from the book and complete sentences that identify when the character behaved that particular way.
24. Students are asked to identify occasions when Templeton is helpful to the other characters in the book. Students check off boxes as they complete the assignment.
25. Students are asked to design the medal that Wilbur wins at the fair.
26. Students are asked to illustrate the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of either the farm or the fair.
27. Dream Catcher – Students follow directions to make a dream catcher like the Chippewa and other Native Americans once made. The dream catcher is similar in appearance to a spider web; here bad dreams get caught and disappear when the sun comes up while good dreams float through the web, down the feather, and onto the person sleeping beneath it.
Dream Catcher Instructions
White paper plate, 9″
Yarn, about 12″
Beads, a feather
Masking tape, pencil, scissors, hole punch
Draw a ring inside the rim of the paper plate. Cut out the center of the plate to the inside edge of the ring. Then cut off the outside rim of the plate to the outside edge of the ring. Punch about 16 holes around the ring. Wrap masking tape around one end of the yarn. Push the taped end of the yarn through a hole and pull through leaving about 3″ extending out. Start to make a web by pulling the yarn through another hole and crisscrossing the yarn across the center to fill every hole. End the web by bringing the taped end of the yarn back to the first hole and tying to the other end. Cut a piece of the remaining yarn and draw it through the bottom 2 holes. Even the ends and place beads on them. Slip a feather into the beads. Hang the dream catcher.
28. Another example is of how Charlotte’s Web can be a great opportunity to review nouns and teach adjectives. One contributor writes: “It’s full of singular, plural, possessive, common, proper nouns & ‘terrific’ adjectives. In October, we brainstormed for adjectives that express characteristics (specifically emotions and feelings). Then each child selected an adjective and created a pumpkin that illustrated this adjective. They used markers & scrap construction paper to create these personality pumpkins. We put them on the hallway board, added a pig & spider, & chose a caption (Awesome adjectives, Charlotte!).You could use something besides a pumpkin. I just do it in October it helps me avoid the more traditional jack-o-lanterns.”
29. Guide the students through a discussion on the qualities of a friend. List their responses. Have them match the traits from their list with the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur. (This could be extended into a prewriting activity and even into a first draft writing.)
30. Have students draw their favorite characters. Then they can add things to the picture that the character likes, such as Wilbur eating any food that is given to him.
31. Write about the adventures of one of Charlotte’s children.
32. Create a “billboard ad” for the County Fair. In the ad, they should feature Zuckerman’s pig.
33. This story is full of facts about spiders. Have the students create a learning log in which they will record different “spider facts” that the learn. They can also add pictures and any other data that they discover. Some things that they could find in the story include: how a spider spins its web, the parts of a spider, different webs made by the different kinds of spiders, how a spider catches its prey (warning: This is somewhat gory), correct terminology (spiderling, spinneret, etc.) In addition, there are many facts about farm life. The students could compile information on how a farm operates and write a short report on it. This could be an oral presentation instead of a writing assignment.
34. Have the students act out their favorite parts of the stories. One student could be a narrator. *Older students could write out their favorite part as a script, and the students could make simple masks to “become” the character whom they are portraying.
35. An older class may want to collaborate with a younger class on this. The older class could design a simple puppet show and work with younger students in presenting it to a third class.
36. Take turns having students pretend that they are Wilbur. Have the rest of the class represent spiderlings asking questions they have about their mother, Charlotte.
37. Make a list of attractions at a county fair and of food that you can purchase at a fair. Include a price for each item. Then have the students make up “word problems” using the information. The problems can be written on index cards (one per card) and traded so that others can solve them. (Later these could be part of a classroom center or work station activity.) Note: The person who makes up the problem must be able to solve it also! Have the students make up the sign for the attractions and food. They can also include a price.
38. Have the students compare and contrast the novel with the play. A Venn diagram is a good graphic organizer for this activity.
39. Charlotte pays the ultimate price for her friendship with Wilbur. What is it? Why would she do such a thing? How does Wilbur try to “repay” that gesture?
40. Have the students examine the character traits of Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton, and several others in the barnyard gang. Have them discuss how the “personalities” of each contributed to the harmony (or disharmony) of living within the barnyard community. How do our personalities and traits contribute to how our classroom coexists? Our homes? Our own hometowns?
41. If the student were the director, what famous person would he or she get to play the different roles in the play? The student must explain why he or she made the choices.
42. Brainstorm the meaning of a friend
43. Write about one of your own special friends
44. Complete the sentence “A friend is _______.”
45. Give each student a copy of a web pattern and have them write the qualities of a friend on the lines…a friend is… goes in the center of the pattern. (You can also purchase plastic webs.)
46. Write poems about friends: line 1 and 5 are the name of the friend, line 2 is things the friend likes to do, line 3 and 4 are a few adjectives that describe the friend.
47. Make a diorama of either Zuckerman’s farm, the barn, or the county fair.
48. Write a letter to Wilbur giving him advice about his loneliness
49. Design a birth announcement for Wilbur
50. Write a journal entry telling about Fern and Wilbur’s first meeting
51. Make a “friendship chart” (similar to a family tree) and add to it as you read each chapter
52. Assign the roles of Wilbur, Fern, and the new babies and have students write and develop a dialogue telling the new babies about their mother.