Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using Captain Underpants in the Classroom

The New Captain Underpants Collection (Books 1-5)

I came up with this idea after seeing what must now be hundreds of Dav Pilkey books in classrooms.  Boys in elementary school seem to have their eyes permanently affixed to Pilkey’s various graphic novels, and I think many would enjoy any classroom activity that uses the stories.

Pilkey has written several popular series, including the Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot books.

I’m most familiar with the Captain Underpants books.  The books contain a series of what the author calls “mini-comics” created by a few of the characters.  Pilkey says he wants to inspire kids to create stories without worrying about perfection.  It’s a noble endeavor; many kids forsake the writing process, and expressing their ideas creatively, simply because they struggle with spelling and grammar.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with giving students a bit of practice with spelling and grammar, especially if you’re using one of their favorite books.  One of the issues many kids have with spelling or “sentence editing” practice is that they are bored with the typical skills practice sheets and language arts texts. 

Try using those Captain Underpants novels instead!  The “mini-comics” are full of spelling and grammatical errors.  Here are a few example pages.  Kids who enjoy the novel can engage in a “scavenger hunt” activity to find a certain amount of mistakes in each of the mini-comics, rewrite the sentences correctly, and check their responses with a partner.  Chances are they will be more engaged by the activity because they are using an enjoyable text rather than a dull worksheet.  This is essentially the same method used by Caught'ya! and other story-based editing activities, but Pilkey novels (and others like them) offer the chance to use stories that are likely already familiar to and beloved by students.

 The activity could be a writing center or “word work” station.

Here are a few more ideas:

·      Follow Pilkey’s example and encourage students to create their own “mini-comics.”   You can have them make purposeful mistakes to trade with a partner and “hunt” for errors, or they can be a chance to write and create stories without worrying about corrections.
·      For a more challenging activity that explores the use of voice in writing, ask students to work backwards with the mini-comic format, translating correct sentences or scenes from another book into a comic created by George and Harold.
·      Use the official teacher’s guide to Pilkey novels.  This spelling/grammar editing is actually recommended within it, so it looks like my idea is on the right track!  There are also tons of other activities listed, such as writing a letter to a favorite character, as well as designing a robot and creating an advertisement for its design.  There are also discussion questions for several of Pilkey’s novels.
·      Visit Pilkey’s official website for a lot of other information on him and his work.  There are several games on the site based on the books.  If you have Pilkey fans in your class, keep these computer games in mind as a possible reward or incentive.


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