Monday, November 14, 2016

Gingerbread Man Series as Mentor Text

 Let’s go on a scavenger hunt!  With a book!

Picture books can be wonderful mentor texts for student writing skills and curriculum connections. Being a former teacher, I thoroughly enjoy writing the adventure series about a little “class-made” Gingerbread Man, but I also strive to weave fun “teachable” writing threads in the stories as well.

Here’s a bit about the Gingerbread Man’s latest adventure and a few ideas on how to use it as a writing mentor text.

 The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo begins as the Gingerbread Man and his classmates are trying to solve riddles on a field trip scavenger hunt! But a zoo full of critters is a tricky place for a tasty cookie – even a very fast one. Some of the creatures find the smart cookie to be a tempting treat and he gets separated from his class. After a few narrow escapes, the Gingerbread Man meets someone else who is lost and they team up to follow the riddles to get back where they belong.  

It’s so much fun for readers to be able to interact with a story. The animal riddles in the text are written so that the reader gets a chance to solve the riddle clues, before the answer is revealed by a page turn.

The first animal riddle is, “I’m spotted. I’m gentle. I’m tall as a tree. A branch full of leaves is the best snack for me. I have a new baby and she is my calf. ‘Ah-ha!’ we all shouted, ‘The answer’s… (page turn)  Giraffe!’”

Each riddle in the book has many descriptors of the animal, and rhymes that help the reader predict the animal.  Let your students try their hand at these riddle writing and vivid verbs activities.

A Student Riddle Writing Activity

Writing riddles is a fun way to practice skills such as prediction, researching animal attributes, and using descriptive vocabulary and vivid verbs.

Have students pick an animal and then answer these questions to come up with descriptors for that animal. This could be done as a group or individually.

·       What does the animal look like? Color? Size?
·       Where does the animal live? Habitat?
·       What sound does the animal make?
·       What does the animal eat?
·       Words that describe how the animal moves.
·       What is the animal’s baby called?
·       Do you know the species of the animal?
·       Does the animal have personality traits? Like sneaky or stealthy?

Then students can use the descriptors to write a riddle. (The riddles don’t need to rhyme, but they can if the students happen to find a rhyme that works.)

·       Here are links to two handouts with animal rhyming words if your students are interested in the challenge.

o   Animal–Related Rhymes by Laura Murray

Using Vivid Verbs  

The Gingerbread man and the animals are very active in the story. By using very vivid verbs to describe the way they move and react, it helps readers visualize the story better than ordinary verbs that aren’t very descriptive. 

Here are some vivid verbs that are used in the story -

·       Vivid Verbs - jumped, popped, scooped, wiggle, jiggle, zoomed, swing, glanced, scurry, screech, dodged, squeezed, waved, slurped, spied, raced, flew, snuffled, shuffled, slumped, hopped, sprang

Challenge your students to replace the common verbs listed below with vivid descriptive verbs, and then use some of those verbs in sentences / stories, or revise a piece of writing they’ve previously written.

·       Ordinary Verbs – walked, saw, ran, looked, put, went, was, moved, drank, said, get, took, ate, gave, made

And here are a few more student connections that you might explore with the book:  
·       sequencing of the animals as they appear in the story
·       map skills
·       problem solving

In the story, the Gingerbread Man knows that creative problem solving, determination, and helping others along the way, will get him where he needs to go. I hope that your students have fun with these activities and can call on these same qualities as they approach their own writing journeys.

Laura Murray was a teacher before becoming an author and had to deal with many an escaped Gingerbread Man in her time. She is the author of the award-winning rhyming picture book series – The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas, and The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo.  Laura lives with her family in northern Virginia and loves speaking at schools about reading, writing, and creating. Visit her online at and on Twitter @LauraMurrayBook.

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