"Thunder Cake" is the story of how Patricia Polacco conquered her childhood fear of Michigan thunderstorms with the assistance of her grandmother. The story can assist in one of two lessons for students: (1) It teaches children that they have the courage within, to overcome their fears, or (2) "Thunder Cake" can act as a "lead in" to a lesson about weather (specifically, thunderstorms). Below, are discussion questions and activity ideas for both lessons, along with links to a website about thunderstorms.
Discussion Questions: Be sure that your students understand that it is okay to be afraid of something. If you are going to open your classroom up for discussion, it is important to contribute your own examples, so students understand that even adults have fears. The idea behind these questions is to empower children to want to overcome their fears, without necessarily persuading them to try. (*See Below)
1. What fear did Patricia overcome in "Thunder Cake"? How?
2. If Patricia hadn't eaten any Thunder Cake, would she still have conquered her fear? (The answer is obviously "yes" because it was in the preparation of the cake that Patricia overcame her fear, not the cake itself... She had to go outside, despite the impending storm to gather ingredients. You can also use this question to demonstrate that there are different ways to overcome the same fear. After all, a child in your classroom may have defeated his/her fear of thunderstorms a different way
3. What are some of the fears you have had, and how did you overcome them? (See the Question of the Week)
4. How did you feel when you overcame your fear?
5. If you could do anything at all, fearlessly, what would it be? (This question challenges children to examine their fears, without necessarily having to vocalize them. Try leading into this question with a personal example... "If I was fearless, and could do anything at all, I would climb a mountain or travel into space.")
6. Note: These questions may only be appropriate for older children, or in certain classroom environments... What is something you are still afraid of? (As it may be uncomfortable for children to vocalize their fears, begin by telling your students about something that you are still afraid of, even as an adult... spiders, darkness, etc.) Do you intend to overcome this fear, and if so, then how? (If you ask the latter question, be ready to offer your own suggestions.* A child may want to overcome a fear of water, but have no idea how to go about it. You could suggest they ask their parent or someone they trust, to accompany them to swimming lessons.)
1. Have your students draw a picture of something they were/are afraid of. Suggest they draw themselves in the picture, triumphing over that fear. For example, if a child is afraid of trains, have them draw a picture of themselves sitting on a train. For younger students, you may want to focus only on fears that they have already conquered, as it may be difficult for some students to imagine themselves triumphing over a fear they still have.
2. Print off the National Severe Storms Laboratory color-in of "Bill, Maria and the Thunderstorm" to color @ http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/bm/bm02_title.html. Have them draw a picture of themselves, standing with Bill and Maria and/or have them draw the lightning in the background.
3. Rather than printing off the color-in, have your students draw their own interpretations of thunderstorms.
4. Print off the Thunder Cake mini-poster that illustrates the process Patricia underwent to overcome her fear of thunderstorms. Have your students color on the back, the process they once took to overcome a fear they used to have (Discussion Question #3 and Question of the Week).
5. Test your students' knowledge of the book with the Thunder Cake quiz.
6. BAKE THUNDER CAKE FOR YOUR STUDENTS!!
National Severe Storms Laboratory Links (for those instructors interested in teaching about weather or thunderstorms):
For the NSSL homepage: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/
For Questions and Answers about Thunderstorms: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/storm/
For additional weather and climate resources: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/resources/
For additional Bill and Maria color-ins: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/bm/bm_main.html
*In light of recent tragic events, it is understandable that children may fear terrorism, and come to you, their teacher, for a solution to that fear. If you open a discussion within your clasroom about fears (See Questions 5 & 6), be ready with suggestions or advice, but be sure to consult your school's guidelines on dealing with such delicate subject matter.
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