Quick Guide to Using Gerald McDermott Books in Your Classroom

companion packs for Gerald McDermott

Do you enjoy using Gerald McDermott’s books in your classroom as much as I do?  I have been using his stories for at least 10 years since I discovered them.  He is the Caldecott Award winning author of such great stories as Coyote, Arrow to the Sun, and Raven.  He has many more titles and you can see a more expansive list below.

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companion packs for Gerald McDermott
Gerald McDermott has an extensive list of children’s books.

I just recently discovered his Greek and Roman myths stories Sun Flight and Daughter of Earth.  I will be using those when I move onto the myths and legends of the current folktale unit.  In our second trimester in my district, the third grade is focusing on the literature and fiction standards for the Common Core. All his stories are a great fit for introducing folktales.  Though his folktales are from all over the world, I start out with his Native American folktales:  Coyote, Raven and Arrow to the Sun.  The students just finished a long social studies/non-fiction unit on Native Americans and this is the perfect follow up.  This new unit will carry us through until Winter Break.

I start the unit with explaining what folktales are and how they originated (as oral storytelling passed down through the generations).  I start with a video of the story of how Raven brought light to the people (you can see the video HERE on YouTube.)  Then I read McDermott’s version of Raven and we note the differences between the oral and written versions.  The first standards I tackle at this point are RL.3.1 and RL.3.2.  I emphasize how folktale authors usually include the setting, characters and problem very near the beginning of the story to establish context.  This is important to note because I will also be teaching narrative writing this trimester as well!

From there I move on to character analysis.  Starting with the character Raven, I introduce character traits with character trait cards from my Character Traits Activities resource.  Many students do not know traits such as, superstitious, dull, generous, stingy, etc.  These cards provide a paragraph description of a character and the students must identify what trait it is that would describe the character.  From there, it was time to analyze Raven.  As you can see below, we made an anchor chart for Raven’s character traits with a tie in to cause and effect.

companion packs for Gerald McDermott
Character analysis of Raven

In the third grade standard for character description (RL.3.3) students have to be able to show how the character’s actions contribute to the story.  So my thinking is if you know a character’s traits, you’ll know the character’s motivation.  Motivation drives the character to act, hence the character’s actions affect the story.  If Raven had not been curious, he would never had searched for the light and the people would still be in darkness!

Our next standard to learn is a standard that essentially has two parts, RL.3.2:  retelling and identifying the central message.  With Raven and Coyote, we practice the art retelling.  Students have to be explicitly taught how to retell!  It’s especially important if your district, like mine, uses the DRA for reading assessment.  McDermott’s stories always have a lesson to be learned and sometimes multiple lessons as my students explained about Coyote:

  • Stay out of trouble
  • Don’t be boastful and rude
  • Respect your elders
  • Don’t go looking for revenge

As you can see, they really thought about the lessons that the character Coyote should have learned from all his troubles!  One quick and fun activity to show understanding of setting, characters and central message is to have the students make a tri-rama.  The inside/front is illustrated with the main setting, then students add pop up characters.  On the back, students write and explain what the central message is (they could also add a character analysis as well).

companion packs for Gerald McDermott
Central Message Tri-rama

Another standard I like to address with McDermott’s books is standard RL.3.7 (how illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words).  I pull a part of the text out and have the students illustrate to match or convey the meaning of the author’s words.  It’s a great lesson in how to pay attention to details in illustrations.  McDermott is also the illustrator for his books and his art is amazing.  If you are going to do a lesson with this standard, I highly recommend using Arrow to the Sun.  The fact that the first part of the story is done is desert colors and the last half of the story beautiful, strong colors are introduced should be pointed out to the students so they understand the significance of the storyline (bringing the Spirit of the Lord of the Sun to the people).  

companion packs for Gerald McDermott
Illustrating a part of the text.

If you are interested in finding out more about the companion packs available for books by Gerald McDermott, click HERE to go to my store and check out all my companion packs.

companion packs Gerald McDermott
Available in my store!
companion packs Gerald McDermott
9 different standards addressed!

 My students can’t wait to hear the next story by this author.  We will continue to use his stories all through the second trimester, including tackling Common Core standards RL.3.9, which is about comparing and contrasting themes, settings and plots of stories by the same author.  If you’ve used McDermott’s stories, go ahead and share your activities below!

Two Boys and a Dad
Two Boys and a Dad

I’m a single dad raising two boys, 14 and 11. I’m also a veteran teacher of over 30 years who has taught first, second and third grades. I’m also a trained literacy coach, served as a mentor teacher and have a Bilingual Specialist Credential. I’m currently serving as a District Math Coach.

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