Teaching The Phantom Tollbooth

After my foray into authentic texts with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I decided that The Phantom Tollbooth was up next. We did a month long unit on Black History in between that allowed us to delve into some biographies and other nonfiction, so I felt okay getting back on the fiction train. I chose The Phantom Tollbooth because it's a fantasy with tons of interesting characters and places that I knew my students would appreciate. But it also allows for teaching almost any literary element you can think of. You can't read the book without discussing idioms, hyperbole, and just about every other kind of figurative language. I will readily admit that this book was too challenging for my students, even as a read aloud. If I did it again, I would do it with fifth or sixth graders rather than third graders. That being said, I think they still got a lot out of it.  

As we did for Harry Potter, each student had a binder devoted to the book. For each chapter they had a packet that included five vocabulary words, a section for "before, during, after" questions, a section to answer who (characters), what (events), where, and why, a section for a prediction, and a section to retell and illustrate an event. Occasionally I would combine chapters or skip the packet entirely if we were doing a different activity. We kept character charts on sticky chart paper as we went that listed each characters' name, traits, and a picture. These were invaluable, as there are SO many characters in this book, many of whom have hard-to-remember names, especially if you don't get the pun (Faintly Macabre, Officer Short Shrift, The Whether Man). A look at the number of charts we had to make (above) reveals just how many.

A couple of activities we did throughout the book:
  • We created the word orchard from Dictionopolis (see below), and added our new vocabulary words from each chapter
  • We made dodecahedrons with 12 "faces" (which got brought out again during a geometry unit!) to better understand the character the Dodecahedron form Digitopolis (see above)
  • We colored the kind of sunrise we would conduct after Milo took over for Chroma the Great and made the sunrise all different crazy colors
  • We practiced visualizing by drawing the story that Faintly Macabre tells Milo when they're in jail, and then saw how someone else visualized it by watching that section of the movie (on YouTube for free here)
  • As a cumulative project, each student chose a place in The Phantom Tollbooth and wrote a persuasive paragraph on why you should visit there along with creating a travel brochure-style poster. 

After we finished the book the students watched the whole movie (which doubled as a prize for learning all of their Dolch sight words), which provided the great pleasure of hearing them debate the virtues of the book vs. the movie. 

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