Sunday, April 13, 2008

Surviving the Applewhites - Classroom Activities

Watch The Sound of Music before reading Surviving the Applewhites. Chances are some students won't be excited about a musical, especially the 1965 three-hour variety, but most won't complain about time off from class. If there are complaints, they usually peak at the "The Lonely Goatherd" (High on a hill was a lonely goatherd - Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo), but when the Nazis show up, everyone is paying attention. Use the opportunity to discuss WWII or connect the movie with a Social Studies lesson, but make sure they have that background knowledge before reading the book.

Create a poster for each character. Students can work in pairs, and each pair is responsible for one character. As characters are introduced, their posters are added, and as more is learned about the characters, students add details to the picture and descriptive phrases around the picture. Display these in the room as you read. Include Jake, E.D., Destiny, Randolph, Sybil, Aunt Lucile, Uncle Archie, Cordelia, Zedediah, Hal, Jeremy Bernstein, and Govindaswammi.

Use RAFTS writing to teach Voice in student work. (RAFTS stands for Role, Audience, Format, Topic, and Strong Verb.) Focus on characters emotions and traits - Jake's attitude, E.D.'s frustration, Jeremy's belief that the Applewhite family would make a great TV documentary. Possibilities include Jake's thoughts about staying with the Applewhites in a journal entry, an email from Jeremy to the TV people, and E.D.'s lists as being stage manager.

In Chapter 13 we learn that Randolph has been blasting the soundtrack of The Sound of Music throughout Wit's End. (I chuckle just thinking about this...) The day you are to read Chapter 13, have the soundtrack playing when students arrive. Quietly, but playing nevertheless. Keep it on all day. Through attendance, math, science ... constantly. If reading isn't early in the day, you may want to reschedule so kids understand what's happening. They are being, as Randolph states, "totally immersed in the musical ambiance of the show."

This is where my friend and I still giggle. I got numerous emails and phone message from parents - all positive, thankfully: "We heard about it the minute he sat down in the car, and yes, now we are all singing. He's looking for earplugs for tomorrow." "Mr. Wilhorn, I probably will be singing tonight in my sleep AND aloud to annoy my dad!" "Just wanted you to know my son came out of the bathroom singing I am sixteen..." "Yes, [my daughter] came home singing, which totally annoyed her brother, but I think she got the point of the story." "At the moment she is serenading the dog."

Do you think students will understand E.D. when she says it's torture? Randolph has played it for five days straight! E.D. mentions hearing about the FBI blasting rock and roll music at militant cults to end a siege. She's convinced if they used The Sound of Music, the cult would "come out on their hands and knees...singing compulsively about female deer and kitten whiskers."

Wrap up the unit by creating newspapers featuring a review of the play, a news article about the events of opening night, a feature article about the Amazing Applewhites or other story related news articles.

Do you have other ideas? Have you done something creative with Surviving the Applewhites? Post your ideas or comments below.


  1. A great activity that I have done with my class is a Talk Show type activity. Put the students in groups of about 5. Give one person the job of the talk show host, and then give the other students a character to be. If the resources are available in the school, have them dress up like the character. Also, provide a common talk-show intro-music to have them walk into. Have the host ask the students questions relating to the book and the character. Maybe asking E.D. about her curriculum, or ask Cordelia about her music. The funniest is the person who has Hal. One student hid behind a sheet the whole time and just made hand motions. The kids were hysterical. It's a lot of fun and it allows the students to really indulge in the characters.

    Hope you found this helpful!

  2. Hal and the hand motions - that's hilarious! I can see how a lot of students would get into this.

    Thanks for the suggestion. It's a great idea.


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