Parents and elementary teachers can use the sweet children’s picture book The Chalk Box Story by Don Freeman [J. B. Lippincott Company: 1976; ISBN: 0-397-31699-2] with these educational activity ideas for reading and art lesson plans about cooperation and artistic creation for preschoolers, kindergartners, and early elementary students.
In this charming tale by the author of Corduroy, eight colors in a box of chalk work together to draw a picture that turns into a wordless story about a little boy who needs to be rescued from an island.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Preview a Book and Make Predictions
Read the title and ask children to share examples of things they might do with a box of chalk. Then display the pictures on the front and back covers and have kids identify what items they can see in the back cover picture (island, turtle, boat, etc.) and discuss what kind of story could be told about the items in this picture.
Next, flip through the illustrations inside the book and have children make predictions about what this story might be about. Remind kids to listen as you read to check to see if their predictions were correct.
Preschool Learning Skills Activity – Identify Colors
Before reading each page where a new color of chalk takes its turn drawing to add another object to the picture, have preschoolers and kindergarteners examine the illustrations, name the color of chalk shown, and identify what it has added to the picture.
To extend the activity, have boys and girls name some other objects that are these same colors.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Analyze Characters
Even though they are just sticks of chalk, the colors in this book have personalities that can be analyzed. It may help children to analyze them together as a box, however, because the chalk sticks do not necessarily have distinct personalities.
Help kids look at what the chalk sticks say, feel, and do so that they can describe their characters. Prompt with questions such as:
- What does it tell you about the chalk sticks that at the beginning of the book they are “waiting to get out” of their box? (Children may say that the colors are excited about the chance to get to do something.)
- Think about the first thing the colors do once they get out of their box. What does this tell you about what is important to them? (Children may say that the first thing the colors do is to start making a picture, so creating art is important to them.)
- How would you describe the way the colors work together to make their picture? Do they disagree or do they get along? (Children may say that the colors do a good job cooperating and that they draw things that go together to make up a story.)
- How do Purple and Black feel about the boy? How can you tell? (Children may say that they both care about him. Purple draws something for the boy to play with so he won’t feel sad, and Black draws a boat to rescue him.)
- Why are the sticks of chalk happy at the end of the story when they close their box lid? (Children may say that they are happy that they made a good story together and that the boy was saved in the end.)
Have children finish by thinking up some words and phrases that describe the colors. For example: creative, good at cooperating, good at taking turns, care about other people.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Identifying Text Structure
Help children study the text structure of The Chalk Box Story and discuss the problem the characters face and how they solve it.
Note that in a way, there are two stories going on in this book. In one, the chalk sticks draw a picture. In the second, the turtle helps the little boy escape from the island.
- Begin by having kids identify who the characters are (the chalk sticks, the little boy, the turtle).
- Then, have kids identify the two settings. (the place where the colors are drawing on paper; the island in the picture)
- Next, discuss the parts of the story. Ask: What happens at the beginning of this book? (The colors come out of the box and begin drawing a picture.)
- What happens during the middle of the story? (Each color adds an object to the picture to tell a story about a little boy on an island.)
- What problem do the colors need to solve? (They want to help the little boy get rescued from the island.)
- How do the colors try to solve the problem? (Black draws a ship to rescue him. White and Red draw a HELP ME flag.) Do you agree with Blue that there is nothing more they can do to change their sad picture? Why or why not? (Children may suggest that the colors could draw some more things to try to help the boy or erase and redraw part of the picture.)
- Who finally solves the problem and how? (The turtle does by carrying the boy to the ship.)
- What happens at the end of the book? (The ship sails away with the boy, the turtle goes to sleep, and the chalk sticks return to their box.)
As an extension activity for more advanced students, discuss at what point the picture the chalk sticks are making of the island changes from just a picture to a story with a narrative and characters who face a conflict. You can focus on the moment when Purple wonders why the boy looks sad and talk about how adding feelings to the boy changes him from just a picture to a character who might act like a real person. Then review the point where the conflict comes in and have kids identify how the island plot is resolved (the turtle takes matters in his own hands and saves the boy).
Elementary Art Activity – Drawing With Chalk on Paper
Preschoolers, kindergartners, and other primary students may have only had the experience of drawing with chalk on a blackboard or on concrete or asphalt sidewalks and driveways outside. Explain that the author and illustrator of The Chalk Box Story, Don Freeman, was a well-trained and very creative artist who used many different kinds of art materials to draw the pictures for his books (such as Corduroy), including oil paints, watercolor paints, crayons, and chalk.
- Display a few illustrations from the book and point out to children places where Freeman made the pictures using watercolors (the chalk box and its shadow) and places where he used chalk (the chalk sticks themselves and the picture they create). Discuss why he might have used these different tools for the different parts of the illustrations.
- Provide children with sticks of colored blackboard, sidewalk, or drawing chalk and sheets of good quality paper and let them experiment with the kinds of marks they can make with chalk. To extend the activity, give kids crayons as well and have them compare the different effects they can make with each type of art tool.
- Point out that one way chalks differ from crayons is that chalk sticks are dusty and their colors can be smudged and blended well on a page. As an example, display the last few pages of the book where the sun is setting and the sky and waves are suddenly full of many different shades of pink, orange, and purple. Have children play with smudging the marks of their own chalk sticks to blend bands of color.
- For older or more advanced students, use the illustrations from The Chalk Box Story to introduce the concept of perspective in drawing. Point out how the boat looks tiny because it is drawn “off in the distance” and how the boy and the turtle look smaller when the creature carries the boy to the ship. Have kids practice drawing close and faraway objects in perspective.
- As an extension activity, you can also use Freeman’s pictures to demonstrate how shading and colors can indicate the passage of time. Have children compare and contrast the way the island appears in the last few illustrations with how it appears earlier in the book and on the back cover. Discuss what time of day (or night) is shown in each picture and how Freeman uses details and colors to make the time clear. Then have kids use chalk and paper to draw several pictures of the same place at different times of the day.
Cooperative Art Project – Make a Group Picture
Have kids recall the way the chalk colors worked together to make their picture. Then assign each child in a group a different color of chalk and have the children take turns drawing objects on a piece of paper to make a picture together. Allow children drawing later to add details and shading to the objects already drawn, the way Purple in the book adds designs to the green turtle’s shell.
Performance Art Activity – Give a Chalk Talk
Tell children that Don Freeman enjoyed traveling to libraries and colleges to perform what he called chalk talks. A friend built him a mechanical easel that would keep a roll of paper constantly moving, and often Freeman would use fluorescent chalks that glowed in the dark under an ultraviolet light to draw a series of pictures for children to enjoy. Sometimes, he might tell a story while he drew the pictures and played music in the background. Other times, he might tell wordless stories by drawing pictures on large sheets.
To provide kids with an idea of what one of these chalk talks might have been like, play them “The Lollipop Opera,” a short movie Freeman made with filmmaker Glenn Johnson in 1971 that sets the story of a little boy’s haircut to music from the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. The movie relies on cuts and edits to transform parts of the drawing into interactive props, but it still demonstrates a creative way to tell a wordless story through large pictures (and music) alone.
Once children have become familiar with the concept of a chalk talk, provide groups with the supplies they need to plan and perform their own chalk talk stories. Materials might include recorded music, instruments with which some group members can play live music and make sound effects, large sheets of paper taped to a wall, and chalk sticks (or crayons, oil pastels, or markers). As they plan, suggest that kids consider whether they will tell their stories strictly through drawings or incorporate music and narration, and how they might divide the drawing and music/narration duties among the members of the group.
For more ideas for teaching kids about creating pictures with many colors, making art, and drawing with chalk, check out chalk art projects such as sidewalk chalk comic strips and wet chalk painting, as well as educational activity ideas and lesson plans for: