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GLOBAL ISSUES IN LANGUAGE
EDUCATION NEWSLETTER
Autumn 1998 - Issue No. #32 (p.12-13)

You Can Teach a Sneetch!

Peace Education with Dr. Seuss

by Irma K. Ghosn

Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon

The Sneetches: Story Information


Text: Sneetches and Other Stories. by Dr. Seuss. N.Y.: Random House, 1961.
Themes: prejudice, stereotyping, snobbery
Grade: written for children Grades 4 - 6+
EFL Level: intermediate / advanced
Grammar: past tense, conditionals, modals (could..., could...if), contractions
Writing: viewpoint, narrative, reported speech

Story Synposis:

Sneetchland is populated by two types of Sneetches: the Star Belly Sneetches, born with a yellow star on their stomachs, and the Plain Belly Sneetches, born with no stars. The Star Belly Sneetches flaunt their belly stars as proof of their superiority and refuse to mix with the "inferior" Plain Bellies. They snub them at every occasion and prohibit their Star Belly children from playing with Plain Belly kids. The Plain Belly Sneetches, for their part, feel inferior to the Star Belly Sneetches and envy them their belly star status symbols. Everything changes when a clever man named McBean arrives with his Star-On-Off machine. The Plain Belly Sneetches eagerly pay him to put stars on their bellies so they can join the ranks of the "superior" Star Bellies.

This infuriates the Star Bellies, who can no longer tell the "good" sneetches from the "bad", since everyone now has belly stars. They therefore get together and decide that not having belly stars is the new "in" status symbol, and pay McBean to take off their belly stars. Next follows a crazy on-again, off-again race as the Star Belly Sneetches run through McBean's machine to add or take off stars and the Plain Belly Sneetches keep imitating them. Finally, both Star Bellies and Plain Bellies run out of money and McBean drives off with their cash, laughing "You can't teach a sneetch." By this time, no-one can tell who's a Star Belly or Plain Belly any longer. On the last page, the Sneetches decide to abandon their silly status games and to treat each other as friends and equals, vowing never again to discriminate against others who look different.

This story about where prejudice can lead works well with almost any age. I have used it in teacher training sessions to demonstrate what kind of writing activities can be generated from a story, and invariably, the participants have wanted to try the story out with their own students! The story features Sneetches - Star Belly Sneetches who consider themselves superior, and Plain Belly Sneetches who envy them- and the opportunist McBean who reaps the benefits. Here are some teaching ideas I've tried in my EFL classes.

Reading Activities

Read the story aloud to the class, using the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA) proposed by Russell Stauffer (1969), stopping every now and then to ask for predictions: "What do you think will happen now?" "What do you think they will do?" "What makes you think that?" Validate all predictions and continue reading to find out to what extent the predictions were accurate. Do not read the last page; just ask the children what they think will happen. List their predictions on the board and invite students to justify their suggestions. Then, read the conclusion and compare the children's predictions with the author's conclusion.

Discussion Activities

Lead a discussion on how the Star Belly Sneetches felt about the Plain Belly Sneetches and how they showed their feelings. Tell the children that this type of attitude is called prejudice. Have children talk about how they think the Plain Belly Sneetches felt about the Star Bellies' attitude and behavior, and how the prejudiced attitudes and stereotyping affected the life of the two groups and the Sneetch community as a whole.

Ask in what ways the Sneetches are like people. If children have difficulty, ask if there are groups of people that are treated like the snobbish Star Bellies treated the Plain Bellies.

Listening Activities

Children will want to hear the story again, so prepare a variety of listening opportunities. Older students could rehearse the story for a presentation to the class. Alternatively, you could have a native speaker read the story with the proper voices and expression on tape, and then play the tape at your convenience. Structure the subsequent listening sessions by having students listen for a purpose. Some possibilities are:

  • when you hear what the Star Belly Sneetches did when they met the Plain Bellies on the beach, close your eyes

  • every time you hear the word "stars", snap your fingers

  • give children color-coded vocabulary cards from the story and ask them to show their card every time they hear their word

Writing Activities

This is an ideal story to generate writing activities. Below are a few suggestions. You may want to select activities that you think will interest your class and that meet your particular language goals, or give the students a choice of assignments. You'll get more insightful results if you allow students a few minutes paired discussion before writing, and even better results if you allow them to work in pairs. (If students use the L1 while writing, which is inevitable in a monolingual class, don't worry. They'll be talking about English, and the result will be in English.)

  1. Imagine that you are a Plain Belly Sneetch (or a Star Belly Sneetch). Write a journal entry about your thoughts and feelings. Share your entry with the class. Compare.

  2. Imagine that you are a Star Belly mother whose child wants to invite a Plain Belly child from her class to your important Sneetchstaroo party. What will you tell your child? (With a partner, present a dialogue between mother and child.)

  3. You are a newspaper reporter sent to cover the strange happenings in Sneetchland. Write a news report about these events.

  4. You are a TV reporter covering events in Sneetchland. Present a brief commentary in TV news style about what happened.

  5. Write a different ending to the story, starting (a) from McBean's departure; (b) from the moment the Plain Bellies first come out of the Star Machine with stars on their bellies and the Star Bellies see them.

  6. With a partner, write and present to the class a dialogue between a Star Belly and a Plain Belly who would like to be friends.

  7. Write a new story about prejudice and its consequences. (Use the stories generated for further language activities. DO NOT have children rewrite the original story! Re-writing with changes in verb tense, and other activities are useful, but applied to an original piece of literature will ruin it.)


Other Dr. Seuss Children's Stories with Global Issue Themes

Dr. Seuss was an American author of children's books which dealt in a humorous way with serious social issues. Some of his better known books on global themes are:

The Butter Battle Book (disarmament)

Written during the US-Soviet Cold War, this tells the story of the Yooks and the Zooks, two peoples separated by a large wall who are bitter enemies because the Yooks butter their bread butter-side up and the Zooks butter theirs butter-side down. The story follows the ideological hostilit between the two peoples and the arms race they pursue until they're ready to destroy the whole planet to protect their sacred way of buttering bread.

 
   "May the wisdom of this book help parents double their efforts for world peace." 
                                          - Coretta Scott King

  "This book should be required reading for all those who shape nuclear weapons 
    policy in the US and the USSR."       -  Congressman Edward Markey 
Horton Hears a Who! (minority rights)

This tale of advocacy for the voiceless centres around the efforts of Horton the elephant to protect a world of almost invisible beings, whose voices only he can hear, from the evil designs of some unbelieving, arrogant, fascistic jungle animals.

Yertle the Turtle (freedom from oppression)

This story of democracy, human rights and the struggle against oppression features the ambitious King Yertle who oppresses his subject turtles for his own vain glory but is then overthrown by his unwilling slaves.

The Lorax (environment)

This is a story about the need to fight environmental pollution and toxic waste which features a creature called a Lorax.

Reference

Stauffer, R. Directed Reading Maturity as a Cognitive Process. NY: Harper & Row, 1969.


Irma K. Ghosn, Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon

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