Studying the Works of Chris Van Allsburg

January 27, 2018 17 Comments

I love author studies. One of the main reasons is because students of all ages can study the works of one author and begin to see authors as real people. Another is because studying books allows students to interact with those books on a deep and meaningful level. There are so many directions a teacher can take with author studies, as well. A teacher can help students look for figurative language, synonyms and antonyms, homophones and homographs, but s/he can also guide students toward higher level thinking. Discussing books together helps students make inferences and draw conclusions about what they’re reading.

This year, I have spent a lot of time finding and creating questions for my students to discuss on Google Classroom, but I haven’t been entirely happy with the results. The usual high-achievers post thoughtful responses, but my struggling students post one word or forget to post altogether and definitely do not respond to their peers’ posts. One day last week as I was driving to work, I had an “aha” (or maybe it was a “duh”) moment. I thought, “Maybe if I make discussion cards and my students have an opportunity to talk about what they’ve read before they write about it, engagement will increase!”

Currently, we’re studying Chris Van Allsburg and I have used these Houghton Mifflin Teacher’s Guides that I found through a simple Google search for a couple of years. I really like the open-ended questions, so I decided not to reinvent the wheel. I put my energy into thinking about management.

I create the cards using the Houghton Mifflin questions. I number the questions and print the question cards out on a different color of card stock for each question. (Stay with me.) After reading each book, I divide the students up into question groups (all of the pink ones together, all of the blue twos together, all of the green threes together, etc.) to discuss individual questions in small groups. Then, after a few minutes, I get their attention and have them form jigsaw groups. Each new group needs one person with each color card in the group (one member with a pink one, one member with a blue two, one member with a green three, etc.) in order to discuss all of the questions. Following their discussions, students still write their responses to the questions on Google Classroom.

I am still testing this new approach, but I am heartened by the results, so far. I am attaching the question sets for blog readers to download and would LOVE some feedback. I am offering them for free because I did not write the questions so I wouldn’t feel comfortable profiting off someone else’s work. I’m simply sharing this idea as a way to improve engagement with literature using jigsaw groups.

Discussion Cards and Affiliate Links:

Jumanji Discussion Cards

Just a Dream Discussion Cards

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi Discussion Cards

The Polar Express Discussion Cards

The Stranger Discussion Cards

The Sweetest Fig Discussion Cards

The Widow’s Broom Discussion Cards

The Wretched Stone Discussion Cards

Two Bad Ants Discussion Cards

Zathura Discussion Cards

I think you could also use these question cards in guided reading groups or in book clubs. Let me know how you might use these discussion cards!

Happy Teaching!



Currently, I teach fifth grade and have taught fifth grade since 2011. Before teaching fifth grade, I taught third grade, first grade, kindergarten, preschool, baby and toddler music, college, and graduate school. I am a mom of two daughters, a Maltese dog, and a tuxedo cat.

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  • Shannon Olsen January 28, 2018 at 3:49 am

    I love the idea of author studies! Your jigsaw activity with the discussion cards also sounds very engaging. I might use them with some Kagan strategies, such as a Mix Pair Share. Half the kids could be holding a card. Kids then mix around the room as you play music, and when the music stops they find a partner with a card. They discuss their responses, then mix again. Lots of possibilities!

  • Nuala O'Hanlon January 29, 2018 at 4:35 am

    Thank you for so generously sharing these wonderful resources. Students are going to love learning with the wonderful activities. Well done, and all the best with your teaching!
    Nuala O’Hanlon,
    Teacher, Lyricist, Director,
    KEYSTONE CREATIONS ~ Educational Songs

  • Jana McMahon January 29, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Some of my all-time favorite stories! Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan January 29, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    Such wonderful ideas and resources!!

  • Rachel January 30, 2018 at 12:50 am

    These activities are great to go along with Chris Van Allsberg. Thank you!

  • Tara January 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

    I love Chris Van Allsburg books! I can’t wait to try these questions with my students! I’m also going to try having them discuss on Google Classroom. Great idea!

  • Melissa January 30, 2018 at 1:48 am

    Looks like an engaging activity!!

    • amazingmaterials4you January 30, 2018 at 1:51 am

      It definitely is! Using the discussion cards is allowing students to interact with peers they might not normally choose.

  • Amy Towe February 3, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    What a great way to engage students! Thanks!

  • Update! – Amazing Materials for You January 6, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    […] Studying the Works of Chris Van Allsburg […]

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    The letters of my first name inspired the name of this blog and the names of my other business ventures, so when you think of me, just remember AM4Y. I started my teaching journey in 1987 and have taught every age from babies to fifth grade as well as college and graduate school in Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Virginia. I have a B.A. in English and Psychology from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville and an M.A.T. in curriculum and instruction from The University of Memphis. In addition, I have completed more graduate work at The University of Maryland and The University of Colorado, Denver. I am a mom of two young adult daughters and a cute Maltese dog. When I am not teaching, you can find me traveling, reading, hiking, or cooking. Read More

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