Literature Focus Unit:
- SwimmyCopyright 1963 by Leo Lionni. Published by Scholastic,
Inc. New York, NY.
- I am using the book Swimmy to kick off an author study of Leo
Lionni. Swimmy, the little black fish, is the lone survivor in a school of red
fish (who are all eaten at the beginning of the story), devises a plan using
teamwork and cooperation to protect the fish from big, mean fish. The book has
a powerful message stressing the importance of teamwork, and can be used at the
beginning of the school year when establishing community in a classroom.
Swimmy, the main character in the story, is a leader and proves that even the
smallest "people" can make the biggest difference. Besides these life lessons,
Swimmy also has numerous possibilities for activities that can be
integrated across the curriculum area.
Goals and Objectives:
- Reiterate the importance of teamwork and cooperation to establish a
- Show that the smallest things can sometimes make the biggest
- Elaborate on the book by completing ocean scientific investigations
and math "favorite animals" graph
About the Author::
- Leo Lionni was born in 1910 in Amsterdam. He started to paint as a
child and spent the first twelve years of his life near two of Europe's best
museums. He spent the rest of his childhood traveling with his family
throughout Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Italy. He attended college at the
University of Zurich, and after graduating, married his wife Nora in 1931, and
opened his own advertising agency in the mid 1930s. In 1939, Lionni left
Italy and moved to the United States, where he held numerous jobs. In 1959, he
wrote and illustrated his first childrens book, Little Blue and Little
Yellow. His books have one numerous awards throughout the years. Now 92
years old and suffering from Parkinsons disease, Lionni lives in a house
overlooking the Gulf of Genoa with his wife. He still tries to write and paint
- Science/Art (Large group) Study each animal listed in the
story (fish, jellyfish, lobster, eel, sea anemone). Discuss the life cycle,
what the animal eats, etc. Create a KWL chart for each animal. If you are
feeling creative, make each KWL chart in the shape of the animal the class is
discussing. When you are done studying an animal and the KWL chart is complete,
have each child draw the animal and cut it out. Create an underwater scene on a
wall using blue bulletin board paper. After each animal is studied, drawn, and
cut out, place it along with the KWL chart on the underwater scene.
Assessment-At the end of this study, have the students create an animal
book with facts about each animal discussed in class.
- Math (Individual) Have each student draw a picture of their
favorite animal studied in Science. Cut out the picture. This will be used for
measurement. First, have students estimate how long their animal is using
Goldfish snack crackers. Then have the students measure the animal using
Goldfish crackers. Next, have the students estimate the length of their fish
using a ruler. Finally, have the students measure their animal in inches.
Assessment-Interview the students about the length of their animal and
how they discovered this. Then have students measure other objects with
- Math (Large group) Create a class graph of favorite ocean
animals (chosen in activity #2 above) on a large piece of paper. The horizontal
axis is the animal name, and the vertical axis is the number of students.
Create a pictograph by having each child tape his favorite animal in the
appropriate column. Talk about which animal is the class favorite and which is
the least favorite. Assessment-Verbally interview students and ask
questions about the graph.
- Guest Speaker/Writing/Social Action (Buddy) Have a park ranger
come speak to the students and discuss how littering affects wildlife,
especially fish and other animals in lakes, rivers, and oceans. Obtain paper
bags from a local grocery store. Have students work with a buddy to write about
the dangers of littering on the grocery bags and draw a picture. Fold the bags
and return them to the store for customers to read and use.
Assessment-Observation of the ideas written on the paper bags.
- Reading strategy mini-lesson (Large group) Use the poem "Did
You Ever Go Fishing?" for this activity. The poem reads:
Did you ever go fishing on a bright sunny day
Sit on a fence
and have the fence give way?
Slide off the fence and rip your pants,
And see the little fishies do the hokey-pokey dance?
Write the poem on chart paper. Discuss the difference between
long and shore A vowel sounds. Find all of the words that have the letter A.
Ask children to sort the words into two groupsone group containing words
with the short a sound and the other containing words with the long a sound.
Create a list on the board from the answers students give.
Perfect Poems for Teaching Phonics-Grades K-2 by Deborah Ellermeyer and
Judi Hechtman. Scholastic, p. 40-43).
- Reading strategy (Individual) Prepare for this activity by
first creating a fishing rod by using a two-foot length of yarn to hang a small
ring magnet from the end of a dowel rod. Write "long a" on one paper bag and
"short a" on another paper bag. Next, cut out fish shapes and write various
words with one of the following short or long-vowel a sound on each fish: am,
back, bad, bat, can, cat, class, fast, hand, has, lamp, mad, math, rat, sad,
stand, track, bake, came, face, lake, made, race, tape, mail, sail, train,
wait, day, may, play, stay, tray, way. When completed, attach a paper clip to
each fish. Place the fish in a box or plastic tub to create a fish pond.
Explain to the children that they will have the opportunity to "fish" for long
and short-vowel a words in the fish pond. Fish are caught by passing a rod with
a magnet near the paper clip. Once a fish is caught, have the child remove it
from the pole and read aloud the word written on it. Ask the class to place the
fish in the long-a or short-a bag according to the sound the word contains.
Continue until all the fish are "caught." This activity can be done
individually during center time.
(Source: Perfect Poems for Teaching
Phonics-Grades K-2 by Deborah Ellermeyer and Judi Hechtman. Scholastic, p.
40-43). Assessment-Check the bags to make sure all of the short vowel
words are in one bag and all of the long vowel words are in another bag.
- Reading strategy/Writing (Buddy) Have students each cut out a large
fish outline. Give the students several magazines to look through. Working with
a buddy, cut out pictures of words with the short a vowel sound, and glue them
all on one fish, making a collage. Then, cut out pictures of words with the
long a vowel sound, and make a collage out of them. Finally, have each pair
write the words from each collage on a sheet of paper as well as they can.
Assessment-Observe pictures. Make sure they are on the right side of the
sheet (all of the short vowel words on one side and all of the long vowel words
on the other side).
- Social responsibility (Large group) Obtain a class
fish. Let the students vote on a name for the fish. Have students work as a
class to create rules for the proper care of the fish (clean water, feed it
every day, etc.). Keep the fish in the classroom and hang the student rules by
- Writing (Individual) Observe your class fish. Discuss the
characteristics of the fish such as size, shape, color, activity, etc. Discuss
with students a quatrain poem. Tell them a quatrain is a "poem of four lines
which follows several rhyme patterns." Review rhyme patterns that have been
previously practiced during calendar time (ABAB, ABCB, AABA, AABB). Also review
rhyming words with the students. From the descriptive characteristics above,
have students formulate a quatrain about what it would be like to be a fish.
Give the following quatrain as an example:
What fun it
is to swim,
Amid the green and blue.
Id like to be a fish,
And splash around with you.
Students can cut out a fish bowl
from construction paper, glue paper fish in the bowl, and write their quatrain
on the bowl. Have the students cover their fishbowls with plastic wrap for a
(Source: Writing and Art Go Hand in Hand To Teach
Language Skills by Diane Bonica. Incentive Publications, Inc., p. 60.)
Assessment-Create a rubric using the six-trait writing model.
- Art/Drama (Small group) Create fish using a bathroom tissue
tube. Cut a couple slits in the tube to create a mouth for the fish. Make a 2"
slit in the fishs back. Create a tail and fins by using colored pencils
on construction paper cut into wavy shapes. Glue on the side fins. Push the top
fin into the fishs mouth and pull it up through the slit. Insert the tail
fin, squeeze the back of the tube, and staple. Add moveable plastic eyes to
complete the fish. (Source: Look What You Can Make With Tubes, Boyds
Mills Press, p. 29). Once the fish have been made, break the children into
small groups. Have the children use the fish to re-tell the story. If you want,
you can also make the other animals listed in the story to use. Also, make the
fish black to represent Swimmy. Assessment-Observation of the
Time Frame and Organization:
*Class fish-name and discuss class rules
*Goldfish crackers for snack
*Make predictions about the book
*Make fish from toilet paper tubes
*Re-tell story using fish made on Day 3.
*Math-favorite animals graph
*Math-measure an animal you created
*Fish fantasies-introduce quatrain
*Rough draft of quatrain
*KWL chart-sea anemone
*Revised draft of quatrain
*Copy quatrain onto fish bowl (final copy)
*Guest speaker-park ranger
*Writing activity-paper grocery bags
*"Did You Ever Go Fishing" poem-identify short/long "A" vowel
*Center: fishing for vowels
*Short/long "A" vowel collages
*Center: fishing for vowels
- Day #15 will be devoted to the celebration of Swimmy. The
theme for the day will be "Under the Sea." The students will come dressed in
their "party" clothes for this extravagant day. First the students will
re-write the story and turn it into a big book. They will work together on this
project. I will also read them a fish poem as the day begins. I will let the
students vote on either retiring the book as an "old favorite" or a "just for
fun" book. I will also read the story to the students one last time. If there
is an aquarium close by, I would use this day to take a field trip. Snacks
today would consist of mini aquariumsblue Jello in clear cups with gummy
fish in it. The snack would be served with punch on silver trays. The student
tables will be covered with fancy, white tablecloths. I will have the students
end the day by sponge painting an ocean scene on a t-shirt along with the title
of the book.
- I will definitely have the parents come and help during the entire
celebration day. I will have parents assigned to help each small group write
their page in the big book. I will also have the parents dressed up and serving
the snack. If we take a field trip to the aquarium, I would have parents help
chaperone the students. Throughout the three weeks, I will have the parents
read various ocean books to their child at home, and let the students keep
track of the books they read. Then, I will have them create a Venn diagram to
compare and contrast their books.
- Field Trip: Creatures of the Sea
Teaching about the
ocean is a bit challenging when you live in the Midwest! This website provides
links to resources ( SeaWorld, Fish FAQ, etc.) that are very helpful in
planning an ocean unit.
- Richland One Interactive Ties a Mathematics lesson to
- Lesson Exchange: Ocean Fish This website includes songs and
craft ideas for an ocean unit.
- Educational Paperback Association This website, used to
obtain the biographical information on Leo Lionni, goes in depth on
Lionnis life and the numerous awards his books have won.
- Leo Lionni Author Studies This is a website a primary
classroom created during their author study of Leo Loonni.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium This
website includes information on conservation, and has different online games
students can play. It also includes suggestions for activities when taking a
field trip to an aquarium.
Books by Leo
- Swimmy Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
- The Alphabet Tree
- The Biggest House in the World
- A Busy Year
- A Color of His Own
- Cornelius: A Fable
- An Extraordinary Egg
- Fish is Fish
- A Flea Story: I Want to Stay Here! I Want to Go There!
- Inch by Inch
- It's Mine!
- Let's Make Rabbits: A Fable
- Let's Play
- Little Blue and Little Yellow: A Story for Pippo and Other
- Mr. McMouse
- On My Beach There Are Many Pebbles
- Tico and the Golden Wings
- Theodore and the Talking Mushroom
- In the Rabbitgarden
- Geraldine, the Music Mouse
- Frederick's Fables: A Leo Lionni Treasury of Favorite Stories
Colors to Talk About
- Letters to Talk About
- Numbers to Talk About
- Words to Talk About
- Nicholas, Where Have You Been
Books by Leo Lionni)
- The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
- Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris
- What Do You Call a Baby Crab?:And Other Baby Fish and Ocean
Creaturesby Emma Nathan
- Ocean Life: Whales, Fish, and Other Sea Creatures by Kathleen
- A Swim Through the Sea by Kristin Joy Pratt
- Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count on by Lois Ehlert
- Frank the Fish Gets His Wish by Laura A. Smith
- Big Alby Andrew Clements
- Do Whales Have Belly Buttons?: Questions and Answers About Whales
and Dolphins by Gilda and Melvin Berger
- Teaching With Favorite Leo Lionni Books: Creative Activities for
Exploring Friendship, Self-Esteem, Cooperation, and Other Themes in These
Beloved Books by Kathleen M. Hollenbeck
- See above plan listed in each individual activity.