Drawing of Alice in Wonderland
Let your students tumble down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, where their imaginations will soar to new heights. From Lewis Carroll to Dr. Seuss, from fantastic creatures to funny foods, these activities are bound to excite and delight. This lesson plan explores elements of wonder, distortion, fantasy, and whimsy in The Nursery "Alice," Lewis Carroll's adaptation for younger readers of his beloved classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. After exploring their concepts about Wonderland, students listen to the opening chapters of the story and view Sir John Tenniel's illustrations from the original edition. Using images of "big" and "small" from Alice's experiences, students develop these concepts in their own drawings. Students then compare Carroll's fantastic animals with creatures from other children's stories and use computers to craft images of their own fantasy creatures.
As Karoline Leach articulates in “Lewis Carroll: A Myth in the Making,” “Charles Dodgson was born on January 27 1832. He lived his life and eventually died on January 14 1898. "Lewis Carroll" was born on March 1, 1856, and is still very much alive” (via the EDSITEment-reviewed Victorian Web). Lewis Carroll, of course, is Dodgson’s pseudonym, the name associated with the wonderful tales of Alice and her adventures. The teacher of this lesson might review this brief biography of Dodgson at the EDSITEment-reviewed Victorian Web. The biography details some known facts—as well as thoughtful speculation—about Dodgson’s upbringing, his employment as a mathematical lecturer at Oxford, and his eventual friendship with a new Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, his wife, and three daughters—including Alice—that led to the now legendary afternoon in which he sketched out the framework for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Though Dodgson had published under the name Lewis Carroll before Alice’s Adventures was released in 1865, it was then that the persona of Lewis Carroll was truly born. Dodgson continued to write until his death from pneumonia in 1898, increasing the legend of “Lewis Carroll” and further obscuring Dodgson’s true life from fans and biographers.
Victorian Web also has background information on the illustrator for the Alice stories, John Tenniel. Carroll was very much involved in the process and viewed the illustrations as an extension of his fiction. Many of the illustrations by John Tenniel from the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are available at Victorian Web (note: there are three pages of images—click on “Next Section” at the bottom of the page for the next page of images.) For additional background on John Tenniel, Victorian Web provides An Overview of the illustrator as well as a critical discussions Representing Alice: John Tenneil's Collaboration with Charles Dodgson and The Textual Alice and the Alice of Illustration.
Charles Dodgson's handwritten manuscript, "Alice's Adventures Underground", the first version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with his 37 illustrations is available through the British Library Online Gallery website. This includes an audio introduction and a video celebration "Alice" recently held at the Library. (To view The Original Alice click on that link at the bottom of the Virtual Book "Turning the Pages" Guide.)
Finally, Victorian Web has many articles detailing the background, social context, and cultural history surrounding the publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. This list includes a link to an interactive Hyper-Concordance that allows full-text searches of the Alice books.
For additional background visit the Alice in Wonderland resources from the Tate Liverpool Museum is available though EDSITEment-reviewed Tate Liverpool: Alice in Wonderland Exhibition. This is the first exhibition of its kind to explore how Lewis Carroll’s stories have influenced the visual arts, inspiring generations of artists. It provides insight into the creation of the novels and the inspiration they have provided for artists through the decades. Go Down the Rabbit Hole through a Wondermind interactive for a learning experience that mixes art with science available from Tate Kids.
Write the word "Wonderland" on the blackboard in large letters and ask students if they have ever heard of it. While some students might be familiar with the title of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, others may have different associations. Ask students if they think Wonderland is a place (like, for example, Disneyland). Why does the name of this place include the word "wonder"? Ask the children to close their eyes and try to imagine Wonderland. What do they see? To some students, Wonderland might be a place in their dreams or imaginations, while others might think of it as similar to an amusement park. Would they like to visit Wonderland? Why or why not?
Tell students that there is a famous book called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written more than a hundred years ago (1865) by a man who called himself Lewis Carroll. Explain to them that Carroll wrote two versions of his story—one for older children and one for children their age. Tell students that the version of the story that he wrote especially for younger children is called The Nursery "Alice," and that they are going to listen to it together in class.
An electronic version of The Nursery "Alice" is available online.
Read aloud the first three chapters of The Nursery "Alice." In Chapter One, Alice dreams of seeing the White Rabbit and falling down the rabbit-hole. Emphasize that this event and all subsequent events and creatures in Wonderland are part of Alice's dream.
In Chapter Two, Alice drinks the potion marked "Drink Me" and becomes "smaller, and smaller, till at last she was just the size of a little doll!" She then eats the cake marked "Eat Me" and becomes very tall: "She grew, and she grew, and she grew. Taller than she was before! Taller than any child! Taller than any grown-up person! Taller, and taller, and taller! Just look at the picture, and you'll see how tall she got!"
Have students think of situations in which they have felt very big (e.g., inside a playhouse or tree house) or very small (e.g., beside a large building). Have they ever seen themselves become bigger or smaller (e.g., in a house of mirrors, or in a reflection or shadow)? How did these experiences make them feel?
Allow students, individually or in groups, to explore the EDSITEment interactive, Sizing Up Alice. This interactive tests their listening skills by asking them to help Alice grow tall or short by providing the objects—the key, the bottle, the cake, and the fan—that help Alice enter Wonderland. The activity reinforces their understanding of the story’s basic plot points, as well as allowing them to explore Alice’s world and how she must change size to follow the white rabbit.
Finally, show students the pictures of Alice and ask them the question that Carroll poses at the end of the chapter: "Which would you have liked the best, do you think, to be a little tiny Alice, no larger than a kitten, or a great tall Alice, with your head always knocking against the ceiling?" Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being small or big (an idea that will resonate for most young children).
Tell students that they are now going to "help" Alice by making things for her to use during her trip to Wonderland. Remind them of the story of Thumbelina, in which the tiny girl sleeps in a walnut shell with the petals of violets as her mattress and a rose petal as her cover. What objects could the "little tiny Alice" and the "great tall Alice" use, and how? (The small Alice might use a mushroom as an umbrella or a shoe as a boat, for example, while the big Alice might use a mixing bowl as a drinking cup or a rake as a comb.)
Divide the class into groups of three to five students each. Give each group a supply of sturdy construction paper or oaktag, pencils, erasers, scissors, and a set of colored pencils or markers. Assign each group to imagine five objects that could be used in different ways by either the "little tiny Alice" or the "great tall Alice." After students have drawn their objects, have them cut them out (younger students might need help with this) and put all of their group's objects in a manila folder or envelope.
Redistribute the envelopes so that each group has a collection of objects that were created by another group. Have students try to guess how each of the objects could be used by either the big Alice or the small Alice. If time permits, you can continue the game by passing the envelopes of objects from group to group.
Note: if time is limited, consider having students make suggestions that the instructor writes on the board. As another alternative, have students write down—with help if necessary—simple objects (e.g., rake, mushroom, etc.) and then pull each out of a hat, asking “how might Alice use this? Is she big or small?” Students can then answer orally.
Read aloud the next two chapters of the story, in which Alice grows small and then large again. In addition to the White Rabbit, who is introduced in Chapter One, several other creatures enter the story in Chapters Four and Five: the Dodo, the Duck, the Lory, the Eaglet, and the Lizard. Show students the illustrations so they can see what these animals look like. You might also wish to show them pictures of other creatures that appear later in the book (the Dear Little Puppy, the Blue Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Gryphon, and the Mock Turtle). Compare these animals to creatures found in other familiar children's stories, such as Where the Wild Things Are, The Rainbow Goblins, James and the Giant Peach, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, or the many books of Dr. Seuss. Discuss the ways that these creatures are similar to or different from animals the students might encounter in real life.
Have students describe how the animal normally behaves: a rabbit is fast; a turtle is slow; a cat is independent; a dog likes attention. Then discuss with students how Lewis Carroll’s text personifies animals by giving them human traits—part of Wonderland’s charm is that these animals behave like people do. Examine with students, for example, how the rabbit is dressed—is he anxious, relaxed? Explain that to give human qualities to animals is called personification. Ask the class members if they have pets—if so, what would their pets be like if they were human? How do the animals of Wonderland personify human traits that relate to their animal traits?
Consider using the illustrations by John Tenniel, available at Victorian Web in this exercise (note: there are three pages of images—click on “Next Section” at the bottom of the page for the next page of images). Project on a screen or share printed-out copies of the images and ask students to first name the animal and share words that come to mind when thinking about that animal. Next, recall (or reread) the section from Alice that the animal appears. Finally, ask students to share words that describe the animal’s human-like personality. What makes the animal interesting or funny?
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2-3 class periods