Teaching Paddle-to-the-Sea, a Book About the Great Lakes

Teaching Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling? Take your kids on an adventure through the Great Lakes. Plentiful figurative language, detailed line drawings, and beautiful water colors make it a truly teachable book.

Ms. Sneed Teaches Paddle-to-the-Sea

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, held up a picture book. “Today,” she said to her class, “we’ll start reading this book and kick off our Great Lakes activities.”

Her students squirmed in anticipation.

Paddle-to-the-Sea,” she explained, “was written more than 80 years ago. However, the story and setting – our Great Lakes – still hold great appeal. The author, Holling Clancy Holling, not only wrote the book. He also illustrated it.”

Ms. Sneed opened the book. Then she placed it under the document camera. On the left-hand side, students could see the title of the first chapter: “How Paddle-to-the Sea Came to Be.” A black-line drawing of the Canadian wilderness in winter wrapped around the top of the page.

“Each of 27 two-page spreads,” the teacher explained holds a brief chapter. On the left, you’ll see the story. In the margins, black and white drawings provide greater understanding of the text.”

She pulled the right-hand page under the camera. Suddenly, a full-page water color filled the screen. On it, a boy crouched on a rug. In his hands, he held a large carved canoe with a boy in it.

“On the right side, each spread features a beautiful water coloring. It also supports the text.”

Learning Geography Through Paddle-to-the-Sea

“Can we have our books now?” a boy in the back asked.

Ms. Sneed smiled. “In just a sec,” she said. “First, I’d like to give you a few maps.”

As she distributed them, she explained. “As you read, the paddle person will move through the Great Lakes. You can use this map to track his journey. You will learn the geography of the Great Lakes region as well.”

As you teach Paddle-to-the-Sea, kids can learn the about the geography of the Great Lakes region.

As her students slipped the maps into their folders, Ms. Sneed distributed the books. In no time at all, they were leafing through the pages, showing pictures to their neighbors, and commenting about what they were about to read.

Learning Figurative Language Through Paddle-to-the-Sea

Next, Ms. Sneed displayed a page on figurative language.

“I remember we talked about similes last year,” one student commented.

“Great! This book is filled with all kinds of figurative language. Not only similes. You’ll also find metaphors, personification, and onomatopoeia.”

She continued, discussing each type of figurative language.

Paddle-to-the-Sea, a picture book featuring the Great Lakes, is filled with figurative language.

“Okay,” said Ms. Sneed. “Let’s take a look at the first page.”

As the teacher read aloud, she pointed out figurative language in the first paragraph.

From Lake Superior northward the evergreen trees wore hoods and coats of white.

“Did the trees have specially made jackets?” Ms. Sneed queried.

Her students giggled. “No!” they cried.

“So the jackets are really just coverings of snow. That sounds like a metaphor. However, since Holling is giving the trees human characteristics, we categorize it as personification.”

She continued reading the page, pointing out more similes, metaphors, personification, and even onomatopoeia.


When she finished reading, Ms. Sneed pulled out a worksheet. “Each day, we’ll read three chapters. Then you will respond on a page like this. I have three different versions that mix it up. However, the main tasks will be listing events, finding figurative language, explaining how the media – or pictures – support the text, and showing where Paddle is on a map.”

Three response sheets ask students to complete different tasks when teaching Paddle-to-the-Sea: finding figurative language, listing events, analyzing supporting media, and mapping Paddle's location.

As Ms. Sneed looked out over her class, she saw them peeking at the next pages. “Go ahead,” she smiled. “You can read the next two chapters.”

Yes, teaching Paddle-to-the-Sea was always a hit! Using such a great book made her enjoy teaching even more.

More Great Lakes Activities

As her students read Paddle-to-the-Sea, Ms. Sneed took an interdisciplinary approach. In science, her students learned how glaciers carved out the Great Lakes Basin and studied the hydrology of the region. For the social studies component, they learned to identify the lakes, as well as adjacent states, provinces, and major cities. Additionally, the kids researched the lakes to create a collaborative booklet. In just a few weeks, the multi-faceted unit immersed the students in they study of their region – and addressed multiple standards.

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