English Literature and Writing Activities — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / Willy Wonka

JerzTheaterMusical Theatre Education PacketsCharlie and the Chocolate Factory / Willy Wonka

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Lesson plans for English literature and writing. (See also sections on mathsocial studies [geographyhistoryeconomics], science and healthartmusic, and faith connection.)

1) English/Literature

1.1) Read other stories in which chocolate figures prominently.

  • For the youngest: Erik Kraft, Chocolatina; H.A. Rey, Curious George Goes to a Chocolate Factory
  • Up to Grade 5: Robert Kimmel Smith, Chocolate Fever, Patrick Skene Catling, The Chocolate Touch
  • For mature teens, due to content: Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War
  • For teens/adults:  Joanna Carl’s “Chocoholic Mysteries” involve the employees & products of Ten Huis Chocolade, in the small community of Warner Pier, Michigan.  Titles include:  The Chocolate Cat Caper; The Chocolate Bear Burglary; The Chocolate Frog Frame-up; The Chocolate Puppy Puzzle; The Chocolate Mouse Trap; The Chocolate Bridal Bash; and The Chocolate Jewel Case Crime de Cocoa gathers up the first three books, along with the short story “The Chocolate Kidnapping Clue;” the story can also be found in the anthology And the Dying is Easy (2001).
  • Other chocolate-related mysteries:  Anthony Berkeley, The Poisoned Chocolate Case (1928), based on his story “The Avenging Chance” (1927);  Agatha Christie, “The Chocolate Box,” published in Hercule Poirot’s Early Cases (1974);  Barbara D’Amato’s award-winning story “Of Course You Know Chocolate is a Vegetable,” originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1998, anthologized in Creme de la Crime (2000);  Diane Mott Davidson, Dying for Chocolate; Joanne Fluke, The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder; Lou Jane Temple, Death is Semisweet; and Emma Lathen, Sweet and Low.

1.2) Read another, related work by Roald Dahl:

  • The sequel to Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator
  • The Minpins, in which tiny people must live in trees like Oompa-Loompas to keep away from one of the same beasts bothering the Oompa-Loompas. (The whangdoodles and snozzwangers also get mentioned once near the end of James and the Giant Peach, in which a boy and his giant bug-friends journey to a new, better life.)
  • The Magic Finger, in which a little girl teaches an avid bird-hunting family compassion through a magical bit of poetic justice (just as happens to Augustus, Violet, Veruca, Mike!). (For mature readers, Dahl’s short story “The Swan,” in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar & Six More, gives a more frightening and heartbreaking portrayal of a boy made into a bird by bullies on a hunt.)
  • In The Witches, sweet-shops and free chocolate bars– doused in Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker– become part of an evil plan to eliminate all the children of England.  But a boy and his grandmother foil the witches’ plan before it ever gets off the ground. (Another grandchild/grandparent adventure!)
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood recounts Roald Dahl’s most important childhood memories, and two of these episodes involve sweets:  the first four Llandaff sections describe the schoolboys’ problems with the disgusting owner of the sweet-shop they all adore; and “Chocolates” describes the teenaged Dahl’s experience as a Cadbury taste-tester (which he says inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

1.3) Read some of the works recommended by the Oompa-Loompas in Chapter 27, and consider why each was recommended to parents & children:

  • Beatrix Potter’s stories, especially involving Mr. Tod, Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland, and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Why might Dahl have cited these? (and why not mention what we might consider the most famous—Peter Rabbit?)
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories
  • Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure IslandKidnapped (treasure isles, pirates…)

1.4) Literature for young people has long included Cautionary Tales, or Morality Literature, in which stories are meant to teach a lesson or impart a moral, and hopefully steer readers away from the vices which brought about a character’s sad fate.  The stories may be presented with the utmost seriousness, or with varying degrees of humor.  Any literature intended to teach or instruct can be called “didactic” literature, from a Greek word also meaning “instructive” or “apt for teaching.”  Charlie Bucket’s story is a tale of virtue rewarded, while the other children fail due to their faults.

Try reading some other cautionary tales, or literature purporting to teach moral lessons:

1.5) Although Roald Dahl’s first publication was a realistic retelling of one of his wartime experiences (the short story “A Piece of Cake,” reprinted in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More), he achieved fame through his imaginative tales for children.

The words “fantasy” and “fantastic” both stem from a root meaning “to make visible to the mind an idea, notion, or image,” a kind of imaginative conceptualizing.  Although there are many different types of fantasy writing, high fantasy usually involves living in or travelling into a fictional world (not our actual everyday one) where magical things exist– such as magical objects that seem to defy explanation, or entirely new races of beings or creatures (with their own distinctive cultures)– yet are accepted as a normal part of the workings of that locale.

Heroes may undertake a journey or quest, which may test their strengths & weaknesses of character, often as part of a larger struggle between good and evil.   Yet in everyday life, people may also use “fantastic,” to mean “wonderful” or “super” or “great,” or, less positively, “highly imaginative to the point of being hard to believe, absurd, or crazy.”

  • Would you consider Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a true work of fantasy literature?  Does it seem to meet the criteria mentioned above?  Why, or why not?  Or is it merely a rather ‘fantastic,’ highly imaginative tale?  Or would you consider it a mostly realistic story of a boy who gets a lucky break in life– in which the inventions are perhaps more scientific than magical?
  • In Chapter 27, Dahl’s Oompa-Loompas complain that TV-watching destroys the ability of children to understand and appreciate “a Fantasy, a Fairy-Land.”  They go on to recommend reading “wondrous, fine, fantastic tales, of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales, and treasure isles, and distant shores, where smugglers row with muffled oars, and pirates wearing purple pants, and sailing ships and elephants, and cannibals crouching round the pot“ [which holds a girl named Penelope!].  Do these sound like good subjects for young people to read about? Why or why not?
  • Do these sound like stories Oompa-Loompas would tell or read in Loompaland, or do they sound like stories that would excite & entertain English boys like Dahl himself?
  • The Oompa-Loompas mention “pirates wearing purple pants.”  Do you think it is a coincidence that Mr. Wonka, in the book, also wears purple pants?

1.6) Does this story, in which one “contestant” for the factory is eliminated with each adventure, remind you of the many Survivor or weekly-elimination shows on TV today?  How does Expedition Wonka resemble or differ from these shows? Is there a pattern to how the children are eliminated?  (Dumbest to smartest? Least popular, or least likable, to most popular, or most likable? Least capable of running a candy factory to most capable? or what?)

Prepare your own Contest:  Use English/Writing activity #2.8 (below) to compile a new list of Chocolate Tour “contestants” (at least 5 of them)– a list of the new, annoying people you have created.  Make sure all your classmates/friends/family have the same, complete list.  Then pretend you are all Oompa-Loompas who get to vote one contestant out each round.  If desired, you could act out the game-show, with someone serving as the host Mr. Wonka, others as the contestants, and the rest as Oompa-Loompas to do the voting.  In the end, who wins your candy factory?

Dahl would not be the only author to write “eliminations” into fiction.  Suzanne Collins’ popular young-adult novel The Hunger Games suggests a darker version of Charlie’s quest for survival.  Instead of golden tickets to a lifetime supply of chocolate, Collins depicts a lottery in which two UN-lucky youths from each district in Panem compete in a death-match to win a better life– good housing, plenty of food– as well as extra food for their district’s residents.  Some contestants, however, are glad to have their ticket to the Games appear.  Although the characters seem more impressed with bread-baking than candy-making, preteens through adults should find The Hunger Games trilogy riveting.

1.7) Ask your students to consider the significance of the names given to the characters. Which names make a positive impression, or sound pleasant, and which sound negative or unpleasant? What do the names mean (look at their root words)? In what ways do these names suit their characters?

Can you think of other works of literature in which characters bear revealing or symbolic names? (ex.the four leads in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; most characters in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy; some of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter characters; fairy tale heroines like Cinderella, Snow White, etc; Sweeney Todd; Dudley Do-right)

1.8) During multiple scenes in the Chocolate Factory book, Roald Dahl uses strings of synonyms– different words that mean basically the same– in his dialogue; Gene Wilder repeats this stylistic element when he plays Wonka in the 70s-era movie.  Can you locate some examples of this from book & film?

Now try generating your own strings of synonyms (which you can check in a thesaurus afterward, if you wish); you may include slang words or idiomatic expressions!  How many ways can you say someone is hungry? pretty? sad? capable? confused? skinny? fat? being obnoxious, or misbehaving?  How many words describe shades of red? green? blue? yellow? How many words & phrases mean going to the bathroom or toilet? or that you admire someone?  How many words and phrases exist to describe being drunk? to vomit?

1.9) If the rest of these pages don’t keep you busy enough, Concetta Doti Ryan has written a literary Guide to Using Charlie & the Chocolate Factory in the Classroom, suggesting activities like making your own golden ticket or writing to candy companies for coupons/samples. Lorraine Kujawa has produced another guide for The Chocolate Touch, listed above (#1.1).

2) English/Writing:

2.1) Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe share the dream of finding a Golden Ticket and the adventure of touring the factory. Describe a favorite memory/experience you’ve shared with an older relative.

2.2) Which of Dahl’s characters is the most like you, or which do you identify with most closely? (It could be one of the 5 children; or, it could be one of the parents, grandparents, Mr. Wonka himself, an Oompa-Loompa, etc.)

2.3) Mr. Wonka gets credit for inventing over 200 new candy products, with many of them listed in the Inventing Room and on the buttons in the Great Glass Elevator.

Which invention do you consider the most important or significant, and why?

Which is your personal favorite, and why?

2.4) Envision and describe an amazing room of your own, inspired by Wonka’s factory. (Remember to include plenty of sensory details in your description.)

2.5) Imagine and describe a new candy or dessert.

2.6) The Oompa-Loompas comment unfavorably on a number of the children (and often their parents) in their songs. Which child (or parent) do you thinks was the “worst,” for what reason(s)?

2.7) In Chapter 27, the Oompa-Loompas warn parents not to let a child near a television set, for: “It rots the senses in the head! It kills imagination dead! …His powers of thinking rust and freeze! He cannot think—he only sees!” Now YOU are being asked to take sides: For the most part, do you agree or disagree with the Oompa-Loompas? Explain your position, with a discussion of either the concerns/problems, or the benefits/advantages, of television-watching when it comes to mental skills.

2.8.) Create a new guest for the factory tour— a character with a BAD HABIT—and write out the scene in which the unpleasant child (and parent?) meets a sad end in the factory. Best of all, write the Oompa-Loompas a new poem/song to sing afterward, describing the annoying child’s problem!!

(You & your students can brainstorm a list of faults, annoying habits, pet peeves: What faults or habits are especially annoying to you? If Roald Dahl wrote the book today, can you guess what he might consider a widespread problem amongst contemporary children? Some ideas to consider: constant cell-phone-user/constant texter; greasy/salty/sticky fingers on a shared computer keyboard; hypochondriac; whiner, complainer; crybaby; know-it-all; hoarder; kleptomaniac; someone over-sexed/immodest; fitness guru, militant healthnut, vegan, or recycler; militant hunter, gun enthusiast; name-dropper, braggart; interrupter; etc.—and any quality or habit condemned in the morality literature listed in the previous section, activity #1.4 in English/Literature.)

2.9) According to Roald Dahl, “[h]ere are some of the qualities you should possess or should try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer.” (excerpted from “Lucky Break” in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More [Puffin Books, 2000], 174-175)  Read through them: Do you agree with Dahl’s list? Did anything on the list surprise you? Would you add, subtract, or change anything?

  • “1. You should have a lively imagination.
  • 2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
  • 3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.
  • 4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.
  • 5. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to fire you if you don’t turn up for work, or tick you off if you start slacking.
  • 6.   It helps a lot  if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.
  • 7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.”

2.10) Try your hand at writing a “Fantasy” story, or an original fairy tale, since the Oompa-Loompas recommend them so highly.  Review English/Literature activity #1.5 (above) to get started. Or, for a very thorough, step-by-step guide to the process, try John Gust’s Adventures in Fantasy: Lessons and Activities in Narrative and Descriptive Writing (labelled Gr 5-9, but useful for a much wider range!).

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Author: Leigh Jerz
Webmaster: Dennis G. Jerz

17 Sep 2011 — English sections posted here

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