Too Many Elephants in this House

Exploring the 2013 CBCA Short List: Early Childhood

A boy outside a house full of elephants

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky  Illustrator: Andrew Joyner

Penguin Books Australia | ISBN 9780670075461

Themes: Imagination, growing up, home

Years: Australian Curriculum: English,  Foundation and Year 1; Mathematics, Foundation and Year 1.

From the publishers synopsis: In Eric’s house there were too many elephants. The elephants take up a lot of space, but Eric loves every one of them. So when his mum says they have to go, Eric comes up with a clever solution to a very BIG problem … 

Unit writer: Amanda Nicholls

Building field knowledge

  • Make some elephant craft such as paper plate elephant masks. Activity Village also has lots other elephant craft and links to elephant videos.
  • Read some of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, excluding How the Elephant got its Trunk. Students to write or dictate their own version of ‘How the Elephant got its Trunk’. Illustrate and scan to produce a photo story or class book. Afterwards, read Rudyard Kipling’s version. ACELY1661 
  • Visit the Zoo and go to the elephant enclosure.
  • How big is an elephant? Look at the photos, videos and elephant facts on National Geographic Kids. An African elephant can hold around 7.5 litres of water in its trunk at a time. Show students what 7.5 litres of water looks like – and then tip all of their water bottles into another container to compare and contrast how much they drink compared to an elephant. ACMMG019
  • Learn and sing some elephant songs. ACELT1585

Exploring the context of the text

  • Watch Ursula Dubosarsky talking about her book. She suggests that the ending is a ‘little bit mysterious’. What does ‘mysterious’ mean? Did Eric have real elephants in his house? What sort of elephants did he have? Examine the last page showing Eric with a cardboard box. What do you think is in the box? What do you think Eric’s mother wanted him to do? ACELY1650
  • The video also refers to another book by the same author, The Terrible Plop. Read this book and identify the rhyming words in the text. Select some CVC words from Too Many Elephants in this House, such as zoo, let and box, and build rhyming words. Play the interactive game ‘Words that Rhyme’ on Roy the Zebra. ACELA1457

Responding to the text

  • Eric’s mother says he has too many elephants. What would your parents say you have too many of at home? For a homework task, students could count how many of that toy they have, and bring in one toy from his/her collection to share with the class and talk about why they enjoy collecting that toy. Make a pictograph of the toys. What is the most popular toy? Who has the most and least? ACMNA289  ACMNA014 
  • Eric imagines what could happen if he let his elephants escape. What else could a herd of elephants on the loose do? Students write a response to ‘If an elephant escaped from the Zoo, it could …’ and illustrate. ACELY1661
  • Using soft toy elephants (or other soft toys) and a cardboard box, estimate and check how many elephants fit in the box. ACMNA002 
  • Make a cut and paste sentence sticks of mixed up sentences from the text for students to rearrange in order and illustrate. Play the interactive game ‘Does it Make Sense?’ on Roy the Zebra. ACELA1435

Exploring plot, character and setting

  • Watch ‘Story Starters’, where Vikki and Postman create a story from just a cardboard box. Working from the ending of the story, put some toy elephants in a box and get the students to create and dramatise their own story about elephants. ACELT1586
  • Change the ending of the story. Brainstorm other ways Eric could have solved his problem. ACELY1661
  • Whose point of view is the story told from? Who don’t we see in the illustrations? Are the elephants real or in Eric’s imagination? As a class, re-write the story from the point of view of Eric’s mother. ACELY1661  

Examining text structure and organisation

  • Explore the difference between fiction and non-fiction genres. Gather a selection of storybooks and information books about elephants from your school library. Introduce the terms ‘imagination’ and ‘information’. Allow students time to browse through the books. Ask them to sort the books into imagination and information texts and justify their decision. As a class, compile a list of attributes of storybooks/imagination and information books, or make a Venn diagram. What category does Too Many Elephants in this House belong to? For further teaching ideas on this topic see readwritethink.org or see the unit of work ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?’ available through scootle. ACELY1648

Examining grammar

  • For more advanced readers and spellers, examine the page ‘One day Eric’s mother said, “There are too many elephants in this house. They’ve got to go.”’ What are the two ways of spelling to/too? Find examples of these in other texts. Can they work out when to use the spelling ‘too’? This sentence could also be used to examine apostrophes, quotation marks or contractions. ACELY1662
  • How many words can you make out of the word ‘elephant’? Play ‘Words within words’ on Roy the Zebra to model the activity. ACELA1438 
  • Introduce adjectives using the interactive game ‘Wonderful words, creative stories’, available through scootle or ABC Splash. Add adjectives to all sentences in the text: ‘The tall elephant in the living room …’, ‘The clever elephant in the kitchen …’ and so on. ACELA1452  

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • Look at the end papers. How many elephants can you count? Was it easy or hard to count them? How could we make it easier to count? Model grouping of collections to facilitate easier counting. Practise counting scattered objects with ‘Counting Beetles’, available through scootle. ACMNA002 
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