Exploring 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'
I confess: When I hear those four words -- The Wizard of Oz -- I think of the 1939 film. I read an abridged version of the original story when I was little, and I puzzled over the differences in the two versions. But mostly The Wizard of Oz remained the film that showed on television once a year and the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow" that my mother sometimes sang with me.
Recently, though, I was motivated to look up the original classic. It's the teacher in me. I thought that with both a prequel and a sequel tantalizing us, even reluctant readers were going to be interested in that wonderful wizard. And that's not a bad thing! Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz isn't an easy read -- Scholastic lists the reading level at 6.9. There are complex sentences and some sophisticated societal commentary in that not-so-little book.
Here are lesson plans for The Wizard of Oz.
Character Analysis and Text Support
A tricky, but oh-so-important reading comprehension skill: citing text evidence to support an assertion. By the end of fifth grade, students should not only be able to identify text support, but to express themselves well, quoting accurately from their reading. This is preparation for writing literary essays in the upper grades.
Let's turn the challenge to a kid-friendly topic: the character of the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow doesn't have brains -- or does he? Long before the wizard suggests he has brains, the author gives the reader reason to think he has plenty.
The following questions can be posed: Does the Scarecrow think? If so, what's the evidence? Remind kids that it's not evidence to say that he's smart as that's rephrasing the question. What does the Scarecrow say or do that shows smarts? Students can be asked to keep track of their thoughts with sticky notes as they progress through the chapters.
The discussion can be multilevel as some readers will notice the contrast between what the characters say about themselves and what they actually do. Sophisticated readers may recognize the irony in passages like the following (from Chapter 9 ):
"Is there anything we can do," it asked, "to repay you for saving the life of our Queen?"
"Nothing that I know of," answered the Woodman; but the Scarecrow, who had been trying to think, but could not because his head was stuffed with straw, said, quickly, "Oh, yes; you can save our friend, the Cowardly Lion, who is asleep in the poppy bed."
The author doesn't just give evidence that the Scarecrow can think and the Woodman can feel. He repeatedly pairs the evidence with their lamentations over their perceived disabilities! The supposedly heartless Tin Woodman rusts himself crying over accidentally stepping on an insect and notes that he has to be more careful than most people about his actions because, unlike them, he has no heart.
But what of that 'Cowardly' Lion? The perceptive reader may find evidence that he's not so lacking in courage as he believes...
Discussion/ Essay Question
Do you think the Cowardly Lion was always courageous or did he become courageous? Support your opinion with details from the book.
Note: It is possible to support either answer choice. Students may find some evidence of character change, but the change took place long before the Wizard supposedly bestowed courage upon him. The reader does witness (and hear of) some cowardly behavior upon first meeting the lion, though he displays courage soon after joining up with Dorothy and friends.
From Characterization to Theme
Once students have determined that the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion are all looking for qualities that they in fact possess, they can make a generalization: There are (at least) three characters who see themselves as less than whole and are in search of something they already have. This isn't just a running joke to make us laugh -- it's one of the central insights the author has to offer. Ask: How can that theme be applied to real life?
Oz offers a contrast to Dorothy's friends: He turns out not to be so wonderful as he is believed to be. What parallels can be drawn to real world events? (Who do we sometimes build up? Celebrities?)
Related concepts include self esteem, acceptance of others' beliefs, and the contrast between reality and illusion. (Discussion questions: Is it more important who we are or who we believe we are? What are the limitations of our beliefs?)
Discussion/ Essay Question 2
What does the story teach about friendship?
Note: The scarecrow, woodman, and lion are all shown using the traits they supposedly don't have when helping their friends! Could their feelings for others be the motivation?
Cultural Understanding and Misunderstanding
Here's a challenge for sophisticated thinkers: What parallels exist between our society and the one in The Wizard of Oz?
One answer may be cultural misunderstanding. Students can track the minor theme of cultural misunderstanding, and the related theme of prejudice, beginning with this scene in Chapter 2:
Soon after Dorothy goes out onto the road, she encounters Munchkins who think she's a sorceress in part because of the white checks in her dress. This has a cultural significance to the Munchkins that it doesn't to Dorothy's Kansas neighbors! We learn this in the following dialogue:
When Boq saw her silver shoes he said, "You must be a great sorceress."
"Why?" asked the girl.
"Because you wear silver shoes and have killed the Wicked Witch. Besides, you have white in your frock, and only witches and sorceresses wear white."
Students may not notice the social commentary here. The teacher may want to stop and do a think-aloud at this point, describing how the Munchkin's belief system reminds her of something real in history or current events.
Dorothy, it turns out later, has some prejudices of her own. What is she prejudiced about? Witches! They may not exist in the real world. Still, the little girl's response is realistic. She doesn't doubt their existence; she merely doubts that they can be good. She learns, through her interactions with the witches of the north and south, that being a witch doesn't mean being wicked.
A Critical Literacy Moment
The book descriptions and the movie descriptions are not identical, but both paint a pretty image of Glinda and a not-so-pretty image of the Wicked Witch of the West.
What might Baum be saying about the relationship between goodness and physical beauty? Are there any dangers in passively consuming this message?
Rhetorical analysis has to do with thinking about authors' choices. Ideally, practice begins young.
Students can think about the language choices the author makes in the first chapter. Before noting that Toto was black, Baum says "Toto was not gray" Why? (Hint: There is a stylistic reason. What has the imagery in the preceding paragraphs suggested about the color gray and what it means to Dorothy?)
This question may be easier if the first chapter is read aloud -- with the teacher's voice adding to the sense of dreariness that Baum wishes to convey.
The Wizard of Oz Collage
A collage is an exercise in thinking -- not merely in creating. What motifs stand out for your students? What illustrations best represent the characters or themes?
A tip-off that this nifty collage doesn't draw entirely from the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Those slippers are red! In the original, they're silver.
Contemplating Oz: the Great and Powerful
I've only seen a snippet of Oz: The Great and Powerful, but I get a sense that this Oz is a deeper man than the one that hid behind the curtain in the original movie.
Thoughts to ponder: Did Disney merely embellish or were there alterations to be made? And might there be a reason for alteration? (Was the man behind the curtain someone who could serve as a protagonist?)
Extending the Story: Writing a Prequel
Disney asked what happened before the events chronicled in The Wizard of Oz. We do learn in the original that the wizard floated in on a balloon and was proclaimed a wizard. The book also hints at some negative history between witch and wizard. But Disney pondered what more there could be to the story.
What other stories do students know that have similar mysteries? Are there minor characters that have them wondering? Is there a hint of backstory that could be fleshed out? And would students enjoy writing about how those characters got to be their present selves?
A Modern Sequel: Dorothy of Oz
The book that the new animated movie is based on was written not by Frank Baum, but by his great-grandson -- who is now in his 70's, and still avidly championing Oz.
Dorothy of Oz is a sweet sequel for children. Home in Kansas, Dorothy sees a rainbow, and it takes her to Glinda who has shown up to give the little girl a message: Her friends need her help!
There's a good sized preview that you can read online.
- A Synopsis of the Prequel
The great and powerful Oz!
The text that accompanied the official Dorothy of Oz trailer tantalized us with a question: What happened the very next day?
This is a question students might want to explore in their own writing -- even before they see the movie! Brainstorm what's going on in Kansas as well as in the land of Oz.
Making an Adaptation: Decisions, Decisions
The hit "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was slated to be cut from the movie on more than one occasion. Yet it remained. It became an award winner -- and remains a popular talent show song 70 years down the (yellow brick) road.
Adapting The Wizard of Oz for the Lower Grades
I focused primarily on the upper elementary and middle school grades grades here, but I noticed that some people were arriving on the page while searching for primary grade lessons. For materials at the primary level, try the resource below .
Read Along with The Wonderful Wizard
Here is an audio reading: over three hours of listening. It can also be a read along for children who need decoding support.The paragraphs also appear in text as well as spoken form.
Read 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' Online
A teacher doesn't have to purchase the book to begin planning the curriculum. Frank Baum's classic is public domain, and readily available online.
- Library of Congress
Want to see the original illustrations? Want to turn actual pages?
- The Online Literature Library
This is an accessible version -- you can click on individual chapters. You will also find a list of other books by the author, so this is a good resource to bookmark.
Difficult Vocabulary - Arranged by Chapter
- Garret, cyclone, resolved
- Greensward, frock, plumage, bondage
- Abundance, earnestly, tedious
- Heartily, comrade, obliged
- Enabled, industrious
- Shrill, dignified
- Perplexity, spectacles
- Counterpane, brocaded, weep, grindstone
- Immense, cunning
- Soldering, goldsmith, inlaid
- Scarlet, plague, seized, hastened, whosoever
- Wearing, vexed, bestow, dismay, humbug, ventriloquist, abounding
- Notion, deceived
- Mishap, summoned
- Whisked, shouldering
- Bogs, marshes, well-trodden
- Stout, boisterous, withstand, uttered
- Presentable, mourning, deprived
Book Collections - Editions and Sequels and Adaptations (Oh, My!)
There are a lot of collections out there for teachers who want to have their classes compare multiple versions of The Wizard of Oz. Some are in the used-but-not-so-very-valuable category.
The Allen Chaffee young reader edition is one I know well. It belonged to someone else -- an aunt or older cousin -- before it was passed down to my brother and me. It's thanks to that book that my early memories weren't based entirely on the movie!
Wizard of Oz Lesson Plans from Around the Web
- Reading Group Guides
Questions for mature readers.
Extensions for middle school grades 6 - 8.
- Wizard of Oz Info
Pick and choose: activity ideas that cut across grade levels and curricular areas.
Here is summary and literary discussion. Some resources require a membership, but there is a fair amount of "teaser" available online.
- Bright Hub
Web Quest: Wizard of Oz themed research for students in grades 3 - 5!
- eReading Worksheets
Worksheets and quizzes.
Off to See the Wizard?
Shannon from Florida on December 16, 2012:
Fun ideas! I especially love the collage!
Donnette Davis from South Africa on September 24, 2012:
Delightful and comprehensive lens. Blessed and liked x
Avazanto on September 18, 2012:
Great article about wizard
getmoreinfo on September 16, 2012:
I agree Very nice lessons with lot of reference..
nicks44 on September 14, 2012:
Yeah I guess a visit to him would be welcomed even for me ... :)
Ahdilarum on September 11, 2012:
Very nice lessons with lot of reference..
DuaneJ on September 10, 2012:
I love the Wizard of Oz and you make the lesson really exciting!
Marika from Cyprus on September 10, 2012:
Great lesson plans here!