The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, is a classic of children’s literature. In it, a young girl named Dorothy is carried by a cyclone to a magical land called Oz.
Her house lands on and kills the Wicked Witch, and a couple of good witches help her out, giving her the Wicked Witch’s silver slippers (they were made red in the movie, since it was the first major color film and it seemed a waste not to take advantage of the color options) and sending her off to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.
Dorothy teams up with a lion, a tin man, and a scarecrow, all of whom have their own issues they hope the wizard can help them solve. They have lots of adventures, and Dorothy does get home. In the movie, the whole thing turns out to have been a dream, or perhaps an out of body experience.
If you have Kindle in your classroom, you should download Wizard of Oz Illustrated Series: 15 Books, which includes the whole series with the original illustrations. You can get the Kindle app for free for your classroom computer.
There are lots of online resources for this story:
- A lesson plan focusing on the movie.
- Check out the Warner Brothers’ site for an interactive timeline and music clips.
- A great collection of ideas for Wizard of Oz activities.
- Wizard of Oz ideas for homeschool or classroom.
The Wizard of Oz is written as though it were a folktale. Review folktales you’ve read and identify some of the characteristics that make the book sound like a folktale. Here are some possibilities:
- Three companions, like the three little pigs or the three billygoats gruff, join Dorothy.
- Dorothy goes on a journey and meets various characters along the way.
- Magical and fantasy elements show up throughout the story.
- A quest (in this case, each of the main characters has a quest) is at the center of the story.
- The main characters learn moral lessons.
Have students identify the major events in each chapter after reading. Use a story map or timeline to reveal the structure of the book as you read it. A bulletin board with a yellow brick road made of Kraft paper winding across it can be a good visual organizer for this.
As you go through the book, discuss these questions:
- In the famous film made from this book, the scenes in Kansas are in black and white and the scenes in Oz were in Technicolor. Have students look for the ways that the book showed Kansas as an ordinary place and Oz as a magical one. You might start with the first chapter, in which we learn that Toto the dog saves Dorothy “from growing as gray as her other surroundings.”
- The book is filled with descriptions of clothing, furniture, landscapes, and other details. Ask students to find and share their favorite descriptions.
- The Wicked Witch was clearly wicked, but other characters, including Dorothy, did some things that we might question. For example, Dorothy hits the lion in the face and takes the Wicked Witch’s golden cap. Is she justified in these behaviors? As you read, capture morally questionable actions and add them to the map or timeline.
- The Scarecrow expresses his wish to have brains several times, in spite of also saying that being made of flesh seems inconvenient. Do the conversations about brains focus on being smart or thinking clearly, or does the scarecrow think about other benefits?
- People who make a political interpretation of the book sometimes say that the Tin Woodman represents the dehumanization of people by automation. Is there anything in the description of the Tin Woodman to support that idea?
- The Scarecrow and the Tim Woodman debate whether a heart or a brain is the most important thing. Ask students to identify the reasons they give for their points of view. Notice that when the Tin Woodman’s jaw rusts shut, only the Scarecrow can figure out what the problem is. Notice also that the rusting was caused by the Tin Woodman’s tender-hearted reaction to the accidental squishing of a bug. Do these events contradict the characters’ beliefs that they were missing heart and brains? Challenge students to notice other examples of problem solving and compassion.
- Much of the story consists of dangerous adventures or obstacles on the one hand and help from other briefly seen characters on the other. On your story map or timeline, show the dangers above the road and the helpers who provide solutions along the bottom.
- When the companions learn the secret of the Wizard of Oz, they decide to call him the Great Humbug. yet the people of the Emerald City continue to believe in the Wizard and miss him when he is gone.
- When Dorothy learns the secret power of the silver shoes, she could have been dismayed to have gone to so much trouble to find her way home. However, she is glad that she went through the adventures, even if some of the events were frightening. Ask students to think about experiences they’ve had that were challenging or frightening. Challenge them to write about such an experience.
- This is the whole of the final chapter:
Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running toward her.
“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. “Where in the world did you come from?”
“From the Land of Oz,” said Dorothy gravely. “And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!”
Is that enough to be a chapter? Is it a good ending to the story? What might have happened next?
Some online resources:
- Comprehension questions, chapter by chapter.
- PBS discusses the themes of the book.
- A discussion of the book as an allegory. Challenge students to come up with different allegorical interpretations of the story or of episodes in the story. Can all stories be used as allegories, or does it have to be the intention of the author?
- Learn more about Kansas, where Dorothy’s story begins.
- Plan a class trip to the Wizard of Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas. It can be a virtual field trip, of course — it’s still a great opportunity to work with maps.
- There has long been a theory that The Wizard of Oz was designed to be a parable on populism, particularly referring to the arguments about the gold and silver standards. Read an essay on the subject with older students for an interesting lesson on economics.
- Those who see The Wizard of Oz as a political statement believe that Baum took his inspiration for Dorothy from Mary Lease. Challenge students to research this interesting woman.
- Weather is a great science connection for the Wizard of Oz. Use a Tornado Tube to create a tornado in a couple of 2-liter bottles. Add houses from a Monopoly game to get the effect Dorothy must have experienced when her house was carried away.
- Teach Engineering has a tornado lesson plan.
- Parts of the body are another option, since the tin man needs a heart and the scarecrow needs a brain. Have students draw around themselves on kraft paper and add cut-out or drawn hearts, brains, and other internal organs appropriate to your grade level.
Art and Music
- Look at 25 different styles of Wizard of Oz illustrations. Let students enjoy sorting them into groups, or discuss the styles and influences from the point of view of art history. Encourage students to make their own illustrations, too.
- Check out Dover’s Wizard of Oz Paper Dolls. Make a center with them by putting them into a shoebox and allowing students to play with them, recreating the story or making up new stories. They can also be used for acting out the story while listening to it (a good focus aid for kids who need some movement or tactile activity while listening), or for making dioramas.
- The song “Over the Rainbow” from the movie version of The Wizard of Oz begins with an octave interval. That is, the word “Somewhere” has the same note for its two syllables, but an octave apart. This is a good time to study about octaves.
- Older students might enjoy listening to parts of Wicked and The Wiz, two musical adaptations of the story. Bring out the Venn diagrams to compare the stories and the music. With older students, you might like to read the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West .
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-up has Robert Sabuda’s astounding three dimensional paper art. Admire it, and then try it out in the classroom.