Novel Units: The Chocolate Touch

Sunday, January 29, 2017

True teacher confession: the first couple of times I read The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling with a class I didn't even realize it was an allusion to the myth King Midas and the Golden Touch.  The main character's name is John Midas and he loves chocolate.  The plot develops around a mysterious condition he develops in which everything he puts in his mouth turns to chocolate.  Despite the common last name and parallel themes, I somehow never made the connection.  Sometimes I wonder how any of us or our students survive those first few years teaching!

In years since, The Chocolate Touch has become one of my favorite books to teach, not only because there are so many cross-curricular connections but also because my students become so engrossed in the plot.  They, like John Midas, think eating chocolate all the time sounds like a great idea at first but soon they, like him, realize there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  As their constructed response on their final test, I have them write a letter to John Midas explaining why he can't eat chocolate all the time, based on what they learned in an earlier health and nutrition unit.  They took their role very seriously!

The Chocolate Touch is technically a late third grade or early fourth grade read.  However, it was originally published in 1952 so much of the verbiage is challenging for even a fourth or fifth grader.  This book makes it easy to teach characterization, theme, problem/solution and plot, but most of all it's my favorite strategy for teaching allusions.  When Common Core first came out, I was at a loss for how to teach RL.4.4- "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g. Herculean)."  Reading The Chocolate Touch is a great start for accomplishing this goal. I love to read this picture book version of King Midas and the Golden Touch right after we finish the novel and listen to my students react to the similarities.

After our test, I assigned my favorite no-prep, student-pleasing, after-test novel activity which is as simple as writing this on the board: "Choose a character, setting or object from the novel.  Create him/her/it out of construction paper, then explain their/its significance on an index card in 2-3 sentences."  My students LOVE this, it makes a great hall display, and it gets them thinking more than you realize.  I make them write on the board what they've chosen before they begin so that no character, setting, or object is duplicated.

I've found a couple of other resources that really enhance teaching the novel.  This activity from The Reading Olympians on TPT has a little bit of everything-- allusions, prefixes and suffixes, and my favorite- this chocolate bar label activity that we topped our day off with yesterday.  And once your students are familiar with the Midas touch, they'll be ready to look for allusions in all kinds of texts.  Deb Hanson's Allusions Partner Plays are a great place to start.

If you're looking for a sweet spot for your February reading plans, I highly recommend The Chocolate Touch for grades 3-5.  Check out my newly updated novel unit here.  It's on sale for 20% off for the rest of January!

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