Putting Dr. Seuss to Good Use

Evoke critical thinking and deeper understanding of the moral lessons conveyed in Theodor Geisel’s lesser-known works.

By Christen Amico

two kids reading

With Read Across America day (March 2nd) just around the corner, teachers can take the time to step away from the traditional Dr. Seuss stories to explore some of the unconventional, yet incredibly powerful titles, such as Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, The Lorax, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Horton Hears a Who. Although he denies his overt attempt at creating moralistic children’s books, Dr. Seuss did believe that children can always see the moral in any story. Take advantage of this by having your older students delve into the ethical messages in these classics with a new perspective that reaches beyond the rhythmic structure and colorful characters.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Although typically recited at graduation ceremonies, this story contains and strong message of self-confidence and work ethic. With lines like, “You can steer yourself any direction you choose,” readers are taught that they have opportunities and choices to make, and those decisions have consequences—whether good or bad. Seuss does not misrepresent the real world and the likelihood of success when he writes that, “Except when you don't. Because, sometimes, you won't.” People of all ages will benefit from this motivational book at any age, anytime. Here are some follow-up lesson ideas to use with this story:

  • Write about goals/dreams for the future, including the steps necessary to achieve them.
  • Draw a self-portrait of yourself in ten years.
  • Analyze the metaphor, “You’ll move mountains.”

"Yertle the Turtle"

As the first in a collection of three stories from the book, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, "Yertle the Turtle" is rarely read or studied in classrooms; yet it offers an important moral lesson of freedom and independence. For those of you who have not yet read this story, which was originally published as a cartoon in the 1940s, Yertle is an egotistical, heartless leader who forces the other turtles to pile themselves up to create the tallest throne ever. Despite the pain he is causing to the other turtles, he demands to be as high as the moon. Eventually, the smallest, most squished turtle stands up to Yertle only to be scorned. However, he can’t help but let out a small burp which causes all the turtles to collapse and become free, “As turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be”. The lesson ideas are endless when one considers the connection between this text and historical events of the past 200 years. Here are some follow-up lesson ideas to use with this story:

  • Personal narrative: Write about a time when you stood up to someone who was acting like a bully.
  • Compare Yertle the turtle with a historical dictator such as Adolf Hitler.
  • Compare Mack the turtle with a historical hero, Rosa Parks, for instance.

The Lorax and Horton Hears a Who

Admittedly I have not see either film, but I am glad to see that Hollywood chose to bring awareness to these two stories. Although both are very different in terms of plot, they each hold a very important moral lesson that can easily be taught to young children.

In The Lorax, an idealistic society leader becomes overzealous in his quest to create materialist things; cutting down valuable trees that cannot be replaced. Eventually this greed becomes unsustainable and the trees are all gone, leaving many creatures homeless and unable to survive. Although the Lorax tries to convince people to care about the truffula trees, his efforts are not welcomed. Young learners easily recognize the downfall of the main character and are quick to see his faults. Teachers can capitalize on this innocence and desire to do good in the world by teaching about natural resources and conservancy.

Similarly, Horton is a well-intentioned character who believes that, “a person is a person, no matter how small,” and decides to stand up for the small community of Who-ville. In this story, the tiny voices, literally and figuratively speak up to be heard. This message tells children that all voices are important, even those belonging to the smallest people. Here are some follow-up lesson ideas to use with this story:

  • Create a class book. What would you do if you were Horton or the Lorax?
  • Connect the Lorax to current environmental issues, such as pollution and global warming. What would happen if we did in fact run out of an important natural resource?
  • Compare Horton with inspirational leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., who have used their voices to positively impact change and influence others.

Dr. Seuss’s intelligence and wit suggests a higher moral message than what most children first think of when initially embarking on one of his books. Encouraging readers to explore some of these other titles and to see his works in a more meaningful and academically rigorous manner will lead to bountiful, philosophic conversations. 

Further Lesson Plans:

Dr. Seuss Subtraction

Younger learners will enjoy this basic subtraction worksheet in which Dr. Seuss characters can be crossed out in order to solve the math problem.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Teachers and parents can use this packet of worksheets that accompany the story, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Included are graphic organizers, word searches, vocabulary practice, and comprehension questions. This is ideal for second to fifth graders, but could be modified for any grade level.

On The Go

Older learners can use this lesson plan to help better understand the effects of cutting down the rainforest. This would be a great extension lesson to Dr. Seuss’ story of the Lorax.

More Related Articles:

Read Across America Day

Here is another great article outlining ideas and teaching strategies to use during Read Across America day.

Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday

Read this article for more information on how to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2nd.