Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester - Teaching Ideas

Tacky the penguin is one odd bird! He doesn't do anything like the other penguins do. He dresses oddly, walks differently and sings in an unusual way. Tacky's companions don't really pay attention to, or include Tacky in anything they do, because he is so different than them. One day Tacky and his companions hear some thumping in the distance, and that can only mean one thing...hunters! All the other penguins run and hide, but not Tacky, he stands and confronts the hunters. The hunters tell Tacky that they are looking for the pretty penguins and that they are going to get rich, rich, rich by selling those pretty penguins. Well, Tacky starts to show the hunters just what kind of penguins live there, ones that march like him, dress like him, and sing like him. When Tacky starts to sing for the hunters they do not like it, and when the other penguins join Tacky by singing just like him, the hunters really don't like it, so they ran away and never looked back.

This is one of my favorite books as well as a favorite of many of my students, as I am sure it is of your students too.

This book offers many great teaching opportunities, so listed below is a list of reading skills, strategies, questions and ideas to help you create a great lesson...or two.

I have created an entire packet dedicated just to Tacky because my mind was a racin' with ideas. 

Reading level: 2.5
Theme/subject: individuality
Genre: humorous fiction

Suggested Vocabulary/phrases: companions, odd bird, graceful, cannonball, chanting, switch, blared, hearty slap on the back, dreadfully, clasped

Reading skills and strategies:
  • Asking questions - {possible questions before} I wonder what the story is about. I wonder why he is called Tacky. {possible questions during} I wonder why Tacky was so different than the other penguins. I wonder why the hunters only wanted the pretty penguins. I wonder what a switch is.  {possible questions after} I wonder if the hunters will come back.  **Remember to have your students answer/reflect their questions.
  • Author's point of view – Third person. Be sure to find 3 pieces of evidence to support this.
  • Author's purpose – entertain {evidence} Penguins don’t wear clothes. Penguins don’t do cannonballs, and penguins don’t sing. Tacky looks very silly in his clothes. All these things make the story very entertaining.
  • Beginning, middle, end - {most important event from beginning} Tacky was an odd bird. {most important event from middle} The hunters came and Tacky talked to them. {most important event from end} All the penguins sang horribly and the hunters ran away.
  • Cause and effect – Why was Tacky an odd bird? Because he marched funny, dressed odd and did cannonballs into the water. Why did all the penguins hide? Because they heard thumping in the distance. Why did the hunters come with maps and trap, rocks and locks? Because they were going to catch some penguins. Why were the hunters going to get rich? Because they were going to sell the penguins for a dollar. Why did the hunters run away? Because they could not stand the horrible singing.
  • Character analysis - describe Tacky {looks like, feelings, thoughts, character}
  • Classify & categorize – classify clothes – categorize play clothes and dress clothes.
  • Compare & contrast – Tacky and the other penguins.
  • Connections - {possible text-to-self connections} doing cannonballs. Being different than others. Helping your friends.
  • Drawing conclusions & inferencing – What do you think the other penguins thought of Tacky at the beginning of the story? {text clues} Tacky didn’t seem to be a part of anything the other penguins did. {what I know} I know that people that are a little different from others are not always included in with the others. {my conclusion} I think the other penguins liked Tacky but they just never included him because he was so different from them.
  • Fact & opinion{fact} Tacky was a penguin. Tacky did cannonballs. Hunters came looking for penguins. The penguins hid behind a block of ice. The hunters ran away. {opinion} Tacky dresses cool. Cannonballs are fun. The hunters thought they were going to get rich. Tacky was a terrible singer. Tacky was not a polite penguin.
  • Main idea & details - {main idea} The story is mostly about Tacky and how different he was than the other penguins. {details} Tacky slapped the other penguins on the back when he greeted them. Tacky marched 1-2-3, 4-2, 3-6-0 not 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Tacky did cannonballs instead of diving gracefully.
  • Plot - the turning point or climax in the story was when the Tacky didn’t run and hide from the hunters but talked to them instead.
  • Predict – What do you think the story is going to be about? What do you think makes Tacky an odd bird? If the other penguins dove gracefully, how do you think Tacky got in the water? What do you think is making the thumping in the distance? What do you think the hunters want? What do you think the penguins are going to do when they see the hunters?  Why do you think Tacky doesn’t hide with the other penguins? What do you think the hunters will do with Tacky? What do you think the hunters will do when Tacky starts to sing?
  • Problem & solution - {problem} Hunters come and want to capture penguins. {solution} Tacky shows the hunters the kind of penguin he is, different.  He marches out of line, does cannonballs and sings terribly.
  • Sequencing – Tacky is an odd bird. Tacky greeted the other penguins by slapping them on the back. Tacky does not march properly. Tacky does cannonballs. Tacky sings terribly. The penguins heard a thumping. The hunters came. The penguins hid behind a block of ice. Tacky stood alone with the hunters. The hunters wanted to capture penguins. Tacky showed the hunters how he marched, his cannonball and sang them a song. The hunters ran away.
  • Story elements - list title, author, characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, or problem & solution.
  • Strong thought – The other penguins never included Tacky in their marching and singing. What could you say to the other penguins to make them include him?
  • Summarize - {someone} The hunters {wanted} wanted to capture some penguins {but} but Tacky showed them the kind of penguin he was {so} so the hunters ran away. The other penguins {finally} finally liked the way Tacky was so different from them.
  • Theme – it is important to always be yourself. It is important to accept others for who they are.
  • Visualize – Tacky was acting like his tacky self when the hunters came. Visualize what you would do to make the hunters leave?

You can pick this up from either one of my stores.

Happy Reading!


  1. My kids love Tacky. And love singing like Tacky! Since we read the book back in January, whenever someone is being "unique" someone will pipe up that they are an odd bird, but nice to have around.

    1. I love it! That is so cute!!

  2. I am a teaching major in college and when I found this book I immediately loved it. Your blog really helped out with a lesson plan that I am making about comparing and contrasting Tacky and his companions. Thanks for the help!


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