I’m a huge fan of the Hatchet Series by Gary Paulsen, so when he passed away I decided I wanted to do something special as a way of honoring him. I thought what better way can there be than to give teachers resources for one of his novels to use in the classroom? Since Woodsong is Paulsen’s memoir, this novel is a natural choice. Enjoy these Woodsong teaching ideas.
Who was Gary Paulsen?
Born in 1939, Gary Paulsen grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and other locations in the United States and Canada. Writing over 200 books is a remarkable feat for anyone but especially for Paulsen. He had a difficult childhood and did not graduate from high school. He began his career as a writer in the 1960s. Many of his books are considered classics of young adult literature. Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room are among his most famous titles. Paulsen won numerous awards for his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature.
Paulsen is also known for his experiences with the Iditarod, an annual long-distance sled dog race run in Alaska. He raced three times and has written several books about his experiences, including Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod.
You can get the handouts with comprehension questions, musher tracking charts, and more here.
Woodsong Teaching Ideas
Woodsong is a recollection of Paulsen’s experiences with the sport of dog mushing and the Iditarod. The book covers his experiences training for the race, his interactions with the dogs and other mushers, and the challenges he faced during the race.
Reading Woodsong with Students
The magic begins in the classroom when students reach “Part 2: The Race” of Woodsong. Timing reading the novel during the actual Iditarod is a must.
Over time, when I couldn’t squeeze in the full novel, I learned that students have no trouble getting interested in the story if they start the book beginning with Part 2 which later became my routine. Because of this, I have included comprehension questions for Part 2 only.
Woodsong Teaching Idea #1 – Use the Audiobook
Fortunately, our school owns a class set of Woodsong because buying a set can be quite expensive especially if you only plan to teach a small portion of the book. Luckily, Christine Ward reads the full book on YouTube. Better yet, the video shows the text of the story while she reads.
Woodsong Teaching Idea #2 – Following the Iditarod
The first Iditarod Race was held in 1973. At this time, the race took approximately 20 days. Now the race takes half the amount of time. Ask students to do a little research to find out why the race can be run more quickly now.
Gary Paulsen ran the race in 17 days. In Woodsong, Paulsen writes a short chapter for each day of the race. I recommend doing one of two things.
- Read Part 2 of Woodsong at the beginning of the Iditarod Race.
- Divide the book into small mini-lessons and read about 2 days of Paulsen’s race each day during the Iditarod.