Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Millions of Cats - A Classic!

Hello, Teaching Friends!

I love to read old classic picture books to young students. I love to watch them ponder the idea that all illustrations were once black and white. It's fun to watch their eyes grow bigger when I tell them that their grandma's and grandpa's moms and dads might have heard this story when they were in first grade, and to see them nod their heads and promise to go home and ask them. Reading books from another era puts good literature in the perspective of time and family, and raises it to the value of an heirloom.

Have you read Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag? It was a Newbery Honor book in ... are you ready for this?... 1928!! And kids today still love this simple, rhythmically written story of pride and humility.

Here are three of my favorite ways to use this book. Of course, first you'll want to just read it a time or two for pure enjoyment! By that time, some of your children probably won't need much encouragement at all to begin to join in on the refrain. Use "hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and..." as a chant to build fluency. If you enlarge the print on a chart or with your document camera,  the refrain provides a great opportunity to focus on phrasing, expression, and punctuation, specifically the comma pause.

Once the refrain is in their heads, you have a great opportunity for some writing! Using this template, even your kinders can easily put together pages for a simple class book.

There are endless ways to use the template. We often started with some shared writing to generate ideas. How about a list of animal mothers and their babies? "Bears here, bears there, bears and cubs everywhere," "Pigs here, pigs there, pigs and piglets everywhere", etc. Or take it into some math writing: "Circles here, triangles there...". Illustrate, bind, and you've got a class book!
Speaking of math brings us to a third way to extend the teaching value of Millions of Cats. Big numbers! Kids are fascinated with them, so take a few moments to actually write out and compare what the numbers one hundred, one thousand, one million, one billion, and one trillion look like. Show your students what a thousand of something looks like (boxes of paper clips or bags of rubber bands are super for this ... pre-counted!) Ask your students if the old man in the story could really have brought home a million cats, or if the illustration actually shows a million. What a great opportunity for some discussion about estimation!

Do you have a favorite very old book that you love to read to your class? I'm thinking about classics like Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Dumplings , but unsung treasures, too. Please share your favorite by leaving a comment!
I'm linking up again at Mrs. Jump's Blog ... come and see who else is!
Happy Teaching!


  1. I remember this book well! Never thought of using it as a math literature book. Thanks for sharing so many great ideas! My favorite classic book is definitely Blueberries for Sal!

    The Math Maniac

    1. I do love that one, too, Tara! Thanks for your comment.

  2. I simply adore this book and I'm shocked to discover it was written so long ago! Thank you for the class book idea, too. The thought never crossed my mind even though I have my kiddos recite the refrain over and over again. Great fun!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Leslie! I love that the story is so timeless. Even the copyright date might make another good math mini-lesson!

  3. Oh, I can already see using this as a buddy activity for next year. Thank you.

  4. Great, Mary... so glad you found something useful here!


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