Old Yeller by Fred Gibson is a Newbery Honor Book. Written in 1956, this classic novel about a boy and his dog is set in the Texas hill country during the 1860's. 14-year-old Travis, 5-year-old Little Arliss, and Mama must keep their farm running while Papa and the other men from the area drive their steer to Abilene, Kansas. A stray ‘yeller’ dog adopts the family. At first Travis wants to chase off the dog, but after saving Little Arliss from a she-bear, Old Yeller starts to show his value in many ways. After a neighbor stops by and warns the family that the dreaded plague of hydrophobia may be in the area, Travis and Old Yeller are injured by wild hogs. While recovering from their wounds, both a wild bull and their heifer show distinct signs that they are infected with hydrophobia. Still weak, Travis manages to shoot both animals, but has to let Mama and Lisbeth burn their carcasses. Returning late, Mama and Lisbeth are attacked by an infected loafer wolf, but are saved by Old Yeller. Old Yeller is bitten by the wolf and has to be shot before he turns mad with the disease.
This is an excellent book for exploring character development and exploring the relationship between a youth and their dog. Also the technique of foreshadowing can be studied. The author states on the first page that Travis would have to kill the dog, but as we get caught up in the story, the reader tends to forget that outcome. This book is written at a 5.4 reading level and its lexile is 910L. Many 4th grade students study the geography of the United States and this novel would be a good fit for those students needing a challenge.
This unit divides the book into three sections. Each section has a list of vocabulary words with the definition as used in the book and the page number where the word is found. (2004 edition Scholastic Paperback ISBN 13: 978-0-439-15963-0 or ISBN 10: 0-439-15963-6). A vocabulary worksheet is included which requires the student to use the correct vocabulary word in a sentence. The sentences are composed from incidents in the book, so be aware that there may be some ‘spoilers’ on the worksheet. If that’s a concern, assign the worksheet after the student has read the chapters in that section. Also worked into the sentences are some commonly tested 5th grade vocabulary words. These are indicated on the answer sheet in italics. A page is included that lists the words and the definitions without any numbering or hyphen marks so it can be easily cut and pasted into a puzzlemaker to provide student with extra practice with the words. A ten question multiple choice comprehension quiz is also included for each section as well as a 20 question final comprehension test. Because this book is usually read by fourth or fifth graders, the multiple choice test offers only three answers to choose from. Section quizzes and the final book test are given in both a regular format and a modified format. The modified test (Form M) gives the page number as reference for the comprehension questions. The final test consists of ten questions which ask the student to match a character to their description and ten true-false questions. Answer keys are included for all vocabulary worksheets, sections quizzes, and final test in the same format to make grading easier. Margins used to create this unit are left margin: 1.0, right margin: 1.0, top margin: .6, and bottom margin: 0.8. This unit created by Jane Maitski.
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