The relationship between individuals and society is complicated. The Bear That Wasn’t provides an opportunity for students to begin to understand how society shapes our identities as individuals.
You can read The Bear That Wasn't aloud to students as they follow along. Or you can ask student volunteers to read the following parts: Narrator, Bear, Foreman, General Manager, Third Vice President, Second Vice President, First Vice President, President, zoo bears, circus bears.
If you do not have a classroom set of the book, while you read the story aloud, have students illustrate what they hear on a storyboard. A Storyboard Template has been included with this lesson. Students can draw an image in the large box next to a short caption describing the main idea in that section of the text.
Curriculum connection: Drawing is a literacy strategy that helps students comprehend and retain ideas from written text. Use this strategy to help students better understand historical texts, myths, or parables.
Debrief this story by asking students to create identity charts for the bear. You can use the Bear Claw Identity Chart handout to highlight the distinction between how the bear describes himself and how others describe him. Ask students to write all of the words the bear uses to describe himself inside the paw and all of the words that others use to describe him outside the paw.
After students make identity charts for the bear, lead a class discussion about the meaning of this story. Here are some prompts to help guide the conversation:
- What words does the bear use to describe himself?
- What words did others use to describe him?
- How does the identity of the bear shift over time?
- What point do you think Frank Tashlin, the author, is trying to make in this story?
- What do you think has more bearing on identity—the labels we give ourselves or the labels others give us?”