The Wizard of Oz: Captivating Younger Readers

Lesson Plans and Story Adaptations for Grades One through Three

The first text version of The Wizard of Oz that I knew was a full color edition for younger readers. I think my mother read it to me before I was old enough even to handle the simplified text. I am scarcely alone in this regard -- children often get to know Dorothy at a young age!

Frank Baum's original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is, by conventional measures of readability, appropriate for middle school. Yet children in first grade (and even younger) are captivated by the little girl and dog who get swept away to Oz. The upcoming movie will doubtlessly stir up excitement -- and so many of teachers are creating Oz-themed lessons to introduce children to the wonderful world of reading.

On this page, I will explore Wizard of Oz lesson plans for younger readers. I will also discuss the different editions available for primary school audiences.

Image: Amazon

Choosing an Adaptation

Abridged? Adapted?

There are a lot of junior editions of this classic tale. Some are based on the book while others follow the story line of the movie.

There are significant differences in the abridged versions, even among those that follow the book.  Some abridged classics rewrite the language; others, like the new Wizard of Oz by Donna Fuller, keep the author's original language but shorten the work and take out difficult vocabulary and difficult-to-follow phrases. (I suspect that it's the sentence structure moreso even than the vocabulary that have placed this particular book where it is on the readability list.)

Two Categories of Adaptation

Do You Draw Inspiration from the Book or the Movie?

Using the Wizard of Oz in First Grade

Wizard of Oz Illustration... Large Scale!

Any grade appropriate adaptation of The Wizard of Oz can be used to meet first grade standards including asking and answering questions about a story, retelling it, and identifying the major characters, settings, and events.  

Some versions are more enriching, including, for example, a richer description, of the story's settings. The new standards place the original book as a read-aloud for this age group. Consequently, there a lot of groups of teachers working on creating lesson plans. You may want to read the first chapter of the original to discuss word choice and mood -- you can visit the Northern Michigan Social Studies Resource Wiki to get some inspiration.  You can visit WikiSpaces to see how technology can enhance first grade language arts lessons based on The Wizard of Oz. The PCSSD Common Core gives many additional suggestions like discussing the characters feelings at different stages of the story and using visualization to improve word choice.

Making predictions can be important for keeping minds active and keeping comprehension up. You can turn to Life in First Grade to see the cute bulletin board one teacher made to showcase her students' predictions about what Dorothy would find in the Emerald City.

Graphic organizers will help students record their thinking about characters, setting, and events.  It's not necessary to have a graphic organizer designed specifically for The Wizard of Oz, though several teachers have created them and placed them for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers. There are also center activities that use The Wizard of Oz as a motiff for developing skills in other content areas. 

Image: NCinDC, Flickr

A Faithful Adaptation

Abridged for Younger Readers

This is a faithful adaptation-- it's shorter but retains the original language. The visual rendition of Dorothy is charming, but may come as a surprise to those used to the movie.

The Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum

Listen to Wizard of Oz Storybook Online

It's easy to read the original (a public domain work) online.  It's not so easy to find adaptations except in audio form.  Here's a ten minute reading of a (very) abridged version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It includes the original illustrations from the Frank Baum classic, though they've been animated a bit.

Making Retelling Meaningful

A context for retelling: Challenge children to make their own adaptation!  What decisions will they make? Children can go through the writing process and ultimately illustrate and publish their own young reader's editions!

Second Grade Lesson Ideas

Second graders may be ready to listen to the original. The Wizard of Oz is also a natural for several second grade core objectives, including describing how characters respond to challenges. 

At the second grade level, The Wizard of Oz would be an apt addition to a unit on fairy tales. One common core objective is to determine the moral or lesson from stories of diverse cultures; another is to compare and contrast multiple versions of the same story.

Want to get children trying out their acting -- while at the same time developing skills needed for reading? Let them delve deep into the characters of the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodman while playing around with different voices.  (Yes, exploring point of view through voice is mentioned in the Common Core standards!) 

Need some worksheets for vocabulary and basic comprehension? There are also a number of Wizard of Oz printables available on ESL Printables. The catch is that you have to be a contributing member in order to download!

Exploring Theme with Elementary Students

Themes in The Wonder Wizard of Oz

Children should begin considering theme as early as second grade.  What are some child-friendly and accessible themes? One might be self esteem and confidence.  In the original story, Dorothy's friends -- the Scarecrow, Tinwoodman and Cowardly Lion -- professes to not having qualities that they do indeed have. The Wizard, meanwhile, might have an inflated sense of self.

Introducing Theme to the Youngest Students

The Wizard of Oz themes introduced here aren't necessarily the ones an older reader would identify.  This is, however, a charming introduction to theme for very young students.  It gets across the idea that stories carry meanings that go beyond the literal and that common themes show up in multiple stories.  The costuming and acting is likely to attention the eye of primary students.  At the end of the video, children are invited to extend their learning by looking for the same common themes in other stories.

A Charming Old Adaptation of the L. Frank Baum Classic

And there it is: a very old edition for very young readers! I recognized that storybook at a glance!  I believe it belonged to some much older cousins before it ever found its way to my brother's and my library.  Judging by the date, it could well have been my aunt's before it was theirs. And yet there is some stunning artwork -- not what you typically see in books that are so old.

It's been a long time since I saw it, but I thought it had been based on the book, not the movie.  The Amazon image gallery, which shows off a few pages from the book, seems to confirm this. I remember, when I was perhaps five or six, wondering why scenes had been changed.  I didn't understand that there had been a book before there was a movie -- but it got me thinking.

More Adaptations of the Wizard of Oz

For Younger Readers

The Wizard of Oz, adapted & abridged
L. Frank Baum

Now don't those characters look different!  (Time for an exercise in visual literacy.)

L. Frank Baum

One of the newest adaptations -- yes, 2012!

The Wizard of Oz (with panel zoom)
			 - Classics Illustrated Junior
Frank Baum

I hear this one is in comic book form!

Third Grade Lesson Ideas for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

By third grade, children are ready to sit and listen to the original, though most won't be able to read it on their own.

One third grade standard is to differentiate one's own beliefs from those of characters.  Hmm, the Scarecrow thinks he has no brains -- but what do the children think?  

Another third grade standard: to identify how character traits keep the events rolling along. Those traits the characters are so sure they don't have have a way of showing up again and again just when friends need them. The Cowardly Lion isn't so cowardly when he's needed.  The Scarecrow shows off his brains by coming up with a plot to save the lion from the poppy field. How about making a chart and keeping track of the Scarecrow's smarts and the Cowardly Lion's courage?

Time to put the pencils away? The Wizard of Oz can also put some sparkle into arts lessons.  Here a third grade creative dramatics teacher explains how she uses The Wizard of Oz.

Need some structure? Bad Wolf Press has put together a conflict resolution teaching kit for The Wizard of Oz.  Unlike the other activities here, this one costs some money -- about $30. It comes with script, song CD, and teacher's guide.  You can preview it online.  You can even see what Common Core standards and National Health Education standards it covers! (The songs, it should be noted, are quite different from the ones that appear in the movie!)

The Wizard of Oz Across the Curriculum

Play-Friendly Wizard of Oz Dolls

Have a storytelling center? Wizard of Oz dolls can be fun, but the price may put them out of the reach of most classroom teachers.  Here, though, we find a cheaper alternative: Kelly and friends starring as Wizard of Oz characters. Madame Alexander and McDonald's also teamed up to produce some petite but affordable dolls.

Kelly Doll & Friends The Wizard of Oz Gift Set (2003)
Collector Edition 2003 Mattel production. Model #B2516 $45.00

Develop understanding of character, plot, and theme while playing with Dorothy and her friends. The list price on this set is expensive, but if you click on other sellers, you'll find the starting price for the set under $25.


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1165 forum posts
Ladymermaid on said:
The wizard of oz dolls are adorable. I had not seen them before. Great article and so very well displayed on such a wonderful classic movie.
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798 forum posts
jadeink on said:
Nice Leaf. ... My first lead grammar school role was as The Wizard. ... In early rehearsals, I kept forgetting my lines. ... The teacher/director told me, "Either get the lines in your head or I will replace you." ... I got the message and it stayed with me in my lifelong participation in theatre. I never again forgot a line.
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1102 forum posts
Bonita on said:
This leaf would be very helpful to teachers.

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