The Empty Pot {A Book About Honesty & Integrity}

Looking for a book to read on the first day of school? The Empty Pot by Demi is a fantastic book that emphasizes the importance of HONESTY and living with INTEGRITY.
Book synopsis: The Emperor needs to choose a successor and decides to host a contest. He gives all the children in the kingdom a seed and tells them to bring back their best in one year. Ping, the main character, is very excited because he loves to garden and knows he can grow a beautiful flower. However, Ping plants his seed and nothing happens. He replants it in a larger pot with fresh soil. He waters it and looks after it every day, but still nothing grows. After the year, the other children all make fun of Ping because they have beautiful flowers, but all Ping has is an empty pot. Ping's parents encourage him, telling him they're proud of him for doing his best. The children all come to the Emperor, but he is not pleased with their beautiful flowers. When he sees Ping's empty pot, he smiles. The Emperor tells everyone that the seeds he handed out had been boiled, so nothing could grow from them. All of the other children had swapped out their seeds, but only Ping was honest and brought an empty pot. Ping, praised for his honesty and courage, is crowned the next Emperor

It's a fantastic story with a great message - I love hearing my students' gasp when they hear the plot twist! 

Buy the book on Amazon or you can watch the book being read on Storyline Online (it's really great quality!)

After we read the book I had my students do several activities to drive home the message of the book and sneak in some important reading skill practice.

Here are the activities I use with my students:

·    Front Cover visualization: I have the students look at the book cover and make predictions about what they think the book will be about. I accept all answers with a straight face. If anyone has read the book I ask that they stay silent so they don’t give anything away. Most kids don’t want to spill the beans for their classmates because it’s such a fun twist! I also have them make observations about the picture on the cover (it’s a unique shape and style so it prompts a lot of good discussion). 
·    Charting the Details {Beginning-Middle-End graphic organizer}: As I read the story I have the students jot down important details from the beginning, middle, and end. This helps them develop the necessary skills of note-taking, sequencing, and retelling. 
·    Retelling Booklet: After the story I broke my students into pairs (using these fun food buds pairing cards – my kids LOVE them!) and had them complete these cute Empty Pot booklets.  They worked together to fill out the different pots with important details from the story: Characters, Beginning, Middle, End (I have them compare notes from their Charting the Details organizer and write succinct summaries together), and the Moral of the story. They then color the pots, cut them out, and staple them together to make little summary booklets.
·    Sequencing Events: The next day we read the book again (no surprises this time!) and I have them place the events in order.
·    Cause & Effect: Then I divide the students into groups and put their cause and effect skills to the test! I give them an activity sheet with the “causes” filled in and they need to come up with the effects.  
·    Vivid Vocabulary: Next, with the same groups, the students put on their word wizard thinking caps and look into important vocabulary words from the story (successor, proclamation, swarmed, and ashamed). The groups work together to brainstorm definitions (drawing on prior knowledge and context clues) and then look in the dictionary for the official definitions. They then compare the two and decide if they were correct or if their definition needs tweaking.
·    My Favorite Scene: The final activity of the reading period is a more creative one. The students go back to their desks, break out their art supplies, and get in touch with their artsy sides J. I give them a piece of paper and have them draw their favorite scene (in the style of the illustrations from the book). Most of the students draw the scene where the Emperor announces that he’s boiled the seeds and everyone is stunned. It’s a great reminder of the story’s main message that they can take home.
·    Moral of the Story(letter writing activity): The last day of our book study starts with a writing activity. The students choose a friend to write to who has never read the book. They explain the story in a short, succinct summaryand then explain the theme, or moral of the story. We know that teaching is the highest form of understanding – so the act of teaching something the moral really drives the message home in their hearts and minds.  
·    Irony: While irony isn’t in the standards, I think it’s an important literary device that the students need to be exposed to. I teach my students the official definition of irony (a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected) and then, as a class, we come up with what was ironic about The Empty Pot. (It is ironic because the reader thinks Ping will be reprimanded for bringing an Empty Pot, but in the end, that was exactly what the Emperor was looking for.) 
·    Fill the Pots (following directions and drawing activity): Then I give the students an activity page with six different empty pots on it. In each one I tell them what type of flower to draw and they have to listen and follow my directions exactly. This helps refine their listening skills and encourages them to pay attention to details.
·    Honest or Not?: The last activity in this unit is a critical thinking activity. I divide the students into pairs again and give them eight real-life situations (such as “Sara and Joshua are playing a game at recess. Sara cheats and adds an extra point to her score when Joshua isn’t looking”) and have them decide if it is HONEST OR DISHONEST. Then, as a team, they come up with a ninth example, switch papers with a neighboring group, and determine the answer. This activity provides the real-life application to the story’s message. I chose scenarios that an elementary school student could relate to, so that they can apply the moral to their everyday lives.

At the end of our unit I give each student an empty terra cotta pot for them to take home as a reminder of our important study this week:
I love running into students from previous years and they tell me they still have their empty pot sitting on their desk and it reminds them of our class! 

If you'd like to try these activities with your students you can download this print-and-go resource here

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