The Flat Stanley Project grew out of a classic children's book by the same name, written by Jeff Brown. In the story, Stanley, a regular boy, is squashed flat by a falling bulletin board. On the bright side, he discovers that his parents can slip him into an envelope and mail him to visit friends in faraway places. In real life, students in thousands of classrooms around the world participate in the Flat Stanley Project. Each class makes its own cardboard flat friend and creates a life story for him. Then, through e-mail or regular mail, students send their friend on vacation with classmates in other countries. When a flat visitor arrives, host children treat him as an honored guest. They take him along on outings, snap travel photos, and keep a journal of their activities and meals, giving insight into life in their part of the world.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Flat Stanley Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Before You Begin
Visit the Flat Stanley Web site* and register your class to receive flat people guests from around the world. Explore the site galleries and blog and learn about participating classes, and choose classrooms in different countries where you would like to send your own flat person. The Flat Stanley Web site has tips on sending your flat person to other countries, and offers project ideas from classrooms worldwide. You have the option of sending your flat person through regular mail or through e-mail. If you choose to use e-mail, set up an e-mail account on Yahoo* specifically for this project, or use another free e-mail provider.
To begin the unit, engage students in a class discussion around the Essential Question, Are we really so different from others? Elicit student responses and examples, and chart a list of ideas brainstormed during the discussion. Keep this list posted throughout the unit.
Make a New Friend
Read the book Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and discuss the project ahead. Present an art lesson where each student makes a flat person. The Flat Stanley Web site has suggestions for size and composition, and even offers a template. You may suggest that students adorn their flat person with little clues to their personality. For instance, a bird-watching flat person might have a pair of binoculars drawn around his neck.
Have each student create an autobiography and fact file for the character, to be included in the front of the flat person’s travel journal. If students provide engaging information about their flat people, they are more likely to get good responses back when they send their friends on a visit. Encourage students to be creative and invent a character with a unique personality, interests, food preferences, and background story. For example, a bird-watching flat person’s autobiography might include descriptions and sketches of the birds he has “seen” in your locality. This sets the stage for a bird-watching trip with a host class and interesting additions to the journal.
Plan a drama lesson where children assume the identity of their flat people and introduce themselves to the class.
Send the flat people home with their creators, and have students complete journal entries about several shared adventures, written from the point of view of the flat person. Have students read their entries in class, and discuss the qualities of effective journal writing.
In class, have students participate in peer conferences to get feedback on their journal entries. Go over the journal checklist beforehand and have students use the checklist as they discuss the entries. Students can make necessary revisions and think about future entries based on the peer’s feedback.
Next, send flat people home with various members of the class. Encourage students to draw and take photographs of the places they visit with their flat guests and write journal accounts, again from the point of view of the flat visitor. Have students read entries in class. Make sure students address the Unit Question, What is special about our history, the characteristics of the land around us, and our weather? in their journals. To accomplish this, the students should include interesting facts and stories about their country’s or family’s history, any special characteristics about the land around them, and what the weather is like in their country. Explain to the students that this information will be interesting to Stanley’s hosts after he is sent traveling with this journal.
Repeat home visits until students are writing clear and effective journal entries. When they are skilled in journal writing, students can turn their attention to sending out and hosting flat people.
Together, choose which classes will host your flat people. Send the flat people, along with their journals, through regular mail or e-mail. Include a questionnaire that clearly addresses how other kids spend their time, what they eat, how their land and weather is unique, and something interesting in their country’s history. The questionnaire given to the host class will provide you with comparative information you will collect for all the countries your flat people visit.
The first time you participate, focus on daily journal writing. As the project moves forward, shift the focus to cultural geography themes for students to write and ask about. Encourage students to contribute themes for the class to study. Being in charge of one’s own learning is greatly motivating.
Set aside time for students to discuss and explore their interests, and work those interests into the project. Watch for opportunities for collaborative learning and for natural project extensions. When you have established themes you want to explore with other classes worldwide, set the class to work researching the same themes for their own locality. When they become experts on their own area, they are ready to trade and compare their local information with other classes. Refer the students back to the Unit Question, How are other kids like me? and talk about this in a whole class discussion.
Consider sending flat people out in cycles of five. Maintain a record of all traveling flat people. Have students use a spreadsheet to create a chart that lists travelers on the vertical axis, and lists locations and departure and arrival information on the horizontal axis.
The project has potential for great extensions involving maps, globes, and atlases. You might have students find geographic coordinates of visited classes, or have them calculate directions or miles traveled using a travel site, such as MapQuest*.
Create a class database containing a list of the travelers along with fields for each food group. Fill the database with the types of foods the travelers eat during their visits. Have students compare these foods to the foods they eat at home.
Make sure students consider all the data collected during their journal writing periods. Have them include in their writings how they are different or similar to Flat Stanley’s hosts. Students may also consider how their own country is different or similar to Stanley’s hosts by comparing weather and land characteristics.
Thanks to technology, children get an opportunity to sample life in other countries through the eyes of their flat traveler. Children gain firsthand experience in sending and receiving e-mails, attaching files to e-mails, printing material, using a digital camera, scanning material, and saving information on a computer. Word processing skills are developed as the children engage in journal writing. Spreadsheet skills are strengthened as the students create charts from the data collected. Database skills are practiced as the students complete database fields with the foods eaten by their flat friends. In fact, the sky is the limit, depending on the ability of the class. Consider having the class record their voices and music, and send this to other schools, as in this example of an Irish classroom recording of "The Britches Full of Stitches" (mp3). Compile a CD of flat people pictures to send home. Consider exploring the possibilities of using a webcam.
As the class creates and collects flat people memories, compile them into a multimedia presentation or publication to share with others. This class newspaper, The Stanley Post, shows many good ideas for items to include in a presentation or publication, including journal entries, pictures, maps, and poetry. Schedule teacher-student conferences to monitor progress, give feedback, and ensure that students understand project requirements.
After all projects are shared, end the unit with the students revisiting the Essential Question, Are we really so different from others? On a whiteboard, create a Venn diagram consisting of three circles—two outer circles representing two of the countries Stanley visited, and the center circle representing the students’ and Stanley’s home country. Invite the students to fill in the diagram with cultural facts that are unique to each country as well as facts that each country might have in common. Allow students to share their opinions and final thoughts on whether they feel we are so different from others.
English Language Learner
Imelda Fouhy is a third-grade teacher in Kilworth, County Cork, Ireland. Her class was featured in An Innovation Odyssey, a collection of stories of technology in the classroom, Story 93: Tin Whistles Go Worldwide
Background: Odyssey Story from Kilworth, County Cork, Ireland.