Teaching Ideas


A thought about point of view:

Recently I was speaking to fourth graders about DIAMOND WILLOW, and afterwards, a child approached me to ask "Why did you change your name to Willow?" It took me awhile to figure out that he didn't understand the concept of authors writing from a point of view other our own. He assumed I was Willow, and was puzzled.

Most of my books use first person point-of-view, and offer a good opportunity for teachers to explore this with students, both in their reading and in their writing.


Some thoughts about why poetry is important in a classroom, and a page of "5-Minute-Poetry-Ideas" you can use in your classroom:

Poetry in the Classroom


If you have used my books in your classroom, and would like to share your ideas with other teachers, send them to me and I'll try to update this page as regularly as I can


The paperback of Diamond Willow will have an extra section at the back, and I thought I'd share it here for those of you who already have the hardcover. It's in several sections.

Helen Frost answers questions from her readers

1. Have you ever ridden a dog sled? Did you go very fast? Have you ever crashed?

Yes, Iíve ridden several dog sleds, not too fast. Iíve never crashed. My experience in crashing has been on bikes, cross-country skis, and one time running down a sand-dune, knowing I was going too fast and about to lose my balance, and then I did. The worst part was that my father had a movie camera going, and recorded my face-down-splat-in-the-sand for everyone to watch over and over again.

2. Why were you in Alaska?

My aunt lived in Alaska when I was a child. When she came to visit, she showed slides and told stories about living there; that was when I first wanted to go to Alaska.

Later, I became a teacher and taught for three years in a one-teacher school in Telida, a small (25 people) Athabascan community in the interior part of the state. The people who lived there became like family to me.

At other times, I worked at Denali National Park, raised small children in Fairbanks, and taught fifth grade in Ketchikan.

3. Do you follow the Iditarod?

When I lived in Telida, the Iditarod came through the nearby towns of Nikolai, McGrath, and Takotna, so I followed it closely during those years. One year, one of the mushers, Mikki Collins, was from a town near Telida and the whole school went to Nikolai to cheer her on (remember this was a small school, nine students that year). Mikki later mentioned us in a book she wrote, Trapline Twins, describing how we met her and gave her grape juice when she arrived in Nikolai after midnight.

Iíve known several other mushers, too--I met Herbie Nayokpuk in Shishmaref before I knew anything about the Iditarod, and later found out that he was very well-known and much loved by Iditarod mushers and fans. I met Jeff King just as he was beginning his racing career, and now heís won the Iditarod four times. When I was writing Diamond Willow, Jeff read the manuscript and answered my questions about sled dogs.

4. How many times to you have to rewrite a poem to get it to fit in your shape?

It used to be possible to answer this question--when I wrote poems mostly on paper, I could just count the number of different pages, and that would be how many times I rewrote the poem. For Diamond Willow, I wrote each poem in a rough shape on paper, and then worked on the computer to finish it. The changes were ongoing, so I canít count the drafts. I can only answer ďlots.Ē

5. Do you ever get sick of following your own rules when you write poems?

When itís working, as it did in this final form of Diamond Willow, itís fun, and I donít get sick of it. But sometimes before I find the form for a new book, I work with my own rules for several months before admitting to myself that itís not working. Thatís not fun. If it happens, I take a break and then come back and try something new. When I eventually do find the form that moves the story forward, itís exciting to see it all fall into place.

6. Have you ever met Gary Paulsen?

Iíve met him the way youíve met me--by reading his books. Once I heard him speak, but I didnít have a chance to talk with him personally.

7. How cold does it get in Alaska?

Alaskans like to say things like, ďItís so cold that you can spit and hear it crackle before it hits the ground.Ē But when it really is that cold (40-60 degrees below zero), youíre too busy keeping a birch fire going in the woodstove, and trying to keep your boot liners dry, and cooking big pots of moose soup, to ever remember to spit in order to find out if that saying is true.

One thing I love is on a day when it gets warmer after it has been cold for a long time, there are patches of warmer air, like someone is stirring the air, and you can walk from bitter cold into a warmer place. It might still be very cold--maybe 20 below instead of 40 below--but you can feel the difference as you walk along.

Another thing I love is the Northern Lights.

Did you know that you can hear things from farther away on a cold day?

For Discussion

Note: None of these questions has a ďright answer.Ē They are suggestions of things you might think about or talk over with someone else who has read Diamond Willow.

1. Do you think Willow is lonely? Is being lonely the same as being alone?

2. Is having a pet just as good as having a person-friend?

3. What does Willow discover that makes it easier for her to make new friends?

4. Have you ever experienced the death of someone who loves you? If so, do you sometimes feel like their love for you is still somewhere in the world, as expressed by the animals in Diamond Willow?

Writing Ideas

1.Try writing a diamond-shaped poem of your own. Can you put a ďhidden messageĒ inside it?

2. Observe an animal without writing anything down. Pay close attention to what sounds it makes, how it moves, what it eats, how it relates to other animals and how it relates to people. Then write a story or poem from the point of view of the animal. Give it to someone to read, without naming the animal, and see if they can figure out ďwhoĒ is speaking.

3. Make your own rules for a poem and see how hard it is to follow them. If it doesnít lead you to discover something fun or interesting, try a different rule.


A poem of three stanzas, four lines each, that has a different color in each stanza.

A poem shaped like a circle, square, triangle, or rectangle.

A poem, at least ten lines long, that doesnít say anything true.

Things you might like:

Another book by Helen Frost:

Spinning Through the Universe. If you enjoy trying to write in the voices of different people, or using different forms (rules) for your poems, this book will give you a lot of new ideas.


http://iditarodblogs.com/zuma/ (Zumaís Paw Prints, using the Iditarod in the classroom)

http://www.iditarod.com/ (The official Iditarod website.)


At Northwood Middle School, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, students made a stone house, using words from The Braid to form the stones.

Jan Friedmeyer, 7th Grade Language Arts teacher, describes the project:

My classroom assistant and I pre-cut the "stones" first, gave one to each student, and then each student was to find a word that had been previously unknown to him/her that was used in the book. Students came to the chalkboard and wrote the word after finding it so that there would not be repetition. (I have five classes, so some words are repeated, but never two students became "experts" on the same word in one class.)

The first challenge was to determine the meaning of the word from the context used in the book. Secondly, the student looked up the word in the dictionary to check his/her ideas, and to write a complete definition. Then the student "stuffed" the stone with a piece of old wadded-up paper, and stapled the stone onto a piece of construction paper. Together groups of students worked to complete each of the panels with the stones attached. The gold roof of the house represented the house Sarah had always hoped to have. Three students collaborated and wrote the words on the front door. Getting it hung up was a group effort too.

Thank-you, Jan!