Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Joy Cowley's Books to Practice Literacy Skills—FREE Download!

This is a guest blog post from Susanna Westby of Whimsy Workshop, and it includes a FREE download with worksheets, Reader's Theater masks, and MORE! See the bottom of the post for the link to download, and check back frequently for more great classroom-tested ideas!

Hello! I am Susanna from Whimsy Workshop Teaching, and today I’d like to share with you examples of how I use Joy Cowley books in my class to practice many different literacy skills.

In my experience, it’s a common practice for teachers to read a book with the class, perhaps do one reader-response activity and then move on to another book. But there’s so much more to be gained from digging a little deeper—even with very short books. For example, here are six examples of the activities I use with my Grade 1 and 2 class when we shared the book Mrs. Wishy-Washy and the Big Farm Fair.

1. We begin with a “picture walk” through the story. By looking at the pictures, we can gather inferences, make predictions, share previous knowledge, and prepare for the ideas and vocabulary ahead. We also get a sense of characters and setting, which we will revisit later. 

Next, we read through the book together while it is projected on the whiteboard. I can then model how to track the words and can reinforce several reading strategies. As we go along, I will ask for help from the students. I find this to be a very valuable activity, as it resembles a small-group guided-reading lesson, only with the whole class involved. On the page shown below, I posed the simple question: “What do you notice?”  A student has pointed out that there are different ways to make the “long E sound,” so I have invited her up to circle the words.

2. Next, we review the story together, retelling the events in order. This particular book was perfect for creating a simple sequence of events without becoming too complicated for them to explain. We then used this simple template to cut apart and glue back together in order on a different paper.

3. Next, we review the previous discussion about setting and characters during the picture walk. This time we expand our discussion to talk about the problem in the story and how it was resolved. This particular book was perfect for introducing these concepts. Students demonstrated their understanding by completing this graphic organizer.

4.  My students loved Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s list of rules! We compared them to our own class rules, followed by a funny activity exploring opposites/antonyms. We imagined what would happen if Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s rules were the opposite instead, such as: “Be Dirty. Be Messy. Look Untidy. Smell Stinky.” Students used their own words to complete the work.

5. My students fell in love with the animals in this story! They loved how the animals grumbled while being washed, and they all had personal stories about washing their own pets. We used this opportunity to relate the text to students’ own experiences. Students wrote about the steps involved in washing pets at home using this template.

6. Dramatic play is an effective way to understand stories more deeply. We begin with a simple labeling activity as shown, then turn the worksheet into paper puppets to act out the story in pairs or small groups. Students enjoyed this so much that I later created paper masks of each animal so that students could act out the story that way. Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s costume was a simple scarf.

As you can see, even a short book can offer a wealth of learning experiences for the whole class.

I have included the activities, including the paper masks, as free downloads. I hope your students enjoy them as much as my students did, and that they inspire you to make the most of the books you share in class!


My name is Susanna Westby, and I have been teaching primary grades for 20 years. My classroom is a place of hands-on, creative learning where students feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them! I live near Vancouver, BC Canada with my music-teacher husband and two teenage boys. More literacy ideas and graphics can be found on my blog, Whimsy Workshop Teaching.


Download your free Joy Cowley unit with worksheets, Reader's Theater masks, and more—just click the worksheet image below! For more information on the Joy Cowley Collection of books, click here to visit our website, or click the image on the right to download a series information sheet with highlights and key features.

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