The Giving Tree Lesson

A TeachersFirst holiday lesson based on Shel Silverstein's book
The Giving Tree

Synopsis: After reading and discussing the book The Giving Tree, students reflect and write about the gift they would most like to give.


Subject/Grade level: This lesson can be adapted for use in language arts class with students of varying ability levels in grades 2 - 8. This lesson is also well-suited to a multi-age activity with "big buddies" and "little buddies" from upper and lower grades working together. School counselors and emotional support teachers may find this activity helpful for small groups working on social skills, as well.

Students will discuss the message of The Giving Tree.
Students will write a message about giving to be shared with classmates and others.

Materials: You will need at least one copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Ask students to bring in scraps of holiday wrapping paper to use as part of the lesson (non-electronic). Ideally, these should be heavy wrapping paper with a white reverse side.


Begin the lesson by reading the story The Giving Tree to the class or having older students read it aloud to younger ones. After reading the story, discuss it with the class, making sure that as many students as possible have a chance to describe the meaning they find in the story. If you prefer and have enough copies, have students read the story in small groups and create a graphic organizer as they brainstorm possible "messages" of the story. Share the ideas with the whole class orally and/or on an interactive whiteboard.

After the discussion, explain to the students that they will be composing their own "gifts" to hang on a giving tree in the classroom (or skip to ideas to share electronically below).

Have each student cut a piece of wrapping paper about seven inches square, folding it in half with the fold across the TOP, like a small greeting card.

Ask the students to think about the gift that they would most like to give and the person or people to whom they would like to give it.

Note: Teachers should expect that some students will respond to this assignment in very concrete terms, while others will give more abstract responses. If you want to prompt deeper thought, model by thinking aloud about some of the gifts you might like to give, being sure to include both concrete and abstract examples. You may want to emphasize that this is not an assignment with one right answer, and that gifts of all sorts can be important.

Students should begin the assignment by writing a "sloppy copy" which they can revise until they have a finished version of their answer. Have students copy the finished answers to the wrapping paper "cards," then share them with other members of the class. When the presentations are finished, hang the cards in the pyramid shape of a tree on a classroom or hallway bulletin board. Hang the cards by attaching the inside portion, so that passers-by can flip them up and read the messages inside.

Electronic ways of sharing student gift ideas (after reading aloud and discussing):

Create an online book using a tool such as Bookemon (reviewed here) or a Voicethread (reviewed here) collection of narrated images. Be sure to include some colorful images, either digital pictures or clip art to make it into a "giving tree." Have each student compose one page of the book, working on a classroom computer or as a whole class on your interactive whiteboard. Share the online book by emailing the URL to class parents and others with whom you would like to share your "gift." Allow others to comment on the book, adding their own "gift ideas" to the tree. Share the URL for the finished product via email with your class parents! This no-cost gift will mean more than something purchased at a store.

Or, with younger students, create a "big book" using one PowerPoint slide per student for his/her giving tree message. Allow students to compose the visual elements as they wish. Combine the slides into one show* and print it landscape mode on large format paper. Laminate and bind. Then allow students to "sign out" the book to take it home for the evening and read it to parents.

If your elementary school has the capability to share a computer slide show in the cafeteria, why nor permit every student in the school create a Giving Tree slide and run the show on a "loop" throughout lunchtime during December, adding new slides as you get them. In a middle or high school, a "graffiti wall" (paper or web-based) of Giving Tree ideas may work better, as long as someone monitors for appropriateness.

*Combine slides by opening all saved shows at one time on the same computer and copy/pasting them into the same show or dragging them using "Arrange all" from the Window menu. Be sure to SAVE As your combination show with a new name before you attempt to print.