Bring The Phantom Tollbooth to Life

By: Mary Kienstra on: July 1, 2014  in: characters, Engagement, reading, setting

MILO on his adventure

My goal this year was to make learning come to life for my students.  After reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster my students became the characters in the novel.  If you’ve read this wonderful fantasy novel, you remember that Milo goes on a journey and meets many characters along the way.  He learns something important from each character and the journey changes Milo from a bored little boy to one who embraces adventure and learning.  Bring The Phantom Tollbooth to life with a bit of creativity and enhance your students’ understanding!

This was an easy novel to bring to life in my classroom.  We read, discussed, watched a video of the author, Norton Juster, and enjoyed every part of this book.  When we finished, my students thought maybe there would be a “test” or a written assignment.  Instead, we created an experience.  They became the characters and created the settings.  And, yes, they wrote.  Scripts. (My latest observation is whenever you label the writing as scripts, the quality of the writing is outstanding!) 

A ticket to the Festival of Knowledge

As we prepared for the “Festival of Knowledge” students were totally engaged in the process.  Since each character needed to be represented in this festival, students chose from a “hat” with the idea that “you get what you get.”  No one complained. Then it was time to get started:

  • Students wrote a script from the perspective of their character to explain what that character taught Milo and why that was important for Milo. 
  • Students used Legos and other props to build the setting of where the character met Milo. 
  • They dressed up as the character.  
When the day of the Festival arrived, Milo, in his Little Tykes Cozy Coupe, greeted the students at the door.  The room had been transformed into the “Land Beyond” for the students to follow Milo on his journey through each setting that they had created.  Each student, dressed as their character, presented their script to the group at the setting.  After accompanying Milo on his journey, students discussed which character had taught Milo the most important lesson and why. 
Did my students understand this novel? Did they write to show what they knew? Did they achieve the lesson targets for this unit?  I’d like to say YES they did!  
Students were totally engaged in this project.  They wrote a script for a real audience – always better than writing a paragraph for only the teacher to read. They created amazing settings for their classmates to visit – again a real audience.  They dressed up to represent their characters.  And they had fun.
Kids need opportunities to express their ideas in creative ways with a real audience. This project did that.  Giving students an experience always trumps a written assessment in my class.  After all, who wouldn’t want to go on a journey with Milo in a Cozy Coupe?
Chroma the Great
The Word Market
Dr. Dischord’s Lab
The Watch Dog

Next time… I’ll invite their parents.  I think they’d enjoy the journey too!



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