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Creating Reading Memories With Because of Winn-Dixie

By Meghan Everette on September 7, 2012
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Kate DiCamillo’s novel Because of Winn-Dixie has quickly become one of my favorite books. We start the year by reading this story of friendship and belonging. To spice up the reading, I created a lapbook that allows students to show their creativity while they learn. At the end of the third week of school, I reward my class for their hard work with a Because of Winn-Dixie Day. It is a grand celebration that my students talk about the rest of the year.




Winn Dixie Book

Plan Your Own Unit

I’m highlighting one novel, but this excitement for learning can be brought to any story with a little creativity. Go online and search for ideas others have already developed to get started. Take the main events of the book and recreate them. Don’t try to do it all! Start small with one or two fun ideas and see what you can develop from there. Even small additions make a big difference to students.







Components of My Winn-Dixie Unit


Students are first given a double lapbook that we work on throughout the story. I use a Notebook lesson for SMART Board to guide us through the activities in the book. Directions and a rubric guide the process. My requirements are:


A New Cover

We discuss what makes a good book cover and why certain things, such as the author's name, are usually included. Students create a new cover based on the book for the front of their lapbook.

Mind MapsMind Map

Students select two characters, draw just their heads, and then elaborate with ten comments or ideas that character would have.







Students use the online Scholastic scrapbook tool to create “10 things” lists based on two characters in the book. 

Open-Ended Questions

Students have a flip book that I assemble with open-response questions. They answer one question after every five chapters.






Civil War Information

A  map showing the southeastern United States is colored and labeled. It should include a line showing Littmus’s journey from Virginia to Georgia. A folded chart shows the four main causes of the Civil War that Miss Franny Block alludes to in her story. Each student selects an image of a Civil War soldier to color and add to their book.

Words and VVocabularyocabulary

I give students a “word wall” to add to their book. There are extra spaces they can use to add other unfamiliar words. Students make a piano-style flip book of the tested vocabulary words for the story, writing a definition or using them in a sentence inside each flap.





Cause and Effect

When we are done reading, students create a cause and effect chart showing different events in the story.

Final Assessment

Students complete a final vocabulary and comprehension test when we are finished.


Mistake TreeMistake Bottles

In the story, Gloria Dump has a tree filled with empty bottles that represent her past mistakes, which is hard for the students to relate to. My students each take a plastic bottle, add some paint, and shake the bottle to cover the inside with the paint. They each write a past mistake or regret on a piece of paper and insert it into their bottle. We hang them over desks and on a paper tree in the hallway to remember to act better. It is always a moving experience for my students.

Littmus Lozenges

Littmus takes a painful journey through the Civil War and ultimately makes a candy factory. I purchase horehound candy that comes in the old-fashioned hard candy bags sold at places like Cracker Barrel. I tell my students it is a Littmus Lozenge, and they sample the candy while we read. I buy extra to have at our final celebration.

Winn Dixie Website

Interactive Website

Near the end of the book, students explore the Scholastic interactive website created to mirror the book. The scrapbook exercise is there, along with other fun games, a reader's theater, work from Kate DiCamillo, and reminders about different sections of the book.

Culminating Celebration

The last few chapters in Because of Winn-Dixie are a party at Gloria Dump’s home. Following our class test, I mirror her party in our classroom. We string yellow, pink, and orange crepe paper from the ceiling and decorate with cut-out pictures of a dog that looks just like Sweetie Pie. I prepare egg salad sandwiches and a Dump punch, and bring a big jar of pickles. We watch the movie Because of Winn-Dixie and make comparisons to the book. It is a great Venn diagram activity, and it's really fun to see the students' reactions.

Winn Dixie Day DrinkWinn Dixie Day DogsWinn Dixie Day Food


Final Display

All of our lapbooks, Venn diagrams, and bottles hang in the hallway around a giant butcher-paper tree. We made a video about our experiences to share with other classes and have sent some of the lapbooks off to Kate DiCamillo. She wrote us back and said she enjoyed them!

Winn Dixie DisplayWinn Dixie Display

Creating an experience around a novel or unit is something that energizes both me and my students. It is the kind of day they will remember long after they finish elementary school and helps build an unmatched passion for reading. What kinds of themes have you used or do you want to develop in your classroom?

Comments (25)

We've been reading Winn-Dixie for the last few weeks and I wanted to start a project to go with it. I have a question about doing to open-ended flip book. I tried to follow the link but it no longer exists. Help... Thanks!

Oh no! Which files are you looking? I'll post a link!

Hi, I love your ideas and used some of them last year. I was wondering if you'd be willing to share the Smart Notebook file you use for this unit. Thanks so much!


This is such a creative, wonderful unit and hits on SO many teaching points. I want to use this with my third grade class this year, but I'm a little concerned about how the book talks about drinking a few times. This is such an important part of the book that I don't want to gloss over it, but I also don't feel that many parents would be okay with their child hearing about it through read-alouds. I love the message of the book so much and was considering sending home a sort of permission form letting parents know of the issues discussed... What do you recommend? Thank you!

If you think parents will be concerned about it, then certainly send home a permission slip. I've never encountered a problem with it, but my kids do giggle and gasp when it first comes up. We talk about how adults are allowed to drink, but it's important not to drink too much like Miss Dump says, etc. I think it addresses this issue in a pretty safe way and no one is actively drinking in the book. Most kids books that are amazing seem to address a big issue like this in some way. I think literature is a great, safe way to experience it.

Wow, Amazing. I just finished the book today and I am so excited to teach after seeing these activities. I love the idea of creating the party and the mistake bottles. Wow, so simple yet so amazing.

Thanks so much! I appreciate it. Good luck with your activities!

Awesome me and my teacher are amazed by that

Thanks so much! It is really fun :)

WOW! This looks fantastic and I'm excited to try it out. Do you have a finished lap book that you could post? I've never made one before and am having visual difficulties as to where each part of your lap book goes on the actual folder. Thanks!

Thanks! Many of the parts could really go anywhere on the page. Check out the Notebook file on this page: http://ghteachers.wikispaces.com/4th+Grade (scroll down to find U1W1 Winn Dixie Notebook) There are images in it that show more of the finished book.

Also, check out the previous post: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2012/08/lapbooks-creative-engagement-purposeful-activities

There are more pictures of the lapbook on that page.

Good luck!


This looks awesome and it looks like just what my kids need to get out of the Achievement Assessment blues! What is the Smart Board file you created? Does it just explain how the students should work through their lapbook? Help is greatly appreciated!

Thanks! I'm sorry I'm just seeing this reponse, but hopefully you figured it out! The SmartBoard is vocabulary, possible answers to the open-ended questions, placement of different objects, etc. It covers the causes of the Civil War and several other peices. If you don't have a SmartBoard, Notebook is a free download and you could at least open it and see what is there. Good luck!

This unit is AMAZING!! You have absolutely everything you need right in one place and that made it SO much easier for teachers like me to access. Thank you SO much. I hope my 4th graders are going to enjoy this unit as much as I am going to enjoy teaching it. You're the BEST!

Amanda -- Awesome!! I hope that it works well for you! Let me know!

I love Winn dixie

Me too -- thanks for reading!

You have a lot of wonderful ideas and engaging ideas, but Sweetie Pie is a little girl...not a dog.

You are right... I wrote "We string yellow, pink, and orange crepe paper from the ceiling and decorate with cut-out pictures of a dog that looks just like Sweetie Pie," but it should have read "Sweetie Pie's". I meant we use pictures like the ones she brought to the party. You'd make a great editor!

We also do a big unit on Because of Winn-Dixie, and the kids love it! We make a Character Map of the 5 senses with each of the main characters - for example, what does Opal think? feel? see? etc. The kids color them and draw pictures to go with each one. Some of the things they come up with are phenomenal!

Very cool! I like the idea of using senses. It would combine with writing prompts and being descriptive!

I just came across your Winn-Dixie unit and was blown away by it. I was trying to make a sample before I started and am a little confused by the open ended questions flap-book. Could you show me how you folded it because the lines always end up in the wrong place no matter what I do. Also, did you have students design the book cover front with the first 2 flaps? Thank you, this is my first time doing a lapbook and I really want to incorporate this into our novel unit. Do you have an example of the completed lap-book where we can see how it opens and closes.
Thank you for any suggestions.

Michelle - I'm sorry I didn't see your comment before now! If you stair-step the 3 pages, then fold, it makes the flaps. I'll admit, they are a little hard to line up. Try this: http://library.thinkquest.org/J001156/makingbooks/hz_graduated.htm for a visual to help!

I always love reading about ways to use quality literature in the classroom! I love the idea of using lap books as portfolios of student learning during a novel! Thank you for sharing.

Thank you! We love using chapter books and have seen a big spike in children picking good literature when our classes are reading them. My kids have picked up other DiCamillo books since we finished our project. Let me know if you use the pieces! I'd love to see what another teacher could do with it!

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