Lesson plan

Tree of Cranes

This winter-themed lesson plan, which incorporates the book *Tree of Cranes* by Allen Say, teaches students about Japanese traditions and customs. They will review the basic elements of a narrative story, and then write their own narratives about a special event or moment in their life.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
  • Students will be able to explain their own family traditions.
  • Students will be able to explain Japanese traditions from the story.
  • Students will be able to write their own narrative using the story for inspiration.
(5 minutes)
  • Bring the students together in a comfortable space. Write the word celebration on the whiteboard. Ask your students, "What is a celebration? Turn and talk to a partner and talk about some things you celebrate in your family."
  • Provide students with a few minutes to discuss their ideas. Call on student volunteers and ask them to share their ideas with the class.
  • Explain to the students that a celebration is a social activity where people get together with others to show their praise or appreciation for something. A celebration is often enjoyable and fun.
  • Write down some celebrations that the students shared on the whiteboard. Discuss how everyone, depending on their culture, celebrates different things. Explain that someone's culture is the collective set of rules and behaviors we see as normal in our families or communities.
  • Deepen student understanding by explaining to them that our traditions, or the customs or beliefs we hold as a family, include the ways that we celebrate or show appreciation for important events in our lives.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain to students that today, they will be reading a book called Tree of Cranes by Allen Say. Provide background information about the author, explaining that Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan, and currently lives in Oregon. He has written and illustrated many books, including The Boy of the Three Year Nap, which won a Caldecott Honor.
  • Tell the students that the book they will read today, Tree of Cranes, is based on an experience Allen Say had when he was little, when his American-born mother taught him the customs of how Americans sometimes celebrate Christmas.
  • Bring up a map of Japan, and discuss the location compared to where you and your students live.
  • Tell the students that before they read the book, they will watch a short video that explores winter holidays around the world.
  • Pass out a sticky note to each student and instruct them to write down one thing they learned from the video as they watch.
  • Display and begin the Studies Weekly: Winter Holidays video.
  • Allow students to share their ideas after the video has finished. Reinforce that there are many different winter holidays, and today, they will read about the joy of experiencing a new holiday for the first time.
(30 minutes)
  • Read Tree of Cranes aloud to the students. As you read, pause to involve students in active questioning strategies to dig deep into the meaning of the text.
  • Ask questions like:
    • Why was mama upset with the boy when he got back from the pond?
    • Why was the mama making cranes?
    • What are two things the mama asks the boy to do after he gets back from the pond?
    • When you are sick, what are some things your family asks you to do?
    • How does the little boy learn about the winter holiday his mother celebrated as a child? Use evidence from the story to support your answer.
  • Support students in answering the questions accurately, and refer to the text as needed for support. Include opportunities for students to discuss their answers with partners or in small groups.
  • After you finish reading the story, get out the anchor chart and break it into five sections. Title the sections as follows: Introduction, Beginning, Middle, End, and Conclusion.
  • Refer back to the Tree of Cranes, and fill in the information on the anchor chart, encouraging student participation as appropriate.
  • Explain to the students that Tree of Cranes is a great example of a narrative. Clarify that a narrative is a story that has a main character who encounters a problem or engages in an interesting experience.
  • Project a copy of the Personal Narrative Prewriting worksheet on the whiteboard.
  • Explain to the students that the next activity they will work on is creating their own narratives, using Tree of Cranes for inspiration.
(20 minutes)
  • Put students into partnerships and ask them to brainstorm writing ideas with their partner. Provide sentence frames to support student ideas, such as:
    • "A celebration I want to write about is ____."
    • "A special event I want to write about is ____."
    • "I want to write about ____ because ____."
    • "An important time in my life was ____."
  • Encourage a few students to share their ideas with the rest of the class.
  • Pass out the Personal Narrative Prewriting worksheet to each student.
  • Provide students with guidance and support as they write their narratives. Encourage students to read their drafts to partners for support and feedback.


  • Have students complete their narratives in a small, teacher-led group.
  • Provide students with sentence stems to support their writing.
  • Allow students to draw a picture of a celebration or event in their life and use the picture as a talking point to facilitate ideas for their narratives.


  • Allow students to type their drafts on the computer.
  • Have students fill out the Add More Details! worksheet to encourage them to dig deeper and revise their writing to include more adjectives.
  • Extend learning by having students do an author study on Allen Say.
(10 minutes)
  • Review the Peer Review Checklist and provide each student with a copy.
  • Pair students up and have them complete the checklist for their partner.
  • Pass out the Narrative Writing worksheet and have students rewrite their narrative, using their peers' feedback.
  • Collect the student narratives and assess student ability to zoom in on a special event or celebration in their life through writing.
(5 minutes)
  • Gather the students together in a circle and allow them to share their narratives, if they choose to do so.
  • Ask the students to think about the following prompt, "What are some ways we can teach others about important celebrations in our lives?"
  • Complete a whip around pass and encourage each student to share out their ideas.
  • Extend the conversation by explaining that one way we can teach others about important celebrations in our lives is through writing about them, just as Allen Say did.
  • Conclude the lesson by having students share out a celebration they learned about today that they'd like to find out more about. Ask students to think about ways they could find out more about that celebration.

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