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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Witches

Kids' lit ain't just for kids.


This book is everything you normally tell your students to stay away from: weird strangers, violence, and creepy people passing out candy. The Witches is about overcoming evil, and our teaching guide is about overcoming the challenges in teaching it.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity helping students visualize the characters.
  • reading quizzes making sure students are learning how to be good witch hunters.
  • resources on British slang and real-life witch hunts.

There's no way you're going to top Anjelica Huston for sheer dramatic effect (it's okay; no one can), but you'll come close with our teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Roald Dahl obviously had a great time coming up with his crazy creatures, but he doesn't tell us a lot about them. We get a little bit of information from textual clues, but much is left to our imaginations. In this two-period activity, students will use their imaginations to create their own mythical creatures. The objective is to help students locate and interpret textual clues and encourage creativity—and to have fun, of course.

Materials Needed: The text of The Witches; a list of silly and not-so-silly words that can be combined to form an imaginary creature's name (e.g. dribble, master, barf, bottomizer, floppy, frazzle, fester, scumlicker, atomic, odor, slippity, dorkist, bummer, stinker, rider, humpty, finned, blobbity, mystic, splatted, blue, purple, neon, lopsided); a brown paper lunch bag and 11x14 white poster board for each student; collage materials such as felt, feathers, google-eyes, fabric, magazines, sequins, buttons, moss, etc. set out on a long table, buffet style; glue for all; medium-point markers; and Internet access with a screen students can view, or printed copies of any animal entry (with image) in an encyclopedia

Step 1: Dahl has a wonderful time making up words and animals, doesn't he? Tell the students they're going to be looking at the ways he brings made-up creatures to life, and analyzing the text for the clues to what they are, how they act, and where they live.

Begin by asking a student to read, as dramatically as possible, the passage in "The Recipe" where the Grand High Witch says, "Vhile the mixer is still mixing you must add to it the yolk of vun grrruntle's egg" (9.38) and continue until the witch exclaims "Excellent!" (9.43).

(Mention that the spelling of these mythical creatures' names is hard to figure out through her accent, but Dahl has clarified that for us by having other witches repeat the names later. We like to remind students that an author who presents confusing information will clear it up if they just keep reading.) Then get the students to tell you everything they know so far about the following creatures:

  • gruntles
  • crabcrunchers
  • blabbersnitches
  • grobblesquirts
  • catspringers

Here's the Shmoop link to a helpful analysis of this chapter, if you'd like to add more to this discussion.

Step 2: Select another student to read the first five paragraphs of "The Ancient Ones" (11) where the Grand High Witch gives us clues about the creatures' habitats. Again, encourage the reader to really get into the accent and tone of the speakers. Reading aloud is so much more fun with the dialogue is dramatized. Then ask the class what more they've learned about the habitats of these mysterious creatures.

Step 3: Tell the students it's their turn to come up with a mythical creature. Distribute the list of combinable words, and tell them it's just to prompt their imaginations—they're free to come up with whatever they like, on or off the list, as long as they keep it clean.

Of course, they can add suffixes and otherwise adapt the words to suit, such as turning fester to festering or full-festered. Give them a few examples from the list: Atomic Scumlicker, Blue-Splatted Bottomizer, and Mystic Dorkist. They'll have a lot of fun with this. Too much, maybe. Tell them they have just five minutes to settle on a name for their beast.

Step 4: Have the students close their eyes and visualize their creature for a moment. Then tell them they're going to be creating a picture of it using collage materials, and below that picture they'll add its name and some information about it.

Show them this example of a Bald Eagle entry on the screen (or give them each a printed copy) so they know what sort of information they'll be including. Reassure them that their entry doesn't have to be this long.

Step 5: Ask the students to form a line at the table where you've set out the collage elements. Give each one a small paper bag and ask them to fill it with whatever materials come closest to what they visualized. Of course, you won't have everything they imagined (real scales, diamond-encrusted toenails) but "making do" is how we stretch our imaginations. Or they might see a material they'd really like to use, like feathers, and alter their initial idea. While they're collecting materials, put a piece of poster board on every desk for them to use as a canvas for their masterpieces.

That's it—have a frumptious time!

Instructions for Your Students

Don't you love the way Roald Dahl invents new words and beasts? He lets us know what he means little by little, giving us bits of information here and there for us to piece together. In this activity, we'll listen to the clues he gives us about the Grand High Witch's recipe ingredients, and then you'll get to invent a whacky critter of your own—and not just with words!

Step 1: Let's check out the ways the master brings made-up creatures to life. Listen to the reading of the passage in "The Recipe." (Notice how hard it is to understand just what that Grand High Witch is trying to say? No worries, an author who tosses out confusing stuff like that will give you more clues if you just keep reading.) So far, though, what do you know about these creatures?

  • gruntles
  • crabcrunchers
  • blabbersnitches
  • grobblesquirts
  • catspringers

(If your teacher wants to go into more detail about this chapter, or if you'd like to reference it for homework, here's a helpful Shmoop link.)

Step 2: Now listen to the first five paragraphs of "The Ancient Ones," where the Grand High Witch gives us clues about the creatures' habitats. What do we now know about the creatures?

Step 3: Now it's your turn. Your teacher will show you some interesting words you can alter and combine to name your own mythical beast. Of course you can add parts to these words to suit, like turning fester to festering or full-festered. For that matter, feel free to go off-list and make up your own words—just keep it clean, and don't make it so long that your creature will be forgotten before it becomes extinct. Here are some fun examples to get you going: Atomic Scumlicker, Blue-Splatted Bottomizer, and Mystic Dorkist. Don't go on too long though—you've got just five minutes for this part.

Step 4: Now close your eyes and see your creature for a moment. Can you see it? Good, because you're going to be making a picture of it using some 3-D materials and a lot of glue. And under that collage of your creature, you'll add its illustrious name and some relevant information, like what it eats and where it lives and what it sounds like—and more.

Your teacher will give you an example like this one, so you know what kind of information to invent. Don't worry—you'll just be adding a paragraph or so below your image, not an entry this long.

Step 5: Choose whatever collage elements seem to match up (or come closest) to what you imagined for your critter. What, your teacher doesn't have any real scales or diamond-encrusted toenails? Really? Can you be sure about that? Oh—you meant on the table! Let's not fret about what's not there. "Making do" is how we stretch our imaginations, and the more exercise they get, the better.

Maybe you'll see a material that you'd really like to use, and that'll change your whole plan. Go with the flow. You might sketch out your creature in pencil before you glue on all the cool stuff you gathered.

That's it—long live the Snorticus Buffalonia and all its bespeckled kin!


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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