Keats Lesson Plans: Whistle for Willie

Practice Makes Perfect

The Lesson Plan

Book: Whistle for Willie

Grades: Pre-K–2

Themes: Encouragement, Persistence, Role Models

Subjects: Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • use words and pictures to understand the story
  • connect the story to a personal experience
  • recall and retell the events of the story
  • discuss and understand new vocabulary words



Introducing the story

  1. Read the title on the cover, pointing to each word as you say it. Have children repeat the title as you point to each word.
  2. Point to the picture on the cover. Ask: Who do you think Willie is? What is the boy doing?

Reading the story for the first time

  1. Read the story, holding up the book and moving your finger under the words as you read.
  2. After reading, ask: Can you whistle? How would you whistle to make your dog come to you?

Peter_tip_lightpostRecalling the story

  1. After reading, ask the children recall questions. Continue to ask these questions when rereading the book until they know the answers.
  • What is the title of the book? What is the name of the boy?
  • Who is Willie?
  • What does Peter want to learn how to do? And why?
  • Where is Peter when he discovers he can whistle?
  • What does Willie do when Peter whistles?
  • What do Peter’s parents do when he shows them he can whistle?
  • Where do Peter and Willie go at the end of the story?

Rereading the story

  1. Give open-ended prompts on each page. Read less each time, leaving more of the retelling to the children.
  2. Give prompts about objects and activities in the pictures, pointing to the illustration you are asking about. Evaluate the children’s response. Expand the discussion by giving more information. If a child needs help answering a question, ask again during the next reading.
  3. Prompts (each bulleted line refers to a two-page sequence):
  • Peter_willie_cornerWho is the boy in this picture? Why does Peter look sad?
  • What is the boy in the background doing? What is Peter doing?
  • What happens to Peter after he spins around? Have you ever spun around and around? How did you feel?
  • Who is the dog in this picture? Why is Peter sitting in the box?
  • What are the girls doing in this picture?
  • Why is there a line on the ground?
  • What does Peter have on his head?
  • Who is the woman in this picture?
  • What is Peter running away from?
  • What is Peter doing? Who is coming around the corner?
  • What is happening in this picture? Why doesn’t Willie know who whistled?
  • What is happening in next picture?
  • What is Peter doing for his parents? What is his dog doing?
  • Where has Peter been? Why does he look so happy?

Extra Activities

  1. Have the children read Whistle for Willie to each other.
  2. Give the children simple props and have them dramatize the story while you read aloud.
  3. Peter has a dachshund. Ask: What other dogs do you know about? The children can draw a picture of dogs they know. Help them label the picture with the dog’s name.

These words refer to the objects and actions in the book. As you turn the pages, ask the children to name the objects or talk about the actions. Each bulleted line refers to a two-page sequence. Ask about other objects and actions shown as you see fit.

  • traffic light, wall, leaningWhistle Skip
  • dog, spinning
  • being dizzy
  • hiding, empty carton
  • door, jump rope, smiling
  • cat, house plant, barber pole
  • hat, mirror, wallpaper
  • dress
  • crack in the sidewalk
  • jumping, shadow
  • looking around
  • running
  • whistling, tie, mustache
  • groceries

Why We Like It

Keats renders Peter’s skill-building from a child’s-eye view to show that repeated effort can yield satisfying results. This lesson revisits the story many times and does a thorough job discussing what to do during each reading. The recall questions teach comprehension skills, the prompts provide insight into the children’s understanding of the story, and the vocabulary list supports the children’s understanding of new words. As they learn the fundamentals of reading, maybe they will learn to whistle along the way!

A Note to Teachers

This lesson, adapted from “Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats” (Family Education), provides an in-depth reading experience for beginners without writing, which is so challenging to kindergartners early in the school year. If you want to add on an art project, try “Royal Pooches Art Lesson Plans,” from the website Deep Space Sparkle.