“It’s hard to imagine anyone sending hate mail to Fred Rogers, but there was one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that brought the beloved children’s TV star a bit of blowback: ‘He did an episode about Santa Claus,’ explains filmmaker Morgan Neville. ‘And he didn’t like the idea that there was somebody who snuck into your house in the middle of the night … so he told kids the truth … and a lot of parents wrote a lot of angry letters.’ Aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its nationwide debut in 1968 and aired for more than three decades. It’s now the subject of a new documentary called Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, directed by Neville.” M. Kelly, NPR
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“Santa aside, ‘Rogers generally flew under the radar’ Neville says, even when he was engaging kids in conversations that some adults considered well beyond their years. With a toy trolley, talking puppets and a simple set, the show had low production value, but the host was cutting edge, the filmmaker explains, in respecting the emotional intelligence of children; helping them grapple with ‘grown-up’ issues such as death, divorce and disturbing current events…”Most of us have a relationship with Fred Rogers that predates our memory …’ Neville says. ‘It’s very deep in us and he speaks to us almost like our own inner child.’
On being ‘cutting edge’ in respecting the emotional maturity of children: What he’s doing is not just providing joy for children but really trying to allay fear. When he looked at children what he realized is that most adults condescend to children.
When bad things happen they say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ or ‘It wasn’t anything.’ And kids are way too smart and intuitive to not know when those things are happening. So what he decided to do is to level with kids — to really speak to them honestly and say, ‘Yes something bad happened, but let me tell you why, and let me explain it in age-appropriate terms.’ Because he really felt that fear was was the most destructive force in our society.
Some Difficult Topics Mr. Rogers Discussed on His Show:
On the episode when Mr. Rogers invited an African-American police officer, played by François Clemmons, to rest his feet in a wading pool on a hot day. That’s his subtle way of saying: There’s nothing wrong with sharing a pool with a person of a different race.
[After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968] Fred knew that children would be home and they would know that this bad thing had happened. And so he quickly put together an episode that aired [ahead of the televised funeral] … where he could explain to people how to speak to their children about something as horrific as an assassination.
He did it again and again. He did things around the Challenger disaster, the Gulf War, 9/11, Reagan’s assassination attempt. … He really felt like it was in those moments he was really doing the best of what he wanted to do. That that’s when people really needed him.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had many interesting episodes.
- One particular episode brought the beloved children’s TV star a bit of blowback.
- Many times he engaged kids in conversations that some adults considered well beyond their years.
- Mr. Rogers helped them grapple with grown-up issues.
- Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its nationwide debut in 1968.
- The show has aired for more than three decades.
- What he’s doing is not just providing joy for children really trying to allay fear.
- Kids are very smart and intuitive.
- He really felt that fear was was the most destructive force.
- Mr. Rogers was a profound, deep, willful and intellectual person.
Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins
Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space from the word listor make up your own words.
He ___that ___was going to be this ___that was going to be___ and also that there were going to be generations of___being raised by this___ and somebody had to use ___to do something more than just sell ___and toys to kids.
WORD LIST:sugar, device,transformative, television, realized, device, children, television ,
Grammar: Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- The article states, “[Mr. Rogers] in respecting the emotional intelligence of children helped them grapple with ‘grown-up’ issues such as death, divorce and disturbing current events.” Do you think this was a good idea on the part of Mr. Rogers? Explain why or why not.
- The article further states that Mr. Rogers “really felt that fear was was the most destructive force in our society.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you think that fear is still a destructive force today? Explain your answer.
- With your group create a special neighborhood. Draw pictures of the way you think it would look. Describe the rules of the neighborhood (for example Mr. Rogers always made everyone feel accepted in his neighborhood).
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.