Are you looking for a new book to introduce your students to? Once by Morris Gleitzman may be the perfect fit. This powerful and heartfelt novel takes readers through an emotionally gripping journey, providing engaging themes that appeal to all ages.
With its focus on family dynamics, resilience in the face of adversity, moral courage, and understanding others’ perspectives, this story will stay with your class long after they finish reading it.
Whether you’re planning a single-day literature circle or multiple weeks of close critical analysis, we have put together a detailed planning overview to help make teaching this book both rewarding and manageable.
Related: For more, check out our planning overview of The Tempest by Shakespeare here.
The Storyline of Once
Once tells the story of Felix, a Jewish orphan living in Poland during World War II. He is taken in by a village family who makes him their son and tells him that his parents were killed in the war.
Felix makes it his mission to find his birth parents and embark on an adventurous journey in search of them. During this time, he faces difficult moral decisions, learns to experience life differently, and comes across many characters who help or hinder his mission.
Throughout his journey, Felix also discovers secrets that will change the course of history.
Themes of Once by Morris Gleitzman
Moral Decision Making
Throughout his journey, Felix faces several moral decisions, such as whether to trust the people he meets or stick to his mission. These choices shape the kind of person he becomes and teach him lessons about life that he would not have learnt otherwise.
War and its Effects
The novel’s backdrop is World War II in Poland, allowing readers to explore the effects of war on individuals and communities. Throughout his journey, Felix witnesses the devastation caused by war and how it can shape a person’s actions and outlook on life.
Family and Belonging
Family is essential in Felix’s story, with him attempting to find his birth parents throughout his adventurous quest. Alongside this theme, there is also an exploration into what ‘family’ really means: from those related through blood or those brought together through circumstance.
Characters of Once by Morris Gleitzman
Felix is the story’s main character and a Jewish orphan living in Poland during World War II. He is taken in by a village family who makes him their son and tells him that his parents were killed in the war.
Throughout his journey, Felix discovers secrets that will change the course of history and learn to experience life in different ways.
Toby is an older man who plays a vital role in Felix’s quest for his parents. He was once a famous actor before being forced into hiding because he was Jewish.
Toby helps Felix understand how dangerous life can be, advises him on moral decision making and shares stories from his own life, which help open Felix’s eyes to a different way of seeing the world.
Francine is a young girl who joins forces with Toby and Felix as they search for clues about Felix’s family. She isn’t Jewish but has been ostracized due to her father’s political views. Through her friendship with Felix, she can find acceptance, redemption, and transformation during their journey together.
Toby’s Importance To Felix
Toby is an important figure in Felix’s life as he helps him understand the dangers of his journey and encourages moral decision-making. As a former actor, Toby can tell stories from his own experience, which opens Felix’s eyes to a different way of seeing the world.
Through his guidance, Felix can better understand why it is essential for him to make the right choices.
Additionally, Toby also plays a role in helping Felix find out more about his family and their fate during World War II. Ultimately, Toby becomes a mentor and father figure for Felix, providing him with the guidance and wisdom that he needs to succeed in his quest for knowledge.
Teaching Opportunities at Once
Discussions about War & History
Felix learns much about war and history throughout the story by talking to Toby. This can be a teaching opportunity for students to discuss and debate the effects of wars and how different scenarios can lead to different outcomes.
Toby encourages Felix to make ethical decisions throughout his journey, which can be another excellent teaching opportunity. Students can be encouraged to think about how moral choices play a role in their lives and identify ways to improve. This discussion also allows students to reflect on their beliefs and values.
Felix is faced with many situations that require him to use conflict resolution strategies, such as when he must decide between following Toby’s or Francine’s instructions. These scenarios can provide a valuable learning experience for students, allowing them to role-play different strategies and learn how best to handle disagreements within a group setting.
Lesson Plan #1: War & History
- Students will understand more about the consequences of war.
- Students will be able to discuss and debate different scenarios.
- Students will be able to analyze historical events critically.
Students will be introduced to the story of Once and the character Toby. They will then be asked to think about how war has impacted Felix’s journey and how his experiences have shaped his understanding of history. This discussion can set the stage for further exploration into how wars affect people’s lives and what can be done to prevent them from happening in the future.
Main Teaching Points
- Explain different aspects of war that Felix has encountered throughout his journey, such as loss, destruction, displacement, etc.
- Discuss ways these situations could have been avoided or dealt with differently.
- Analyze historical events critically, looking at different interpretations and viewpoints.
- Explore why we must learn about our collective histories to create a better future.
Reflection & Discussion
Students should reflect on their beliefs and values related to war and history. They should also consider how they can use their knowledge to make a positive difference. Finally, they should discuss critical questions such as: What is war? What role does it play in our lives today? How can we use history to inform our decisions in the future?
Lesson Plan #2: Moral Decisions
- Students will gain an understanding of why ethical decision-making is essential.
- Students will develop skills that enable them to make informed decisions.
This lesson plan will focus on how Toby encourages Felix to make moral decisions throughout his journey. Students will first identify critical moments where Felix had the opportunity to make ethical choices before discussing why we all must take responsibility for our actions and think carefully about their implications.
Main Teaching Points
- Review examples of when Felix had opportunities for moral decision-making throughout his journey (e.g., deciding between following Toby or Francine’s instructions)
- Help students identify personal values that drive their decision-making.
- Provide resources (e.g., books and websites) that allow students to explore various ethical perspectives.
Reflection & Discussion
Please encourage students to reflect on how their moral convictions influence decision-making. Additionally, students should be encouraged to critically examine different ethical perspectives by asking thought-provoking questions such as:
Are there situations under which one might decide otherwise? What other ways are there of looking at this situation? Are there any grey areas here?
Twinkl: Twinkl is a website that provides various educational resources, such as lesson plans and activities, related to the book Once by Morris Gleitzman.
Penguin Australia: Penguin Australia offers a free downloadable resource book for teachers containing classroom discussion points after reading activities and projects linked to Once by Morris Gleitzman.
Teachit: Teachit provides resources for teaching English, including units on Once by Morris Gleitzman, which include worksheets and comprehension exercises for students of different abilities and ages.
Storyboard That: Storyboard That is an online tool that can be used to create custom lesson plans and activities based on Once by Morris Gleitzman, with detailed descriptions of each activity and templates and examples provided for teachers to use in their classrooms.
What age group is Once by Morris Gleitzman suitable for?
Once by Morris Gleitzman is suitable for children aged 9-12.
What resources are available to help with teaching the book?
Various resources are available to help teach Once by Morris Gleitzman, including lesson plans, activities, worksheets and comprehension exercises. You can find these on Twinkl, Teachit and Storyboard That website. Additionally, Penguin Australia also offers a free downloadable resource booklet for teachers which contains classroom discussion points after reading activities and projects linked to the book.