Did you know that most mother skunks give birth on a certain date in May? More than writing prompts for your students, here's the May collection of fascinating facts about history, pop culture, science, and more… sure to prompt any reader to write!
by James Wayne
Regular contributor to the Gazette
May 1, 2008
The character trait for May is TEMPERANCE.
Appropriate reactions to events in our lives
Avoidance of extremes
Joseph Addison was born in 1672. He and Sir Richard Steele are credited with the invention of the personal essay in magazines they published. Essays are considered non-fiction, as are biographies, editorials, and articles in books, magazines, or newspapers. What kind of non-fiction do you prefer to read? Why do you like that kind?
Today is Loyalty Day in the United States. People are supposed to think about what loyalty means, and what they are loyal to. In your opinion, what three qualities would you look for in a loyal friend? Do you have those qualities?
Manfred von Richthofen was born in 1892. A brave and daring pilot for in the German air force in World War I, he invented many of the tactics used by modern fighter pilots. He was called the Red Baron because he had his plane painted bright red. If you could meet a hero of the army, navy, air force, or Marine Corps, what would you ask them? List 5 questions.
The first trans-Atlantic picture fax was sent between Britain and the United States. If you could get a fax picture from a foreign place, where would you like to get one from, and what would you like for it to show?
In 1859, Jerome K. Jerome was born. He was the author of Three Men in a Boat, the story of a trip he and two friends made down the rivers and canals of England in a small rowboat. His book helped to make the idea of camping out for fun popular. Do you like to camp out on your vacation? Give three reasons you either like or dislike camping out. (If you have never done it, tell three reasons you would or would not like to try it.)
West Virginia becomes the first American state to impose a sales tax in 1921. Some people think sales taxes are fairer that other kinds of taxes. Others think other kinds of taxes are fairer. Since taxes are necessary if we are to have public services, what kind of taxes do you think are the fairest: sales taxes, income taxes, or property taxes? Give reasons for your choice.
Today is the beginning of three days of kite fighting in Japan. Describe or draw the most interesting or unusual kite you have seen.
Today is Airline Passenger Day. The first passenger was carried on an airplane in 1919, and the first jet passenger plane started service in 1952. A long trip on an airplane can be very boring, especially if you cannot see out of a window. What are some things that you would do if you were taking a trip of several hours alone on an airplane and had to stay in your seat?
Dodie Smith, who wrote 101 Dalmations, was born in 1896. What is your favorite breed of dog? Why do you prefer that breed. (If you don't like dogs, give reasons you prefer some other pet.)
The first horserace to be called a Derby was held in 1780. The race was named for one of the two men who put up the prize money for it. Some people like horse races. Would you like to ride a horse? Imagine riding a horse on a short trip. Where would you like to ride? Where would you go? What would you do on your trip?
In 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded. The Academy gives out the Oscars (Academy Awards) every year. What is the WORST movie you ever saw? What are three things about that movie that were bad?
Horace Mann was born in 1796. He was a famous educator, and worked to make free schooling available to everyone. He once said, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." What do you think he meant by that?
In 1959, the first Grammy Awards were given for recording artists. In your opinion, what person or group should win the Grammy for the best popular song? Defend your choice.
In China, Japan, and Korea, today is Boys' Day, when families honor boys with parties and displays. (Girls' Day is March 3) In all three countries, special foods are served. If you were planning a Boys' or Girls' Day celebration for your family, what special foods would you serve? Why those foods?
In 1806, Mary Kies of Connecticut became the first American woman to get a patent in her own name. She invented a way of weaving straw and thread to make mats and other articles. Many common household articles we use today were once unknown until someone like Mary Kies invented them. Make a list of three things you use every day. Use an encyclopedia or other sources to see if you can find out who invented them, or who first discovered a way to make them easily and cheaply. For instance: who invented the machine that makes pencils? (Teachers: Eberhart Faber invented the pencil-making machine and founded the pencil company that bears his name.)
Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the housekeeper in The Brady Bunch, was born in 1926. Is it better to have lots of brothers and sisters, only a few, or to be an only child? Give two reasons for your choice.
In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was officially opened in Paris. Many people at the time thought it was ugly, but later changed their minds. What is something you have changed your mind about? Why did you change it?
Orson Wells, writer, actor, and producer, was born in 1915. He was very fat. He once said, "My doctor told me to stop having dinners for four, unless there were three other people there." What are five things you can snack on that will not make you fat? Which one of them do you like to snack on?
In 1966, "Monday, Monday" became the first number one song recorded by a group consisting of equal numbers of men and women. The Mamas and the Papas had two men and two women; earlier groups had been either all one sex, or only one person of the other sex. Would you like to participate in a successful singing group? What are some problems people in such groups might have that a single singer would not have? List as many as you can.
May is National Book Month. What is your favorite place to read? Why is that place your favorite?
The first glass of Coca-Cola was sold in Atlanta, GA, in 1886. Which kind of soft drink do you prefer? Why do you like that drink more than others?
In 1980, the World Health Agency announced that smallpox, a deadly and very contagious disease, had been wiped out in humans. Since humans can only catch smallpox from each other, it is the only disease we have ever been able to end completely. Since then, efforts have been made to wipe out several other deadly diseases, but none have been successful so far. Think about the other diseases caused by germs (cancer and heart disease aren't usually caused by germs) and tell which one you think the World Health Organization should work on next. Why that one?
In 1926, Admiral Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett became the first to fly an airplane over the North Pole. Admiral Byrd once said, "A static hero is a public liability. Progress grows out of motion." What do you think he meant by that?
President Wilson proclaimed the first Mothers Day holiday in 1914. Why do you think it took until 1914 to think of the idea of a day to honor all mothers?
Archeologist Howard Carter, co-discoverer of the tomb of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen (King Tut) was born in 1874. Archeology is a fascinating subject, but being an archeologist requires great patience. Name 4 situations in your life that have required patience (or might require it in the future). What can you do to help you learn to be patient?
In 1933, Nazi mobs burned school and library books which contained ideas they disagreed with. Thousands of books were burned in huge public bonfires. Many authors used the burning of their books to sell thousands of additional copies to people who were curious about what the Nazis disliked. If you were going to write a book, what would you write about?
In 1989, Kenya began a campaign to ban the sale of ivory in order to protect its endangered elephant herds. What endangered animal are you most interested in? Tell why that animal should be protected.
In 1541, Hernando de Soto became the first European to find the Mississippi River. He ate a catfish dinner on its banks. Write a paragraph about your favorite kind of fish.
Today is the annual Cat Festival in Ypres, Belgium. Cats are honored for their destruction of disease-carrying and food-destroying rats. If your school were to celebrate a Cat Festival, what are some things you could do to celebrate?
Almost all mother skunks give birth this day every spring, or within a few hours before or after. How do you think our celebrations of birthdays would change if everyone was born on the same day every year? Tell three ways.
The painter Salvador Dali was born in 1904 in Spain. His most famous painting, Persistence of Memory, shows limp and melted watches and clocks, to show how our memories can defy time. Describe a happy time you remember.
The American College of Physicians was founded in 1915. A college can be a school, but this one is a group of doctors who work together to better the education of doctors. If there was an American College of Students, what do you think it should recommend to improve your education?
Today is the birthday of CARE (Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere), an American charity that seeks to send food, medicine, and other emergency supplies to people who are victims of disasters. It began its work in 1946. Think of the many organizations that help people in your community and in the world. List as many of them as you can.
In 1653, the people of New York (then called New Amsterdam) began building a wall to protect their city. It was later torn down and the place where it was became Wall Street. Suppose every town had a wall around it, and you had to pay a toll every time you went in or out. How do you think your life would change?
Poet John Masefield died in 1967, having served as Poet Laureate of Great Britain since 1930. His most famous poem is below:
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
This poem tells how much Masefield liked sailing. Make a list of the things he loves about it. Then think of something you love to do, and make a list of the things about it you like about it.
Today is World Nurse Day, in honor of Florence Nightingale, who organized the first regular system of training and certifying nurses. She was born in 1820, and became famous for going out onto battlefields on the night after the battle carrying a lamp and her medical supplies to take care of the wounded. What are the three most important qualities a good nurse must have? Why did you choose those qualities?
May 13: Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. What is something you are afraid of?
English settlers land in Virginia and found Jamestown in 1607. Imagine that you were among the first settlers in Jamestown. Make a list of the 8 most important things you would need to carry with you from England.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published his first book of poems in 1842. He later became Poet Laureate of Great Britain. He once wrote, "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." What do you think he meant by that?
George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars series, was born in 1944. Do you like movies about the future, or do you prefer movies about the past, or about today? Tell which kind of movie you prefer, and why.
In 1942, the Woman's Auxiliary Army Corps became the first military unit for women in the United States. Have you ever considered becoming part of the armed forces? Which branch of the armed forces might you join? Why that branch? If you would not join one, why do you feel as you do?
Today is Straw Hat Day. Design a straw hat you would wear in a Straw Hat Parade.
William Henry Seward was born in 1801. He was the Secretary of State that arranged for the United States to purchase Alaska. If you could visit Alaska or some other land in the far north, what would you like to see? (If you live in the far north, what would you like to see in the tropics?)
In 1771, the Regulators were defeated in North Carolina. The Regulators objected to Royal Governor Tryon's taxes, which he had raised to build his fine new house in New Bern—now reconstructed as Tryon Palace. This battle is now considered a prelude to the American Revolution. If you could go back and live at the time of the Revolutionary War, what would you do? List four things.
In 1869, the first professional sports team in the United States, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, began playing baseball. Which is your favorite professional sport? What are three things about that sport that you like?
In 1970, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from the coast of Africa to the Bahamas in a raft built like those used by the ancient Egyptians, seeking to prove that people of ancient times could have traded across the Atlantic. His voyage took 57 days. How would you like to cross the ocean on a raft? What are some of the supplies would you take? What are some problems you would face?
Alternate prompt based on the previous one: Some people say his trip proved his idea was right, others say that one trip is not enough to prove an idea so unusual. Do you think that his voyage proved or disproved his idea? Why do you think as you do?
In 1845, the rubber band was patented. Suppose there were no rubber bands. What would you use instead?
Happy birthday, Norway! The first king of Norway was crowned in 872. Norway is a very mountainous country with a cold climate, and Norwegians love to ski and ice skate. What sports do you like to participate in? Why do you like those sports?
This is Be Kind to Animals Week. The first one was proclaimed in 1913. Name two useful animals that people are seldom kind to. Why are they useful?
In 1951, the United Nations moved into its permanent building in New York. Its design was the result of a contest among architects. Suppose you were asked to design a building for a new organization. What kind of building would you design? What are some things you would want it to include?
May is Older Americans Month. Tell about an older person whom you know and admire.
Mount St. Helens erupted explosively in 1980. The volcano continues to be active in a minor way. Some people want to visit it, others fear it may erupt violently again. Do you think people should be able to visit the volcano if it means they are risking their life? Give reasons for your answer.
In 1852, the first law requiring that children attend school was passed. Some people say that children should not be required to go to school. Others say that children with no education are likely to have a very hard life. How do you feel about this? Write at least 4 sentences giving reasons for your opinion.
In 1777, Button Gwinnett became the first signer of the Declaration of Independence to die, less than a year after he signed it. His signature is so rare that a collector of autographs paid $150,000 for one. List some people whose autographs you would like to collect.
In 1977, President Kenyatta of Kenya banned big-game hunting in his country in order to conserve wildlife and increase tourism. Now, in some places, some wild animals are becoming dangerous (lions and hyenas) or destructive (elephants) because their numbers have increased so they cannot all live on parks and reserves. Some people want to allow limited big-game hunting to resume. Do you agree with them? Why or why not?
Malcolm X, Black Nationalist and civil rights leader, was born in 1925. He once said, "If we don't stand for something, we may fall for anything." What do you think he meant by that?
Today is National Bike to Work Day. What would be the effect if everyone rode bicycles for short trips, rather than take a car?
In 1932, Amelia Earhart began her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo. She once said, "It is far easier to start something than to finish it." What are some things you have started but not finished? What caused you to not finish them?
Bicycles were first used on the streets of New York City in 1819. Although they did not have much of the equipment of modern bicycles (brakes, gears, inflatable tires), they were still faster than walking. Bicycling can be fun, but it also can be dangerous. List five safety rules anyone riding a bicycle should follow.
Frances Theresa Densmore was born in 1867. She went among Native American tribes recording their songs and ceremonies, many of which would otherwise have been lost. She recorded more than 2,500 Indian songs. How would you like a job recording other people's songs and stories? What would be some of the problems a job like that would have?
In 1966, Bill Cosby won an Emmy for Best Actor in the TV series I Spy. He was the first African-American actor to star in a regular dramatic series on television. He once said, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." What do you think he meant by that?
The first life insurance policy was sold in America in 1761. Life was much more dangerous in those days, because of both diseases and accidents. What things do people do today that are likely to make their lives shorter? List 4 of them.
The first successful trip across the entire United States by a car began in San Francisco in 1903. If you were planning a trip across the United States by car, what cities or scenic places would you like to visit along your way? List 5 places, and tell why you would want to visit that place.
The main New York Public Library building was opened by President Taft in 1911. It is the largest marble building ever built in the United States. Suppose you were asked to design a library for your community. What are some things you would include? What would you leave out?
The full moon in May is sometimes called the Flower Moon because so many flowers are blooming at this time. What kinds of flowers are blooming in your area? Describe a flower garden you have seen.
The first auto repair shop in the US opened in Boston in 1899. Have you, or anyone you know, ever been in a car that broke down on the highway? Tell what happened to you, or the person who broke down. (If necessary, imagine what you would do if it happened to you.)
In 1968, Chief, the last living American cavalry horse died. What is your favorite story about a horse or horses. Why do you like that story?
If you have ever played the classic game of Monopoly, you have heard of the Reading Railroad. It was a real railroad, centered in Reading, PA, founded in 1871. If you were to design a Monopoly game based on your hometown, what would you name the various streets and businesses on it?
In 1976, supersonic air travel between Britain and France began using a new plane, the Concorde. Many people liked the new plane, which cut travel time in half. Other people hated it because of the sonic boom people heard when it passed overhead (people inside the plane could not hear the sonic boom). They called the boom, noise pollution. Name three sources of noise pollution that annoy you or people you know. What can you do to avoid annoying people with your noise?
The first Star Wars movie opened in 1977. It featured two robots, C3PO and R2D2. If you could have a robot to help you with a particular task, what task would you want it to do for you? What do you imagine such a robot would look like?
In 1889, Igor Sikorsky was born. He invented the first successful helicopter. If you could ride in a helicopter, where would you like to go? What would you like to see?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, famous American poet and essayist, was born in 1803. He wrote, "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer." What do you think he meant by that?
Today is Western Actor Day, in honor of three western actors born today: John Wayne, Jay Silverheels (Tonto in the Lone Rangers series), and James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke). Westerns used to be very popular, but are not today. Why do you think westerns are no longer as popular as they once were?
In 1927, Ford Motor Company produced its 15 millionth Model T, which it had been making for many years. Shortly afterwards, the company stopped making the Model T and started a more modern car, the Model A, which it also made for many years. Today, most car companies make new models every year. How often do you think a family should buy a new car? Should it be often, so as to have the newest features, or less often, to save money? Explain your choice.
The novel Dracula was published in 1897. Many people like horror stories about vampires, werewolves, and monsters. What is your favorite horror story character? Why do you like that character?
In 1782, George Washington refused to allow his officers to make him King of America. How might our country have been different if he had become king?
In 1909, Alva J. Fisher patented the first electric washing machine. Before that, washing had to be done by hand or in a machine with a crank you turned by hand. The washing machine is only one of the many work-saving machines we have today, such as dishwashers, vacuums, microwaves, dryers, mixers, and many others. Which work-saving machine do you think would be the hardest to give up? Why that machine?
In 1902, Owen Wister published The Virginian, considered the first modern American novel of the Old West. Before then, all western novels featured simple plots and unrealistic characters. Wister's novel was the first to show realistic people and situations. Both kinds of western stories continue to be published. Think about the stories you like to read. Do you prefer realistic ones, or unrealistic ones? Tell which kind you prefer and some of the stories that fit that preference you really like.
Today is the birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge, which opened in 1937. Traveling over a high bridge like the Golden Gate can be either scary or a big thrill. Which is it for you? How do you feel when you cross a high bridge or visit a high place?
President John F. Kennedy was born in 1917. He once said, "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." What do you think he meant by that? Do you agree or disagree with him?
Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal became the first human beings to climb all the way to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. Since then, so many people have climbed the mountain that litter has become a major problem. Litter also causes problems in many other places. Write a poem, slogan, or ad to persuade people not to litter.
Candy Lightner was born in 1946. When her twelve-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, she was inspired to found Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). She works to educate the public about the dangers of driving drunk, and to increase penalties for those who do. Think of a slogan or ad against drunk driving, and write why you feel your slogan or ad would be effective.
The first automobile accident occurred in New York City in 1896, when cars were very rare and expensive. A Duryea car (this brand is no longer made) hit a man on a bicycle. Since then, there have been many more car accidents. Teenage drivers have a very high proportion of accidents, compared to older people. Why do you think that is true?
Mel Blanc was born in 1908. He provided the voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and many other Looney Tunes characters. Which is your favorite cartoon character? Why do you like that one?
Mary, Mona, Roberta, and Leota Keys became the first quadruplets to graduate from college in 1937, when all of them received degrees from Baylor University. How would you like to be a quadruplet? What are three advantages, and three disadvantages, of having three brothers or sisters your own age?
In 1890, cars were rare, but bicycles were common and popular. They could go as fast as a horse, and you didn't have to feed them, but many of them had no brakes. You had to drag your feet to stop. The Society of American Wheelmen was founded to work for improved roads and safety. What kind of bicycle do you have, or would you like to have?
Clint Eastwood was born in 1930. He starred in or directed many action movies. What movie actor is your favorite? Why do you like him or her?
James Wayne has taught third grade and every grade from fifth to twelfth during a full-time career of 34 years, either in regular classrooms or in AG or AP classes. He began his writing prompts as a way to help teachers improve writing scores in his district. A native of North Carolina, James is a graduate of Duke University and a Vietnam Veteran, having served with the 101st Airborne Division. He continues to work part time for Onslow County Schools as a coordinator of the Academic Derby, a televised scholastic competition serving elementary, middle, and high schools. James resides in Jacksonville, North Carolina.