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Speech in the Schools

Book It, Part 3: The Pigeon Breaks the Fourth Wall

Published May 9, 2011 9:00 AM by Sean Sweeney

The fourth wall, in theater parlance, is the imaginary barrier between characters and the audience. Most plays, movies, TV shows and books do not "break" the fourth wall by talking directly to their audience.

One of the charming and engaging aspects of Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is that it does break that wall, and this approach to communication within the narrative helps make this book ripe for literature-based therapy activities.

The premise of this Caldecott-winning picture book is simple and clever: a bus driver is going on a little errand and asks us, the readers, to keep an eye on things until he gets back. Specifically, we are not, under any circumstances, to allow the pigeon to drive the bus. No sooner does he leave than the pigeon shows up and begins his manipulative attempts to get us to ease up.

This book is wonderful to read to groups: the pigeon first asks, then pleads, tries to trick the audience and whines, all as your listeners keep responding to him, "Noooooooooo, you can't drive the bus!" The climax of the book features the pigeon having a complete meltdown, a sight that is always sure to have kids in hysterics. Alas, the pigeon never succeeds in getting a turn at the wheel, but it's an entertaining journey nonetheless.

In addition to all the language elicitation and scaffolding you can do while reading the book, (selecting vocabulary such as determined; asking for predictions of what the pigeon might say next; recapping the sequence of persuasive maneuvers the pigeon has used; paraphrasing the book's events while emphasizing causals and temporals, etc), here are a few ideas for extension activities to accompany the book:

  • A drawing/writing prompt (such as this one) in which students infer why the pigeon should not drive a bus. This could be followed by conjectures of what might happen if the pigeon was operating other forms of transportation: a boat, plane, skateboard, etc. Such activities target causal constructions and categories!
  • As this story features a clear initiating event, plan and attempts by the main character, it is great for story mapping and retelling activities.
  • Read the other books featuring the pigeon (The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, etc), explore adjectives that could be used to describe him as a character, and play with the range of emotions and wonderful body language in this series.
  • Look for the bus routes in your area using Google Earth (under the More Layer you can view transportation) or Google Maps. How near are they to the students' houses (lots of spatial language there)?
  • Follow the pigeon's tweets on Twitter and find out what he and the author have been up to!
  • Finally, check out Pigeon Presents for some great interactive activities, including the Hot Dog Dress-Up Game!

Hope you enjoy the pigeon's antics!

Read more of Sean Sweeney at




Glad you enjoyed the post, Jen!

Sean Sweeney June 20, 2011 8:45 PM

LOVE, this book. GREAT ideas for extension activities. Thanks for this awesome entry. I had no idea that The Pigeon was on Twitter or had a website with activities.

Jennifer , Speech Pathology - President/SLP, Therapy and Learning Services Inc May 10, 2011 11:47 AM
New Carlisle IN

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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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