Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Teacher Guide by Elizabeth Pedro

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Mr. Popper's Penguins Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Mr. Popper's Penguins Include:

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a fictional novel about a series of unusual adventures sparked by one man’s fascination with the Poles and penguins. The story features interesting characters, exciting themes, and lots of penguins!

Mr. Popper's Penguins Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | Mr. Popper's Penguins Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures. Sometimes students will really have to think carefully about which events are major turning points in the plot.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the book in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example Mr. Popper's Penguins Plot Diagram


Mr. Popper is a house painter in the town of Stillwater. Mr. Popper is a dreamy sort of man who likes to think about exploring far off places. Admiral Drake, to whom Mr. Popper had sent a letter, sends a penguin as a gift. The penguin's name is Captain Cook and sleeps in the ice box.


The cost of keeping the penguin is very high. The Poppers are not a wealthy family, but they care for Captain Cook. He does not seem to be doing well after a while, so Mr. Popper contacts an aquarium. They decide that the penguin is lonely and needs a companion. This second penguin, Greta arrives, and Mr. Popper installs a freezing machine, which strains the family budget even more.

Rising Action

Greta lays ten eggs! Usually, penguins don't lay that many, but extraordinary things happen in extraordinary circumstances. Now there will be twelve penguin mouths to feed!


The Poppers are having such a hard time paying for all of their expenses that Mr. Popper decides to train the penguins for performance. The Poppers and the penguins perform at various cities around the country. One day, they arrive at the wrong theater, and the theater owner has them all arrested for “disturbing the peace.”

Falling Action

Admiral Drake arrives and posts bail for Mr. Popper. Also, a Hollywood movie man offers to feature the penguins in the movies. Fearing that life in Hollywood would be too much for the penguins, Mr. Popper declines.


Springtime is coming and the warm weather is not good for the penguins. Admiral Drake, Mr. Popper, and the penguins travel to the North Pole on an expedition to establish a penguin colony.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Mr. Popper's Penguins.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Mr. Popper's Penguins Character Map

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In this activity, students should depict the characters of the story, paying close attention to the physical and character traits of the characters. Students should provide detailed information regarding how the person feels (or might have felt) in the main event. In addition, students can identify the challenges the person faced during the main event.

Characters included in the character map are:

  • Mr. Popper
  • Mrs. Popper
  • Janie and Bill Popper
  • Captain Cook and Greta
  • Admiral Drake
  • Mr. Greenbaum
  • Mr. Klein
  • A serviceman
  • A policeman

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Mr. Popper's Penguins and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical/Character Traits, How Does This Character Change Over Time, and What Challenges Does This Character Face.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Frayer Model | Mr. Popper's Penguins Vocabulary

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In this activity, students demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words using a Frayer Model. After choosing a word, students provide a definition, characteristics, examples (synonyms), and non-examples (antonyms) of the word. Students may be provided the vocabulary words, or they can use words that they have discovered through their reading of the text.

This example uses the word absent-minded

  • Definition: So lost in thought that one does not realize what one is doing, what is happening, etc.
  • Characteristics: "The reason Mr. Popper was so absent-minded was that he was always dreaming about far-away countries."
  • Examples: careless, daydreaming, distracted, oblivious
  • Non-Examples: alert, attentive, aware

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a Frayer Model for one of the vocabulary words from Mr. Popper's Penguins.

  1. Choose a vocabulary word and type it into the center title box.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and enter it into the description box under Definition.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the Definition cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  4. Think of at least three characteristics that help expand the meaning beyond the definition.
  5. Provide written and visual examples of the word.
  6. Provide written and visual non-examples of the word.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Mr. Popper's Penguins Themes

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify a theme of Mr. Popper's Penguins, and support it with evidence from the text.

One theme is "adventure". Mr. Popper has many adventures with his new pet penguins:

  • Mr. Popper daydreams about adventures at the North and South Pole and regrets never having left Stillwater.
  • Mr. Popper makes changes in the house to accommodate his new pet, Captain Cook.
  • Mr. Popper ends up in jail with his twelve penguins after mistaking the Regal Theater for the Royal Theater.
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Sequencing in Mr. Popper's Penguins

An exceptional way to help your students follow a story is to have them track the events from it. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of a plot, it also reinforces major events, which helps students develop greater understanding of how the events fit together to provide the overall structure of the story.

This example identifies six main events:

  • Mr. Popper admires the penguins and explorers of the North and South Pole.
  • Admiral Drake sends Mr. Popper a surprise: a pet penguin from the South Pole.
  • Mr. Popper gets Captain Cook a companion, Greta.
  • Captain Cook and Greta have ten children, which is very costly for the Poppers.
  • The Poppers and the penguins join the theater and perform in cities across the country.
  • Mrs. Popper returns to Stillwater, while Mr. Popper joins Admiral Drake and the penguins on an exploration to the North Pole.
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Point of View in Mr. Popper's Penguins

In this activity, students will examine the author’s point of view and make inferences based on details from the text.

In this example, the text reveals Mr. Popper’s feelings, Mrs. Popper’s thoughts, and the penguin’s feelings:

  • Mr. Popper’s Feelings: "Mr. Popper's heart was frozen with terror."
  • Mrs. Popper’s Thoughts: "Mrs. Popper... dimly realized that the penguin was going in and out of the refrigerator pretty frequently, she thought nothing of it at first."
  • Penguin’s Feelings: "And the penguins, hearing their voice, scuttled up on the deck and stood there beside the Admiral and Mr. Popper. Then they solemnly lifted their flippers and waved..."
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Mr. Popper's Penguins Textual Evidence

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In this activity, students will be provided a question or prompt to answer using textual evidence. The prompt here is, “How do animals help humans? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.”

The three examples provided include:

  • Animals provide company for people; Mr. Popper realizes he is much happier with his pet penguins.
  • Animals bring out the best in people; Mrs. Popper didn’t care for having the pets, but found herself enjoying them.
  • Animals are very interesting; Mr. Popper reads about how one penguin gets pushed over the edge to check for danger.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that answers the prompt using at least three examples from Mr. Popper's Penguins. Click on "Add Cells" to change the number of examples.

  1. Type the question into the central black box.
  2. Type a response to the question in your own words in the title box.
  3. Think about examples from the text that support your answer.
  4. Type text evidence in the description boxes. Paraphrase or quote directly from the text.
  5. Illustrate each example using scenes, characters, items, etc.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Quick Synopsis of Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Contains Plot Spoilers)

Mr. Popper is an unkempt house painter who dreams about Polar expeditions. He spends all of his free time reading about the Poles and the explorers who visit them. He tenderly talks about the penguins at the South Pole and wishes to have one as a pet. Unlike carefree Mr. Popper, Mrs. Popper is very worried about having enough money to get through the winter, and keeping a clean house. She calls the penguins “heathens”, and goes off to bed. Excitedly, Mr. Popper realizes the date, and rushes to turn on the radio. Just in time, he hears Admiral Drake, an explorer in the Antarctic, saying hello and warning him of a surprise.

It doesn’t take too long for Mr. Popper to find out his surprise; the next afternoon, while Mrs. Popper was out, a large package gets delivered to the door. Inside is a penguin from Antarctica, whom Mr. Popper decides to name Captain Cook after the famous English explorer.

Captain Cook explores the living room, the refrigerator, and the dining room. Mr. and Mrs. Popper and the children, Bill and Janie, watch and wonder if Captain Cook is hungry and where he will sleep. Mr. Popper clears out a space in the icebox, being sure to leave the door open for air and ice cubes on the bottom to replace rocks.

The next day, Mr. Popper pays a serviceman to work on the icebox. He asks the man to drill holes in the icebox and to install a handle on the inside. The serviceman thinks he is crazy, but after being handed a five dollar bill, does the work. With the new modifications, Captain Cook is able to enter and exit the icebox on his own.

Captain Cook, an unfamiliar bird, is very mischievous in this new setting, which results in some mayhem. First, a policeman knocks on the door to inspect the new pet; he determines that Captain Cook seems friendly enough, but he should remain indoors, and suggests that Mr. Popper call the City Hall to see if he needs a license. While the Poppers are busy, Captain Cook collects dozens of miscellaneous items from around the house and puts them in his icebox. While out for a walk with Captain Cook, news reporters interview Mr. Popper and take their picture, which appears in the newspaper the next day.

Soon, Captain Cook becomes very ill; everyone in the town tries to help, but he just continues to decline. Mr. Popper writes a letter to Dr. Smith, the Curator of the great Aquarium in Mammoth City. Dr. Smith replies that he, too, has a sick penguin and believes it is due to loneliness, so he is going to send his penguin, Greta, to Mr. Popper. The two lonely penguins quickly recover.

As the weather gets colder, Mr. Popper decides to leave the windows open for the penguins, forcing the family to wear their coats in the house. When snow ends up in the house, Mr. Popper decides to fill the house with water to make ice, allowing the penguins and kids to toboggan around the living room. Mrs. Popper is unhappy with the mess and tells Mr. Popper to figure something else out.

Mr. Popper then installs a freezing plant in the cellar and moves the penguins. Just as Mrs. Popper had predicted, Greta lays ten eggs just a few days after being moved. Mr. Popper digs a hole in the cellar to make a swimming pool for all the penguins and an ice tower for them to climb on. Mr. Popper, Bill, and Janie spend hours just watching the penguins; Mr. Popper dreads having to go back to painting houses in the spring.

Mrs. Popper discusses money with Mr. Popper; they don’t have enough money to pay the bills and the penguins are very expensive. They come up with an idea to teach the penguins to do tricks and perform in the theater. After some practicing, Mr. Popper’s family and the ten penguins walk to see Mr. Greenbaum, the owner of the Palace Theater, to show him the act. The act is a huge success; they travel across the United States performing in all the big cities and are paid $5,000 a week. Toward the end of the tour, Mrs. Popper and the penguins are very tired of performing, and Mrs. Popper wants to return to Stillwater.

Before she can return, there is a mix-up between the Regal and Royal theaters in New York, and Mr. Popper winds up in jail with his twelve penguins. Admiral Drake from the South Pole bails him out, and is thrilled with everything Mr. Popper has taught the penguins. Admiral Drake offers to take the penguins to the North Pole to give the explorers company, but Mr. Klein, owner of the Colossal Film Company, offers to make the Poppers a fortune by filming the penguins in Hollywood. Mr. Popper takes the evening to make his decision, but ultimately decides the penguins will be much happier in the North Pole. Mr. Klein understands, but decides to shoot a short film about the penguins before they leave for the North Pole, paying the Poppers twenty-five thousand dollars.

Mr. Popper says goodbye to all the penguins as they board the ship; he wipes the tears from his eyes as he says goodbye to Captain Cook. He then says goodbye to Admiral Drake who is surprised, asking, “Aren’t you coming with us?” At this, Mr. Popper asks Mrs. Popper if she would mind if he went to the North Pole for a few years. Mrs. Popper agrees, wishing him good luck on his next adventure.

Essential Questions for Mr. Popper’s Penguins

  1. Many people say, “Follow your dreams”. Is this good advice? Why or why not?
  2. Why is it important to compromise?
  3. Should wild animals be removed from their habitat? Why or why not?
  4. How do animals help humans?

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