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Digging deep for the hole story

Mike Bowen introduces top primary pupils to Louis Sachar's cult boot-camp mystery

HOLES. By Louis Sachar. Bloomsbury Children's Books. Price: pound;5.99 (paperback).


At the notorious Camp Green Lake, young offenders dig holes in the blazing sun. New boy Stanley, sent to the camp after being wrongly accused of stealing, uncovers the secret behind the bizarre institution - and the reason for all the digging - in a novel full of irony and pathos which will keep upper key stage 2 readers engrossed.


Encourage the children to empathise with various characters, focusing on point of view and feelings. Ask them to write letters from Stanley to his mum, revealing his first impressions of the camp and how these change.

lAsk mixed-ability groups of between four and six children to list the characters in the story, each on a small card. Include peripheral characters who are not mentioned often in the text but have an impact on the story, such as Clyde Livingston the basketball player, Stanley's hero.

Place Stanley's card in the centre of a potential circle with other characters' cards around it. Join the names with cutout arrows, showing the general power balance of the relationship (so arrows would point from the overseer Mr Sir to Stanley, and from Stanley to Zero, the weakest inmate).

Ask the children to write a word or phrase on the arrows describing each relationship. Colour-code arrows to show whether the nature of the relationship is stated in the book or inferred by the children. Move cards and arrows around as discussion develops. Use this exercise three times - at the beginning, middle and end of the book - to track how relationships change and encourage pupils to justify their judgments and conclusions.

Louis Sachar, a popular US author, has told the story in short chapters.

Discuss why this might be and the impact it has on the reader. How does he end each chapter? How does he leave the reader wanting more?


Focus on the inmates digging their holes in the heat. Ask a group of children to create a "photograph" of a scene by choosing roles and then freezing in character (try the scene in chapter 19 in which Magnet, one of the inmates, steals Mr Sir's sunflower seeds). The teacher then "brings to life" the characters in turn to answer the questions from the other pupils.


In circle time, discuss how Stanley felt when he arrived at the camp. Ask pupils to remember times when they felt alone or had trouble fitting in, and to record how they dealt with it.

lAsk pupils to remember a time when they were blamed for something that they did not do. How did they feel? To introduce new vocabulary associated with feelings, prepare a selection of words from which pupils can choose three to describe how they dealt with their feelings.


Set word problems based on volume, referring to Stanley's daily task. For example: If Stanley digs a hole that is 3 metres x 2 metres x 4 metres and Magnet digs a hole that is 4 metres x 3 metres x 1 metre, who has dug out the biggest hole? Or, if Stanley has removed 20 cubic metres of earth, what could be the dimensions of the hole he has dug?


The story moves between three time periods. Ask the children to build up a timeline of events, placing events in chronological order as they occur in the text. This can be done by individuals or as a class.


Allocate small groups a scene each from the story: Stanley escaping from the camp; Stanley carrying Zero up the mountain; or boys digging in the sun. Ask them to create a piece of mood music to use in a film of the book.

This can incorporate rhythm, timbre, tempo or any area of composition you are working on. As groups perform their pieces, the class tries to work out the events being portrayed.

Mike Bowen teaches Years 5 and 6 at Manselton Primary School in Swansea, West Glamorgan

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