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NumberFix: multiples of 10 and ratios and Roald Dahl's "The Witches"

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from NumberFix
Math Topic: multiples of 10 & ratios Students Write: a persuasive letter inspired by math

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Writing for Math Class:
Requesting a Task Force to Prevent Child Endangerment

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by NNWP Consultant, Torrey Palmer, who desgined it for students in grades 5-8. Torrey believes this lesson could be taught using 2-3 hours of classtime.

This lesson was proposed to NumberFix using this template. If you have a math/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Holly Young, our NumberFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!

Lesson Overview & Objectives:

Using information from the mentor text, The Witches, by Roald Dahl, students embark on an effort to save children like themselves from the witches and the effects of Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker. Using population statistics as well as information from the test, students write a persuasive letter to the President of the United States (or another world leader) urging them to take action in creating a task force to study the potential harm of witches.

Mathematical standards addressed:

  • Use multiples of 10 to expand knowledge of basic multiplication and division
  • Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations
  • Write and apply ratios in mathematical and practical problems

E/LA standards addressed:

  • Write persuasive essays and compositions with a thesis statement and relevant supporting evidence


Writing Skills (Traits) to Stress
while Teaching this Lesson:

The focus trait in this writing assignment is idea development; students will work on the skills of writing with a clear, central idea or theme in mind and putting researched ideas into one’s own words as they write and revise their letters. The support trait for this lesson is organization, as students will begin their writing with a strong introduction and end with a satisfying conclusion.

Materials List:

Setting the Stage:

There are three key elements to preparing students to be successful for this lesson.

  • Much of the energy and motivation from this lesson stems from reading the book, The Witches by Roald Dahl. Reading the first chapter or two and providing a brief summary is important for building enthusiasm and student buy-in to the lesson.
  • Also, it is important to talk about the elements of a persuasive letter, specifically the importance of having concrete details (i.e. real facts and numbers!) to support ideas. Sharing specific examples of persuasive letters or articles that include data is helpful here.
  • Finally, it may be helpful to discuss how the government handles a ‘crisis’ by creating a committee or task force to explore the issues relevant to that problem, and the creates a solution to try to solve the problem. (This could be tied into a social studies exploration of government and civics.)

Teacher Instructions:

  • Read Chapter 1, “A Note About Witches” from Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Tell the brief summary of the book (below) or continue reading as a read aloud. The word choice and detail in this book is outstanding. The more you read from this book, the more students will be able to pick up on Dahl’s effective voice.
Summary: This book is about the witches that live in England and whose purpose is to eliminate all of the children in England. The story tells the tale of a boy who ends up visiting a seaside hotel with his grandmother only to find the witches are having a convention there. The boy and his grandmother make it their mission to save the children of England, ridding the world of witches.
  • Brainstorm with students possible strategies for dealing with such a problem in the United States. For example: It would be important to alert the federal government of the witches so that a task force (or committee) could work towards protecting the children in the United States.
  • Discuss the elements of a strong persuasive letter—organization (stating the problem, offering concrete evidence or suggestions, concluding with the request) and ideas (strong, convincing ideas.) Share 1 or 2 from below.
  • Read the chapter aloud (The Recipe, p. 88) again reviewing the context of the story.
  • Divide the students into groups of 2-3 to develop concrete evidence to convince the president that he should create a task force to study the potential problems of witches in the United States. Give each group the page “Problems to Solve”, as well as the supporting sheets on Historical Populations of Children, World Populations, and the Recipe.
  • While students should work the 4 problems on the sheet, they should also be encouraged to to find other ways to convince the president that witches could be a serious problem in the United States. Share 1 or 2 other student samples.
  • Using the problems they solved as evidence, students should write their letters to the President, using the evidence they solved in the problems.

Student Samples:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
April 2, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

We are concerned of the fact that witches are killing children at a miraculous speed!


We have found out how many bottles of Formula 86 they would need by dividing 73,227 (number of children) by 500 (doses in a bottle) and got 115 bottles. We have proved it would take only 7 years for the witches to wipe out all of the kids in the U.S.A. One dose of delayed action mouse maker = 1 child gone! If there are 500 hundred doses in 1 bottle, 500 kids will be gone!

Here are some signs of witches: One way to find a witch is they always wear gloves to hide their fingers. Another way is they are bald and wear wigs to cover their head and they always scratch their head! They also wear high heels but have square feet. They stalk and hate kids. A witch kills one child a week.

If there are a huge amount of missing mice and children then we have a problem!!! Here is the delayed action mouse maker recipe we have detected: 1 telescope, boil until soft (about 12 hours) 45 brown mice, chop off tails and fry until crisp simmer mice in frog juice for one hour , 1 alarm clack (makes enough for 1,000 children), roast in oven until crisp. Mix together at full speed . With mixer running add: 1 Gruntel’s egg yolk, claw from Crabcruncher, beak from Blabbersnicth, and a tongue of Catspringer. Add 1 drop to chocolate or sweet.

Remember witches are always women! They could be any woman! They put that recipe in sweets in candy stores or on the streets. IF YOU FIND A WITCH KILL IT IMMEDIATELY!!!! If you don’t believe us read The Witches by Roald Dahl at your local library or Barnes and Noble!

Emily (fifth grader)

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
April 1, 2010

Dear Mr. President:

There is a case that witches are in the United States. I know that’s nonsense, and witches don’t really exist. But they do. I have proof.

The total population of the children in the United States is 73,227. If there are 100 witches in the United States, then one witch can take a child every week. That’s 5,200 children in a year—gone. So some of the disappearances might not have been kidnappers or serial killers. To believe me, hear this. If you seen a woman with a child wearing super long gloves in the hot summer, they’re probably witches. Another thing is that witches wear wigs. Their scalps are really itchy. And I mean their itchy. So if you see a woman scratching her scalp like crazy, she’s probably a witch.

If you have ever been to a crime scene and searched through the entire place and found no piece of evidence it either means a sneaky murderer or a witch. But it must have been a witch because they don’t use weapons or guns. When you read this please don’t put this letter in the garbage. The witches use magic! There is a plan the witches are going to turn all the children to mice. I hope you believe me because this is true. So listen if you want to keep your children safe!

I cannot explain and tell all of the ingredients of the mouse maker because there are too many. The thing is, there are 9 ingredients and you need 74 for each item. That’s around 3375 children that are going to be brown mice! But let me tell you if we don’t stop these witches in about a year the children will be gonners and it will just be hopeless! Witches just keep making more and more mouse maker to get rid of the children. So there are probably 300 witches and 2000 does of mouse maker! I know about the witches so if you believe me, please stop the witches before it’s too late!

Eric (fifth grader)

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
March 27, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing you this letter to inform you that there are witches in the United States! This is very dangerous for all us beautiful children! They could turn all of us into mice! So, YOU have to do something to stop them. I’m pretty sure you don’t want all us beautiful children to get turned into mice, right? So, find a way to destroy ALL of them! Please!!!! Help save us!

Well, now you know our humongous, ginormous, gigantic problem. What if they took over the world? Think of it, NO kids at all! Life would be too sad. The problem is, they dress and act like any ordinary person. So, that means that it will be extra hard to find them. Well, I can tell you some things to look for in a witch. First thing is that ALL witches wear wigs. So, that means that they are bald.

A good idea would be to do a promotion for all ladies to get a free haircut. You could send a hairstylist to EVERY single house in the U.S. Then, you would find out who was a witch because they wouldn’t want a haircut. Another thing to look for in a witch is that she wears gloves everywhere and never takes them off unless there is other witches around. Another thing to look for in witches is that they have squared feet which means that they wear squared shoes. They also have green spots all over their arms and hands that’s why they wear the gloves. These are only some of the things that you can look for in a witch. Hopefully, this will help you find the mean witches.

According to researchers, there are 73,227 kids in the United States. That means that there is still a chance that witches could turn all us beautiful children into mice. Researchers reported that there are 1,000 witches in the United States. That would mean that exactly 57,000 kids would be taken away each year. Researchers also investigated and found out that for 2 bottles they would need 1 telescope, 45 brown mice, 1 alarm clock, 1 gruntle’s egg yolk, crabbuncher’s claw, blabbersnitch beak, grobblesquirt snout, catspringer tongue. They also found out that 1 bottle turns 500 kids into mice. So, they would only need 146 or 147 bottles to make every precious child into mice. They would also need 36,613 and a half telescope, 1,647,585 brown mice, and 36,613 and a half alarm clock. And after they put them into the mixer, they would need 36,613 and a half gruntle’s egg yolk, 36,613 and a half crabbuncher’s claws, 36,613 and a half blabbersnitch beaks,36,613 and a half grobblesquirt snouts, and 36,613 and a half catspringer tongues. This is the information that I found from researchers.

So, now that you know the problem and some clues to what witches look like, are you going to help us beautiful kids to live or do you want us to turn into mice? Your choice. Please help us!!

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to read this. And now you know our hugely, ginormous, humongous problem. Help save our lives!! And thank you so much for being such an excellent president!!!

Olga (fifth grader)

P.S. Take care!!!

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
March 18, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

I know the buzz of the U.S. census probably won’t give you the time to read this letter and I know this wasn’t the best time to write this letter and I send my apologies. All I ask is that you hear me out. I know you will probably not believe me, and nor would I if are positions were reversed. But, I know it is part of your job description to consider all options, and an option is to believe me no matter how farfetched it may seem. All I ask is that you believe me. Simply, give a leap of faith for me, and the good of your country.

As I’m sure you know, cops all over the country are looking for the criminal(s) that has kidnapped or killed the hundreds of missing children. How I know this, despite all your attempts to hide this in order to keep citizens calm, is because I know the cause. Did you ever consider that the cause of the kidnapped children could be(this is the part where you are probably going to put this letter in the paper shredder so just please, just here me out no matter how crazy it sounds)witches. (I told you it was going to sound crazy.) Real, and very much alive witches? You probably just eliminated the impossible and took that option out. And that is the reason I took the time to write this letter. But just think that the impossible could be true for a moment. Think about it. Every single cop in the U.S. is looking for the people, or person, responsible. No evidence was found, no bodies, nothing to work with, nothing. Don’t you think the only way something so crazy, with us in the dark would have to be something like magic? With magic, a life form with this gift could do this much damage and more. It could destroy the evidence; destroy anything in its way. This life form exists. Witches exist. And witches are not on our side.

In the U.K, there are about 200 witches. Using the population table with a witch to citizen ratio makes an estimate of about one witch per every 300,000 citizens. Using that formula for the U.S. population proves there are about 100 witches in our nation. Now witches (this is the part where you are probably going to put me in the paper shredder, and don’t put the shredder on confetti mode. The paper doesn’t like it. And I know you will put me in the paper shredder when you hear that) well, I don’t know how to break this to you so all just blurt it out. Witches do away with children. Now remember that I have declared evidence that witches exist earlier in this letter and you must remember that you have no other leads toward the missing children besides the one on this piece of paper. With 100 witches in the U.S. and approx. 73,227 children, all the children would be gone in fifteen years. ALL THE CHILDREN IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERCIA! Mr. President, you are thinking this is all rubbish and you are probably walking toward the paper shredder right now, but I must remind you again of your job description. So if you throw this away, you will be throwing your life away as well. Your choice Mr. President. With help from some sources, we learned that the most recent scheme that the witches have prepared (also their 86th formula) is delayed action mouse maker. The name says it all. It causes children to turn to mice after a delayed reaction. The recipe calls for:

  • 1 telescope boiled until soft
  • 45 brown mice fry tails until crisp
  • Simmer mice in frog juice for one hour
  • One alarm clock, roast until crisp
  • Mix together at full speed well adding the following
  • Gruntle egg yolk
  • Claw of crabcruncher
  • Beak of babbersnitch
  • Snout of grobblesquirt
  • Tongue of catspringer

According to their plot (go to for more info) and using the population table, 74 recipes will wipe out the next generation. Look for big orders of brown mice to an order of 3310. Mr. President, delay the census and take action immediately.

If you refuse to take action accordingly for this matter, start a fifteen year clock for if a witch takes a child out every week times 100 witches’ times 52 weeks = fifteen years. Now, if witches know we are on to them, they will be able to stop anything with magic from taking them out. So we need a lure. Lure the witch to stealth attackers waiting nearby. This may be are only option and we both know what the lure has to be for I rather not write it aloud. If there is another option, I’d do that. Sadly, are options are down to the one I have just listed. If you don’t believe me, which like I said I would not if things were vice versed. At least put my thoughts into consideration.

Witcheneer project: show the world


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