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Terry: April 2010 Archives


Bookworm Basics: Growing Readers of All Sizes

Posted by Terry on April 28, 2010 at 8:00 AM in PoetryRecommendationscreative literacy
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jkrROUNDUP.jpgNo sooner had Jen Robinson finished her Ten Tips for Growing a Bookworm series and her daughter arrived - ten weeks early. Ten tips ... ten weeks. Coincidence or just an anxious bookworm? Ah, the mysteries of life.

When Jen announced the birth of her little bookworm, she also explained that she was taking a hiatus from blogging. On Mondays, Jen often starts us off with Literacy 'Lights, a quick roundup of family-reading related ideas and tips from around the kidlitosphere. For the next few weeks, while Jen is enjoying all of the joys that come with bringing home a new baby, Susan Kusel will be here on Mondays and I'll stop by on Wednesdays with Bookworm Basics.

Jen and her passion for growing bookworms is the inspiration for my column. I wanted to do something that complements what she does AND celebrate bookworms of all ages. So each week I'll offer ideas about literacy and reading in the context of how a reader grows, from emergent literacy (infant/toddler) through fluency (third grade). I will incorporate my Prompt Ideas, too, when they fit. This week, I thought I'd round out National Poetry Month with ideas that draw on a poetry theme.

Emergent Literacy - Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
When we think of poetry for kids, we often think of rhymes, which are perfect for this audience. At these ages, kids are exploring, testing, and repeating sounds ... a lot! The sillier or sing-songy the sound combinations, the better. In the process, these pre-readers are learning how to make sounds and give them meaning (gurgles to dada); discerning words and vocabulary (recognizing that shluba is a silly word and tuba is a real thing); and beginning to connect a letter sound with the symbol.

Nursery rhymes and silly words - like the ones we think of as "classic" Dr. Seuss - are great ways to combine poetry and learning. In this YouTube video, a young boy is "reading" by exploring the sounds in Dr. Seuss' ABC Book An Amazing Alphabet Book. The video is about 4 minutes long, but you can get the idea of how he is exploring words and sounds with about 45 seconds.

Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade

poetrymosaic.jpg Now that they can recognize individual letters and sounds, readers-to-be are ready to start combining them into words and learn how one letter (silent e) affects the sounds of others around it (star becomes stare). Rhyming and repetition often remain central to helping kids build vocabulary and pronouncing words they don't quite know yet. Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Kenn Nesbitt are wonderful children's poets who combine rhymes, recognized song lyrics, kids' favorite (and least favorite) things, and silliness to engage kids as readers - without them even knowing it!

One way to engage kids in creating their own poems (and silly words) is to add a set of poetry magnets to the fridge. Every time someone reaches for the milk they can create something new! This is an activity that lest kids stretch their imagination, explore language, and work on spelling all at the same time. It's also a game that everyone can play ... including Mom and Dad. To help with the (dreaded) weekly word list, you might try making some magnets of your own using materials from a craft or hobby store.

Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
This is the group of independents (in more ways than one). Once kids are reading at a third grade level, they have mastered the strategies they need for reading without help. They have the tools to put understanding, vocabulary, and spelling together and combine them in whatever format is presented. They also compose lengthier original works, from synopses to full-length stories and reports.

Those rhyming books they loved last year are now "for babies," though there are exceptions. The magnets on the fridge can come in handy, because they let your reader independently explore their creative side. And Mom and Dad sneak in a little writing!

Another idea would be to pull out their old alphabet letters and let them "text" on the refrigerator. I know, it confuses me too, but there is research that suggests texting can help kids with spelling. If the study doesn't convince you, maybe this video by Mr. J.A. Gill, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, will add a perspective that makes sense.

There are some great resources to help you engage kids as readers across the spectrum of development. Reading Rockets, for example, has some wonderful parent guides with tips in English and ten other languages. I have always loved their practical ideas, and I was tickled to find their new parent tip sheets for babies and toddlers.

One of the great things about growing a bookworm, as Jen has explained, is that the old can become new again. Reading aloud to them as infants and beyond (Tip 1) might just lead to them sneaking a flashlight to stay up late and read under the covers (Tip 10) . At least we can hope!

Note: Dr. Seuss ABC Book title link goes to and the Reading Tub affiliate. Purchases made through that link may generate income for the Reading tub, a 501c3 nonprofit.


Prompt Idea: April Fools and Other Madness

Posted by Terry on April 2, 2010 at 8:00 AM in creative literacy
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april-sno.jpgJust when we thought winter was going to go on forever ... April has arrived. The almanac predicting snow this month is just an April Fool's joke, right? In our school district, Spring Break starts next week. I have been trying to think of some fun games to play (and sneak in a little literacy, of course), and then it hit me ...

Mad Libs! Remember those? For those who might not be familiar, Mad Libs is a word game where players create a unique, one-of-a-kind story simply by filling in some "missing" words. One person asks for words mad-libs.jpg to fill in the blanks, and (at least) one person provides them. The reader asks for specific types of words, but doesn't reveal anything about the story. Once all of the words have been gathered, the story is read aloud, usually with lots of laughs. Mad Libs have been around since 1953, and the creators (Leonard Stern and Roger Price) published the first book of Mad Libs in 1958. Mad Libs is a registered trademark, but the name is used universally, much like "kleenex" is used for "facial tissue."

Another form of this word game is called Consequences. In this version, one person writes a word or phrase, folds the paper to hide their answer, and then gives it to the next person. The first two people offer names; the third person a place; the fourth and fifth offer he said and she said, respectively; the next person offers a consequence, and the last person offers an outcome. Although there are seven parts to the story, you can play this game with two people passing the paper back and forth. The finished product might look like this.

Jeffrey and Mary Ellen visited the zoo. He said "I love bike riding." She said "Purple is my favorite color." He gave her a pickled beet. She gave him blue earrings. They ended up with no money. Then they ran away to find the library.

Exquisite Corpse cover.jpgBoth Mad Libs and Consequences are "home version" of a writing method called the exquisite corpse. That may sound familiar, as the National Center for the Book (part of the Library of Congress) and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance are sponsoring the episodic Exquisite Corpse Adventure, where children's book authors are writing a chapter, drawing on content of the previous writer. With each episode, a children's book artist adds an illustration. That alone is cool, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Reading Rockets and have a companion project that lets kids be writers, too. Each month, as part of The Exquisite Prompt project, two of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure contributors ask the kids to write something, based on a prompt they provide. Last month Nikki Grimes asked Kindergarteners, first and second graders to create an original joke, riddle, or short story. Oh there is bound to be silliness there!

When I was a kid, creating and reading Mad Libs was always good for an afternoon of laughs. I remember then as a "summer" thing and something we did at birthday parties. They were fun, and they ALWAYS got us laughing and being silly. What I didn't realize about them - but do now - is how valuable these word games are as a literacy tool.

  • In asking for words of specific types, kids are learning and practicing parts of speech.

  • The players are recording the words, which is writing AND spelling.

  • The completed story, which is read aloud (!) offers reading practice and vocabulary development, too.

  • Everyone can share in the fun ... this is social reading at its silliest.

Some of the online versions, like It's a Mad Libs World website, include prompts about what the various parts of speech do, which is helpful for developing readers and English Language Learners. Mad Libs have always been portable, but technology makes them even more so. There online versions and apps for your iPhone.

These are simple word games, adaptable to readers of all ages and abilities. For kids not yet reading, they can be adult-directed; for developing readers and beyond, they can do it all themselves. Once kids understand the concept, they can create their own word libs from some of their favorite stories. All they need to do is drop out a word here and there and create "blanks" for their friends to fill in. Oh, think of the possibilities for The Three Little Pigs!

Unlike the "old days," you can find Mad Libs for just about every branded character or television show. And that's no fooling!

Prompt Ideas for April
Here are the writing prompt starters for National Humor Month, National Poetry Month, National Karaoke Week, and more.

  • Kick off National Humor Month with a Mad Lib.
  • Then let the kids create a word lib with one of their favorite songs.
  • Let kids wax poetic. Let them come up with a theme/title, then ask for specific words or phrases to create poems.
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