The Teaching of Reading Blog

Using Readers' Theater in the Classroom

 

You and your students are bound to love Readers’ Theater! 
            
Readers’ Theater (also spelled "Reader’s Theatre" or "Readers Theater") is an activity in which students, while reading directly from scripts, are able to tell a story in a most entertaining form, without props, costumes, or sets. This is a reading activity, and students are not asked to memorize their lines. They are, however, encouraged to "ham it up" and use intonation and gestures appropriate to their characters and their characters’ words.

Readers’ Theater serves many useful functions:

·         It provides repeated reading practice—an important factor in building fluency. Repeated reading practice also improves students’ confidence in, and enthusiasm for reading. It’s an enjoyable change of pace from everyday practice sessions. My students love it! And so do we. Students are so thrilled at their newfound skill that they ask to perform for younger classes.

·         It’s a wonderful opportunity for children who are used to feelings of failure to provide expertise entertainment for others.

·         Readers’ Theater scripts cover many different subjects across the curriculum making them versatile.

The Internet is a terrific source of entertaining scripts--and they’re often free! The ready availability of online resources allows for easy editing and personalization of individual scripts. I simply copy the script to my word processing program, adapt the script to my students’ needs, and print it up! (Of course, most scripts available online are intended only for educational, not commercial, use.)

Don’t be intimidated by the performance aspect. It’s all the excitement of a play without the pressure and responsibility. The students have fun, you have fun, the audience (if you choose to perform for one) will have a great time, and everyone learns!

We offer a nice selection of scripts for all different subjects on our sister site, SongsForTeaching.com



Conquering the Chapter Book

Not sure when to introduce your students to chapter books? From the child’s point of view it can seem a bit daunting to read independently, but listening to a chapter book is beneficial, too! Children comprehend books that are a few levels above their own reading level when the stories are read aloud. Your expression and manner will help children figure out words that are new to them.

When children hear James and the Giant Peach read to them, they love imagining the horrendous escaped rhino and the mischievous Weather Men that lived in the clouds. They don't have to worry about stumbling over words they don't know. They can snuggle up every night and listen to James’ adventure while their imaginations paint the pictures for them. This encourages children to try more books, because they know that they can understand new words from their context -- even words they've never seen in print.

Letting your child choose his or her own chapter book to read without getting frustrated is made considerably easier with this useful tip from Esmé Codell. The Rule of Thumb goes like this:

Have a child choose a page in the middle of the book with a lot of text, and make a fist. Explain to the child that she should not use the fist to punch anyone in the nose. Instead, read the page silently, and if you come to a word you don’t know and can’t guess, put up your thumb. If you find another word, put up another finger, and so on. If you reach the end of the page and between three and five are up, that means the book will be a challenge. The child can decide if she is motivated enough to try to read it anyway (you can offer help), or she can choose to save it for the future. A pleasure read should have 0-2 fingers up.
Excerpted, with permission from
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike

This technique is great because it provides a quantifiable method for the child to apply. Nothing is more disheartening than getting excited to read a certain book, borrowing it from the library and taking it home, only to find out it’s too difficult to read independently at that time. Esmé Codell's suggestion allows children to gauge on their own what books will be appropriate for them.

If you’re looking for a chapter book to read to a group, imagine the youngest age the author intended the book for. If the story is captivating, your more advanced readers will enjoy the book nonetheless.

See our pages on
Reading Aloud
, Recommended Chapter Books, and Motivating Your Child to Read for more information.

 

Codell, Esmé Raji. How to Get Your Child  to Love Reading. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2003.

 



To the Original Wizard of Oz, Happy Birthday!

 
L. Frank Baum is a household name thanks to his relentless perseverance. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a culmination of a career’s worth of work. It was published in 1900 after many minor publications and musicals. We all recognize the famous ruby slippers that Dorothy wears on her journey down the yellow brick road, but did you know they’re silver shoes in the book? Red looks better on screen so a minor tweak in the movie turned into one of the most recognizable icons of the story. Little facts like this make reading the book and seeing the movie a great activity for family reading. Use the differences as conversation starters and have children voice their opinions about various changes to the plot or characteristics of the story. What would they do differently if they were directing the movie? What parts of the book were left out or changed and why? Do the changes affect the message of the story?

Oz has captivated imaginations for over a hundred years and still continues to do so. In the time of women’s suffrage, Baum married Maude Gage, who was an active feminist. Her influence on his writing is apparent with strong female leads and comical situations such as the revolution in The Marvelous Land of Oz. He even dedicated The Wizard of Oz to her.

"As they passed the rows of houses they saw through the open doors that men were sweeping and dusting and washing dishes, while the women sat around in groups, gossiping and laughing. 

What has happened?' the Scarecrow asked a sad-looking man with a bushy beard, who wore an apron and was wheeling a baby carriage along the sidewalk. 

Why, we've had a revolution, your Majesty -- as you ought to know very well,' replied the man; 'and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. I'm glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City.' 

Hm!' said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. 'If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?' 

I really do not know,' replied the man, with a deep sigh. 'Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron." 
 L. Frank Baum (The Marvelous Land of Oz)
 
Baum was an innovator of children’s literature in many ways. Embracing the qualities of Anderson and Grimm’s fairytales, he put his own spin on what a fairy tale should be. The inhabitants of Oz are complex and detailed which makes them relatable. Baum refrained from using extreme violence and love interests since he believed children “wouldn’t find that sort of thing interesting.” Oz and all of its stories became one of the most beloved tales of all time because he wasn’t afraid to keep trying. Imagine if he gave up because his first 15 years of writing didn’t lead to any major success stories. Baum not only wrote a classic fairy tale, he lived one. 


"That proves you are unusual,' returned the Scarecrow; 'and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed." 
 L. Frank Baum (The Marvelous Land of Oz)


Celebrate L. Frank Baum's birthday May 15th by reading one of the 15 Oz books. Take an imaginary journey but remember, there's no place like home.



Texting and Literacy

      Texting and internet memes must surely be the downfall of formal language, right? Quite a few scholarly studies point to no, actually. While it’s true that conventional English spelling and correct grammar are noticeably absent from the majority of texting conversations, the phonetics are accurate. As literacy advocates, seeing the phrase “C U l8r 2nite” is the equivalent of hearing nails on a chalk board, however one must first understand the correct way to write the phrase before it can be broken down to the text version.  Texting also provides an “additional resource for learning about and experimenting with letter-sound correspondences and language, and for reading and ‘decoding’ text.” (Vosloo 2009) The same study also stated, “If our children are showing difficulties with reading and spelling attainment, it would seem that this is in spite of the contribution of textism use, not because of it.” When put into this context, it makes it easier to see that language is evolving not necessarily degrading.

      The digital age is upon us and like it or not, faster communication means abbreviating and inventive spelling. Not all teachers view this as a plague of the 21st century. It allows for experimental communication and word play. Most SMS messaging systems allow 160 characters per message. The thought process behind sending a text is more in depth than it appears as far as realizing what needs to be said, how to condense it, and finally how to phrase it so the most information is sent in the fewest words possible.  How does this affect the classroom? Teachers need to enforce when and where texting language is appropriate and when conventional English is necessary.  Internet celebrity and middle school English teacher, Cindi Rigsbee, sees the front line of this battlefield every day. Instead of ignoring the issue, she addressed it head-on by discussing the Greek and Roman roots of English and eventually leading the conversation down to a popular internet phrase. She also has students translate a barely legible MySpace page into proper English.  "We look at Old English, Middle English, and what was contemporary English in the time of Jane Eyre. Then I show them a MySpace page." (Bernard 2008)

While texting and the language should most definitely not be allowed in the classroom, it is a fact of life in this day and age. What it comes down to ultimately is that texting and internet lingo has a time and a place, much like clothes. Texting isn’t wrong but you wouldn’t wear old sneakers to a formal event, would you?

 


Bernard, Sara. “Zero-Thumb Game: How to Tame Texting.” Edutopia May 28, 2008. Web.

Retrieved April 27, 2010. http://www.edutopia.org/text-messaging-teaching-tool

Vosloo, Steve. “The effects of texting on literacy: Modern scourge or opportunity?” Shuttleworth Foundation Issue Paper April 2009. Web. Retrieved April 27, 2010.

http://vosloo.net/wp-content/uploads/pubs/texting_and_literacy_apr09_sv.pdf


Spring is Here! Help Your Young Readers Bloom


The sun is shining, the birds are chirping... and it's getting harder and harder to sit still. Reading doesn't have to be confined to the indoors. In fact, going outside on a walk or taking a book with you to read under a shady tree is quite relaxing.

For those with a more active mindset, take advantage of environmental print. Reading on the go, if you will.  Children often recognize logos and short phrases of places they like before they understand the phonics behind it. Use this as a springboard to encourage learning new words. Point out what the word starts with and sound it out syllable by syllable. 

Reading can be worked into games as simple as "I Spy." Instead of picking a color say something along the lines of, "I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with S!" Rhymes are great for this game too. Scavenger hunts are excellent for encouraging reading and they can be set up relatively quickly. Children will work to solve the puzzle even harder if there is treasure at the end of their quest! (Something small like a favorite snack or small toy.) You can "kidnap" one of their favorite toys so they must solve the puzzle to rescue it. Leave the first clue where they will find it or you could play the part of the innocent bystander and discover the clue. Set it up so each clue is a simple word puzzle that will lead to the next clue. For example, Clue #1 reads "Clue #2 sounds like chairs and starts with the letter s." Clue #3 would be found on the stairs and lead them to the next place. 
     Tailor the game to the appropriate difficulty for your players. You also control where the game goes so it could stay in the house or the back yard if you wish. Feel free to go all out and incorporate whatever theme the kids are into at the moment like pirates or explorers. 

Just like math or science, reading can be fun and active. Enjoy the beautiful weather and get some exercise for the mind and the body. Remember to keep your eyes open for reading opportunities always. What automatic sight reading for fluent readers is may be a new challenge for beginning readers. Make it fun!


Choosing Books for Preschoolers


There are over 2,000 children’s books published each year, so choosing books for preschool children can feel like an overwhelming task! Walk into any local bookstore or your neighborhood library and you will undoubtedly be faced with rows and rows of books from which to choose. Where do you begin?  There are a few guiding questions that you can ask yourself to decide if a book is worth reading.
 
1.       Are the illustrations appropriate, engaging, and relevant?  Young children will gravitate more towards the pictures than the text so look at the illustrations carefully. In addition, children will often use the pictures to “read” a story independently so see if the pictures reflect the text.
2.       Are the text and the illustrations bias-free? It is important to choose books that do not perpetuate stereotypes about race, gender, religion, and physical/mental ability.
3.       Is the text appropriate for my child’s developmental level?  You have to walk a fine line here. You want to choose books that your child can comprehend, but also look for books that will introduce your child to new concepts and vocabulary!
4.       Does the story inspire the imagination?  Some of my favorite children’s books have been turned into movies because of their ability to inspire imaginations of adults and children alike. Search for stories that will give your child opportunities to use his/her imagination!
5.       Do you as the adult find the book interesting?  This may seem like an odd thing to look for in a book for children, but remember that your joy is often contagious! So why not share your excitement with your children or students!
6.       Will your child be interested in the subject? Children will often develop their own interests; Sometimes their interest may last for a few days, a few weeks, or it may turn into a life-long interest or hobby. Nurture those interests! This is also a great way to pull in the reluctant reader. The little girl who is not so interested in reading but loves horses may find an interest in books about horses!
7.       Does the book encourage interaction? Some of the books that children love the most encourage participation. Pop-up books, Lift-the-flap books, I-Spy stories, and books with rhythmic, repetitious or call/response text are hot ticket items for the five and under crew!
8.       What is the purpose of the book? Expand your child’s literary base by exposing them to all types of books – fiction, biography, how-to/why books, and nature books provide children with opportunities to look at our world from different points of view!
9.       Is this a non-fiction book, and if so, is it accurate? When choosing books that are written to provide children information, be sure it is accurate. I once read a book that referred to Africa as a country! So choose books that will give children an accurate picture of our world.
10.   Will my child want to read this book more than once?  Children learn, as we all do, from repeated exposure to information. So, choose books that your child will want to read more than once.


Dr. Seuss' Birthday: March 2

Dr. Seuss' imagination and his whimsical rhyming stories have become a staple of childhood for millions of people. His books bridge gaps between generations, allowing parents to share their favorite characters with their children. The 250 words that comprise the Cat in the Hat were a major breakthrough to help fight illiteracy in schools. Beginning reader books were no longer uninteresting as that trouble making, hat sporting, friendly feline lead the way into Dr.Seuss' world.

With over 40 books published throughout his career, Seuss, touched on various political views incorporating them into his stories. Environmental concern is apparent in
The Lorax, while anti-consumerism is touched on in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and The Sneetches preaches equality. Dr. Seuss managed to keep the books light-hearted  and interesting for young readers, yet make them deeper than the typical Dick and Jane books of the time.

So raise your glass to honor the day
the Cat in the Hat had asked to play.
On the second of March, it's Seuss' birthday!
Read your favorite Seuss books
in your comfy book nook
and remember the one that made reading fun. 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss
(Sing to the Tune of If You're Happy and You Know It)

There’s a wocket in your pocket, Dr. Seuss
There are red and blue fish, green fish in there, too
There’s the Cat in the Hat with Horton and the Whos,
Singing Happy, Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Oh no, Thing One and Thing Two are on the loose
There’s a fox that’s wearing socks but has no shoes
There’s the Lorax and the Sneetches standing with Bartholomew
Singing Happy, Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

There goes Thidwick, he’s the Big-Hearted Moose
And the boy who ran the zoo, he’s Gerald McGrew
There’s the Grinch and Cindy Lou on their way to Solla Sollew
Singing Happy, Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

 

Sheet Music and an Instrumental Track to accompany this song are available for purchase.



Journal Writing with Young Children


When most of us think of journal writing, we often conjure up an image of a cute little diary with a lock and key that contains pages of feelings, and is often tucked away in a nightstand or under a mattress. So let’s take a moment to erase that preconceived notion from our heads. Officially,   journal writing is “a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis.” Preschoolers have “occurrences, experiences, and reflections” so why can’t  they write in a journal?! I know what you are thinking…preschoolers cannot WRITE so how can we expect them to write in a JOURNAL?
 
It’s widely established that literacy activities in early childhood are essential building blocks for future school success. However, too often, we think that “literacy” just means that we read books to children and provide a print-rich environment. Children need opportunities to learn that they can use language to communicate with others. Journal writing with young children serves five major purposes:
1.       It teaches children that their thoughts, feelings, and words can be transferred from their minds onto paper for others to see and read.
2.       Children learn to value writing, and to respect the writing of others.
3.       Journal writing gives children REAL and RELEVANT opportunities to learn the conventions of print such as:  a)print goes from left to right; b) there is a difference between pictures and text; c) print goes from the top to the bottom of a page; d) letters make up words, and other rules of the written language.
4.       Young children need to experiment with letters, letter sounds, and inventive spelling in a non-threatening way.
5.       Writing gives children time to practice the fine motor control that will help them become better writers.
 
When you begin journal writing with young children, there are some general rules to keep in mind:
1.       Involve children in creating and decorating the journals. Make it fun and allow them to be creative so that their journal feels special and unique. The journals can be a few pieces of paper tucked in-between construction paper or tag board, or it can be more elaborate. Keep a few blank books handy so children who use up all their pages will be able to continue their writing without missing a beat!  Here are some links to book-making for children:
a.       Book projects
2.       I suggest using plain paper on the inside of the journals as opposed to paper with lines. Children will have enough time to HAVE to “write on the lines.” Journal writing should not have such steadfast rules. Besides, if you look at children’s story books, text is not ALWAYS at the bottom. Sometimes the text is next to the pictures, sometimes above, and sometimes below. Let children be the boss of their own writing!
3.       The adult (parent or teacher) is NOT allowed to make any corrections. Journal writing is purely free expression and children should not be worried about writing their letters and words the “right” way.
4.       Only write in the child’s journal if they ask you to. If a child dictates a sentence to you, ask them WHERE on the page they want you to write and write it EXACTLY as they say it. Do not make any edits. Give the children control over their work.
5.       Pictures convey meaning so it’s ok if a child does not want to write words (real or pretend) in their journal.
6.       DATE each entry. I would give the children a choice, they could copy the date from a sentence strip that I prepared (sentence strips are easier than writing on the chalkboard because children can take the paper right to their seat) OR they could stamp the date using a stamp and inkpad.  Dating the entry helps teachers, parents, and the child see progress over time!
7.       Provide a regular time and place for writing. Make the special time happen at least once a week. Also, don’t require children to sit at the table/desk while writing. If they want to curl up in the corner with a pillow and a handful of crayons, then that’s OK. We often impose so many classroom rules that we stifle children.  Allow children to choose crayons, markers, or pencils. Again, it’s about giving children some level of control over their creations!
8.       Encourage children to use inventive spelling. If they write a string of letters and words, ask them to read those “words” to you.  Help them to understand the power of their writing. If you are tracking progress, you may want to write the child’s dictation on a post it note and date it. You can save the post it note with your classroom anecdotal records, but do not rewrite what the child said in his journal. Doing so sends the message that their spelling was incorrect or not good enough.
9.       Provide time for children to share their journal with a friend or teacher. After journal writing time, I would randomly pair the children and let them go to any place in the classroom to share their journals with each other. Think of it this way: would the author of a book be happy if NO ONE read her work? Most authors write because they have something to say that they want to share with other people. So give children this same opportunity to share.
10.   Most importantly, make journal writing fun and relaxing!  
 
Write On!
 


Music and Literacy...A Perfect Match!


What “universal” language promotes reading, creativity, and comprehension skills all at the same time? MUSIC!

According to neurobiologist Norman M. Weinberger, music exists in every culture. Parents all over the world sing to their babies. Music provides us with a natural and rhythmic way to learn. Do you ever wonder why children learn to sing their ABCs before they can say them? Do you notice that so many of our favorite children’s books have a certain rhyme or rhythmic pattern? Many studies show that there is a very strong connection between literacy and music. Through music, children learn to:
·         Understand language (we must comprehend language in order to become “true” readers)
·         Experiment with rhythm, words, tempo, and melody (which are important skills in reading aloud)
·         Think creatively and holistically
·         Make the connection between print and spoken words
·         Practice motor development and motor coordination while experimenting with various instruments and dancing
·         LISTEN (we sometimes forget that listening is an important literacy skill)

Does this mean that we pipe classical music into the background all day and expect preschoolers and kindergarten children to miraculously begin reading at a third grade reading level? Of course not! Here are some more reasonable and practical ways to assimilate music into the lives of young children:

1.       Expose children to a variety of music from a young age. Different music has different tempos and rhythms so exposure to all genres of music, according to some experts, helps brain development.
2.       Do not use music as background “filler” all the time. I have been in classrooms where music is playing non-stop. Sometimes it’s ok to just let children hear their own chatter and their own thoughts! Besides, you don’t want children to become immune to the music as background “noise.” You want music to catch their attention rather than just be part of the background!
3.       Recognize the effect music has on children’s behavior. Classical music or jazz played at the right time of day can have a calming effect.
4.       When introducing a new song or poem to children, write it down on chart paper. This helps children make the connection between written and spoken language.
5.       Don’t rely only on recorded music. Sing to your children. Recite poems and finger plays. These activities should be a part of children’s daily routine.
6.       Provide children with a variety of instruments. While children should have time to experiment with instruments on their own, the teacher should also provide structured time where children learn to play their instruments to a certain rhythm or they can echo a rhythm played by the teacher.
7.       When listening to music, encourage children to listen and try to identify  various instruments that they hear.
8.       If you have parents that play an instrument, invite them into your classroom to show the children.
9.       Contact your local symphony to see if they have a free or low-cost outreach programs. If not, check with your local college or high school! The members of the band may be able to visit your childcare center or school!
10.   Hum a song and let the children guess what it is! This seems like a simple activity but it really encourages listening, thinking, and problem solving.
11.   DANCE! Some children are kinesthetic learners and movement is important to these students!


I have a ton of favorite children’s songs – too many to list here. But some of my favorite children’s musicians are

 

·         Ella Jenkins

 

·         Thomas Moore
·         Raffi
·         Greg and Steve
·         Hap Palmer
·         Putumayo Kids (This series has a great collection of world music.)
 
Here are some books that may inspire the musicians in your class:
·         The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin
·         Musical Instruments from A to Z by Bobbie Kalman
·         Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes
·         Ah, Music! By Aliki
·         Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams
·         Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Christopher Raschka
·         Mozart Finds a Melody by Stephen Costanza
·         Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora
·         The Magic Flute by Kyra Teis
·         I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello by Barbara Garriel
·         This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt

Other Musical Resources:
·         Songs for Teaching
·         Music for Little People

Check your local symphony to see if their website has a link for teachers or children. For example, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has the DSO Kids Club and The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a link for BSO Kids
Written by Tonya Wright



Technology and Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom

Remember the old Jetson cartoons where George would call home and his image would appear on the “telephone” screen? And Elroy had a computerized homework helper? We may not be living in apartments in outer space and we certainly aren't flying around in space cars (yet), but some of that Jetson technology has become closer to realty than science fiction. These days most people and many businesses are Skyping, Tweeting, Blogging, Instant Messaging, and connecting through Facebook; these words didn’t even exist a few short years ago!

For a variety of reasons, the early childhood community has been slower to catch when it comes to technology. A recent survey of early childhood professionals by Child Care Information Exchange revealed that among child care centers, most that use technology only do so for administrative purposes such as accounting or record-keeping; and classroom use is often limited to educational software.

Technology can positively impact classroom practices.
Not only can teachers use the web to find endless lesson plan ideas, recipes, and classroom themes, but technology can also be used in the classroom even by preschool students! But first we must first get away from the concept that “educational software” is the only way to use technology with young students.
 
Children can use photographs that they (or a teacher) have taken and create slideshows or stories. Websites such as Slideshare and Voicethread can be used to enhance literacy in the early childhood classroom. There are e-pal sites where classrooms can communicate with other classrooms across the state, across the country, or even across the world! Teachers can also scan student artwork or work samples and create electronic portfolios.

Word-processing and desktop publishing software can be used with students to creates student books, classroom labels, signs, and much more! My kindergartners were able to type "Do not touch" signs, print them out, and label their block creations. They could also type and print "Wet paint" signs to put near their art projects. While traditional methods should not be abandoned, technology can be used to enhance literacy-teaching strategies that we already know are effective.

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you have a certain degree of technology know-how. I hope that you take what you know about technology and share it with an early childhood professional that may be able to learn from you. Knowledge is power and we have to spread the word about technological literacy!

Written by Tonya Wright


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