Wednesday, May 13, 2009


With some practice writing messages to each other, students are ready to use their imagination and write stories. I explained that a long time ago they didn't have TVs or movies for entertainment so they told each other stories. One common story was told to explain the world around them, especially why animals looked the way they did. (See "Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling or "Mother Westwind Stories" by Thornton Burgess.)
Students were given a small book made out of a regular (8 1/2" x 11") folded in quarters like a greeting card with a picture of a bunny on the front who had no tail. After reading some examples of stories ( e.g. "How the Camel got his Hump and Why the Bear Has a Stumpy Tail) students would write a story about "How the Bunny got a Fluffy Tail". As an incentive students got a cotton ball to glue on their bunny. Students would come up with ideas like "the bunny planted tail seeds and grew a tail" or "the bunny glued on some cotton candy for a tail".

What I learned: Children are reticent to make up their own stories but with a little practice and encouragement they can write delightful tales.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Post Office

When students are comfortable sounding out words, I set up a post office. I used a shallow, sectioned cardboard box. One section was stocked with paper. I used a regular sheet of 8 and 1/2" by 11" white paper cut in half. I folded each sheet in half to look like a greeting card. Then I would demonstrate how to use the post office. I used a wonderful little book to introduce the post office called "The Jolly Postman" by Ahlsberg. It is set in familiar nursury rhymes and fairy tales. As the jolly postman visits each familiar setting there is a card or letter that can be pulled out of the page which is shaped like an envelope.
On the outside of the card students were to print the name of the person the "card" was intended for. This was never a problem as names of classmates are the first thing students learn. Besides each student's name was clearly written on the outside of his or her personal "cubbie" (mailbox).
I was going to use stamps that came in junk mailings for ordering magazines but I found too many inappropriate pictures. Then I discovered I could make my own "stamps" by using a plain white piece of paper. I would use my own sewing machine without any thread in the needle to make the perforated edges. Students could easily tear off one stamp and attach it to the outside of the "card" with a gluestick I kept in the supply box. They got to design their own stamp by drawing a picture such as a flower or a famous face on it.
Inside the "card" they were to write a message. It was usually pretty short and simple such as, "I like you" or "Can you play at my house today?"
If students complained that they didn't ever get any mail, I would encourage them to write some letters asking for some. This however was rarely a problem.

What I learned: Children enjoy this new way to communicate and express themselves.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Word Bank

About this time students are ready to learn that ABCs and words can be a form of communication. We began writing a sentence on the board for the afternoon class to read. They would read it and compose another sentence for the morning class. This would give the students practice with "ear spelling" and reading. They were simple sentences like "The plant is big" (our classroom plant on the science table) or "Sam is sick" but it was highly motivational because each class wanted to know what the other class was saying and it was very personal to them.
There were some words that we would use often and students just needed to memorize them. They were words like "the" and "a" so we would put them in the "word bank" for students to use whenever they were needed. I drew a large piggy bank on the board and wrote common words that didn't always follow the rules inside. It became a useful teaching tool for me and a valuable learning experience for the students.

What I learned: Reading becomes a vibrant, "real life" experience when it is something besides sitting in the "Bluebird" (or "Buzzard") group and trying to decipher what is in the reader.