Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Rhyme is the Thing

Sometimes my fondness for a children's book drives my approach to teaching children. Since I particularly adore Mittie Cuetara's book Terrible Teresa and other Very Short Stories because it uses a form of poetry I loved as a child, I use it to teach rhyming, sequence, and creativity. Children love the farcical stories that each four-panel cartoon tells. Their favorite is the title story,"Terrible Teresa"  which ends with the line, "you must go to baby jail", and has a drawing of a toddler in a crib. They laugh the side-splitting laughter of the newly initiated fan of comedy. They want to emulate this. What can a teacher do but provide the opportunity, materials, and help so that they can do it?

First we demonstrated the process by pinning four papers to the bulletin board and asking the children to suggest a protagonist. Once they agreed on one, we had them generate ideas for the first line of the poem, to be written on the first panel. My teaching partner, Sue, wrote the line and drew the character, a whale. Then we pointed out the last word in the line and asked for as many words as possible that rhymed with the word. I wrote these on the dry erase board. The children supplied ideas and we suggested ways to order the wording so that the rhyming word was at the end of the line. After perhaps five minutes we had a four-line poem, and rudimentary illustrations. Several children asked if they could write and draw their own "Terrible Teresas".

The next day we put out small rectangles of white paper.  I invited two or three children at a time to the art table to create their own story, using the same method we had used with the large group. The difference was that the children drew their own illustrations and generated the ideas for the poem, along with rhymes. Some children needed more help than others, of course, but it was very exciting to see that they "got" the idea. Each child wanted to continue until they had completed four panels, even if they had to wait until the next day to do it. We now have eight of the children's stories mounted on construction paper taped to the wall outside the classroom where parents can admire them. Those who did not do stories are now motivated to try, because they want to see their work displayed. Peer pressure is a powerful force in teaching!

Using  humor with children is motivating. They want to emulate models that are clever and strike their funny bones. From this adorable quality comes rich creativity, and the practice of diligent work.

Here is the text of the above story, written by a five-year old:

"Rainbows made him scaredy-cat.
He told him Mom about that.
On the rainbow his skateboard sat.
He slid down and fell flat."

It doesn't scan like James Thurber, but by gosh, it is good stuff for a preschooler!