Playing with Books

Our read aloud time is one of my kindergarteners favorite times of the day. They love to listen to books and to talk about the books we read. Whenever I can, I will use realia or puppets while reading a book to my class. It makes the story come alive, engages all my kids and helps my ELLs connect with the book. Our Pete the Cat stuffed animal and Very Hungry Caterpillar puppet are favorites for the kids to play with after hearing the stories many times. I recently got props to go with Mrs. Wishy-Washy (a tin bucket, a cow, a horse and a duck) with the intention of using them during math for storytelling problems. While they are great for that, my kids started getting them out during our literacy stations to retell the story. They were retelling the story, sometimes using the book, sometimes not , capturing the different voices, dialogue and general storyline.  They pretended to be the characters, changing their voices to go along with the story and retold the story numerous times. This is going to become a regular literacy station in our classroom with props for other books available to play with as they retell the story or make up a new story. Thanks to a picture I saw on Twitter from @TeachLearnLive, I’m planning a Knuffle Bunny station with a cardboard box for a clothes dryer, a clothes basket and a Knuffle Bunny doll. Hattie and the Fox props are ready to go next week too. I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out of this book play over the next several weeks. I plan on observing, listening and joining in on the play during our literacy station time. What books do you use props for? So many possibilities!

Writing for a Reason

We’ve been making books in my kindergarten class since the first week of school and I am amazed at the wonderful books my students have written already this year. Most of my writers write wordless picture books, although a few are adding letters and names of their friends, as well as dedication pages. When students share their texts, they do a great job “reading” the pictures as they tell their story. When I talk with the kids about their books, I notice that the majority of them are on one topic, even though the blank books I give them have five pages of paper. Some books are personal narratives, some are made-up stories; others are list books and nonfiction books. Our bookmaking time is supported with LOTS of read aloud books, conversations about what authors do when they write books, and invitations (not prompts) to make books like our favorite authors.

  • “Mo Willems uses speech bubbles to help Elephant and Piggie tell the story. You could try that in your book.”
  • “David Shannon makes us laugh when we read his books. You might want to make a book that makes your reader laugh.”
  • Pumpkin Circle teaches us about something real that happens in nature. You’ve learned a lot about pumpkins and monarch butterflies. You could write a book that teaches someone about those things or something else you know a lot about.”
  • “Bill Martin, Jr. writes about the alphabet having an adventure in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. You could write a book about the alphabet too.”

My kindergarten writers have an hour-long writer’s workshop every day. They are never at a loss of what to write about and they complain when it’s time to stop. They truly love writing and already see themselves as authors. Standing on the shoulders of favorite authors and envisioning themselves making books just like Mo Willems, Eric Carle and Jan Thomas keeps our workshop thriving daily.

This past week we decided that our kinder classroom needed some labels to help us put supplies away and to direct visitors to specific areas in our room. We made a bunch of labels together using interactive writing, with me sharing the pen with my young writers. Our bathroom was carefully labeled (to help the preschool kids who visit our room during art), the window, the block area, the clock, the books, and so on.  Since enthusiasm was high, I decided to take this meaningful activity and link it to the writing my students do every day.

After labeling the room, I invited the children to try labeling in their books. “You might want to try labeling some of the pictures in your books today. That will help someone else read your book – just in case you aren’t sitting there to tell them about it”.  It was a huge “a-ha” moment for many of the children. There was an explosion of letters and words filling the pages of their books. They saw a reason and a purpose for adding words to their stories and moved to a new level of bookmaking. I can’t wait to see where our writing goes from here!

How is writer’s workshop going in your kindergarten or first grade classroom?  What real world writing are your students engaged in?

We All Have Stories to Tell

I recently read an excellent blog post from Cathy Mere in which she said,  “In a teaching world filled with data, I think the best thing about the first days of school is getting to know kids not by numbers, but by living beside them.” How true and wise these words are. They have echoed in my mind since I read the post. Living beside our students, establishing trust and relationships and getting to know who they really are as people is the foundation of a good year.

The first three days in my new kindergarten class have been full of getting to know my students and beginning to establish a strong community for us to live and learn in all year. For many of my kids, this is their first experience of school. It’s so important for me to make our learning community one where we know each other well, and care about each other. One of the routines I established on day one was an oral storytelling time. It quickly became my favorite time of the day. It’s all about getting to know each other and sharing ourselves in this new community together.

I started our first storytelling time by reading No, David! and sharing the author’s notes by David Shannon on why he wrote that book. Then I said, “you know – everyone has stories to tell, just like David Shannon did. I have stories and I’ll bet you have stories too!” Then I shared a story about my dog Cayo and how she barks at the mailman every day. The kids were spellbound, listening to me weave a story out of an everyday occurrence. I then asked if any of them had a story to tell. All hands went up. These kindergarteners, many of them English language learners, on the first day of school, sat still and were engaged for over 20 minutes while story after story was told by their classmates. It was magical. I realized then that this was a necessary part of every day. We were getting to know each other by sharing what was important to us and by sharing the stories of our lives. What a great way to connect with each other, realize similarities and begin to build a strong community.

As my year continues, I plan to keep our storytelling time as an important part of our day. While I will eventually get to know my kids by numbers, I want to keep living beside them every day, listening to the stories they tell and getting to know them as people.