Having a child read and write these days is pretty much like pulling teeth. They could always think of something better to do than go through fifteen minutes of D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time. My love for books makes this a much more pressing matter, and I'm always on the lookout for something inspiring enough, not only for my students to sit through the district-required 90 minutes of reading and language arts, but also for myself as a teacher and advocate for the written word.
Last school year, I attended a very fruitful training by Dr. Ben Barron, consultant at Pearson. Our school has been using their company's reading curriculum for over three years, and Dr. Barron shared some wonderful tips and activities that truly made the most out of their reading program. What really caught my attention was "The Ugliest Rock" activity.
"The Ugliest Rock" writing activity is a great way to encourage early readers to independently decode familiar words, comprehend the events in a story, and finally, write their own compositions. It's like hitting two birds with one stone--if you can teach kids to read and write at the same time, those 90 minutes would go by fast.
Here's how you can do it in your own classroom, or at home, if you are homeschooling:
- Build curiosity. Tell them that they are going outside to explore. Questions will be raised. Tell them that today, they are going to search for the ugliest rock.
- Activate their schema. Once outside, before letting them explore on their own, ask them to first think of the things that would make a rock ugly. This will get their brains working on narrowing down their search not just for any rock, but an ugly rock.
- Present a goal. Reveal that once they have found their rocks, the class will get to vote for a winner, i.e., the person who gets the most votes for finding the ugliest rock.
- It's time to explore! Give them about 10-15 minutes to see, feel, and experience their surroundings. More often than not, someone will come up to you and ask if they could also bring back an interesting flower that they found, or a weird looking leaf. Let them do so, but make sure to redirect them to the task at hand.
- When done, gather everything and vote! In our case, five people got equal votes, and I allowed all five of them to be the "winners."
- Build curiosity once again! Tell the class that they are about to be authors of a story. They are now about to write a story about their experience five minutes ago. Let them come up with the title, emphasize the beginning, middle, and end of the story by looking back on specific things that happened (i.e., lining up to go outside, which area in school they decided to explore, other interesting things they brought back, etc.). The teacher will simply write what the students will say on the board, guide the discussion, and encourage healthy debates when necessary.
- When the story is done, have the students read their creation out loud. Put emphasis on the fact that they were the ones who wrote the story, and how great writers they are.
- Print copies for each child to read out loud every day. Familiarity with the text they had written themselves encourages the habit of learning to read, and reading to learn. Not only that, but kids find it very fulfilling and enjoyable to read their own stories!
- Repeat the activity with other themes and ideas, but make sure you allow students to go out, explore, and engage in sensory tasks. At the end of the school year, the kids should have an entire book of short stories they had written themselves!
Reading and writing can be challenging things to teach and train students to appreciate, but with the right learning atmosphere and enthusiasm, these books will eventually turn these muggles into wizards!