Literacy Teaching Tips 7

In my last entry, I focused on a CCSS related to speaking and listening.  I would like to expand upon that today.  While discussing any literature (fiction, information, poetry, etc.) it is important to practice basic discussion skills (such as polite listening).  We can (and must) take it a step farther – into the realm of making more and more pertinent remarks.  Although students’ “side comments” are sometimes verrrry entertaining, I think we can all agree that moving toward staying on topic is something to be desired.  Working toward the following standards will also help students to be successful in their outside-of-school social connections – for life.


…link comments to the remarks of others.


Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.


Initially, it will be easiest for students to meet these expectations if the reading material is something with which they can easily connect.  Having the background knowledge to more deeply comprehend the text will provide some available “mind space” to focus upon peers’ understandings as well.


Topics that are familiar to all of the students in your care will be the easiest place to start.  Perhaps my poem about recess would be useful.  You may know of many others!


Another means of connecting to students’ existing background knowledge is to cater to their interests.  Most elementary aged students have a natural fascination with animals.  Many of them are mini-experts on some species, right? 


There are so, so many high quality informational books about animals.  Excerpts from these can work well as springboards for productive discussions, but I am going to recommend poetry for a couple of important reasons.


The first one is simply a time consideration.  In a few short minutes, you can have your entire class (or a small group) do multiple choral readings of a selected poem; this allows you to capitalize on an opportunity to boost confidence and fluency.


Secondly, poetry often evokes more of an emotional response than other kinds of literature.  It is frequently the case that different people will see different things in any one poem; this provides an excellent opportunity to acknowledge someone else’s viewpoint before speaking about our own. 


Here are three books of poetry about animals that you and your students are sure to enjoy:


Animal Poems:  Poetry for Young People edited by John Hollander and illustrated by Simona Mulazzani.


The Beauty of the Beast:  Poems from the Animal Kingdom selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Meilo So.


National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis.