Month: May 2016

An alternative to the textbook

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I’m an addict.  I cannot help it, and I’m not sorry about it either.  I can never just walk past a children’s book store.  I always have to go in.  And I never leave empty-handed.  There are just too many good books in the world, and I just have to share these with “my kids”.

For years, I taught English to preschoolers and kindergarteners, using children’s books as a basis for the unit.  Were we learning about food?  We’d read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Were we learning about colors?  We’d read What Color are Your Underpants.  Were we learning about the weather?  Maisy’s Weather Book was an all-time favorite.  I’d read the book out loud, once, twice, and by the third time, the children were reading the story aloud with me.  They knew every page, every detail of that story by heart.

But just reading the story was never enough.  We needed to take that story and make it our own.  We’d re-write the book, adding our own fruits and foods to a revised version of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar.   We’d use a picture-book version of Curious George and re-build the story in the building corner, so the children could tell and re-tell the tales of the adventures of a “good little monkey, who was always very curious”.  I found that by broadening the children’s experience with the story, their vocabulary development was enriched in ways that I could hardly have realized otherwise.

Just reading a story aloud is never enough, in my view.  The child’s experience with a story needs to be broadened, deepened, adapted, so that the child learns to own the tale, and make it his own.

In my lesson planning, I would always think of ways to expand the child experience with the story.  I always found that brainstorming along the lines of multiple intelligence was a great way to do this, and so I’ll place a few ideas here, as an inspiration to other ESL teachers looking for ways to broaden their children’s experience with children’s literature.  Mind you, this is just a start.  There are so many more things one can do with a good children’s book.

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  • mathematical-logical: make picture story cards for the children to put in order as the story is read aloud.
  • verbal-linguistic: use picture story cards for the children to look at and predict what the story will be about.  What do the children think will happen?  Can they tell a story (before you’ve read it aloud?)
  • visual-spatial: children re-create the environment of the story, either with drawings,  with paper-mache, with blocks, or with puppets.
  • bodily-kinesthetic:  re-enact the story in the building corner, with puppets, or in the classroom.
  • natural:  what environment do you notice in the book?  Is it a jungle, or mountains, or something else?  Is the environment in the book the same or different from the environment you live it?  How so?
  • intrapersonal:  what if they were the main character of the story?  How would they feel?  What decisions did the main character make?  Would they have made the same decisions?  What would they have done differently?
  • interpersonal:  children re-create the story with each other, and change it to fit a new “plot twist” or interview each other as though they were characters in the story.
  • musical:  What songs do you know that match the theme of the story?

Children’s literature is an excellent way to expand children’s experience with the language to be learned.  When they are unable to read it on their own, the teacher can read the book aloud, exposing children to authentic language use in ways no one else can.  Once they start reading on their own, their vocabulary development will improve by leaps and bounds, as children find themselves confronted with words and contexts no textbook will ever be able to provide.

It’s a shame that textbook publishers make so little use of this fact.  Which textbook do we know of that actually says “now, go and read Maisy’s Weather Book to the class as an introduction to words about the weather”?  The answer to that is simple: not a single one.  So it’s up to us, the professionals, to spread the news.

Read to your children!  Children’s literature is an excellent way of developing vocabulary and grammar skills among young learners!

Which books do you like to read to your class

?  Please let me know!

 

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