TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Writing and Reading: Two Halves of the Same Coin

The processes of learning to write and learning to read are very closely related. Reading helps children learn the rules of grammar (in a fairly painless way!) as well as letting them hear variety in sentence structure, unusual words, different voices, etc. All these things will make them better writers later!
But here's a lesser known fact: the act of writing can also help children learn to read! Like many other things, you have to practice working with words if you’re going to get good with them. It's not just the physical act of practicing writing that is useful -- though phonemic awareness, or understanding of the way sounds come together to make words, does improve with the physical act of writing. The act of verbal creativity warms up the brain and primes it for reading. After all, creating stories can only help when it comes to learning how to understand and enjoy stories and words.

If you're planning a Read-Aloud and want to include some writing, take a look at Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly  and Jack Prelutzky's Pigs, Pizza and Poetry: How to Write a Poem. If you find them not quite right for the kids at your Read-Aloud, here are our own writing-based activities. They can be incorporated into all Read-Aloud themes.

Rewriting stories and story endings

This activity gets kids thinking creatively and works best with well-known stories, fairy tales and myths. Everybody knows how those stories end up -- and sometimes the endings are unsatisfying. Kids will leap at the chance to tell you what should have happened.

Depending on the number of kids, divide the group into two or three groups, and give each group a big sheet of paper. Have the adult in each group write down the kids' ideas about different ways the story of Cinderella (for example) could have ended. Spend a while brainstorming and putting together a skit.  At the end, have each group act out their new ending for everybody else.

Writing poems as a group

Open this activity, and other poetry activities, by talking about what a poem is. Do poems have to rhyme? Do they have to look a certain way on the page? What is the purpose of poetry? Talk about making vibrant pictures with words -- pick a few examples from some of your own favorite poems to illustrate this.

Have every kid write down five words: two nouns, two verbs and an adjective (describe what these are: a noun is a thing, a verb is an action, an adjective is a describing word), and put them all together in a hat. If you have very young kids, pair a volunteer with them to help think of words. Then have one volunteer go around the circle and let kids pick out words one at a time and read them out loud. (You might want to read the words to yourself first -- let's keep this activity G-rated!) On a big sheet of paper, write down the words in the order they're read. Keep adding words one at a time until you're done -- and you have your poem! The sillier the words are, the more fun the poem. Read it out loud many times, putting emphases on different words, and ask the kids if they think the poem makes any "sense." 

An example of found poetry.

"Found" poetry

Bring in pages from newspapers, magazines and old books (make sure the content is kid-appropriate) and pass them out. Make a found poem by going through the page and circling some of the words, and crossing out others, making a poem out of the words that have been circled. You can set patterns for the kids to work with (circle every third word on your page, every fifth word, every seventh word) and see what they get, or just let 'em go and pick the words they like. Have everybody read his or her found poem aloud at the end.

Making stories out of pictures

Have kids partner up. Both kids in a pair draw a picture and then trade.  Then each kid writes a short story about what's going on in their partner's picture. This activity works best with older kids, kids who feel comfortable writing down their words (confidence and excitement are actually more important than writing ability, but they do basically need to be able to write). After each kid has written a story about his or her partner's picture, have the partners share their stories. What did the artist mean to have going on in the picture? What did the author interpret? If there's time, everybody can share with the group as a whole, but they might be shyer about sharing their personal work than a found poem.

Remember that the key to these kinds of activities is to keep it from being anything like school! Encourage silliness -- and if you get any great results from any of these activities, be sure to send them our way so we can share them!

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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