Rhymes, jingles, and verse through the humorous poetry of Jack Prelutsky become the basis of analysis for enrichment and enlightenment as young children listen to puppet Willie Sunday read silly poems and then write their own originals. Growing up as a young child in Brooklyn, Jack Prelutsky denies having felt any love for poetry as a young child. His rediscovery of poetry in later life led him to write specifically for children. He takes a fresh, humorous approach and allows his agile imagination to conceive and conjure up hilarious thoughts through poetic words. For example, who would think of crafting a poem about being glad your nose is on your face? Already I can hear the roars of laughter as we read about imagining our noses sandwiched between our toes and having to smell our feet. The children will have fun thinking about a nose attached to the top of their head where it would become a constant source of despair by being tickled by their hair. He even admonishes the reader to be thankful that their nose is on their face.
Just think of the possibilities from just this one poem. We don’t have to imagine hands coming out of our heads. Many kindergarten and first graders for developmental reasons actually draw such pictures. Now those drawings can be used for writing a nonsensical poem or as a theme for writing. Perhaps at the same time the children can be helped to adjust their drawings to the proper perspective. Dare we as teachers use this approach to capture the attention of our children who may wish to daydream in order to escape the boredom of our classrooms? Imagine the interest in reading a poem that tells about a lady kangaroo who was an awful grouch because things in her pouch always fell out. Finally she went to a tailor who fitted her with a zipper and now she is calm and chipper. Or just imagine Sadie Snatt who is big and fat. Wait till you hear what she eats. A few of her delicious entrees include buzzard beaks, French-fried fleas, bees with cheese, tomato rat surprise. I am sure that you have already gotten the picture – Preletusky’s poems are sure to capture attention and spark interest for children writing their original jingles or expounding upon a theme though a written essay.
With these thoughts in mind, I will present a unit in which poetry and the art of puppetry will provide students with sample poems, plus writing tips, strategies, and challenges to help them create their own poetry. In other words, students will learn how to shape their ideas and words into creative, descriptive, and silly poems by using Prelutsky’s poems as models for their writing. In addition, the poems will generate themes that the children will use for writing expository essays in class. The unit, whose primary emphasis is reading and writing, will also integrate various art forms such as drawing, drama, dance, and crafts.
Why would I choose Jack Prelutsky’s humorous poems from the many anthologies that he has written as a basis for my unit of study? I teach first graders in a self-contained classroom with varying abilities in the six-to eight-year old age range. Along with a need for improved vocabulary, many children exhibit poor self-images and have difficulty conveying their thoughts and feelings. They come from varying social-economic backgrounds, and have varying academic abilities. The troubled lives of many of them seemingly overpower their efforts in the classroom.
I feel that Jack Prelutsky’s funny rhymes, jingles, and verse will enhance the children’s reading skills while allowing them to forget their troubles briefly. Those children who are having difficulty differentiating speech sounds will be helped to generate good listening skills as they focus on the word segments that rhyme in Prelutsky’s poems. Additionally, in order for children to become fluent readers they must be able to achieve fast word recognition in the context of a story or poem. One way to build accuracy and word recognition is to build segments of words that are alike. Many of Prelutsky’s poems contain clusters of rhyming words from the same word families. Listening to and reciting the poetry will help the children not only to read the rhyming words in Prelutsky’s poetry but to develop additional lists of word families that they will encounter in other readings. My unit will also encourage young children to become prolific writers. In our district’s writing curriculum, “Empowering the Writer,” the children are encouraged to expand their use of descriptive language. Prelutsky’s use of extravagant language in describing his exemplary imaginary beings and settings will easily inspire young children to recognize themselves in his collections and use descriptive language for writing their own poetry. In addition, I feel this unit will help to draw upon the inner strengths of the children by enhancing their academic skills and as a result strengthen their overall social-emotional development.
More specifically, my unit will include activities suitable for children in kindergarten through third grades with an emphasis on literacy and writing for the first grade child. Along with reading and the language arts, the lesson plans will cover curriculum areas such as social studies, science, drama, and art.
This unit will be part of a team effort where a fourth grade teacher, a music teacher, and myself (first grade teacher) collaborate in each writing a unit under the common theme of “Using the Poetry of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein to Further Develop the Narrative, Expository, Rhythmic, and Poetic Writing Skills of Elementary Students.” Collaborative teaching across grade levels will be used, as students from the fourth grade classroom become tutors for first graders writing their poetry. In addition, a culminating activity will be held where the children display, recite, and dramatize their written work in a performance for a school-wide assembly, including parents and the community at large.