How will I tie the art of puppetry into a unit for reading and writing poetry? The art of ventriloquism has been in my teaching repertoire for more than twenty-five years. As a result, many puppet characters have evolved along with my first grade curriculum. For example, Willie Sunday, a favorite in the classroom, keeps the children spellbound by his expertise in phonics, or lack of it, as he misses letters and letter sounds to the squeals and delight of the children. Tuesday's Cup of Sugar, Alphabet Thursday, and Blue Monday have all gained a stronghold in the classroom through their initiation of the writer's workshop, story mapping, interactive writing and modeling classroom stories. Miss Wednesday Delight has been used over the years for introducing new poems in the classroom. Most of her poetry pertains to various seasons or themes for the months of the school calendar. Freddie Friday loves to hand out awards for good behavior and effort in the classroom from his trash bin. And last, but not least, Friday Funtastic helps the children brainstorm about using descriptive language for writing about characters in their stories. All of the puppets display unique personalities, interesting voice variations and a flair for bright colorful appearances.
Although for the most part my puppets are full size ventriloquist puppets (i.e. dummies with either soft sculptured or hard plastic faces) hand puppets could just as easily be used for introducing stories and leading the class in discussion. If one chooses to omit puppetry entirely from the lessons, this will not necessarily weaken the unit. I feel that a puppet enhances the poetry. For example, Willie is funny and the poetry is funny. Together both puppet and poetry help to hold the attention of the children. However, the teacher can easily adapt the lessons by introducing the poetry in class.
With all of these characters in mind, I would like to pull out Willie Sunday and give him the opportunity to assist the classroom teacher in reading Jack Prelutsky's poems to the children. His charming personality, witty humor, and comical features make him a sure hit for reading Prelutsky's poetry. He will also help brainstorm language used for writing poetry and essays in class. Puppetry will also be used in the classroom art center where the children make their own puppets and write stories within a less structured setting. For example, the children are given examples or ideas and then given the option of choosing and making their own crafts or writings. In other words, the teacher at the art center is more of a facilitator than a mentor in guiding the children once they have made their selection.
Although Jack Prelutsky's poetry is not specifically written for the urban child, one can surmise that he is able to relate to this population, having been born in Brooklyn and lived in cities such as Boston, Albuquerque, and Manhattan. Actually themes entwined throughout his poetry cross all cultural barriers and relate to everyday events and people that most of us encounter in our daily lives. However, one of Prelutsky's poems, "The New Kid on the Block," has appeal to children from an urban or small town setting. (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, page 7) The new kid who moved on the block is tough, punches hard, stomps on toes, swipes balls and picks on guys. Children will love Prelutsky's surprise ending where he reveals that the new kid is a girl. Perhaps the children have not had an experience where a new kid has moved into their neighborhood, but they have all encountered bullies in their lives. Willie Sunday will help to lead a discussion in class whereby the children discuss such questions as: Would you call the kid in the poem a bully? Why or why not? Have you had any experiences where children treated you as the child was treated in the poem? What did you do? What do you think the kid in the poem did? The class will write a new poem. This time the poem will replace the bully traits with respectful characteristics. The children will make a chart of words that show respect and fit them into a poem modeled on Prelutsky's poem.
Dreams are another appealing theme for young children. Although they tend to remember those that are frightening, a funny poem, "Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens," found in Prelutsky's book
Something Big Has Been Here
(44-45) will surely bring squeals of laughter and spark discussion around funny dreams that they may have experienced. In this poem the poet describes a dream that he had where chickens were standing on his stomach, nesting in his hair, pecking at his pillow, hopping on his head, and racing about his bed. After Willie Sunday reads the poem to the children, they will brainstorm about a make-believe dream that they could have had about an animal. They will discuss the various body parts that Prelutsky used in his poem and think about the body parts that they want to use in their writing. Prelutsky writes that when he woke in the morning he found eggs on top of himself. The children will help make a list of make-believe things that they may find upon waking in the morning. Now the children are ready to write their own silly poem: Last night I dreamed of…
A nose is a funny creature when looked at aside from other body parts. Prelutsky's funny poem
"Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face,"
will bring lots of laughter as Willie Sunday reads this one in class. (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, pages, 64-65) Willie has a funny nose that is twice the size it should be for his face. In fact, it is so big that the children love to plant a kiss on his nose when he talks to them personally about their secrets and wishes. I can almost hear Willie agree with Prelutsky that he is glad that his nose is not in his hair cause it would surely cry in despair as it was tickled up there. The children will discuss various body parts that they may want to write about - an arm coming out of a head, an ear on a hand, an eye on the back of a head, etc. They will proceed to tell why it would not be good to have an arm on a head or an ear on a hand. It should be a lot of fun to tell what would happen if one had an arm on one's head or a nose on the stomach.
Poems called "The Centipede" and "The Soggy Frog," although written in a humorous manner, will tie in nicely with science themes. (Prelutsky,
The Sheriff of Rottenshot
, pages, 10-11) The New Haven science curriculum mandates a study of insects for first grade students in the classroom. The topic of the centipede will help to spark an interest in insects. What constitutes an insect? Is a centipede an insect? Where is their habitat? The children will write an expository essay about real insects and a make-believe story using Prelutsky's poem as a model for obtaining ideas. Likewise, the poem called "The Soggy Frog" will be used in a science lesson to discuss the difference between a toad and a frog. Prelutsky's poem gives us clues. He writes about a frog that resides in a bog and is soggy while a toad stays by the road and is dry. The children will center their discussion on questions such as: What is the difference between a frog and a toad? What is the difference between the habitats of the frog and toad? For additional information the children will look up web sites on the Internet, reporting facts to their classmates. The information gathered will be placed on a chart for our science wall in the classroom.
Rhymes Around the Year: Dog Days
, will be used in our math meeting. In first grade, we work with the calendar on a daily basis. Prelutsky's book introduces a new poem for each month that pertains to something special for each season of that month. For example, January's theme is snow, April's theme is pink blossoms on a tree, July is fireworks in the evening sky, and November is turkey on Thanksgiving Day. These poems will be used as introductions to each new month on our calendar.
Prelutsky writes about penguins looking for snow one morning in Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico. (Prelutsky,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, pages 50-51) They waddle along the beach looking high and looking low. Why won't the penguins find snow on the Gulf of Mexico in Fort Myers? Why are penguins looking for snow? How do you think they got to the Gulf of Mexico in Fort Myers? Willie Sunday will assist the class in reading a big book entitled
by Marilyn Wooley and Keith Pigdon. A team of children will look up additional information on the Internet about penguins and report back to class factual information that they have gleaned from their study. In addition, the children will assemble penguin puppets at the art center in the classroom and write stories to present in class.
A silly poem in
A Nonny Mouse Writes Again!
(11) describes an elephant that flies like a bird, builds a nest in a rhubarb tree, and then whistles like a pig. First graders love to write about animals and give them make-believe characteristics. The children will think about an animal with striking characteristics. For example, they may decide to choose a female kangaroo who has a pouch for her young joey where he stays secure and safe till he is six or eight months old. Their make-believe kangaroo may fill her pocket with all kinds of candy, soda pop, and toys as she and her joey travel to Disney World to find Mickey Mouse for a tea party in a tree.
Gaining literacy will play an important role in every facet of my unit. In addition to hearing and reading Prelutsky's poetry in class, the children will be paired with a fourth grader from our Beecher team. The first graders along with their fourth grade buddies will compose poetry and share an illustration in class.
Willie Sunday will encourage the children while reading Prelutsky's poetry to see themselves, their surroundings, community, and family in his writings. It is my intent for the children to capture these same feelings in their own writings. For example, when
Prelutsky writes in his poem, "I'm Thankful," about the fact that he is thankful for his baseball bat that he cracked or his basketball that sprung a leak, the children can identify with the objects and circumstances that he describes and write about their own feelings. (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, page 28)
My content section, where I give specific narrative for teaching my unit, will name topics along with suggested poetry and written activities to be used in the classroom. I anticipate using five poems under each topic - one poem for each day of the week. The entire unit will last for approximately four weeks.