Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog!

Classic Post: Building Vocabulary with Informational Texts

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 7, 2014 8:16:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. It was originally published in September 2013. To see the other posts in her series, click here!

When I work with teachers who are hoping to boost their children’s exposure to informational text, sometimes they are concerned about the vocabulary in informational text being too challenging for their children. They are wise to anticipate that some children might not be familiar with some of the words used in some texts. At the same time, I encourage teachers to keep in mind that for some children it’s actually the vocabulary that draws them to informational text.

For example, almost all of us have worked with the child who loves dinosaurs enough to learn (and use correctly!) all those complicated names like diplodocus, pachycephalosaurus, and trachodon, and loves to tell you that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs but are flying reptiles! Those big words coming out of little mouths can be charming and entertaining but they should also reinforce for us that little children enjoy the power over those big scientific words. They love to show grown-ups what they know, and a rich vocabulary is one way to do it. Here are some ways to build children’s vocabularies and a love of words at the same time:

Use good quality informational text that doesn’t shy away from rich vocabulary.

When you select texts to reinforce classroom themes, make sure you select texts that have good, accurate language in them. If you were studying dinosaurs and the only terms were “meat eaters” and “plant eaters,” you’d miss out on some great learning with your children. The strategy of linking accurate language to bridging language such as “meat eaters, or carnivores” can help children understand new terms like “carnivores” or “herbivores.”

Embrace the new words yourself.

Create a classroom climate that loves words by talking about new words, praising children who ask “what does that mean” and excitedly sharing new words and their meanings with children. It’s also great to model not knowing a meaning and having to look it up—just be sure you do!

Look for ways for create categories so children start to sort the information.

When talking about dinosaurs, herbivores and carnivores are logical groups that you can start to sort other vocabulary into:

“Here is an Apatosaurus. He has a little head and small, rounded teeth. Do you think he’s a carnivore or an herbivore?”

“How about a velociraptor? Check out his sharp claws and teeth. What does that make you think about?”

Try using visual prompts so you use the vocabulary more yourself.

Try making a list of the words that you want to be sure children are picking up. If you’re talking about different kinds of trees, for example, your list might include conifer, deciduous, cone, flower, seed, leaf, trunk, and photosynthesis. Print out a sheet with those words on it, in a large enough font to see across the area, and post them around the room. When you see the words, you’re more likely to use them yourself. Additionally, the text adds to your print rich environment and children may start to interact with text as well.

Use graphic organizers to help children make connections and categories.

Venn Diagram Sharks and Whales

This photo demonstrates a Venn diagram activity done to sort similarities and differences between sharks and whales after a unit on "Under the Sea" that allowed children to learn about a variety of sea animals. Not only does this strategy give children a chance to make sense of the vocabulary, but becoming familiar with graphic organizers in the early years can assist them in using them in later grades and subject areas such as math and social studies.

Vocabulary games can be a blast.

Like using a Venn diagram, just sorting words into categories can be fun. Have a list of words from two different units you might have studied such as "Under the Sea" and "Trees." Give each child a word. Then have two pictures on the board, one of the sea and one of the forest. The children need to sort themselves into the groups based on their words. Where does “fish” go? Where does “conifer” go? If the child isn’t sure, he or she can ask a friend. Everyone’s vocabulary knowledge is strengthened by interacting around these words. To make it silly, put the words face down on the floor and have everyone pick one. How fast can they sort themselves? This is a great outside or gym game as well! You can also try games like twenty questions or I-Spy to have children guess your vocabulary words.

Word learning has gotten a bad rap but the learning of the words and the concepts that go with them can be easily incorporated into a play-based environment with just a little thought. Most importantly, by giving children access to a rich vocabulary, we give them the keys to much better comprehension, now and in years to come. The more words they know, the fewer times they’ll encounter words they don’t know…and when they do encounter an unknown word, they’ll have the confidence and strategies to make it their own.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Vocabulary

Classic Post: Using Wordless Informational Texts to Support Early Writing

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Jul 31, 2014 12:00:36 PM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. It was originally published in October of 2013. Click here to read her other posts.

Working with Wordless: Using Wordless Informational Text to Support Early Writing

I confess. I love using wordless picture books with children. I love to hear them make up stories from the information provided in illustrations. I love hearing them use storybook language when they structure their unique telling of the story. I love how they let me in on their thinking, their vocabulary, and their creativity, as they make something out of nothing. There are so many marvelous wordless storybooks available that it’s easy to unleash their storytelling creativity.

What I love even more, though, is challenging children with a wordess informational text and inviting them to “tell me all about __________.” Children who have been exposed to informational/explanatory text are able to quickly adjust from the “Once upon a time” structure of stories to the general informative style of an informational text, “Some insects are big. Some insects live in a tree. Some insects live in the ground,” simply by looking at the photo provided and sharing something the photo is conveying about the topic.

In addition to inviting your children to tell you stories, you can assist them in becoming skillful in telling/writing informational text by trying the following ideas:

1. Include informational text in your read aloud before introducing the wordless books. Children who have been exposed to the structures and format of informational text have a leg up in being able to produce it. Talk about the features as you read the text so children know what you’re noticing about the text. Compare the structure with stories that are structured differently.

 

2. Include wordless informational text in your library. This is tricky because there aren’t a lot of these on the market. In addition to books in Hameray’s My World, you might also include Ermanno Cristini’s out of print but still available books, In the Woods, In the Pond, and In My Garden.

 

3. When using wordless books with children, invite them to “read” the book to you as if it were telling you all about the topic. Try using prompts such as, “I know you know a lot about animals that live in the woods. Read me this book all about animals that live in the woods.” Take dictation from the child as she reads the book to you so you can read her informational text back to her. Ask her if there’s anything she’d like to add or change.

 

4. Make your own informational wordless books. Invite your children to look through magazines and find pictures all about a topic of their choice. After gathering the pictures, have them glue the pictures to a piece of construction paper (one picture per page). Slip the pictures into page protectors in a binder and have the child read you the book as if it were a published text. Again, take dictation to capture the child’s text.

 

5. Create a class book on a topic. A dear friend used an “alphabet letter of the week” approach in her kindergarten classroom. She had the children brainstorm all the words they could think of that started with the focal letter. Each small group then selected one word to create a wordless book about. One group, during F week, selected “fire,” another chose “fall,” and still another selected “friends”. After creating pictures that depicted their focal word, the teacher invited each child in the group to tell about their picture:

- "Friends don’t be mean to each other."

- "Friends play together."

- "Don’t hit or push or bite."

- "Friends share stuff."

- "Me and Heather swing together."

The children then read their previously wordless book to the class.

 

Common Core State Standards bring growing attention to informational and explanatory text. By offering wordless books in the preprimary setting, we’re setting children up to be familiar with the features of that type of text. Additionally, wordless books are marvelous to use with children, since they’re so open-ended that they encourage children to take risks. There are no words to get wrong, and looking at pictures for ideas is what children do all the time when viewing text. With just a little support from us, they can stretch this risk-taking into increasingly rich and detailed writing—something every child needs!

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the left image below to download an information sheet.

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To see some other wordless books available from Hameray, see Zoozoo Into the Wild (flip through a sample below!) which combines realistic photos with illustration to tell a story, and Oral Language Development series, which features children in everyday settings and can be used as a writing prompt as well as to assess oral language.

 


 

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Topics: Informational Text, Early Childhood, Susan Bennett-Armistead, Preschool

Writing, Informational Text, and Young Children

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Dec 18, 2013 8:00:00 AM

susan bennett-armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses, and gives tips on teaching in a preschool and early elementary setting. Check back regularly to catch her next post—you can also read her earlier work here!

Writing, Informational Text, and Young Children

A few posts ago I talked a bit about the value of using wordless picture books in our early classrooms. Part of the value of that type of book is how wonderful it is at encouraging children to write their own text to accompany the pictures or illustrations. Wordless books are just one of many ways to encourage children’s writing. Here I offer some suggestions for building a writing climate in your classroom focused on producing informational text.

Expose children to the genre you want them to write. If you expect children to write informational text, you have to share with them what informational text is. This seems like a no-brainer, but very few classrooms use informational texts for read aloud. Studying the genre and features of that type of text is necessary for children to be able to create their own. Soak them in a room rich in informational text: use it throughout your day for read aloud, reference, and pleasure reading.

Build their knowledge base before asking them to write about something. The time to encourage children’s writing is not at the beginning of a unit of study but at the end—after they know stuff to write about. Using strategies like a KWL chart to help children think about what they know about a topic, what they want to learn about the topic, and then summarizing what they have learned can assist them in pulling their ideas together before the writing begins. By adding an “R,” for “resources,” you can invite children to think about where they’ll find the answers to their “what they want to learn” questions on the KWL chart. Building children’s world knowledge through read aloud and exploration is critical to their success as writers of information.

Give them time to write. Young children need time to think before they start writing. Staring off into space is seldom encouraged in classrooms but it may be just the place to find inspiration. If you have children who are a bit unfocused on what they’d like to write about, consider offering the chance to do a Drawing Draft before the writing starts. By inviting children to draw about what they want to talk about in their writing, you’re giving them the head space needed to think about what they want to say. Follow that up with a Talking Draft and you can see how children can move from an organized collection of facts to a linear progression of information to share with someone else.

Help them recognize that they are experts on a topic. When studying a topic, start to refer to children as experts on the topic. For example, if you are studying insects, refer to your children as entomologists. Periodically ask them to dazzle you with something they know about insects (waiting in line is a good time for this). When you invite them to write, talk about their expertise and how they can share that with others through their writing.

Support their growing organization skills by using graphic organizers. One problem many of us face when writing is too much information and no sense of organization to help sort it out. Using graphic organizers like a Venn diagram, a semantic feature analysis chart, or a flow chart can help children figure out which ideas go together and how to write them down.

Assist them in using scientific vocabulary by using it yourself. Sometimes the vocabulary of a topic can be a barrier for people to write about it. By using language in the classroom ourselves, we can help children make the language their own. Also consider using a language experience chart, such as in this chart on precipitation, to assist children in making important connections to a concept.

Language Exp.Precipitation

Assist their critical thinking by modeling critical inquiry. One of the hallmarks of informational text is accuracy. Encourage children to tell you (and each other) where they learned what they know about a topic. Showing the cover of a book in class can work.

Praise the effort and publish the work. Writing is hard work. It takes a long time to produce a quality piece of writing. Celebrate children’s accomplishments by hosting an authors’ tea, and invite parents to come hear the texts as the authors read them. Alternatively, try partnering with a local bookstore to have an authors’ night there. In my own community, the bookstore displayed the children’s books in the shop window for a week after the event. The children were very proud of their work and the parents loved showing their friends their children’s books. (The bookstore loved it because sales were up that week, too!)

However you decide to encourage children’s writing, know that the connection to children’s comprehension of text and their ability to write about its content is powerfully linked. You’ll be supporting more than just children’s writing skills by encouraging writing!

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series of informational texts by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the left image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: Informational Text, Teaching Writing, Susan Bennett-Armistead

How Informational Text Can Help You Enrich Your Diverse Classroom

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Nov 22, 2013 8:00:00 AM

susan bennett-armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses, and gives tips on teaching in a preschool and early elementary setting. Check back regularly to catch her next post—you can also read her earlier work here!

 

How Informational Text Can Help You Enrich Your Diverse Classroom

I recently came back from a trip to an African country. While I was there, I had occasion to visit a few shops. I discovered that it was impossible to find a doll with dark skin. All the dolls were white. In a country where the population is 99% black, a child could never find a doll that looked like him. What message does that send about what is valuable and desirable? It got me thinking about how we represent diversity in our own country.

Many of us have designed our classrooms to be more responsive to the variety of diversity represented by the children in our program. The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s accrediting process as well as individual programs such as Head Start and YMCA’s child class students 44645305 iofotocare programs insist that diversity be addressed in early education settings. (For purposes of this discussion, the term diversity reflects a broad definition of diversity including gender, racial, economic, linguistic, educational, body type, ability, family structure, and ethnic diversity.) For most of us, this translates to actions such as making sure we have baby dolls of more than one race, books that have representations of families that look like our children’s families, and more than one language represented on our classroom posters and labels. When we think about the books in our classroom and their ability to support diversity, we might not consider informational text in that way, even though we carefully select our story books with that in mind. Here are some tips for examining your informational texts and their use with an eye toward diversity:

Select topics that appeal to many groups. Some topics are part of the universal experience: families, friends, insects, transportation, clothing, etc. Everyone has a relationship with those topics so no one is excluded, even if there is variation within the topic by community or region. On the other hand, some topics, such as holidays, can leave some children and their families behind. Choose your topics to include rather than exclude, while broadening everyone’s experience and content knowledge.

Choose books to support the topic with an eye toward diversity. Whatever topic you choose to address, you’ll support it with books throughout your classroom and throughout your day. When selecting informational books, look for books that have depictions of people of color, families with non-traditional structures, and people using assistive devices. Include informational texts written in more than one language. You might wonder how much to do this. In our own series, My World, we used the ratio of people of color in the US to guide our selection of photos. So, for example, in the US, approximately twelve percent of the population is African American. In our series, approximately twelve percent of the photos show African Americans. If most of your children reading smiling 16636344 Darrin Henryclass is one racial group, you might use that as your guide for selecting materials. Beware, though, of representing one group at the expense of another. Even if all your children are the same racial background, family structure, or level of ability, there is value in having more than one group depicted.

Supporting materials should represent diversity as well. When you extend the opportunities for children to make the concepts their own through play, such as dramatic play and art, be sure to include materials from a variety of cultures. For example, if you are talking about nutrition and you set up a grocery store in the dress-up area, include foods that may come from other places or might not be familiar to all the children in your group. Start with what they know and add more novel material. A great way to do this is to encourage your families to contribute materials for your theme. The foods one family eats may be very different from another family’s diet, and sharing their empty containers to use in the dress-up area grocery store gives your class a wonderful opportunity to talk about different foods from different families.

Experts should reflect diversity as well. If you are studying something like insects, you may talk about scientists who study insects. Strive to select scientists of more than one race and from different countries, including both genders. Guest speakers who visit you should be held to the sensory table 000011413869 Kim Gunkelsame standard. Similarly, authors of books on topics you read ideally represent diversity as well.

Remember that even discussions of stories can turn into an informational analysis. A good friend of mine teaches a unit on Cinderella stories each year. She uses the traditional French story, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, and The Rough Faced Girl, as well as some goofy ones like Cinderella Penguin. After the children have heard many different Cinderella stories, they analyze what is the same and what is different about the stories. Each of the first three comes from a different culture with its own clothing, customs and way of talking. While the stories themselves are not informational text, the analysis of the text is similar to how we analyze information about any topic. This works very well with older children working independently in small groups but can be conducted with little children in a whole- or small-group setting with adult support.

The world of information is vast. By designing our classroom materials and experiences to help children learn about information AND see the diversity of the world around them, both through the content of the texts and the depictions included in the text, we can help them see themselves as a part of the larger gloriously diverse world….where not all the dolls are white.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the left image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, Diversity

What Goes On in a Content-Rich Preschool Classroom? Find Out!

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Nov 15, 2013 8:00:00 AM

susan bennett-armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses, and gives tips on teaching in a preschool and early elementary setting. Check back regularly to catch her next post—you can also read her earlier work here!


A Day in the Life of a Content-Rich Preschool Classroom

In recent posts I’ve talked about how to incorporate information and informational texts into your early childhood classroom. Some readers have asked me to talk about what that might look like in a daily lesson format. Here is a one day plan with a focus on learning about Plants.

Focal Terms

Plant

Leaf

Stem

Grow

FROM SEEDS 1Seed

Soil

Concepts of the Day

Some plants grow from seeds.

Each seed produces a different kind of plant.

Plants need soil, light, and water to grow.

Some plants are used for food.

Plants are composed of parts that include a stem and leaves. Some plants also have flowers.

Entry Activities (table activities as children come in)

Exploration of plant material such as bark, corn stalks, and flowers using magnifying glasses.

Book basket including books on plants.

Puzzles and table games.

Large-Group Activity - Language Experience

Brainstorming Plants: Make a list of plants that children know about. You’ll need to give them a definition of a plant and some examples to get the ball rolling. Feel free to add to the list throughout the day and the week. Post this list in the writing area.

Plants coverChoice-Time Choices

Sensory Table: Field corn on the cob, loose corn, balance scale, scoops, the book Corn.

Book Corner: variety of books about plants.

Block Area: Blocks, blocks made from slices of trees, trucks, books on building houses and homes.

Art Area: Fruit and vegetable stamping—using cross sections of apples, potatoes, celery, oranges, green pepper, and onion, have the children dip the vegetables in thin paint to create prints of the vegetables. Talk about the parts of the vegetables and fruits you are working with: seeds, skin, veins, stalk, stem, etc. Talk about how the children made that print they made: “Which vegetable made this print? How about this one?”

Dress-up Area: Campout—tent, pretend fire, sleeping bags, backpacks, cooking pans, maps, posters of plants of your state, plant guidebooks, clipboard for documenting plants they find, pretend cameras, binoculars.

Science Corner: Have a display of various plants and seeds for the children to explore, magnifying glasses, and information books on plants and plant structures.

Thinking Area: Use puzzles, games, and a seed-sorting activity: a variety of seeds to be sorted from smallest to largest—make sure you have a coconut!

Writing Center: With paper, markers, pencils made from tree twigs, and booklets in the shape of trees, prompt children to write something about what they know about trees; take dictation as necessary)

Small-Group Work (small groups are called to work with the teacher during choice time)

Each group will read Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup. We’ll talk about what the seeds needed to grow and what we would need to do to create our own gardens.

We’ll then plant our own seeds using a procedural text spread out by stations at a table: 1) Get a cup. Write your name on it. 2) Put dirt in the cup. 3) Choose a seed to plant. [There will be a variety of seeds to choose from, each having been mentioned in our book.] 4) Water your seed. 5) Place your seed on the window sill.

Large Group Activity II

Song: Everything Grows by Raffi—chart it out for children to follow along.

K-W-L on plants: What do we think we know about plants? What do we wonder about plants? Save the "what have we learned" section for after you’ve studied about plants. Use the children’s wonderings to help plan the rest of the unit. Make sure you select texts that answer their questions.                  

Snack Time

Snack will be cucumber slices, crackers, and juice. We’ll talk about how some of our items came from plants and what parts of the plants were used.

—transition to outside time—

children climb playground 13982185 Felix MizioznikovOutside Time

Book Basket: We bring out a book basket on the theme for outside reading each day. (If you live in a snowy climate, plastic bath books or the new “Indestructables” series work well for this.)

Nature Spot: Each child is given a string to create a circle around an area of the playground that they can stake out to observe what is going on in that spot across the year. With clipboards, children will document what is going on in their spots today and label the spot with their names. With today’s focus on plants, talk about what plants they can see in their nature spot.

Access to Climbers: Children may choose to play with outside equipment.

—dismiss from outside—

Make sure to post the focal words and concepts around the room so that adults incorporate the words and concepts into play with the children throughout the day. The richness of the language and interaction with text will assist children in making the concepts their own. You can extend the classroom experience by including information about the topic in your newsletter so your families can talk about the same concepts at home. Sending home book bags with books on plants will let families use read aloud to build concepts as well. Ultimately, wrapping your children in content will build their knowledge and their confidence in themselves as learners.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the left image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: Informational Text, Early Childhood, Susan Bennett-Armistead, Preschool

Using Wordless Informational Texts to Support Early Writing

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Oct 23, 2013 8:00:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

Working with Wordless: Using Wordless Informational Text to Support Early Writing

I confess. I love using wordless picture books with children. I love to hear them make up stories from the information provided in illustrations. I love hearing them use storybook language when they structure their unique telling of the story. I love how they let me in on their thinking, their vocabulary, and their creativity, as they make something out of nothing. There are so many marvelous wordless storybooks available that it’s easy to unleash their storytelling creativity.

What I love even more, though, is challenging children with a wordess informational text and inviting them to “tell me all about __________.” Children who have been exposed to informational/explanatory text are able to quickly adjust from the “Once upon a time” structure of stories to the general informative style of an informational text, “Some insects are big. Some insects live in a tree. Some insects live in the ground,” simply by looking at the photo provided and sharing something the photo is conveying about the topic.

In addition to inviting your children to tell you stories, you can assist them in becoming skillful in telling/writing informational text by trying the following ideas:

1. Include informational text in your read aloud before introducing the wordless books. Children who have been exposed to the structures and format of informational text have a leg up in being able to produce it. Talk about the features as you read the text so children know what you’re noticing about the text. Compare the structure with stories that are structured differently.

 

2. Include wordless informational text in your library. This is tricky because there aren’t a lot of these on the market. In addition to books in Hameray’s My World, you might also include Ermanno Cristini’s out of print but still available books, In the Woods, In the Pond, and In My Garden.


3. When using wordless books with children, invite them to “read” the book to you as if it were telling you all about the topic. Try using prompts such as, “I know you know a lot about animals that live in the woods. Read me this book all about animals that live in the woods.” Take dictation from the child as she reads the book to you so you can read her informational text back to her. Ask her if there’s anything she’d like to add or change.

 

4. Make your own informational wordless books. Invite your children to look through magazines and find pictures all about a topic of their choice. After gathering the pictures, have them glue the pictures to a piece of construction paper (one picture per page). Slip the pictures into page protectors in a binder and have the child read you the book as if it were a published text. Again, take dictation to capture the child’s text.

 

5. Create a class book on a topic. A dear friend used an “alphabet letter of the week” approach in her kindergarten classroom. She had the children brainstorm all the words they could think of that started with the focal letter. Each small group then selected one word to create a wordless book about. One group, during F week, selected “fire,” another chose “fall,” and still another selected “friends”. After creating pictures that depicted their focal word, the teacher invited each child in the group to tell about their picture:

- "Friends don’t be mean to each other."

- "Friends play together."

- "Don’t hit or push or bite."

- "Friends share stuff."

- "Me and Heather swing together."

The children then read their previously wordless book to the class.

 

Common Core State Standards bring growing attention to informational and explanatory text. By offering wordless books in the preprimary setting, we’re setting children up to be familiar with the features of that type of text. Additionally, wordless books are marvelous to use with children, since they’re so open-ended that they encourage children to take risks. There are no words to get wrong, and looking at pictures for ideas is what children do all the time when viewing text. With just a little support from us, they can stretch this risk-taking into increasingly rich and detailed writing—something every child needs!

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the left image below to download an information sheet.

New Call-to-Action

To see some other wordless books available from Hameray, see Zoozoo Into the Wild (flip through a sample below!) which combines realistic photos with illustration to tell a story, and Oral Language Development series, which features children in everyday settings and can be used as a writing prompt as well as to assess oral language.

 


 

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Topics: Informational Text, Early Childhood, Susan Bennett-Armistead, Preschool

How Do You Decide What to Teach? Choosing Units of Study in Preschool

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Oct 11, 2013 8:00:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

“How do you decide what to teach?”

Because I have the privilege of visiting many programs around the country and the opportunity to meet with many skilled teachers, I get asked that question a lot. One of the wonderful things about teaching in preprimary classrooms is we often have more freedom to select our topics of study than our friends in K–12 education do. At the same time, that can be a bit daunting. Coming up with units of study, whether you’re following the children’s lead with a Reggio Emilia approach or working from a theme-based perspective, means that you need to think carefully about several important things:

1) Know your learners.

This may seem obvious, but you need to be very aware of what your children know and can do as well as knowing what gaps they may have in knowledge. The whole idea of assessment-led instruction has often been misunderstood to mean that we have to formally assess children’s knowledge before we can instruct them. As you know, many schools spend entire weeks assessing children’s knowledge. That’s not the only, or even the best, way to gain an understanding about what children know. Through informal assessments such as visiting with children, observing their play, and investigating their interests, you can gain a great deal of information about what children know. Simply playing games such as Candyland with them can tell you who knows the names of the colors and who does not. Developing a record keeping system, such as an anecdotal record log that you peruse from time to time can help you decide what content you should be building on.

6068 Pg01 ultralight plane 13375863 Artur Mercik2) Move from the known to the new.

Children (and adults) learn best when information is repeated, relevant to them, and real. One of the best ways to make learning relevant to children is to link it to something they already know about. For example, I used to teach in the Alaskan bush for a couple of years. The way most of us got around was by small planes. There were no children in my group who had not been on an airplane. If I was doing a unit on transportation and decided to set up a vehicle in my dress up area, it would have to be a plane or a boat since that’s what the children were most familiar with. I now live in rural Maine. Very few children here have flown in planes. A unit on transportation here would not start off with an airplane in the dress-up area; it might have a school bus instead. I could eventually turn my school bus into an airplane, but I’d need to bridge it for my children to help them understand that planes and buses have some similarities, as well as important differences.

3) Start with the child.

When I was teaching preschool, like many teachers, I started with the same themes each year. Using the principle above, I moved from what the children knew best—themselves—and gradually expanded their world. Here are some examples of my themes, in chronological order:

- Marvelous Me

- My Family

- Friends at School (about making friends and the community of school)

- My Neighborhood

- Community Heroes

- Healthy Humans

- Sensing the World Around Us (a two-week unit on senses)

- Trees (living in the north, we needed to talk about changes in the trees)

- Feelings (usually timed for Halloween so we could talk about things that scare us)

MAMMALSBy this point in the year, I knew children’s interests and issues well so I could start building themes built on their content knowledge and passions. Additional themes have included:

- Under the Sea

- Dinosaurs

- Animals in Winter

- Rocks and Minerals

- Mammals

- Amphibians

- Insects

- Birds All Around Us

- Everything Grows

- Art and Artists

- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

- Once Upon a Time (genre study of fairytales)

- Friends Forever (focusing on promoting social problem-solving)

- Life in the Forest

- Life in the Desert

- Space

- Change (addressing the changes expected with the end of school and children's moving on)

By approaching my year in this way, I started with the child and ended as far from the child as possible (in space!), which helped their world and their knowledge to grow over time.

4) Designing the Content-rich Classroom.

You may have noticed that none of my themes were the letter or color of the week, nor is there anything on this list about teddy bears. Theme selection has to be rich enough that the children can learn about something for a week or more; I generally did units for about 2 weeks. There have to be facts to learn, literature to link the facts to, and enough age-appropriate content for children to sink their teeth into. Science- or social-studies–focused themes tend to offer more depth to talk about than doing a unit on, say, The Gingerbread Man. To plan this way, you have to first decide:

a.     What are the facts I want children to know about this topic?

b.     What do children already know about this topic?

c.     What vocabulary should children gain to master this topic?

d.     What experiences can I provide for children to gain this knowledge?

My World Teacher%27s Guide Final highres 1The My World series is theme-based, and the teacher’s guide, available here, offers some examples of theme planning for the five themes in the series. Additional resources you might try are Teaching Young Children Using Themes and Themes Teachers Use, both by Kostelnik et al.

After generating the answers to the questions, planning for all areas of development falls into place using whatever planning format you’ve been using. The trick though, is that as the teacher, you have to ask the most important questions of all: What do I need to know about this topic to effectively teach it? What resources do I need to investigate to make sure my content knowledge is accurate?

My greatest fear is teaching misinformation out of my own ignorance! I once sat in on a class where the teacher told the children that the moon was the closest planet to the earth. To make sure I don’t do something like that, I often read up on a topic using informational children’s books to make sure my content knowledge is accurate and up to date, as well as framed in a way that young children can understand it.

As mentioned in previous posts, building children’s knowledge of their world benefits them now, as they’re developing their own understandings of the world around them, but also later when they’re trying to make sense of material they’re reading about. Planning your classroom and your year around building that knowledge can enrich them with a lifetime of curiosity and learning.

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Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

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For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: Informational Text, Early Childhood, Susan Bennett-Armistead, Preschool

The World of Words: Building Vocabulary with Informational Texts

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Sep 11, 2013 8:00:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

When I work with teachers who are hoping to boost their children’s exposure to informational text, sometimes they are concerned about the vocabulary in informational text being too challenging for their children. They are wise to anticipate that some children might not be familiar with some of the words used in some texts. At the same time, I encourage teachers to keep in mind that for some children it’s actually the vocabulary that draws them to informational text.

For example, almost all of us have worked with the child who loves dinosaurs enough to learn (and use correctly!) all those complicated names like diplodocus, pachycephalosaurus, and trachodon, and loves to tell you that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs but are flying reptiles! Those big words coming out of little mouths can be charming and entertaining but they should also reinforce for us that little children enjoy the power over those big scientific words. They love to show grown-ups what they know, and a rich vocabulary is one way to do it. Here are some ways to build children’s vocabularies and a love of words at the same time:

Use good quality informational text that doesn’t shy away from rich vocabulary.

When you select texts to reinforce classroom themes, make sure you select texts that have good, accurate language in them. If you were studying dinosaurs and the only terms were “meat eaters” and “plant eaters,” you’d miss out on some great learning with your children. The strategy of linking accurate language to bridging language such as “meat eaters, or carnivores” can help children understand new terms like “carnivores” or “herbivores.”

Embrace the new words yourself.

Create a classroom climate that loves words by talking about new words, praising children who ask “what does that mean” and excitedly sharing new words and their meanings with children. It’s also great to model not knowing a meaning and having to look it up—just be sure you do!

Look for ways for create categories so children start to sort the information.

When talking about dinosaurs, herbivores and carnivores are logical groups that you can start to sort other vocabulary into:

“Here is an Apatosaurus. He has a little head and small, rounded teeth. Do you think he’s a carnivore or an herbivore?”

“How about a velociraptor? Check out his sharp claws and teeth. What does that make you think about?”

Try using visual prompts so you use the vocabulary more yourself.

Try making a list of the words that you want to be sure children are picking up. If you’re talking about different kinds of trees, for example, your list might include conifer, deciduous, cone, flower, seed, leaf, trunk, and photosynthesis. Print out a sheet with those words on it, in a large enough font to see across the area, and post them around the room. When you see the words, you’re more likely to use them yourself. Additionally, the text adds to your print rich environment and children may start to interact with text as well.

Use graphic organizers to help children make connections and categories.

Venn Diagram Sharks and Whales

This photo demonstrates a Venn diagram activity done to sort similarities and differences between sharks and whales after a unit on "Under the Sea" that allowed children to learn about a variety of sea animals. Not only does this strategy give children a chance to make sense of the vocabulary, but becoming familiar with graphic organizers in the early years can assist them in using them in later grades and subject areas such as math and social studies.

Vocabulary games can be a blast.

Like using a Venn diagram, just sorting words into categories can be fun. Have a list of words from two different units you might have studied such as "Under the Sea" and "Trees." Give each child a word. Then have two pictures on the board, one of the sea and one of the forest. The children need to sort themselves into the groups based on their words. Where does “fish” go? Where does “conifer” go? If the child isn’t sure, he or she can ask a friend. Everyone’s vocabulary knowledge is strengthened by interacting around these words. To make it silly, put the words face down on the floor and have everyone pick one. How fast can they sort themselves? This is a great outside or gym game as well! You can also try games like twenty questions or I-Spy to have children guess your vocabulary words.

Word learning has gotten a bad rap but the learning of the words and the concepts that go with them can be easily incorporated into a play-based environment with just a little thought. Most importantly, by giving children access to a rich vocabulary, we give them the keys to much better comprehension, now and in years to come. The more words they know, the fewer times they’ll encounter words they don’t know…and when they do encounter an unknown word, they’ll have the confidence and strategies to make it their own.

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Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

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For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Vocabulary

Building World Knowledge: Helping Parents Help Teachers

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 27, 2013 8:02:00 AM

susan bennett armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

As early educators, we enjoy relationships with parents that some of our colleagues who teach in older grades miss out on. We are often their children’s first teachers, and we set the tone for how that family will view and work with school. Let’s get off on the right foot and enter the relationship as collaborating experts, with us being the experts on children in groups and the parents being the experts on their own children. With that in mind, this post is focused on helping parents maximize their unique position in promoting their children’s developing world knowledge.

Most parents want their children to do well in school and to succeed in life. Not all parents are hip to the ways that they can support that, however. While the message of “Read to Your Child” has been sung loud and proud for a couple of decades now, many parents may be unsure of what to read, when to start to read,  how much to read, or even how to read to their children to maximize their literacy development. By sharing with parents some of the following tips, through conversations or newsletters, you can help them to help us lay an important foundation for literacy success in our youngest children.

father children reading 200Literacy begins early. Some parents believe that literacy starts when children enter kindergarten or first grade. It’s crucial to children’s literacy success that we move away from a “readiness” discussion and help families understand that literacy is ongoing and emergent, and it starts as soon as children are processing language. If families are waiting to think about literacy until kindergarten, they’ve missed five years of building skills and understandings that their little one will need to draw on when they are in school. Help your families understand the key role they play in building their child’s literacy skills by engaging in literacy activities in the early years. Offer suggestions for read aloud, songs, and games in your newsletters.

Families are ALREADY doing good things for their children’s literacy development. You may be working with some families who feel like they have nothing to offer their child…except to turn him over the “the experts.” One of the best things we can do in building relationships with families is letting them in on fact that they are already supporting their children’s success. Could they do more? Sure, we all can—but by letting parents know that talking with their child, reading to their child, telling stories about when they, themselves, were little, and generally engaging with their little one all make a difference in their child’s connectedness to language and literacy…not to mention building a positive relationship with their parents!

boys sugaring 200Families are uniquely positioned to build world knowledge. It’s pretty challenging for us, as teachers, to get a group of children to the park for a field trip. (Shoot, some days, it’s pretty challenging even to get everyone dressed to go outside!) How much easier is it for a family to go to the park, the grocery store, the post office, etc.? Let families in on the fact that those little excursions that can seem like a hassle with children are really wonderful ways for their child to learn about the world around them. Just talking about what they’re seeing and doing can help their child make connections, build vocabulary, and understand their world. All of this information will be useful when they encounter those ideas or vocabulary in books later.

5252 Gingerbread Kids Cover 355Families can build connections to text better than teachers can. When we read Gingerbread Kids and ask, “Have you ever baked cookies at your house?” We really don’t know who has and who hasn’t. Families reading to their children know what their previous experiences are and can help them connect to the text, making it their own, by offering nudges like, “Remember that time you and Grammy made sugar cookies? You put sprinkles on yours. If you were making a gingerbread kid, how would you decorate him?” Encourage your families to talk about what their children have seen or done that relates to the book they’re reading. Asking questions that connect the children to the text can maximize their comprehension as well as helping them start to ask questions themselves.

Families know the child’s interests better than we do.  If you have a child in your class who is crazy about trains (or sharks or princesses or horses…), chances are, her family knew that before you did. Encourage families to use their child’s interest in a topic to build their knowledge of literacy. Let the family know that checking out every book on dinosaurs from the library and reading all about dinosaurs is helping their child in several ways:

  • building their child’s knowledge of dinosaurs
  • building their knowledge of how to learn things
  • creating a foundation for learning about other animals (there are plant eaters and meat eaters alive today!)
  • creating a foundation for categorizing new information
  • learning about informational text
  • learning how informational text about dinosaurs is different from stories about dinosaurs
  • linking information read in books to information learned on a field trip to a museum, and being critical of information that doesn’t “match”

child in water 200One of my brothers, who is a veterinary surgeon, went through waves of interests (presidents, dinosaurs, Egypt, Beethoven, etc.) that helped him learn all about many things in his early years. He doesn’t particularly care about any of those topics now, but his ability to learn, and learn well, has helped him a great deal. My other brother, a restaurateur and chef, identified early that he loved cooking and history and never wavered. Using children’s interests can be a passing thing or a permanent tool to build both their knowledge about the topic and their knowledge about learning. Families can capitalize on those interests well.

Families are our best partners in promoting children’s literacy and learning success. No one cares more about that child than his or her family. By encouraging families to capitalize on their special knowledge of their child and sharing the strategies here, we can promote learning for all our children.

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Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

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For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet. Also check out our Story World Real World series to see some more informational texts, including Gingerbread Kids.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Family Literacy

Building World Knowledge with Informational Texts: Susan Bennett-Armistead

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 14, 2013 8:00:00 AM

susan bennett armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is the first in an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!


Building World Knowledge in Early Childhood Settings

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a preschool classroom to do a read aloud. I planned to read To Market, To Market, so I asked the children to think about a time they went to the grocery store. To my surprise, of the twelve children in the class, four of them told me they had never been in a grocery store. You can imagine that my read-aloud choice didn’t work so well with people that had no idea what was supposed to go on in a grocery store. They didn’t get the visual jokes included by the illustrator, and they had no way of knowing how to answer any of my carefully prepared comprehension questions.

FUN OUTSIDE coverThat experience helped me reflect on a chat that I’d had with an exasperated colleague years ago when she announced, “I’ve got a kid with no prior knowledge! How am I supposed to activate that?!” It was true. He had very little prior knowledge about picnics and playing in the park. He knew an awful lot about staying safe in a dangerous city, though. When we talk about activating children’s prior knowledge, we usually mean about school-related topics. Some children have the advantage of lots of experiences that they can draw upon while others may have narrower or less school-relevant experiences. Building world knowledge can help level that playing field.

So what is world knowledge, and why should we care? For our purposes, world knowledge is awareness of the world around us, both the natural world and the social world. When we talk about building world knowledge, we’re addressing the fact that the more we know, the more we can comprehend. For example, if you have a child in your group that has spent the last four years of her life watching cartoons, she many know an awful lot about Spongebob and his friends, but very little about actual sea life. As we are increasingly encouraging children to interact with and produce informational text, per the Common Core State Standards, we know that having a broader understanding of the world will help children be good consumers and producers of that kind of text.  Here are some strategies that you can try right away as you work to build children’s world knowledge:

Butterfly Cover1) Plan to include an informational text read aloud in your day. My colleague Nell Duke found that very little time is spent in classrooms actually reading informational text with and to children (Duke, 1999). If we’re not exposing children to fact-based texts, their knowledge of the world will be constructed through stories and other input that may not be factually accurate (For example, in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the caterpillar comes out of a cocoon and is a butterfly. This is factually incorrect; moths come out of cocoons and butterflies come out of a chrysalis.) There are some excellent wordless, low-level, and advanced informational texts available in both book and children’s magazine format.

2) When reading informational text, take the time to talk about the vocabulary in the text. This will not only help your children understand this particular text, but it will give them information they can draw on in other readings and situations.

3) Include opportunities for children to freely interact with informational text in each activity center in your classroom (block area = books on construction, transportation, or homes; dress up area = theme related books such as cookbooks, books about the fire station, or taking care of pets; science corner = books on the materials present, such as books about birds if you have Our New House Coverfeathers on display, plant books with seeds to sort, etc.)

4) Consider linking your informational text reading to a theme or project topic. Theme-based teaching encourages children to make connections to topics within the theme (e.g., transportation includes cars, trucks and boats) but also across themes (people live in homes, and animals do too!). Think about how you are actively assisting children to make connections to content through your exposure to texts that discuss your topic.

5) Design primary experiences for children to make sense of the learning themselves. (A primary experience is something that happens to you personally.) Children (and adults!) learn best when information is repeated, relevant to them, and real. Our brains move information from short-term memory to long-term memory (learning) when they get the message through multiple inputs (smell, touch, taste, excitement) that a thing is worth remembering. When we want children to learn about apples, we can read to them about how  apples grow, read a story about making a pie, or we can talk about apples while children explore actual apples. By combining all three (informational text, story, and apple exploration), we increase the likelihood that children will retain what we’re talking about. If we link apples to something personal to them, like the time they made pie with Grandma, we can make the learning even more powerful.

STORES coverEach of these strategies is a way to build world knowledge and lay a foundation for activating prior knowledge later. One more important strategy is to honor what your children already know. Every child knows about something. Make connections to their own interests and knowledge. My colleague with the student who had little knowledge of picnics got him to share a great deal about life in the city when they were talking about communities. Always start with the known and build to the new.

So what happened with my failed read aloud? After muddling through, I encouraged the teacher to set up a dramatic-play grocery store so the children could act out grocery store play and talk about how stores work. The children that had been to actual grocery stores guided the children that hadn’t. The teacher put out a number of books about grocery stores, both fact-books and stories, and let the children make the content their own. My failure turned into a rich learning experience for that class and for me!

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Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

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For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet. Other informational text books pictured in this article were from Zoozoo Animal World and Story World Real World.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Background Information, My World

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