I’ve known for a long time that good language is better caught than taught. A sprinkling won’t work–nothing but full immersion will do! Throughout the year we will read (and write) information books, folktales, biographies, novels, and poetry. To make sure my children get the language exposure they need I rely on heavily on picture books.
Why picture books in the third grade? The language of picture books is often richer than the language found in chapter books written for children this age. The picture books I use tend to be written at a higher reading level, but the listening level is just right. It is the listener that is learning to write. I’ve asked these third graders to start listening to these read-alouds as writers. It is listening that sets the metronome of our cadence–the “fingerprints” of our writing. Our voice.
As I read aloud in writing workshop, I share with my students that I am introducing them to my writing teachers. This week Dav Pilkey (Paperboy), Cynthia Rylant (The Relatives Came), and Ann Cameron (The Stories Julian Tells) became our teachers and showed us how to move time along without the repetition of “then and then and then and then….” Through our listening, we became writing students. Together we listened and shared what we heard. Idea was built on idea. I reached for my writer’s notebook because as my students spoke, I was listening to writers as a writer.
Good language is better caught than taught, but it still needs to be taught. We learn as listeners, but we also learn as readers. Children need direct instruction on the conventions of writing, but here, too, authors are our teachers. After we finished Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne last week, we investigated how quotation marks and dialogue tags are used. As we encounter punctuation in our reading and writing we listen for what sounds right. Even as we read, we are unconsciously “listening.”
“I’m noticing,” said a gentle and reflective girl with her hand in the air, “I’m noticing that in both of these chapters Julian told a lie.”
“Yes!” said a boy. “The title is The Stories Julian Tells. At first we thought that meant stories, but maybe it means lies.”
“Maybe it means both,” someone added. “Maybe the author did that on purpose.
“It is like Paperboy,” added another girl, “At first I thought Paperboy was about a boy made out of paper.”
I remind them that sometimes authors make a title ambiguous on purpose. It keeps us wondering. Wondering is what makes reading and writing work.
Wondering is what makes teaching work, too. It’s catching.