Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teaching Nouns With Beverly Cleary

During the past couple of weeks, I've been teaching the sweet girl about nouns: what a noun is, and the difference between common and proper nouns. I discovered she could readily chant along with the definition "a noun is a person, place, thing or idea" (we 70s' era kids are all humming to Schoolhouse Rock now, aren't we?) and she seemed to grasp the concept of common and proper nouns pretty well. But it was all feeling a bit...well...ho-hum.

Then I got inspired. One day last week, when trying to devise a good lesson on the difference between common and proper nouns, I hit upon the idea of utilizing Beverly Cleary.

You have to understand that we're in major Cleary mode around here. That's mostly because we inadvertently ended up reading two Cleary books back to back. S. seems to vaguely recall the time when her Daddy and I read the Ramona books aloud, back when she was a toddler/early pre-schooler. So she'd been wanting a Ramona book and I promised her we'd read one during the summer. With one thing and another, and so many books to read, we didn't get to Ramona the Pest until late August, right before it was time to start school. And then I remembered, part-way through, that I'd already decided to kick-off our school-time read-alouds with Henry Huggins.

I briefly thought of switching and starting with something else, taking a little break in-between two books by the same author. But she'd adored Ramona, and I really wanted to start the year with a light, easy, fun read, one I knew she'd love to listen to. Plus I must confess I've always associated Beverly Cleary with autumn and back to school time, for whatever reason. (Do other people do this? Have certain books and/or authors they associate with certain seasons or times of year?)

By the time we'd gotten through Henry, Cleary's fictional world had totally inspired the sweet girl's imagination. "Call me Ramona," she'll say loftily, and more than once in recent weeks I've heard her talking to herself. When I stop to ask what she's saying, she says quickly, "Nothing. I mean, I'm just making up a Ramona story." She renamed her favorite stuffed bear Henry, another favorite bear Beezus, and has even designated which dolls get to play the minor roles of Scooter and Mary Jane. Best of all, she pulled out a stuffed brown and white dog she hadn't played with in a long time and re-christened him Ribsy. (Well, he used to be a she named Lucy, but...) In addition to undergoing a gender change, the poor doggie has undergone a bit of a color change as well since the sweet girl tied a piece of yarn around his neck for a leash and dragged him around on the sidewalk outdoors till I realized said dog had turned gray and put a stop to it. (Still trying to decide how washable the thing is!)

So imagine the delight when I wrote the following words on our white board: Ramona, Henry, dog, girl, Beezus, boy. She perked up right away: now we were having fun! And it was as easy as pie to read through those words and names together and to talk about the difference between the common nouns and proper nouns in the list. She completely got it, right away, and it's been her learning touchstone on the subject ever since.

Seems to me this could be a fun and easy way of teaching children many parts of speech. Pick a favorite story or poem, something they already love, and teach them the concept they need to learn by offering examples from it.

It's wonderful to have Beverly Cleary on our side...


Erin said...

That's a great idea, and glad to hear it was such a success! Learning is so much more fun when something you're already excited about is incorporated. Now I'm starting to get the urge to read some Cleary. Most of the Ramona and Henry books do have a fallish feel to them...

Beth said...

Yes! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks the books feel "fallish." I know they're not all set in the autumn, but they've just got a back to school feel about them. :-)

I still need to review Ramona the Pest. What a delightfully funny book!

Edna said...

I agree! Great idea! We'll be doing that in first grade with my class, so I will probably steal your idea and use whatever book is popular at the time with the kiddos. It's sometimes the simple things that work the best.

Beth said...

Edna, glad the idea is useful! It really is a simple idea, which is why it felt so funny that it took me so long to come up with it. I felt like one of those cartoon characters with a light bulb going on over her head. :-) And then it just worked so well that I got excited about it and wanted to share it. If you end up trying it, let me know how it goes!

We've been memorizing the "Caterpillar" poem by Christina Rossetti too...and I've had her pick the nouns out of that.