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  • Pam Koutrakos

How to Put Wind In The Sails of Students’ Curiosity About Language

(Pixabay: Mabel Amber)

In my last blog (here) I shared my own slightly scandalous journey of being a young teacher trying to find meaningful methods for teaching the language standards in ways that stoked student transfer. Now, let’s take a journey together, and invite students along. Here are two easy routes that help learners get out of landlocked, passive stances about word learning and into sailing the open waters of noticing words in the world.

Route 1: Begin to notice words and how they make you feel.

How do I do this?

  1. Read aloud texts where the words BEG to be noticed.

  2. Model noticing and reacting to the words.

  3. Invite students to notice and react to the words.

  4. Together, begin to create opportunities to celebrate noticing words.

Wondering which books to choose? The simplest answer is to choose the ones you love and think the class will enjoy. Consider reading books where certain words are enlarged, or in a different color, or in a stand out font, because the author and illustrator are working overtime to make sure readers notice the words. Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas is one such book. Looking to laugh? Read aloud silly books that bring out belly laugh-laughter to build community. When time is of the essence, turn to the short and sweet poetry of beloved authors like Shel Silverstein and Jeff Moss. Feeling sentimental? There are plenty of authors who use word choice to wow us with poignancy with each and every page turn. Kevin Henkes, Matt de la Peňa, Sharon Draper, Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Kwame Alexander, and Jason Reynolds are just a few of the authors who get me every time. Seymour Simon’s books are always memorable combos of poetic language and information. Biographies of people famous for their eloquence are also a perfect choice. A few suggestions include Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, and Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers. Books are the surest route to bringing about the immersion into words and language that we are after.

When students are immersed in language and inspired to discover more about words, they devise ways to share their knowledge.

The students came up with this quotes wall idea, and added to the display all on their own—full on engagement!

Route 2: Get curious about conventions.

How do I do this?

  1. Notice a convention.

  2. Wonder about a convention.

  3. Facilitate a mini-inquiry on a convention.

  4. Encourage students to notice and lead their own inquiries around conventions.

Collect a handful of word resources you can turn to for more ideas. For example, Wonderopolis. Click HERE to see their grammar-themed wonders and investigations. Wonderopolis also serves as a valuable research site for students as they do more independent inquiry work. You might also look to Dan Feigelson, a literacy leader who has written and posted a lot about conventions-themed inquiry. Here is a user-friendly blog from a classroom that tried out Dan’s ideas. This kind of inquiry around grammar builds curiosity that becomes contagious.

This is a virtual Wonder Wall created with upper elementary students. Many of these student-driven inquiries were investigated individually, in partnerships, or in small groups.

I hope you are starting to see that developing a classroom culture of curiosity about language is not labor-intensive; it has a natural spontaneity to it, and students come to own it. Simple, brief engagements yield substantial results—five minutes here and ten minutes there are a great start. By noticing words and wondering about them, students become bolder about journeying into greater depths of language learning.

In the next blog in this series, I will share how to create a year-long plan for meaningful and targeted language instruction.

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