A “Show and tell” sharing session is a tradition familiar to many early childhood classrooms across the world. Children take turns to tell their classmates about an item they have brought in to show, or to relate a recent event in their lives. While the practice introduces children to public speaking, helps to develop confidence and oral communication skills, and encourages them to listen attentively, I consider the learning achieved compared to the time spent to be of dubious value.
Children tend to fidget, rather than listen and, with their minds elsewhere, are generally more interested in talking about themselves than in learning about others. This is a trait not exclusive to children though, and can be noticed in people of all ages.
Although encouraged to ask questions at the conclusion of each talk, children’s questions are often standard, repetitive, and lacking in thought. They may be unrelated to anything the speaker said, or may request information already supplied. The asking is seen more as an opportunity of talking and of being seen to ask (that is; doing the right thing), than to know more or to participate in genuine discourse.
Believing in the session’s greater potential, I innovated on the basic routine to make it a focussed literacy teaching episode. By incorporating features of approaches such as language experience, modelled writing, and shared book, the session became an avenue for teaching and learning in both reading and writing.
From the first days of school, we wrote our Class News; creating meaningful texts which valued and connected with children’s lives. The jointly constructed texts became our first reading material; richer in interest, content, language, and vocabulary than any first reader. (Though these have their place and were also used.)
Writing and reading Class News: The process
The child shares, usually using first person statements; for example, I went to the beach; or sometimes a third person statement; for example, my father got a new car.
The teacher and children may request more information; for example:
- When did you go to the beach?
- Who did you go with?
- What did you do there?
The teacher invites children to report the child’s news, and they jointly compose a statement to create a written record, which is always written in the third person; for example, Jackie went to the beach.
The teacher acts as scribe, thinking aloud through each step, modelling the process for the children; for example:
- I start at the top left.
- I need to start with a capital letter.
- What do I write first?
- What will I write next?
- What sounds can I hear in (word)? What does it begin with? What comes next? How do I write (word)?
- I go this way (left to right).
- I need to leave a space between words.
- I put a full stop at the end of the sentence.
- Let me check what I’ve written. Does it make sense?
The teacher invites children to participate in the writing by joining in with the process of thinking aloud, and by giving children the pen to write what they can.
Once written, the text is read by the teacher and children together. Then a child or two are invited to read the text independently. The teacher can point to certain high interest or sight words for children to identify, ask for children to find words that begin with a particular letter, or find answers to questions provided in the text.
Writing the news this way teaches literacy skills in context and provides support for students at all levels. Phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight word knowledge are embedded in a meaningful context that also involves the use of appropriate syntax, spelling, and punctuation. Children see how all the pieces interact to make a whole living meaningful language.
The news can be printed and taken home to read to parents and carers to provide additional practice each day. It is more an opportunity for sharing and communication than homework, but it is homework that everyone enjoys.
The text, familiar through being collaboratively written and read, is easy for independent reading. Because it is real language used in real contexts, it contains words that would not appear on a sight word list. Reading in context teaches children that reading is about meaning and demonstrates that writing is done by people, just like them, for particular purposes.
This is but a brief introduction to the focussed literacy teaching episode. For greater detail, refer to the new resource Class News, now available in literacy resources.
Additional suggestions for writing in the early years can be found in the new resource Let’s get them writing.
Have you used these writing resources?
I hope you and your children enjoy using these resources. I’ll see you next week with some ideas for celebrating Mother’s Day. In the meantime, have a great week.
Thank you for reading.
Happy teaching and learning,
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