Friday, October 25, 2013

Figurative Fun with Animal Idioms

When I asked a group of first graders what they thought a person might mean by saying, “you eat like a bird,” all four heads dipped down to the table. With hands in their laps, they bobbed and “pecked” at imaginary seeds on imaginary ground. They were a bit surprised when I opened Sandy Donovan’s book, Until the Cows Come Home, illustrated by Aaron Blecha, and read page 26 where they learned this idiom means to eat a small amount of food. 

They were even more surprised when they discovered how much a bird typically eats; a one-pound bird is likely to eat about a pound of food each day. If my students actually ate like birds, they would eat about 45 pounds before turning in tonight!

These facts may not be new to you, but some of the information in the book was new to me. For example, did you know the phrase “don’t let the cat out of the bag” began back in the Middle Ages? I didn’t. According to Ms. Donovan, since cats were cheap and pigs were expensive,

“Sellers at marketplaces used cats wrapped up in fabric bags to try to trick buyers. The buyers thought they were buying a pig. The sellers would take their money and give them a bag with an animal squirming around inside.”

If they let the cat out of the bag before they returned home, they would discover the secret.

Ms. Donovan’s book defines idioms as “phrases that mean something different from what you might think they mean.” After reading several examples, I turned to a page with an illustration of a monkey clinging to a frustrated, freckle-faced boy and said, “The phrase, monkey on your back” is an____?” I paused to let the kids finish the sentence and Hailey called out, “Idiot!” The others agreed before I had a chance to correct her mistake.

Landen was so intrigued by the illustration he decided to demonstrate how you might get a monkey off your back. First he wrapped his arms around his body, then changed positions to spread the fingers of one hand on his cheek and used his other hand to peel off the fingers, one by one. He explained how he’d peel the toes off too, and then twirl so the monkey would fly off.  He used excellent descriptive language as he expounded on the process and by the time he finished, it was easy for the other students to understand the origins of this idiom. I tuned back to the book and read,

“What does a monkey have to do with an ongoing problem? Well, let’s think about it. If you had a monkey on your back, it would be really hard to get it off, right? Monkeys have those long arms. They could wrap their arms around your neck. You might try to shake them off, but they’d cling on. . . That’s why people use the phrase “monkey on your back” to refer to problems that won’t go away.”

Idioms are confusing to many of my students and they are especially baffling to kids on the autism spectrum who are very literal in their thinking. I remember one precocious sixth grade student who had autism. After a few lessons on idioms, Alex came into my speech room and said, “Did you notice, it’s raining cats and dogs outside. I hope we can have lunch soon because, I’m as hungry as a horse.” He was very pleased with himself and I was happy as a clam to hear him using the idioms appropriately. Alex would have enjoyed Until the Cows Come Home. It is packed with information and he loved collecting facts.

With the Common Core Standards’ new emphasis on nonfiction, this book would make a nice addition to any elementary school library. And, though I’ve been reading it to first and second grade students, it is laying the foundations for a fourth grade language standard (L.4.5) where students are expected to “Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.” My younger students can already explain a few, thanks to Ms. Donovan’s book. If you’d like to introduce your children or students to idioms, there is no need to hold your horses, just trot over to your local bookstore or library and pick this one up.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall Break!

We’ve been on vacation this week so I have no stories to share from the speech room. Instead, I’ll share a few photos from our trip to Taylorsville, California.

I hope you are enjoying the fall season! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creepy Carrots Tackle the Common Core

Creepy Carrots crept into my speech room this week. Actually, it practically bounded into my classroom due to several pleading students who remembered the book from last year and couldn’t imagine moving into the fall season without it. They started requesting the story about the third week of school and asked each day until I secured a copy from our local library.

 Creepy Carrots

Last year, the kids begged for Halloween stories beginning early in September. This year, they were more specific. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, was their number one request. It may not be a traditional Halloween tale, but it’s fitting for fall and those carrots, with their jack-o-lantern faces, make it a perfect match for the occasion.

The students decided to create their own creepy carrots—take a look:

Emanuel expanded to another vegetable and sketched a cranky cabbage:

With the Common Core Standards on my mind (and in numerous conversations around our school campus) I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate them into speech and language sessions. I didn’t have to look far when I pulled Creepy Carrots from the shelf. The fifth Common Core Language Standard asks kindergarten students to “sort common objects into categories.” If you follow this standard, you’ll find by first grade students are expected to “sort words into categories” and by second grade they need to “identify real-life connections between words and their use (e.g. describe foods that are spicy or juicy).” After reading this story, my students sorted objects and words into categories (fruits and vegetables,) suggested some delicious describing words, put them together, threw in a few alliterations and came up with Crazy Cucumbers, Leggy lemons, Lazy lettuce, and Bumpy-bunny bananas.

Joden got especially creative and suggested a “Tow-truck tomato.” He didn’t stop with the name but added a few descriptions to go with it. “It has a slice of tomato for a door and four-hundred slices to make the back. It uses hay for fuel – no gas. A tomato drives the truck. He has a green Mohawk made of leaves. He drives around in circles catching rabbits.”

Joden seems to be working his way up this standard. In no time at all, he’ll hit the sixth grade level where students are expected to understand personification.

I realize there are pros and cons to the Common Core Standards, but I like the way one grade-level standard paves the way for the next, building skill upon skill until at last (as stated on the CCSS website,) the students “develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.”

If we are successful in helping our students reach that goal, this creative expression just might lead to some captivating stories for future generations. And perhaps some of them will be as delightful as Creepy Carrots!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Gaggle of Giggles over Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg

If you had walked by my speech room early in the week, you would have heard a gaggle of giggles and a riotous roar of laugher as I read, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Michael Allen Austin. 


It’s a good thing my room is somewhat removed from other classrooms on our campus. This lively tale had the kids hopping out of their seats crying, “wait, wait, wait, wait!” each time I tried to turn a page. They didn’t want to miss a single detail.

They loved Cowpoke Clyde’s bony face and spindly body. They moved in close to point out the terrified, open-beaked expression on the rooster as Dirty Dawg shot through the chicken coop. When we came to a close-up of the hog snapping the rope to escape Cowpoke Clyde (who landed on his derriere—feet up and hat flying), the kids puffed out their own cheeks in imitation of the bloated hog. They couldn’t hold their breath for long—air burst from their mouths in snorting chuckles. All this fun came from Dirty Dawg trying to escape the dreaded bath.

            Clyde set his hat and grabbed a rope,
            filled some buckets, snatched the soap.
            but right before he sprung his plan,
            ol’ Dawg woke up, and off he ran.

The kids caught on to the rhyming scheme and tried to finish the couplets every time I paused to give them a chance. The author prompted such predictions with several clever page turns.

            “Gadzooks!” yelled Clyde. “This ain’t no joke.
            Come back here, boy and get yer soak!”
            But Dawg ignored his mighty pleas.
            Instead Dawg left a trail of . . .

“PEAS!” the kids all shouted. They were quick to change their answer when I turned the page and, instead of peas rolling along behind him, they saw Dawg with his hind leg up, scratching his ear. After that, they were like eager detectives, scouring each spread for clues. They noticed several but they didn’t notice the fact that they were working on a Common Core Standard. One of the foundational reading standards for kindergarten students is to “recognize and produce rhyming words.”

I used the same book with a group of second graders and they enjoyed the story as much as the younger kids. They had no trouble at all describing Dawg’s response to the idea of a bath, or Clyde’s response to that ornery Dawg.  By doing so, they were working on the third reading standard for literature: “Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.” The challenges in the story were obvious but it was no challenge for me to keep these students fully engaged.

And it was easy to slip in a nod to the first Language Standard where students are expected to “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.” They loved correcting that ol’ Cowpoke Clyde when he warn’t talkin’ jes right.

If you’d walked by my room later in the week, you wouldn’t have heard much. The students were busy writing and drawing pictures for their own stories, like Maddi’s tale about a girl named Pearl and her cat named Hat. 

She’s got the beginnings of an engaging rhyming story. I’m not sure where the plot is heading; Maddi is keeping a few secrets but she plans to work on the story over the weekend so I’m sure I’ll hear more about it next week. If we don’t find another book of Lori Mortensen’s to share in the near future, I have high hopes for a few romping good tales from our young speech room authors.