Children are fascinated with words for their own sake. How clearly Edward Lear's poem above tells this truth. Peggy Brogan tells how a Mexican-American child in one of her classes asked for the spelling of "diabolical." Before she knew it, the entire class had picked up the word, and all things - and persons - were diabolical.
If the teacher will be a good teacher of reading, she will first of all thrill the children with our language. She will enjoy reading - and re-reading - selections to the children and reacting to its words, its sentences, its jokes, its riddles, and its expressiveness. Her reading to the children will never taper off. It will be a major part of her teaching of language. What she does with poems and stories and words will become what the children do with poems and stories and words. Once loved stories and poems become a part of children, they will say - truly - "Now I can do it on my own."
Once poems and stories become a part of children, the children can play with them.
When I was One
I . . . had lots of fun? cooked a bun? went for a run? weighed a ton?
When I was Two
I . . . went to the zoo? didn't know what to do? came down with the flu?
Then, children's variations of "When I Was One" can be made into a class book, with each child's contribution clipped in.
Here is another:
Three Potatoes in a Pot
Three potatoes in a pot,
Take one out and leave two hot.
Two potatoes in a pot,
Take one out and leave one hot.
One potato in a pot,
Take it out -
Nothing in the pot
Found in Sounds Around the Clock - Holt, Rinehart, and Winston
Once children know this poem, they can improvise:
Three (horses? cabbages? buns?) in a pot,
Take one out and leave two hot.
Two . . .
Three potatoes in a (box?)
Take one out and (wash your socks?)
. . .
Changes can also be wrought with adjectives. "It was a bright summer's day." What other kind of day might it be? "It was a dark, wintry day" or "It was a black, wintry day" or "It was a windy, spring day," etc.
Children have a storehouse of their own language that can be enjoyed. "Boys and girls, did you hear what John called the guinea pig? He said he is as fat as a bean bag."
The teacher will often want to write down children's words on chart paper.
It jumps, all of a sudden.
It's caught and wants to get out.
John may illustrate the chart. If John wishes, his chart can be hung on a coat hanger (the top corners of the chart folded over and stapled) and kept on a rack for anyone to take down and read.
The charts, the pupil-made books, and the commercial books in first grade (and every other grade) belong to all of the children. The books are there for all of them - both the easy ones and the hard ones. The teacher is there to help the children make use of these person-enriching books and materials.
In summary, these are the basic ingredients of a good beginning reading program: 1) loved poems and stories, often read over and over again both aloud by the teacher and privately by the children; 2) word play - by learning to be fascinated by the many qualities of words; 3) playing with poems and stories, by a child's substituting his own words for the author's (variations on a theme) and by finding different describing words; and 4) children's "stories" (or records of experiences) put on chart paper by the teacher (and later by the children) and used for reading, for word play, for making into class books, and for phonics study. With these ingredients, children will develop into independent readers.
A good selection of poems and stories can be found in "What Your First Grader Needs to Know" edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. (New York: Dell Publishing, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1997).