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Priceless Works of Language Arts:
Invaluable Activities

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There are many ways to enrich the language arts lessons you teach. One is to add gems from the Internet to your collection. Teachers everywhere share their priceless bits of wisdom through mailing lists and publish their best ideas on Web sites. Let's mine the Web for golden reading, grammar, and language activities!

Eighth-grade language arts teacher La Donna Ourada of Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton, Oregon, recently shared some of her best language arts "sponges" (activities) with the members of an online listserv for middle school teachers.


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Her unique suggestions were well received by the educators, who often remark about their students' lack of interest in language arts, particularly writing and grammar.

Ourada's activities came out of a summer course, Creativity in the Classroom, she had taken at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. "The instructors pulled the activities from a variety of sources," she says. "One was their favorite magazine, [which is also] one of mine -- Games. One of my previous college instructors recommended subscribing to it for a year. She said that there would be more material in one year in that magazine than I would use in an entire lifetime. She was right. It is a great resource for language arts, math, and problem solving activities."

Ourada believes in using "anything that teaches the kiddos without their knowing that they are learning"!

"If they think it is a game, they are much more likely to participate with a smile and enjoy the process," Ourada told Education World. "When we 'debrief' afterward and they realize that they have actually learned something, they are often surprised. I try to pick things that interest them -- sports, outdoors, animals, and so on. That makes reading and writing much more enjoyable."

Click here to see five language arts games and fillers -- "sponges" -- that Ourada uses in her classroom. She welcomes you to try them and expand on the collection of ideas.

ANOTHER LANGUAGE ARTS 'SPONGE':
THE STORY ROUND

Ellen McClurg shared a terrific language arts activity with Middle-L mailing list members. She is a sixth-grade communication arts and writing lab teacher at Turner Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. Her activity is called a "story round."

"I adapted the idea from an activity a teacher did on the team I worked with during student teaching," McClurg explained. "She had the kids work in groups of four, write full paragraphs, pass the paragraphs to the next person in the group, and so on."

"There are two different ways, that I know of, to do them [story rounds]," McClurg said. "You can have the kids work in groups of four or as a whole class. Have each kid write the first sentence of a story. You can supply one if you wish; that really depends on the kids you have. After the first sentence is written, have students pass their papers to the left. They should read what was written before and add the second sentence and so on. I recommend giving them about two to three minutes to read and add to the papers before passing them on. The kids love it!"

STORY ROUNDS GET AROUND

To make the activity more cooperative, McClurg recommends this alternative. "The other way to do this is to have a group collaborate on the first paragraph of a story. When time is called, they pass it on to the next group to write the next paragraph and so on until each group has had the paper once. The original group then writes the final paragraph and edits for grammar and punctuation."

"I recently did this with my kids," said McClurg, "and instead of complaining about writing, they've been begging me to do it again. I do suggest giving them some very specific ground rules and guidance -- for example, say nothing negative about other students, the sentence you add has to make sense, and the sentence you add has to build on what has already been written."

After reading McClurg's post, Leighann Klug suggested a twist on the idea that has been successful with her own class. She has students create poems in the same manner. They pass their first lines to other students who add second lines, and the process continues until the poems are complete. She uses several beginning phrases or prompts, such as "If I could only," "If I had," "When I am 60 years old," and "My dream is" Her students have asked to do the activity repeatedly!

WORKS OF ART IN LANGUAGE ARTS

Try one of these fabulous language arts activities with your class!

Shopping for Sounds
Beginning to Read from America Reads Challenge: Read*Write*Now has a collection of terrific activities for students who are just starting to recognize words and put sounds together to read them. In the activity The Sound Shopping Trip, youngsters point to pictures in a magazine or catalog and name the objects. They then identify the beginning sounds of the objects' names.

ABC Project
Tammy Payton and her students are at it again! Here they have created an interactive ABC book of on-line resources. You can read an introduction, gain ideas from the lesson plan, and view the finished project at Surfing for ABC's: Published Project. Payton includes some great advice for using the Internet with young children.

Go Fish!
Do you remember the game Go Fish! from your childhood? The lesson plan Word Go Fish from AskERIC Lesson Plans: Language Arts: Reading shows you how to create a reading game based on the original and tells how to play it. Students review vocabulary as they enjoy this cooperative activity!

Listening to Directions
Have you experimented with activities that involve having students create pictures that are described to them? This is a great listening activity and an excellent way to improve students' skills in using descriptive language. Mystery Pictures is one such activity from AskERIC Lesson Plans: Language Arts: Listening. Students re-create the number 5 on their papers by listening to your description. Consider having students describe objects to one another using clear language. Point out that this somewhat like the work of police sketch artists, who use the memories of eyewitnesses to draw pictures of suspects.

Hit List' of Words
If you want to know what words are most important for early readers to recognize, the 100 Most Frequent Words in Books for Beginning Readers is a good place to start! Although you might already have a good idea of what some of the words are, this list offers concrete data regarding the frequency with which each word occurs in first-reader books. Try introducing a few of these words each week. You can reinforce them by writing them on flashcards and quizzing students daily. Your students will soon conquer the words they will encounter most often!

Word Games Online
Word games are educational and fun for students, and some of them are tough (even for teachers)! The Wild World of Words activity includes many such activities that students will enjoy. Don't miss the Animal Idioms. They are clever and require thought. Have your students create idiom games of their own, such as drawing pictures that suggest idioms or making lists of idioms that contain blanks and share a common link.

Playing With Plot
How do you get your students excited about writing stories and focused on plot? Devising Plot Structures: Creating New Tales is an activity with the answer! This lesson from Storytelling Activities & Lesson Ideas offers a list of possible plot elements for you to select or mix up for students to use to create a story. Add to the possibilities and devise an activity for your class.

GET WITH THE (GRAMMAR) PROGRAM

In addition to her story round activity, Ellen McClurg also has a grammar lesson that other teachers often ask to borrow. "I do a hands-on parts-of-speech activity that the kids also love," she explained. "I put words from sentences on cut-up index cards, one word per card, one sentence per envelope. Each word is color-coded according to the part of speech it is."

Next, the students get to work. "Kids have to create as many complete sentences as they can per envelope, using all the words, and separate all the words by color to describe how they function in a sentence," said McClurg. "Then they go on a hunt in the grammar book to figure out which part of speech each color is. Next, they create a key. From this activity, I have noticed kids not only understanding the parts of speech but also debating with one another about which part a word is, using examples from the text. It's been very popular and successful with them."

Here are a couple of additional ideas for teaching grammar, without the grumbling!

Diagramming
Fans of daily oral language activities and other grammar programs will love the on-line Guide to Grammar and Writing. This site has of the background of your favorite English book from high school or college. Use Diagramming Sentences to help your students analyze sentences you create or samples from their work. The guide includes examples that illustrate each configuration.

Punctuation
Do your students overuse -- the dash, cause commotion, with, the, comma, or go crazy: with colons? Basic Punctuation and Mechanics can help! This guide is simple, easy to follow, and has many models. It addresses commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, parentheses, ellipsis dots, hyphens, apostrophes, titles, numbers, quotation marks, and more. Many good examples illustrate proper use of punctuation marks. Have your students use the site to help them correct a few sentences that show common errors made by writers in your classroom. As an alternative, give them the opportunity to find examples of proper use of the more advanced punctuation marks from famous quotes or writings and explain why they are correct.

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 7/16/2001
Last updated 06/02/2010

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