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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Why I designed a rhyming unit for my Kindergarten students

by Marlene Jastrzebski

During the last school year, I noticed that several children in my Kindergarten class were exhibiting speech and language difficulties. Some of the children did not communicate verbally as well as other children of the same age. A number of my students had problems constructing and saying complete sentences. Some children had unusual difficulty learning new words in a variety of situations, such as whole class, small group, and on a one-to-one basis. Many students displayed problems sequencing events in a story and some tired quickly during activities that required listening and concentration, such as story time. There were also students who appeared to be unusually quiet or withdrawn, and others who were distracted by the sounds of noise in and around the classroom. So taking these concerns in mind and following district protocol, I administered a Kindergarten survey assessment.

There are five components to this survey: oral language, basic concepts in language, phonological awareness, print awareness, and math skills. The results were that 12 of my 22 students had no evidence in two or more parts of the basic concepts in the language section. Six of 22 showed no evidence in two or more parts of the oral language section, and 19 of 22 showed no evidence in two or more of the four subtests in the phonological awareness section of this survey assessment. Looking over the results, I decided that phonological awareness would be the targeted focus of my instruction for the whole class for their year in Kindergarten.

I then reviewed the Prescribed Learning Outcomes as laid out in BC Ministry of Education, Skills, and Training’s English Language Arts K to 7 Integrated Resource Package of 1996. I found three PLOs, which related to my concern:

  • It is expected that students will demonstrate a willingness to participate actively in oral activities.
  • It is expected that students will demonstrate an understanding of the conventions of print, including how letter sounds make words, left to right movement in reading and spacing.
  • It is expected that students will predict unknown words by using picture clues, their knowledge of language patterns, and letter-sound relationships.

I then wrestled with another problem. In the 27 years I have taught in this area, I was aware that many children never have the opportunity to leave their small communities; they have not had the opportunities to visit the ocean, the arctic, or the tropics, for which many commercial rhymes were written. So I thought, how relevant is it to my students to teach about animals they will never have a chance to see for themselves? I have used a wealth of materials about lions, tigers, penguins, and polar bears, but could I not benefit my students more by providing them with rhyming poetry about animals that they see in and around Lillooet? Therefore, knowing that the learning of rhyming skills centers around the communication process, I wrote a series of rhyming poetry, compiled in my phonological awareness kit, which I entitled, "I Love the Mountains." These poems deal with the flora and fauna of Lillooet. I used these poems for the setting the mood aspect of whole group lessons. They provided my students with opportunities to learn about animals and plants abundant in their home environment. I began each class with sharing five rhyming poems, and as my students got comfortable with the poetry and the process, they chose the poetry they wanted to reread. I continue to write this thematic poetry and I have very close to 400 rhymes.

As well as having each of my poems on letter-sized paper, I also had copies for each child in the student’s "I Can Read" folder. I wrote each poem on lined chart paper, accompanied by a photograph. I printed the words that rhymed in different coloured markers, so that students could see the rhyming words. As most of my students did not understand rhyming, I needed to explicitly point out when words rhymed. Before reading a poem, I would ask my class to listen for the rhyming words, as the text was read. After reading a poem, I would initiate a discussion about which words rhymed and why they rhymed. Then I would choose a word, and have my class think of other words that rhymed with it. Next, I would reread the poem and this time leave out the rhyming word, as my students thought of the rhyming words that would fit. I encouraged my students to try the sentence or line with other rhyming words and then we discussed which rhyming words would make sense in the line of poetry.

The students did extremely well in the summative assessment administered in the last month of the school year but, more important to me, they were very excited to learn all about the fauna and flora of their home communities.

Marlene Jastrzebski teaches at Cayoosh Elementary School, Lillooet.

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