Saturday, March 14, 2015

Finding our voice with Mo Willems

Our Mo Willems author study started as a part of our unit on How We Express Ourselves. It quickly BECAME the unit, because once we got started with him, it took us a month and a half for us to finally move on! 

As the kids performed their reader's theater scripts today, I realized the greatest thing about Mo Willems' books is that every child feels successful reading an Elephant and Piggie book. In the last month and a half I have seen some of my struggling readers start to bloom. I heard it in their sweet voices today.

We had done a mini unit with Mo Willems at the beginning of the year so my kids were familiar with him and his books. We had used the Pigeon, Elephant, and Piggie to help towards the beginning of our writer's workshop so we could think about punctuation and speech bubbles.

So, in the beginning of February, when I put out a bunch of Elephant and Piggie books in the Read to Someone area, the kids were excited to start reading them. I told them to pick a character and read that character's part. Over the next couple of weeks we looked at the punctuation, the size of the print and quickly the kids began to adjust their voices and expression to match the characters. The facial expressions Mo Willems gives to his characters helped even more. 

My Mo Willems' tub of books quickly disappeared into the kids bag of books and they devoured them during independent reading time. These books have certainly seen better days! ;) 

Then I gave them the blank books during writing time and told the kids to write their own Elephant and Piggie books. I have never seen kids become so engrossed in their writing time. They were writing when they came to school in the mornings, during indoor recess, and dismissal time. Such creative stories and detailed expressions in their drawings. Even my kids who normally finish a book in a day with a bare bones were putting effort into their work and taking time to write a story. 

oh the rage! ;)

Then during Read to Someone time, I introduced Reader's Theater. I took four Elephant and Piggie books and typed them up into a script. The kids took a lot of their expression cues from the faces of Elephant and Piggie. I kind of wanted to see if they could continue to use the punctuation to add expression to their reading. I helped them the first day or two get used to how the scripts worked and then let them practice. Today we finished our character hats and most of the groups presented. 
I have to say, my heart did swell with pride in watching my kids read. Even though I had to still help some kids get through some words, I was so amazed at how well some of them read their parts and the expression they used.

As I read aloud some of his other books too, the kids began to notice similarities between his texts, how the font size and color gave me clues for how to read. We searched for the pigeon in every book. We compared a biography of Mo Willems to Ezra Jack Keats and talked about how the authors were similar and different. We watched some interviews with Mo Willems. Watch this one. I love the ending. Mo Willems tells us that we should read so maybe we will read one of his books, and want to write a story using his characters that he will want to read. My kids loved that thought!

In a time of the school year when I feel like we sometimes hit a wall, Mo Willems helped my kiddos find their voice in reading and in their writing. Each Elephant and Piggie story had a touch of the kids in it. The things they were thinking about came through in the stories. I could hear their voices come through loud and clear in their word choice. Now, during independent reading, the kids pay attention to the punctuation and as their reading voices fill the room, you can hear the expression. Even if it is not a Mo Willems book. ;)

So, I you are stuck in a rut, or feeling like you have reached a dead end. Read some Mo Willems and see where it will take you! ;)

Teachers love Mo Willems too!

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