Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook Lesson Plan
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
- Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook by Shel Silverstein
- chart paper
- blank books, one for each student
Set Up and Prepare
Share the following background information with students:
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999). Shel said he never planned to be a writer of children’s books. “I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls. But I couldn’t play ball. I couldn’t dance. So I started to draw and write.” (Publishers Weekly, 1975). He also became a songwriter—writing “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” for Dr. Hook, and “I’m Checking Out,” for the film Postcards from the Edge. He wrote songs, stories, and plays until his death in 1999. This book, Runny Babbit, was discovered by his children after his death and published by them in 2005.
Show students other books by Shel Silverstein. (See a list in Related Resources.) You could play some of the music Shel Silverstein wrote while students look through these books. (I found a CD, “Best of Shel Silverstein,” which has poetry readings as well as songs on it—fantastic!)
Write the following character names from the book on an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper and make copies for the students: Runny Babbit, Millie Woose, Snerry Jake, Toe Jurtle, Wormy Squirm, Goctor Doose, Bumping Jean, Skertie Gunk, Ploppy Sig, Gillip Phiraffe, Rirty Dat, Calley At and Kittle Litten, Flutterby, Batty Meaver, and Franny Fog.
After presenting the Shel Silverstein background information, read Runny Babbit, a Billy Sook in a shared reading session. Remove the book's cover and don't show any illustrations yet so as not to give the students too many clues.
Way down in the green woods
Where the animals all play,
They do things and they say things
In a different sort of way—
Instead of sayin’ “purple hat.”
They all say “hurple pat.”
Instead of sayin’ “feed the cat.”
They just say “ceed the fat.”
So if you say, “Let’s bead a rook.
That’s billy as can se,
You’re talkin’ Runny Babbit talk,
Just like mim and he.(p.4 & 5).
Reread the page and have the students join in the parts that speak Runny Babbit—“hurple pat," “ceed the fat," “let’s bead a rook," etc.
Pass out the lists of character names to individual students or groups of students. Invite students to rewrite the characters names in “regular language” and then illustrate each character to make 'character cards.' For example—Millie Woose is Willie Moose. The illustrations are then shared with the class.
Display these character cards as you read various poems from the book. Invite students to point to the character cards which depict the characters in the poems, then compare their illustrations with those from the book. This reading of the book may go on for several periods of time. Invite students to read the poems out loud after they are shared by the teacher.
Pay special attention to the words while reading and ask students what the word play is. For example: "Runny’s Rig Romance," is Runny has a firlgriend.
After a poem is shared, ask students what the author is telling us. A good beginning might be poems about reading…"Runny’s Heading Rabits," and "Runny’s Rittle Leminders." There are several that will cause chuckles with the students, such as "Runny Hets Gandsome," "Runny Bakes a Tath," "Runny’s Cat and Hoat," "Runny Stets Gretched," etc. The students can identify the characters, the actual words, and the content of the poems as they are shared with the class.
After the shared reading and enjoyment of the book, the students now use their writing workshop to create their own "billy sook." The students are asked to recall the patterns in the poems by Shel Silverstein. It would be great to "revisit" a favorite poem or two. Together they create a glorious word play poem. The students are then directed to pick up their pre-made writing books and begin their writing workshop. They may work on these books for several periods. Once completed, they are shared with classmates, fellow teachers, and parents.
Supporting All Learners
This lesson, I think, is best used as a whole class shared reading lesson, but could also be used in guided reading lessons. I think students with short attention spans would benefit from the variety in the lesson as well as the short poetry "stories." ELL students would have some difficulty with this lesson as the word play may be too confusing for them. Students could be given several options as to the work they would perform with this lesson. Some could work on the billy sook or some could work on the poetry performance.
Note: Shel Silverstein uses the word “butt” in a poem which might bother some readers. He also uses “sea poup”, which is pea soup.
Students may now select a poem to memorize and present to their classmates/parents in a poetry reading format. Students learn their favorite poems, practice their poetry sample, amplifying and projecting their voices. They may make masks and props to enhance their presentations. The students may choose to perform one of their own compositions in addition to any of those from Shel Silverstein.
Other books by Shel Silverstein:
Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book
Lafcadio the Lion Who Shot Back
The Giving Tree
Where the Sidewalk Ends
The Missing Piece
A Light in the Attic
CD—Best of Shel Silverstein