HAVE YOU EVER HAD A WORD OR PHRASE GET STUCK in your head? The phrase can come from a song on the radio or something someone says. It can even just be an interesting word whose sound captures your interest. That's how words and rhymes "hook" children into the pleasures of developing language and literacy skills.

Young children enjoy hearing and repeating sounds and putting them together into fun and sometimes silly combinations. This word play is a direct route to reading. The ability to express the sounds and syllables of words, and to learn and use new vocabulary words, are essential elements for developing the ability to read.

The following ideas will help spark children's interest in word play. As children play with these sounds, they learn not only about letters but also the places sounds hold in words and phrases. The amazing thing is that all this meaningful and joyful literacy learning often starts with the innate play of children.

The Word of the Week

Choose a day of the week to be your "new word" day. Tuesday is a good choice because all the excitement of being back at school after the weekend has dissipated, and children are ready to focus.

Write the new word on chart paper. It's helpful to start with interesting adjectives because children can quickly learn how to use them in speech. Perhaps your first word might be extraordinary (unique, special, magnificent, splendid, marvelous, amazing). Use the word very deliberately when you speak with children at group time. You might say, "The book we'll read today is extraordinary, because it has illustrations that use the most extraordinary colors. Can you guess what is so extraordinary about it?" After you've used the word several times, invite children to suggest what they think the word means. Perhaps they can use it in a sentence too. Remember to use the word at all times of the day to remind children of how it can be used in context. Invite children to brainstorm a list of extraordinary things, which can be added to throughout the week. Display the list in your group-time area for children to refer to. Don't forget to read the lis; at the end of the week.

Chart It, Write It!

Write the word of the week on a large sheet of paper and hang it in your writing center Encourage children to cut pictures from magazines that represent the word. Collect these pages into a class "Word of the Week" book. Read it at group time at the end of each month!

Adjective Adventure

Use an interesting object that children have not seen in the room before to get children talking! It could be a beautiful shell or rock, a doll or stuffed toy. Invite children to observe the object silently for a while. Ask, What do you notice about this? How would you describe how it looks to someone who can't see it? What words can you use to tell about it?

For instance, if it is a stuffed dog, pick up the toy dog and say, "black dog." Children might like to say "black dog" with you. Ask, What other words can we use to describe it? (fluffy) Add to the name (fluffy black dog) and ask the group to repeat. Continue until you have a long line of descriptive adjectives for it (big, fluffy, shiny, silly, funny, black dog!).

All these wonderful words feel like a poem. So why not write down the descriptive adjectives as children suggest them? Name the object (dog) at the top of the chart paper. Then add the words one by one on lines below the title. At the end invite children to suggest something that the dog does! Big, fluffy, shiny... black dog chasing its tail! Presto, you have a cooperative poem!

One More Thing

Play a variation on the adjective game called "One More Thing." Use pictures from magazines or favorite books. Ask children to tell you what the picture shows (for instance, a house). Then ask them to tell one more thing about it (it is yellow). Keep adding one more way to describe it until everyone who wants a turn has had one. Can you remember all the adjectives we used to describe it?

Nonsense TOO!

Playing with nonsense words is a great way for children to hear letter sounds, rhymes, and syllables without fear of making a mistake. When the words are pretend, all children have to focus on are the sounds and rhythms.

Here is a song to use to get the nonsense going. In this song, children can go through the alphabet, changing the initial letter sound for each of the nonsense words. Try writing the nonsense words on chart paper so children can see both the similarities and differences between the words as well as the progression of alphabet letters down the list!

Can You Say

(tune: "One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians")

Can you say, can you say?

Bibbilly, bobbilly.

Can you say, can you say?

Cibbilly, cobbilly.

Can you say, can you say?

Dibbilly, Dobbilly.

We all make up nonsense words!

(Keep repeating the song to get through the alphabet.)

Play With Alliteration!

You can use alliterative poems to play with words and sounds. In the following call-and-response poem, children play with the repeating phrase. The key to reading the poem is the back and forth sharing of lines between the teacher and the children. The teacher always says the first line. The children always respond with the alliterative line. This gives children plenty of practice saying and hearing the letter and word sounds.

ROCK AND ROLL RABBITS

Racing on stage with the flashing of lights. (teacher)

Rock and roll rabbits. (children)

Hoping for the most exciting of nights. (teacher)

Rock and roll rabbits. (children)

Who would have thought of such a thing? (teacher)

Rock and roll rabbits. (children)

Hares that can play music and really sing! (teacher)

Rock and roll rabbits. (children)

Whatever games and songs you choose, keep the children talking. Remember, group time should be a time to build children's language skills rather than reinforcing your own!