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January 7, 2016 Stuffed Animals as Reading and Writing Buddies By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Teaching becomes much easier when we free kids to do what comes naturally and add an academic focus to their play. So when I noticed several of my students “sneaking” their Beanie Boos into class, I decided to welcome these little stuffed additions to our classroom and put them to work.

    Here are some ideas for using stuffed animals as reading and writing tools. While some of these ideas definitely lend themselves to the primary grades, upper elementary kids are happy to have an excuse to spend some time with a stuffed animal — don’t leave them out of the fun.

     

    Stuffed Animals for Fluency Practice

    I’m always surprised that very “grown up” third graders are happy to read aloud to a stuffed animal buddy or two. For the lower grades, this can make for an easy reading center — you just need a basket of small stuffed animals and the students’ book boxes or baggies. Kids are not self-conscious about stumbling over words when reading to a stuffed friend, and for speed-demon page-flippers, reading aloud is a good strategy to slow them down to a comprehension-friendly pace.

    I wasn’t one hundred percent clear about what “fluency” meant in regards to reading until I read this amazingly specific blog post by Andrea Spillett. Check out her oldie-but-goodie post, "Reading Fluency: Speed, Accuracy, Expression, Oh My!"

     

    Stuffed Animals as Book Hooks

    I’m always searching for ways to “hook” kids to try a new book. Stuffed animals catch students’ eyes even more than interesting book covers (just look at the displays at big box book stores for confirmation!) So I sometimes tuck a stuffed animal in as the “Guardian” of a book basket or shelf. My students know the stuffed animals must live there unless you are reading a book from that basket. Nothing draws children over to a book basket quite like a cute stuffed animal peeking out. (Extra points for thematic matches between the stuffed animal and the books, but it’s really not necessary.)

     

     

    Stuffed Animals as Strategy Mascots

    Do a quick Google search of “Reading Strategy Beanie Babies” for tons of ideas and printables connecting early reading strategies with matching characters. (For example, Stretch the snake reminds students to stretch out the sounds in a word; Chunky Monkey reminds students to chunk the syllables in a word.) In my classroom, I use stuffed characters for social emotional support and to celebrate character strengths.

    For example, students can grab little Sheepish like a hall pass and go on a quick cool-down walk if emotions flare too high. My favorite is Percy, our Perseverance Pig. I occasionally pop him onto a table when I notice students “staying in the struggle” (one of my favorite teaching catchphrases).

    Afterwards, I invite those students to narrate for the class why Percy visited them: What was their struggle? How did it feel to struggle so long and hard at something? Did they need to take a break and come back to the problem, ask for help, or use any other struggle-strategies? How did it feel when they accomplished their goal after so much struggling? Grit the Mouse (above) celebrates when students attempt "stretch" books: tackling books that interest them but that are well above their reading level. 

     

    Stuffed Animals as Word Tracking Guides

    There are all sorts of tools to help early readers track the words on a page, and a pointer finger works quite well. But I found that for some beginning readers, a finger puppet stuffed animal is a helpful, friendly reminder to tap each word. Anything that seduces a nervous new reader is a good thing in my book!

     

    Stuffed Animals as Editors

    Similar to reading aloud to practice reading fluency, I am always trying to get my students to read their writing aloud to themselves and to really listen to hear syntactical errors. Third graders often leave out words or whole phrases and don’t realize it. Even when they silently re-read their writing, they just “imagine” that the word is there. Reading aloud is often the only solution to help them hear their mistakes. Reading writing aloud to a partner is the best option, but a stuffed animal is a fun choice for solo-editing sessions.

    Punctuation Penguin silently reminds students to check for periods and other punctuation. The year I taught first grade, this little guy was a class celebrity!

     

     

    Stuffed Animals to Practice Adding Voice, Dialogue, and Other Perspectives

    A fun writing activity to help students explore voice is to assign kids stuffed animal characters and ask them to write a description or scene in the voice of that character. I’ve also had students use a pair of puppets or stuffed animals to debate a controversial issue as a pre-writing activity for opinion writing. They love performing their stuffed animal debates for the class, and it really forces them to consider both sides of an issue, helping them strengthen their counter-argument paragraphs for persuasive essays.

     

    Sure, stuffed animals are cutesy and not going to revolutionize reading instruction. But anything that helps young readers and writers joyfully embrace their roles is worth exploring. Do you use stuffed animals with your students? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

    For updates on my upcoming blog posts, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

    One year ago: "New Anchor Charts for a New Year!"

    Two years ago: "Mystery Bags to Develop Observation and Inference Skills"

    Three years ago: "Welcoming a Class Pet, a Living Mascot"

    Four years ago: "Recharging Independent Reading – New Routines for a New Year"

    Teaching becomes much easier when we free kids to do what comes naturally and add an academic focus to their play. So when I noticed several of my students “sneaking” their Beanie Boos into class, I decided to welcome these little stuffed additions to our classroom and put them to work.

    Here are some ideas for using stuffed animals as reading and writing tools. While some of these ideas definitely lend themselves to the primary grades, upper elementary kids are happy to have an excuse to spend some time with a stuffed animal — don’t leave them out of the fun.

     

    Stuffed Animals for Fluency Practice

    I’m always surprised that very “grown up” third graders are happy to read aloud to a stuffed animal buddy or two. For the lower grades, this can make for an easy reading center — you just need a basket of small stuffed animals and the students’ book boxes or baggies. Kids are not self-conscious about stumbling over words when reading to a stuffed friend, and for speed-demon page-flippers, reading aloud is a good strategy to slow them down to a comprehension-friendly pace.

    I wasn’t one hundred percent clear about what “fluency” meant in regards to reading until I read this amazingly specific blog post by Andrea Spillett. Check out her oldie-but-goodie post, "Reading Fluency: Speed, Accuracy, Expression, Oh My!"

     

    Stuffed Animals as Book Hooks

    I’m always searching for ways to “hook” kids to try a new book. Stuffed animals catch students’ eyes even more than interesting book covers (just look at the displays at big box book stores for confirmation!) So I sometimes tuck a stuffed animal in as the “Guardian” of a book basket or shelf. My students know the stuffed animals must live there unless you are reading a book from that basket. Nothing draws children over to a book basket quite like a cute stuffed animal peeking out. (Extra points for thematic matches between the stuffed animal and the books, but it’s really not necessary.)

     

     

    Stuffed Animals as Strategy Mascots

    Do a quick Google search of “Reading Strategy Beanie Babies” for tons of ideas and printables connecting early reading strategies with matching characters. (For example, Stretch the snake reminds students to stretch out the sounds in a word; Chunky Monkey reminds students to chunk the syllables in a word.) In my classroom, I use stuffed characters for social emotional support and to celebrate character strengths.

    For example, students can grab little Sheepish like a hall pass and go on a quick cool-down walk if emotions flare too high. My favorite is Percy, our Perseverance Pig. I occasionally pop him onto a table when I notice students “staying in the struggle” (one of my favorite teaching catchphrases).

    Afterwards, I invite those students to narrate for the class why Percy visited them: What was their struggle? How did it feel to struggle so long and hard at something? Did they need to take a break and come back to the problem, ask for help, or use any other struggle-strategies? How did it feel when they accomplished their goal after so much struggling? Grit the Mouse (above) celebrates when students attempt "stretch" books: tackling books that interest them but that are well above their reading level. 

     

    Stuffed Animals as Word Tracking Guides

    There are all sorts of tools to help early readers track the words on a page, and a pointer finger works quite well. But I found that for some beginning readers, a finger puppet stuffed animal is a helpful, friendly reminder to tap each word. Anything that seduces a nervous new reader is a good thing in my book!

     

    Stuffed Animals as Editors

    Similar to reading aloud to practice reading fluency, I am always trying to get my students to read their writing aloud to themselves and to really listen to hear syntactical errors. Third graders often leave out words or whole phrases and don’t realize it. Even when they silently re-read their writing, they just “imagine” that the word is there. Reading aloud is often the only solution to help them hear their mistakes. Reading writing aloud to a partner is the best option, but a stuffed animal is a fun choice for solo-editing sessions.

    Punctuation Penguin silently reminds students to check for periods and other punctuation. The year I taught first grade, this little guy was a class celebrity!

     

     

    Stuffed Animals to Practice Adding Voice, Dialogue, and Other Perspectives

    A fun writing activity to help students explore voice is to assign kids stuffed animal characters and ask them to write a description or scene in the voice of that character. I’ve also had students use a pair of puppets or stuffed animals to debate a controversial issue as a pre-writing activity for opinion writing. They love performing their stuffed animal debates for the class, and it really forces them to consider both sides of an issue, helping them strengthen their counter-argument paragraphs for persuasive essays.

     

    Sure, stuffed animals are cutesy and not going to revolutionize reading instruction. But anything that helps young readers and writers joyfully embrace their roles is worth exploring. Do you use stuffed animals with your students? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

    For updates on my upcoming blog posts, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

    One year ago: "New Anchor Charts for a New Year!"

    Two years ago: "Mystery Bags to Develop Observation and Inference Skills"

    Three years ago: "Welcoming a Class Pet, a Living Mascot"

    Four years ago: "Recharging Independent Reading – New Routines for a New Year"

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