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April 28, 2014 Harnessing the Magic of the Word Bubble By Brian Smith
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Bubbles. Just that word can make you smile. It’s fun to say no matter what kind of bubbles you picture, chances are it’s related to something fun. There are bubble baths, blowing bubbles on a spring evening and then watching as a child tries to catch them, and of course those tiny bubbles that Don Ho sang about. My daughter Ella just had her braces removed, so her favorite bubble is, once again, bubble gum. My favorite bubbles right now are word bubbles.

    My class has recently discovered word bubbles and it has increased their interest in writing exponentially. At the beginning of the year, when Mo Willems is my Author of the Month, I always introduce word bubbles using his Pigeon books, the Knuffle Bunny trilogy, and the Elephant and Piggie books. I talk about voice, making sure that I use different voices for the different characters so that my kids have a very clear idea of who is speaking. This, however, is exactly where my word bubble instruction ended in years past. Now I see the great opportunity that I missed.

    Hiding PhilOne of my more recent Scholastic Reading Club purchases included Hiding Phil by Eric Barclay. Honestly, I ordered the book because of the fun-looking cover. I wasn’t familiar with the author (although I had recently fallen in love with another one of his books, I Can See Just Fine), but at such a great price, I figured I’d give it a try.

    Boy, am I glad I did. The class was gathered around as I opened the Scholastic Book Box (this always causes classroom excitement). As I flipped through the pages of Hiding Phil, I knew that I had to immediately read it to them because it was so cute. Towards the end of the book I casually pointed to one of the word bubbles over a character’s head and said, “Let’s find out what the parent is saying about all this.” And something clicked. The room became brighter because of that proverbial light bulb teachers are always talking about! One student said, “Are word bubbles how they talk in the Elephant and Piggie books?” That was it. That one simple connection made a difference for the whole class.

    Center JournalWord bubbles are all the rage and my kids are writing up a storm in their poetry journals, in their center journals, in letters, in "diaries" (really just a sheet of paper they are writing on, but taken VERY seriously), and in their memoirs (part of our Word Work week). Typically, word bubbles accompany a picture, but what I have found with my early writers is that they enjoy putting the word bubble around any of their writing. Use these word bubble sheets fun writing activities to get those pencils moving.

    If you have younger students the books I’ve already mentioned, Swim! Swim! by Lerch, the Dairy of a... series by Doreen Cronin, and of course the Ordinary People Change the World series are great books to introduce word bubbles.  

    Grant readingFor older students there is a plethora of books that use word bubbles. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, and the Lunch Lady adventures by Jarrett J. Krosoczka would be a go-to source.

    One of my new favorites is Flora and Ulysses written by Kate DiCamillo and wonderfully illustrated by K. G. Campbell. The main character, Flora, actually talks about seeing people’s words float above them. I read it over spring break after hearing so many fellow teachers rave about, and now I know that it is well deserving of all the hype. It is a great book to read aloud to a class, and espeically wonderful if you love vocabulary. Plus, if you introduce your class to this author there are so many other great books of hers that that they can discover, such as the classic Because of Winn Dixie, the great Tiger Rising, and the award-winning The Tale of Despereaux.

    So many students are reluctant writers but allowing them to write in word bubbles is a great way to get them excited about writing. There are so many assignments that can be modified to include bubbles. Some ideas to use as a jumping off point are:

    • In science, have the student describe a scientific concept from a first-person perspective. If you are studying weather, they can share their knowledge as if they were the cloud.

    • In social studies, students have historical figures discuss reasons behind their history-making decisions.

    • If you have a video that goes along with your curriculum, have your students' formal assessment be to complete a word bubble (and illustration) that relays the central message or a few important details of the video they just watched.

    Connor's Center JournalOf course, all of these things will appear like a distant cousin to the comic strip. The thing is, if you have reluctant writers then you use what works and work from there. We have to meet our students where they are if we want them to follow us to where they need to be.

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    I can’t wait to see you next week, or as Flora (from Flora and Ulysses) would say “I promise to always turn back to you.” It really is a must-read.


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Susan Cheyney