Introducing young students to expressive language and poetry can be tricky. Students can usually identify with silly limericks and rhymes, but creating them on their own is difficult. They often shy away from unrhymed poems and have a hard time understanding flowery language. Leo Lionni’s Frederick is the perfect book for introducing younger readers to the power of words and simple, but serious, poetry.
As we finished a unit on the change in the seasons, I pulled Frederick from the class library. Students listened intently to the read-aloud, many thinking Frederick was a lazy mouse that would be left with nothing to eat come winter as he was frittering away his summer. They soon realized that Frederick had gathered words and memories to share with other mice and lift their spirits, which led to a discussion on whether Frederick was a productive member of his mouse group or not. One student even made the connection to the work of artists in our society.
Students next helped to select vocabulary they found important or unusual in the story. They wrote a sentence using each word to show that they understood the meaning.
One of our favorite vocabulary activities is making a paper slide show. Each slide contains the vocabulary word, a sentence using the word, and a picture to illustrate the meaning. Students have a how-to video to reference while they complete their shows. Occasionally students use EduCreations to digitize their creations.
Students first made torn paper mice from gray and off-white paper. We followed the suggestions in the back of the book to create mice, but several templates exist online to make the process easier. Once the mice were done, students were challenged to give their mice a personality. Some students chose to give their mice clothes and professions, while others decorated the background to be a scene. They each wrote a short paragraph telling about their mouse.
We re-read Frederick’s poem and talked about the various kinds of poetry that exist. Students were familiar with rhymes and acrostic poems already. I guided them to make a color poem, tying the topic back to the colors Frederick paints for the field mice with his words. After the poems were done, we edited them to add more interesting language and make meanings more clear. Finally, the typed poems were hung next to our Frederick display in the hallway; adding color to the winter just like Frederick in the book.
After reading, we looked at the other Leo Lionni books in our library. Students were excited to see other mice selections, and some old favorites like Swimmy. Throughout the week I saw them reading and trading books by the author. I made a mini-book study page so students could record what they found from other books in our class library.
One story and simple art project turned into a class excited to explore the over 40 books by a celebrated children’s author. They easily penned poems after the main character showed them how simple it could be, and built vocabulary knowledge with activities they designed themselves. Students loved Frederick and are begging me to take their mice off the wall so they can show off their work at home.
What authors inspire your students to read and write more?