Doing lots of activities, reading, writing, research, etc. on topics children are very interested in, is a great way to encourage them in learning their literacy skills! Even children who really struggle with their literacy skills become very motivated if the lessons focus on a high-interest topic.
As an example, one of my students loved bugs and other “buggy” critters! We spent a dozen lessons or so on bug-related activities, and her skills improved dramatically. Below are examples of some of the things we did for this “bug theme.”
This is part one, and covers: Reading; Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling; Reading Comprehension; Poetry; Listening and Following Directions; and Handwriting. Part two covers: Math; Science; Social Studies; Research; Arts and Crafts; Music; and Reading and Movies/Videos.
I gave J 3 blank bookmarks and bug stickers for her to decorate the bookmarks and use in the bug books she borrows. Your child could also draw his own bugs or you could find bug outline pictures online or in colouring books for your child to colour and glue to the bookmarks.
We read the book, “Bug in a Rug.” I had her take it home prior to the lesson to read it at home with mom; mom read the main part of each sentence, and J read the “ug” words. That’s a great way to introduce a book like this. At the lesson, I slowly read each page (1 or 2 short sentences) aloud to J, encouraging her to read aloud the words she knows. Then we re-read the page together with J trying all the words.
We did the same with the book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” J really like this book with its beautiful illustrations! At the end of the book is a “Bug O Meter” chart which lists a variety of bugs, and indicates if they sting, where they live, etc. J really enjoyed exploring the chart together, and then by herself again at home.
I loaned J a copy of Highlights High Five (Jan 2012) that has an article/activity called “W” Worm School. The goal is to find all the hidden “W”s in the picture (and any words that start with w). I made her a photocopy so she could actually colour all the Ws she finds. We also looked through the rest of the magazine at the many poems, stories, activities, recipes, crafts and so on. Children’s magazines like this are a great way to encourage reluctant readers/writers to practice their skills and have fun doing it at the same time.
Does your child enjoy riddles and jokes? There are lots of riddle and joke books that contain, among other things, bug-related jokes and riddles. Why not go to the library, pick up a few books, and search them (your child can search alone, or you can search together) for jokes and riddles your child really likes. Have him copy his favourites and illustrate them to make his own bug joke and riddle book. If he can come up with some jokes and riddles of his own, all the better!
Phonics, Sight Words, Spelling
Squish Sight Word game: a set of cards with different bugs and sight words. Cards are face down in a pile; take turns picking a card and reading the sight word; if you get it right you can keep it, but if you get it wrong you have to give it to the other player. If you get a “squish” card (place 3 or 4 in the deck), you have to give one of your cards to the other player, too. The winner is the one with most cards at the end.
You can easily make up all kinds of card games like this for phonics, sight words, math, etc. If you don’t want to draw sketches of bugs (or cut the cards into bug shapes), you can pick up a “sticker book” of bug stickers from the dollar store, and your child will love making her own cards. Have her put a sticker on one side of a card, and write a sight word or spelling word (does not have to be a bug word) on the other side.
I had J do some verb “be” exercises, in which she had to fill in the blanks in different sentences with the correct form of the verb “to be” (are, am, is, was, were). She had no trouble with this. I simply made up some sentences on a piece of paper, with “bug” themes, and had her complete the “to be” verb blanks. Then she had the option to draw (or use stickers or cut out pictures) to illustrate/decorate the sentences.
There are lots of free or low-cost worksheets available online or in old workbooks. An example is “Together We Stand”: Amusing sketches of different insects, based on the words that make up their compound names (for example, honey+b=honeybee, dragon with fly wings=dragonfly, a house with wings=housefly, etc.). J really enjoyed figuring out what bug each sketch represents, and writing the names of the bugs (all of which are compound words). A child could also invent her own riddles like this!
I gave J a worksheet called “Main Idea: Spiders and Insects.” I read the short article aloud to her, and she followed along with the reading. Then we read the questions underneath and she dictated answers, based on the article. I wrote the answers, and for homework she traced them, reading the answers aloud after tracing them. It seems that “bugs” is a very popular topic in workbooks and online worksheets. Be sure to check out thrift stores for partly used workbooks at very low cost; often the “used” pages are done in pencil and can be erased to use again for your child. The internet is also loaded with free worksheets. Just google “bug worksheets” and you’ll find dozens of them, covering practically every literacy skill imaginable! The same is true for many other popular topics such as dinosaurs, etc.
I read aloud a book, “Ready to Read: Bugs,” to J. At the end of the book there was a quiz, and J got all the answers right. I encouraged J to read the book to her siblings (with parent help as needed) and then ask them the questions at the end. “Teaching” younger siblings what a child has just learned is a great way to instill the new skills, and also provides self-confidence.
“Bee’s World” poem and worksheet: we read the poem. Then J answered a series of questions based on the poem. The questions required J to imagine herself as the bee and think about how she would see the flowers and garden (for example: Is a flower like a tower? Why?). Then she had to create some possible new lines for the poem, create some similes (for example: To a bee, every bush is as tall as a … building; tree; mountain). Finally, she had to pretend she’s a giant, and answer questions like “Would a tree be like a little flower? Why?” Children are very imaginative, and enjoy these kinds of exercises! While in this case I used a worksheet, children’s poetry books have lots of poems about “bugs” and you can read them together and do these kinds of activities. In fact, once a child has done this under your direction for a couple poems, she’ll like to make up exercises for you to do … and help you out when you get stuck!
Listening and Following Directions
I gave J a picture of some bugs, flowers, sun, grass, etc., and then orally gave her a series of directions (colour things certain colours, draw certain shapes around things, count things and write the number, etc.). She did very well, and liked this activity a lot! Old calendars often have great landscape pictures (including bugs) for this kind of activity.
The “Insect Express Activity Book” is full of fun erasable-marker activities like dot-to-dots, spot the differences, what bugs eat, insect match up, bug patterns, bug words manuscript writing practice, counting bugs, drawing bugs, writing a story, and searching for bugs out in your garden and then listing the ones she finds. For children who are having difficulty with fine motor coordination, this is a fun way to improve those kinds of skills. Other erasable books with buggy exercises are also available.
Now it’s Your Turn!
What other kinds of “buggy” learning activities can you think of? If you can’t come up with any, just ask your child–I’m sure he or she will have some great ideas. And of course, if “bugs” isn’t your child’s “thing,” find out what is and explore that!