Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the very hungry caterpillar = a very eager reader

I've mentioned that I'm tutoring Julia, a six-year-old who's struggling with reading in English, and that I love using drama as a teaching tool, so I thought I'd share an example of an activity that could be done with kids learning either their first or second language!

You probably know the classic picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, about a ravenous little guy who eats his way through leaves, fruits, sausages, and ice cream cones before building a cocoon around himself and later emerging as a butterfly. I made color copies of the leaf, the butterfly, the sun, the cocoon, and many of the foods he ate, backed the pictures with cardboard, and glued them to plastic knives (since we didn't have any popsicle sticks).

Then I made a caterpillar with loopy brown chenille yarn and brown pipe cleaners and glued it to cardboard(appropriately enough; did you know that the French word "chenille" means, in fact, "caterpillar"?).

After Julia and I had read the book together several times (it was too hard for her to read straight through by herself), we decided who would hold which puppets, where we'd move them when, and which words/lines each of us would read (with our reading some of them together as well). We then performed our caterpillar play for the people hanging around the children's section of the public library, which even has a little puppet theatre for the kids to use! (But this sort of thing can also happen from behind a couch or a counter or in a large appliance-sized box with a square cut out for the performance space.)

As a follow-up, I made a little book called "The Very Hungry Julia" with lines inspired by the caterpillar book: "On Monday, Julia ate ________. On Tuesday, Julia ate ________." And so forth, concluding with "And then Julia turned into a _______." Her "homework" was to fill in one page each day with a description of what she ate and draw a picture.

While this one activity didn't turn Julia into an amazing reader, it did help her slow down and use context (the pictures, the repetition of days of the week, predicting what the caterpillar would transform into) to figure out words she didn't recognize. Reading it a total of five times over two days helped reinforce the new words and built up her confidence. And being able to perform it for her dad and other people made her feel important and capable and creative.

Now that I've got these colorful paper puppets, I'm planning on using them and the Caterpillar book with the four- and six-year-olds I tutor in French. I'll teach them the key vocab for new words like "caterpillar" and "cocoon," read the French translation with them, encourage them to interact with the text by asking questions all along, and then we'll perform the puppet show with me as the narrator, one of them as the caterpillar, and one of them as the foods the caterpillar eats. While they don't know enough French to tell the story themselves (even if we change it to the present tense), they'll be able to follow along with the puppets and chime in on words like "butterfly" and "ice cream."

I hope to find or create more interactive book-related activities to do with all my tutees! Any suggestions?


  1. Hi Sarah,
    that was a great idea! To make a storybook more visible and interactive for the kids.

    I've been very inspired and encouraged by your blog. We live in France and have a 5mth old baby girl. Seeing english is spoken at home, I was unsure of how Isabelle would react when I put her in the garderie at the end of the year. So now, I'm in the process of hiring a french babysitter 2 afternoons a week and hope that we get as spectacular a result as you've been getting with your darling nephew.

    Thanks for all your information and tireless updates!


  2. Dear Ivana,
    Thank you so much for your kind words--reading your comments really brightened my day. I'm glad you find my blog helpful! Would you be willing to write a profile of your family? You could let us know what effect a twice-a-week babysitter has on Isabelle's language development. If so, please contact me at babybilingual (at) gmail (dot) com!

  3. Hey you!
    Sarah Sarah can we just call you the kid genius!? Getting children to read about caterpillars at such a young age makes them educated about the environment and sooner or later hey you never know, they might grow up and end up helping the environment!


  4. Here's a post about using this story with a classroom of kids learning ESL: http://esldramagames.com/2009/03/23/using-esl-drama-with-the-very-hungry-caterpillar/