Saturday, July 14, 2007

summer literacy volunteer teaching

My tutoring clients are taking all or part of the summer off, and I went on five different trips in May and June, missing many of my regular Thursdays with my nephew, so I haven't had as much to report about children learning foreign languages. But I have been doing some volunteer work at Lafayette's Sanchez Elementary School as part of a summer school enrichment program. Another volunteer and I are spending Wednesday mornings there doing creative writing and readers' theatre with third, fourth, and fifth graders; I'm also getting paid to oversee the Lafayette Public Library Reading Buddies program at the school with the first and second graders (where middle and high school students spend time reading, playing literacy-enhancing games, and doing group activities with the younger kids). (The library hired me for that after paying me to write a manual for the Big Buddies with guidelines and activities and suggestions of what to do with different types of readers--strong, weak, easily distracted, and so forth.) This work at the elementary school seems relevant enough for me to tell you about it here on this blog, even though it's not specifically about foreign language teaching. (On the other, lots of these kids are bilingual Spanish-English speakers.)

The elementary school students seem to adore interacting with the big kids--they read a book or two together, discuss it, and play something like Boggle Jr. or card games matching words to pictures or Chutes and Ladders (transformed into reading games by adding blends or word families to each square). When I walk around the room eavesdropping, I hear the big kids asking their Little Buddies questions about the story and their interests, kids getting excited about books, kids laughing or smiling while their faces light up. Very cool. My friend Estela Kennen, a regular commenter on this blog, is the coordinator of the Reading Buddies program, which now runs throughout the year and will take place at the library and two different local elementary schools (it was initially just a summer program at the library). She's done fantastic work!

The most successful creative writing activity so far was when we played with lemons. Every kid received his own lemon and had to spend time using his five senses to investigate the lemon (some of them took these directions very seriously and licked their lemons!). I even asked them to put the lemons up to their ears and listen to what the lemon wanted to whisper to them. Then they wrote five-line poems using the letters in "lemon" (written horizontally, one letter per line) to describe their lemons. Finally, they had a choice for the most open-ended writing activity: either write and perform a commercial for the lemon or write an autobiography of the lemon. (I had had trouble choosing which one to ask them to do, but then realized that it didn't really matter to me and that they might feel more empowered by deciding themselves which task to take on.) The results were charming, and it was fun for me. (Next time, though, I might use lemon drops, because then the children can actually eat what they're writing about!) I can't wait till my nephew is old enough to do some creative writing!

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