Of pails, crowns and brown paper

As I explained in my post about the fables wiki post, Term Four for our Early Stage One and Stage One students concentrates on fables. Now that we’ve started a new year, the school-based (three year, cyclic) literacy program devotes Term One to an exploration of nursery rhymes, Term Two to fairy stories, Term Three to Dreaming stories – and back to fables again in Term Four.

On Fridays, I take eight Early Stage One and Stage One intensive language class students for an additional lesson, to help prepare them for their immersion into English lessons the next week. These students perform best in English when they have had lots of exposure to the field knowledge of the topic being studied. For the nursery rhymes unit, I like to emphasise the repetitiveness of rhyming words, the relative ease of memorising nursery rhymes, the historical context (as often reflected by the illustrations in children’s picture book collections of nursery rhymes), and really explore the often archaic vocabulary.

Last year, these language students were integrated into several different English classes, and it was important that they entered Monday’s lessons full of confidence about the topic of each nursery rhyme (a different one each fortnight). This year, they come to the library on a Thursday (for their team-taught lesson) accompanied by junior students from our hearing support class. It will be interesting to see how these students work as a cohesive group in the upcoming week.

Last Friday, we examined Jack and Jill, which they’d already learned by heart with their class teacher – so I brought out the book we used last year, which has bery old-fashioned artwork to illustrate the nursery rhymes. I had the students predicting what they would see in the pictures, and they did extremely well: “a boy; a girl; some water (in a well? – What’s a well? Will it be made of bricks, stones, wood, etc.); a bucket; a boy getting a bandage put on him…”

We also discussed why they were called “nursery” rhymes, and then the meaning of the word “rhyme” in its context. Who are nursery rhymes told to? What’s a nursery? What’s a ryhme? Why weren’t they written down at first? Who do we tell nursery ryhmes to? I was thrilled that the Stage One students were remembering details from a similar set of lessons this time last year!
We said the rhyme together. Where was the bucket? It wasn’t mentioned in the nursery rhyme. Or was it? (It took another recitation before someone realised the bucket must be the pail.)

Then I asked some questions: will we see the city or the country (harking back to last year’s The town mouse and the country mouse fable); will there be a rabbit in the picture (there was!); will we see a mother/cow/shark/bottle of vinegar (what’s vinegar?), etc.; a cat?; a crown? (What will the crown look like…?); and so on. There is always a major emphasise on opportunities for the students to use repetitive oral language, in ways I had modelled, as they answered these questions.

Next, I revealed the pictures and we ticked off our predictions. The students were getting very excited that they had predicted so well. (Again: “Where was the crown?” – I even demonstrated finding it on a real boy called Jack!)

Next, we did a dramatisation of the nursery rhyme: miming the exhausting climbing of the steep hill; fetching the water; “Jack” rolling down the hill (the illustration had the bucket upturning onto Jack’s head, to great hilarity; “Jack” hurting the crown of his head; “Jill” tumbling after him; “trotting” home for medical attention; “Jack” crying out as vinegar was splashed on his head, etc. I also had a chance to tell an anecdote about my paternal grandfather, who always used to maintain that the best cure for injuries like Jack’s was a Depression-era poultice of Friar’s Balsam and brown paper!

Sometimes I look at these five- and six-year old students and worry that I’m aiming too high, but they thrive on it! Their eyes grow wider and wider as we act out the words, not overlooking any of the quirky, now-anachronistic, terms. Their reactions as “Jack” suffered loudly his indignities with the vinegar soon had them telling their own anecdotes of various medical treatments for their cuts and scratches over the years.

The dramatisation of the (rather abstract, to them) concepts in Jack and Jill have definitely became more real, and I know that they will surprise their class teacher on Monday with their newly-acquired field knowledge, and renewed confidence, in saying – and performing – the rhyme.

Update (25 Feb): Success! Now check out Stage 1’s Nursery rhyme wiki page! First Stage 1 class for the week suggested rhyming pairs for flashcards, which were typed onto an online matrix on our wiki page to create their own nursery rhyme parodies.