Lessons work in terms that children can identify

February 16, 2007|by LISA PREJEAN

My students and I recently were discussing the classroom scene in E.B. White's "Stuart Little." We read the chapter, closed our books and tried to remember the ideas proposed by Stuart's students as potential "classroom laws."

Stuart is a mouse, 2 inches high, who just happens into a substitute teaching job that day. He tosses out the arithmetic lesson, tells the students they should already know how to write, says he had never heard of such a thing as social studies and, for spelling, states that if they don't know how to spell something, they should open a dictionary.

So much for that teacher's lesson plans.

Stuart told the class he just wanted them to talk. They proposed topics, most of which he rejected. Then they began talking about rules they should have in their classroom. (This was mainly for Stuart's benefit because Stuart had proclaimed that he wanted to be King of the World. He later revised his title to Chairman of the World after being persuaded that kings are old-fashioned.)


First off, the class decided, meanness would not be allowed. That's a good rule, everyone agreed. It was also easy to remember.

My students couldn't initially recall the second classroom rule. Then one student asked if the rule had something to do with stealing.

"Oh, yes. It banned stealing, but what was the word the children used in the book? It wasn't steal," I said while looking expectantly across the room.

No hands went up.

I stood there thinking for a moment. I didn't want to come right out and give them the answer. That wouldn't help their vocabulary comprehension. How could I give them a clue that would help them think of the answer on their own?

Then I remembered a little saying from one of my daughter's old videos.

"Think 'Dora the Explorer,'" I said with a grin.

Hands went up all over the classroom.

"Swiper, no swiping!" giggled the student I selected.

Swiper is a quick, sneaky fox who is always swiping things Dora needs to accomplish her quests. "Dora the Explorer" is a show on Nick Jr. designed for preschoolers.

My students thought it was funny that I was familiar with the show.

One of them asked if I like "Dora." I just smiled. Little did they know that I've only heard snippets of the video as I walk through our family room.

It was a great example to help them remember an unfamiliar word because it was a flashback to their preschool days.

Sometimes all it takes is a snippet from a child's world to aid their comprehension. Understanding new concepts becomes easier when children can make a connection from something new to something they already know.

If we are to teach children well, we need to be willing to enter their world so they can be connected to ours.

This is especially true in reading class, so I try to keep tuned in to a child's world. Of course, it helps to have a child about the same age as the ones I'm teaching.

At times I revert back to my own childhood.

We were talking about the word "surrender" recently, and a "Wizard of Oz" image came to mind.

"Surrender, Dorothy!" I said in my best theatrical voice.

My students just stared at me as if I am the strangest teacher they've ever had. (There might be some truth to that.)

Then it dawned on me that most 8-year-olds probably haven't seen Judy Garland's wonderful portrayal of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." So, they haven't seen the wicked witch draw those words across the sky with her broom.

Next time I'll have to pick a phrase from "Happy Feet" or Barbie's "12 Dancing Princesses."

I'm sure the meaning will be as crystal clear as a heartsong performed in worn-out dancing shoes.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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