When I think about my students as learners, I want them to be more than just good spellers. I think that this year, many of my daily word study lessons will focus on grammar and mechanics. The challenge for me is fitting grammar and mechanics into my fifteen-minute word study block. What better way to do this than to look at how authors put words together in their writing? After all, grammar and mechanics are all about how words work together.
In order for students to talk about words in sophisticated ways, having language to use as they study language is important. Just as literary terms help students talk about texts when they refer to characters or settings, grammatical terms can help children think in more sophisticated ways about their literacy. I have found that content-specific vocabulary often helps students think and talk about content with more depth. But teaching these terms in isolation has never really helped my students as readers and writers.
I have always been hesitant to use children's books that actually teach concepts about parts of speech. Yet I have found a handful that will help me begin conversations about words and grammar with my upper elementary students this year. I don't see myself doing any activities with these books. Instead, I am hoping they provide a good way to add some technical and literary vocabulary to our conversations about words, mechanics, and grammar as they relate to reading and writing.
I hope that by adding the grammar and mechanics piece to our writing workshop and word study, my students will begin to think about word study as more than isolated words. My goal is to help students pay attention to how words work together as we talk about parts of speech or similes. This feels more natural than anything I've done in the past to teach grammar and mechanics.
Books for Word Study
The following books can help children see the ways that the same word can be used in different ways:
A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon
Authors use words in unique ways. This book has fun with the word pocket, and can begin many conversations about how to use words in new ways.
Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky
In this poetry anthology, Jack Prelutsky has written poems that combine two common items in a way that redefines the way we understand them. The technique is a clever way to think about words and their meanings.
Misery is a Smell In Your Backpack by Harriet Ziefert and Jennifer Rap
I have been looking for books that define a word in multiple ways. Each page of this book explains misery in a different way. Other books that do this in similar ways are Courage by Bernard Waber and Serendipity by Tobi Tobias.
Introducing Grammar and Literary Terms
The following books will introduce students to the specific language we use to talk about words and sentences:
Did You Say Pears? by Arlene Alda
Homographs and homophones are the topic of this picture book. Photographs show the differences between nails and fingernails. Each two-page spread illustrates the difference between two words that sound the same and are sometimes spelled the same.
Beach is to Fun: A Book of Relationships by Pat Brisson
This is a book of analogies — a great picture book to introduce this concept to children.
Dogku by Andrew Clements
This is a story told in several Haiku poems. A Haiku on each page follows the story of a puppy as he finds a new home. This is a unique way to introduce Haiku poetry as well as syllables.
My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks and Other Funny Family Portraits by Hanoch Piven
This book uses similes to help describe and create portraits of people. The pictures are great fun, and the author adds some words at the end as he invites readers to try their own similes.
Add It, Dip It, Fix It: A Book of Verbs by R.M. Schneider
This is a simple picture book using the word it as the noun in a very simple sentence on each page. The illustrations are engaging and the verbs are obvious. This can serve as a great conversation starter for exploring the concept of verbs.
What Do You Call A Rhyming Riddle? A Hinky Pinky by 5th Grade Students at St. Joseph Montessori School
Hinky Pinkys are rhyming riddles with two syllable answers. Hink Pinks are rhyming riddles with one syllable answers. This is a humorous book to help students learn about syllables as well as word meanings.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference and The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes by Lynne Truss
These books show readers how the incorrect use of punctuation can completely change the meaning of a sentence. The illustrations make these fun books to introduce the power of punctuation.