Create a “Model Town” to Teach Reading Skills

In my combined first and second grade classes, creating a town or a city provided the experiential learning and motivation for attaining the required reading skills. This began in January for the second half of the year. Each program was designed for children to participate at their own ability level. It was appropriate for gifted students, many of whom were in this class, and yet younger or less able students were able to participate with enthusiasm, while learning and progressing as well. There was a starting point for everyone but no limit or ceiling for achievement.

The study began with a field trip exploring the city of Syracuse, which was next to our town. Back in the classroom, after completing a list of Syracuse public buildings, city neighborhoods, parks, and ponds, children were ready to build their city.

After deciding upon a building, alone or with one or more partners, they searched through a collection of  boxes brought in, to design the structure of their building. A house was a ½ pint milk carton, and city buildings often started with a ½ gallon milk carton. If their choice was a house, a child had that alone, but if it was a city building, there could be two or three to one building. There wasn’t room for 25 buildings on the desktops that we used – a total of six desks, two sets of three forming an L-shape covered with linoleum. It was important for children to identify strongly with their buildings, so some important city buildings might not be there, such as a fire station, city hall, etc. They knew that their city was just one section of the whole city. There was always a downtown area, a residential neighborhood, and a park sometimes with a pond.

A request went home to parents asking all who could to come in and help create the buildings. This was not an art project. It was to create a realistic city, with lots of imagination at times, but an easily recognizable one. Each child or group of children knew what they wanted their building to look like but lacked the dexterity to finish it, cutting and covering the box structures. There were smaller boxes and oak tag for additions and fadeless colored papers in all colors to choose from. Parents were told that it was okay to make suggestions but the final decision was to be a child’s own. As each building was completed, it was placed on the desktops. Then streets were added, with stop signs, and a collection of bushes, trees, and flowers, etc. allowed all to landscape their lot.

Creating the program for each child, “ Facts and  Events About our City”, included choices from three lists – 1) city events, 2) types of writing and, 3) required reading skills. Each activity contained one city event, a type of writing, and one or more skills. The skills list was by far the longest, and all could not be incorporated in city activities that would finish by June. So, the first section of the program, was “Tools for Writing”, including some pages for instruction plus pages to be completed after a skill has been taught. For instance, teaching the page of Rules for Base Words might take many days, off and on, before the practice pages would be completed.

A child’s program contained three sections: Activity, Expectations, and Procedure. The Activity described what was occurring in the city with some explanation about the event, Expectations told what skills should be included, and the Procedure explained how to do it. Occasionally, when a new skill needed to be applied, following instruction there was a page to complete before beginning that event.

“Facts and Events About our City” might include different assignments. For instance, in alphabetizing the telephone directory, many children could manage a long list, but if that was too much for others, they could request or be offered to alphabetize a smaller amount. A young child with a house might just alphabetize the residential neighborhood and if paragraphs were expected, some would write many and others just one or two.

Each child received their program in an oak tag cover fastened together with three brass fasteners, ready to receive their second draft papers. The first two pages were blank and lined. Each child wrote Table of Contents at the top, ready to receive each new event upon completion. The first session was spent designing their covers along with Minicity, or whatever name had been voted upon, written at the top and their name at the bottom.

The first event was, “Who Lives in My Building?”

Their directions:

Who Lives in My Building?

Activity: Write a short report naming each person and pet that lives in your house/building. For each person, use a few      descriptive words telling about jobs or their ages. For instance:  Robert Grainer, the father, is a professor. Nicky, our dog, is the most active one in our family; or Maxi, the  daughter, is ten-years-old.

Expectations: Your sentence about each person will use commas of apposition.   (see page 12)

Procedure: 1)  Write a first draft.    2)  Revise.    3) Write your second draft.

Some children learned all individually, two children of equal ability might work together, others had adult help, and perhaps a few were assisted by an adult who explained each step while the child filled in the answers or one might dictate their piece. But all children participated with as much as they were capable of. Many children mastered the curriculum, while those who hadn’t reached that level were on a path towards the goal, while being exposed to all. And it didn’t matter that much was repeated from the previous year. The events were in a different place, a town one year and a city the next, and children were a year older. From their previous exposure the year before, their learning progressed with new ideas and more advanced ability.

All were engaged in discussion while continually exposed to various points of view – more opportunities for overcoming egocentrism. Children wrote the assigned writing independently, sometimes with a partner, assisted by an adult when needed, or with a few dictating their first drafts; however, all second drafts contained each child’s own ideas, and second drafts were kept in her own booklet. Finally when all was completed, on one afternoon each child read hers to the class.

Read about the complete procedure and program of Kiddiecity  in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where the programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved