Using Basal Readers for a Literature Study

In my combined first and second grade there was a literature study for the first semester, using basal readers.. All second graders took part, and every year a few first graders were included who were beyond the beginning reading programs. People often asked why basal readers were used with the controlled vocabulary that eliminated the style of the author – and call it a literature study. Well, first of all, the fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poems in the basal series that were used were excellent.1 A few, such as poems, did not have a controlled vocabulary. But even those that did were well-written in an interesting manner. We talked about the style of the author in the afternoons when literature was read to them, sometimes comparing a current piece with a story in a basal reader. But the major reason might well be that keeping track of so many different books for a semester might not be manageable. Also, in those beginning years there wasn’t much money for new books, prohibiting the collection of multiple copies of various pieces of literature. The final reason, but not the least important, is that although many children could read various children’s literature comfortably, some could not, usually because of perceptual problems.

The program included questions that combined components of literature with cognitive processes. Children interacted orally with a peer and then a large group, sandwiched between reading and writing at their own ability level. My hope was that the knowledge gained transferred into each child’s own reading in selected books of interest.

1. Early, Margaret, Senior Author. 1979. “The World of Giants and  Monsters”, People and Places, 7-57. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (It has long been out of print but there are used book stores on the web that still carry the series.)

Learn  about using this literature study, in a class or how to design your own, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where this program and others, plus classroom activities, can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Reading Comprehension for Beginning Readers

After receiving three reading groups in my first year of teaching, I never used three groups again. The only ones with the most confidence were the top readers in the first group. Because in each group there were variations of ability all recognized by others.

I’m retired now but taught for many years. I developed a program where each child, in my combined first and second grades, had their own reading book and soon was able to choose which stories of interest to read. Good comprehension followed after also being exposed to understanding literature read to them and thinking about writing their own stories.

See my entry about this approach:

Young Children Creating Plays for a Study of Drama

I often wondered why children had special classes in art, music, and physical education – but never drama. Drama is valued as much in our society as the others. So, the best way to understand drama for young children is create and perform their own plays. So, every spring my combined first and second grade visited behind the scenes of a professional theatre and then returned to the classroom to simulate all that we saw. Our first job was to become playwrights. The plays were not meant to be polished performances – only allowing the best opportunities to learn and fully understand all aspects of drama.

Below the age of about eight or nine years old, children are too young to try out for parts. If so, each one is convinced that she will get the desired part, and if that doesn’t happen there is much puzzlement besides disappointment. Young egocentric children just cannot understand beyond their own viewpoint. Which in this case is, “I want that part so why isn’t it mine???” Then there is an aura around the one that got the part. When older, children need to accept that they can’t win everything desired, but then, although disappointed, at least they understand it – understand other viewpoints. But for young children it is not possible to accept something that is beyond their comprehension.

Therefore, each child decided upon a character s/he would like to be. This guaranteed that every child felt like a star. They were portraying exactly the character they wished to be and had to describe whether it was good or evil, what age s/he was to be, and any other characteristics desired.

The class was divided into three groups, each afternoon meeting with me for a week for about a half-an-hour. We would brainstorm and listen to many suggestions about the plot and how to include each character. Making up details was quite easy but getting a complicated enough plot required more effort, and often some help to create a theme. Sometimes the plot would develop easily, and other times I would go home after school completely baffled. Then the next day, back with the group, I would offer my suggestions and some from my husband. Often they would reject them! But perhaps it gave them an idea of the complexity needed because they would finally decide upon a good plot. As they participated in dictating, I read what had been accomplished the day before. I also showed them my notes, indicating the drafts needed before the final play was typed. And as we progressed, my suggestions for the theme were offered, some to be rejected and one to be accepted. So becoming playwrights involved mostly the children’s ideas but also mine; however, they had ownership of their story so the only suggestions of mine that were included were those that they approved of. Making up the three plays would take three weeks.

Following each week, I would take the story home and over the weekend rewrite it in a play form. The first time I did this with a class, as soon as the plays were passed out, some children began to count how many times they had speaking parts. So from then on, as I wrote the plays, I kept a tally so every child would have the same number of speaking parts, usually five. We always had a narrator who explained about the passage of time and any information that might have been an overload for the characters. Narrators had more to say than the actors and actresses, but it was accepted because instead of memorizing, they read their parts. The narrator was chosen from volunteers who wished to be one. The ones who didn’t get chosen still had the opportunity to choose a preferred character.

After the plays were written, reproduced, and sent home, children had a week to memorize their lines at home while we made scenery and costumes in school. Then one week for rehearsals and finally, the production. Our study of Drama took three weeks.

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A First Grade Story Book

In my combined first and second grade, for about two weeks in mid-fall, the first graders met with me daily to create a story book. So, while making the book they were learning together and exploring more about story content which hopefully would be an aid while writing their own stories. This book was kept secret from the second graders. They ignored or pretended to ignore what was happening. After all, each had created a book of his own the previous year.

Children voted for the characters, what their attributes were, and where it would take place. I also offered suggestions but mostly asked questions. Volunteers dictated the sentences for the introduction. This was usually composed quite easily.

The plot and theme were more difficult. Again I asked lots of questions and offered some suggestions. Certainly their ideas predominated, especially with the details. There was a time of rejection and acceptance until they agreed, with a good idea for a plot. It was rare in the fall that first graders could suggest the theme. Finally they would agree upon one from several I had offered.

Upon completing the conclusion different children were called upon to dictate sentences. Throughout the process, they were shown my notes and writing which were the first, second, third, etc. drafts until we had the whole thing dictated. Then a few children would offer some morals. Throughout all, the process and purpose of how to write a story was explained, and sometimes compared with professional authors.

After I typed the story, I would cut the pages into the number of sections that equaled the number of children, with each one pasted at the bottom of a blank page. Then each child was given a five by six inch piece of blank paper to make a picture with a black marker. (It was not a good idea for children to draw directly on a page because I’d hear, “Oops, I goofed.”) The picture was pasted above the typing with their name under it. The story title for the cover and the authors’ names were written on a cover and volunteers decorated it. After it was sent to the district printing department, it was returned with two copies for each first grader and one copy for every second grader with extras for the Book Center.

Finally the afternoon arrived when the books were passed out, and after practicing with each other, the proud first graders read the story to the second graders. Second graders were a great audience and contributed fine comments and asked good questions.

Read more about early reading and writing programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Three Different Story Plots for Young Children

In my combined first and second grade, children really enjoyed learning about three different story plots: A  progressive plot as found in “The House That Jack Built” keeps building up step by step throughout the story until the climax begins to resolve before the ending. Episodic plots are chapter books, and parallel plots such as the two plots proceeding side by side as in Blueberries for Sal. Children learned this very easily and liked to identify it in literature read to them or in stories they read themselves. And sometimes a child would use the progressive plot or the parallel plot in a story she was writing.

Learn more about the programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where described programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Literature Study for an Early Childhood Class

A study of literature allows opportunities for children to further enjoy reading on their own – hopefully a lifetime pursuit. The more a child thinks, feels, and understands his reading, the more enjoyment he attains.

For the first year in my combined first and second grade, only top second grade students were involved – which was a mistake. All children, I soon found out, could benefit. From then on the Literature Group, meeting for one semester, included all second graders and a few first graders who were reading and beyond the beginning program. Most of the second graders were very capable, but a few had varying degrees of learning disabilities.

The intent of the program was to allow children opportunities to develop an appreciation and understanding of literature through an integrated language arts curriculum, utilizing various modes of thinking. Offering a collection of literature by itself is not enough. Children’s concepts are constantly being added to, modified, or revised. In addition to being exposed to literature, children also need a variety of thinking strategies. Children were involved with questions that fused components of literature with various cognitive processes. For instance, one question might be, “Name one thing about (character) that is not real. What other characters are there in stories that are like this?” So, these questions involve understanding and analyzing the qualities of the character.

After children had read a selection, they discussed the answers to questions with a partner. Answers were then shared with the whole group, including my thoughts. Answers were written to some of the questions by making a first and second draft plus occasionally engaging in a non-verbal activity such as art. Each child kept her writing in a booklet. All children contributed to discussions. During the reading and writing phase, many children worked independently, some with help in reading while a few would dictate their ideas for writing and receive help in writing their second drafts. But all would create answers to questions with their own ideas. While children were reading, discussing, writing, or artistically involved, they were sharing and creating experiences at their own comprehension level.

Learn more about the literature program and how to design your own program combining components of literature with cognitive processes in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Study of Maps for First and Second Grade

“As I draw something on the blackboard, try to guess what it is, and if you know, raise your hand – but be sure to keep it a secret,” my combined first and second grade were was told. As I drew the map of the room, keeping it secret kept children intent upon the goal without spoiling it for others while deciding for themselves. When I finished, and the correct answer was given, as they sat on the rug watching where I put an X, they were to raise their hands if they could go to that spot in the room. There was a huge variation – some that accomplished it with ease to those who were near but not quite there to those who went to the wrong place. Map study is very difficult for many young children incapable of transferring symbols to concrete surroundings.

So for the next activity a map of the school was given to a pair of children, hopefully of equal ability. The map had major areas such as the art and music rooms, the cafeteria, etc. identified, but all classrooms except ours was left blank. Each map for a pair of children had 4 X’s marked on different classrooms in the building. Each pair was to go to the X classrooms, look at the numbers on the doors, discuss it, and then record the numbers of the doors on their map. (They were to try very hard not to disturb any classes and to be as quiet as possible.) Again, there were variations with only a few having no difficulty, some identifying two out of the four, and some unable to find any. And this was a map of a building that they used daily.

So, why are young children expected to understand maps of a town, city, state, nation – and the world??? They can’t. Well, a few may be able to understand very local maps of our class, school, and maps of Kiddiecity and Miniville, built in our classroom, but very few. Children certainly can learn to give the correct answers, but most without any adequate concept.

A more experienced teacher told me about her explanation to develop an understanding of larger areas, such as towns, states, and the USA. And that was to draw three concentric circles on the board. In the middle was Fayetteville, the town we lived in; the middle circle was New York State; and the outer circle the United States. Preceding this, we used the same circles as we thought about each having a bedroom, in a house, in a neighborhood, in Fayetteville and then in our classroom, in our school, in our town.

Since I was unconvinced that they were old enough, lost enough egocentricity, to fully understand the concepts, I decided one year to do an experiment. Throughout the year, I showed them books, newspaper pictures, and maps of cities and states explaining the similarities and differences. My plan at the end of the year was to give each child two pieces of paper and ask them to create any kind of a city map on one piece and a state map on the other. Each one would not have to duplicate a real one. It could be imaginary. Well, we ran out of time with finishing the end of the year projects. I told the class about my plan that we couldn’t do, because the end of school was so close. I asked them if each received two pieces of paper, could they draw a city map on one and a state map on the other. Without exception, they nodded their heads in agreement and saying of course they could do it easily. So I asked what would be the difference in the city map and the state map. Expecting inaccuracies, I was still surprised at their answers, as they related things like, “There would be more grass, butterflies, birds and dirt in the city than the state.” etc. As each answer was given, heads nodded in agreement. They had no idea concerning the relationship of one to the other, except for one child. And, I had many very bright children. Only one girl looked puzzled as each gave their answer. When I questioned her, she did indeed have a correct concept of the differences. She was only in our school for three years before returning to Europe. She had flown back and forth three times. So she saw the differences from the airplane.

There’s nothing wrong to introduce young children to simple maps of their classroom, school and town and then of our country and the world, but it is wrong to believe that correct answers indicate accurate concepts.  Children may understand how small a map of our classroom and school is compared to the real thing and know that a map or globe of our world is very small in comparison, but their responses may be purely verbal without a good concept. Young children are able to put a United States puzzle together correctly, but it isn’t any different than putting a picture puzzle together. They may only have known or learned what shapes go beside another, not what a vast expanse of land it is compared to their town or school or home.

Learn more about programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Fairy Tales for Young Children

Children seemed captivated with fairy tales read to them in my combined first and second grade classes. Perhaps this great interest was because the plots begin and move along quickly with simple but well-defined characters. Most begin with a problem which is solved by the end, quite often involving magic. Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects is contained in the happy endings, even in different versions of the same story. No matter how difficult the problems are, they are solved. One might argue that life’s problems do not always have happy endings, that it is not a realistic view. However, how many successful solutions can be achieved without the belief that it’s possible?

There are sometimes debates about the suitability of fairy tales for young minds because of the violence. However, the violence in fairy tales provides an acceptable outlet, and it is never rewarded or in any way viewed as acceptable. And children can readily identify with the good characters.

Fairy tales are also a good beginning for understanding more complex symbolism in literature later on. Most often each character, whether good or evil, is entirely pure throughout, never displaying any other trait. Contrasts are most apt to be clearly portrayed, such as good vs. evil and rich vs. poor. A large bulletin board displayed fairy tale book covers with the following words: characters, good vs. evil, powerful, greed, brave, beauty, jealousy, obedient, violence, magic, problem solving, kindness, pride, trustworthy, rich vs. poor, and Does it teach a lesson? The bulletin board served as a reminder, for both children and teacher, of what traits might be applied to the fairy tale just read. It was explained that those words were not often, or ever, used in the story, and children were then asked what parts of the story enabled them to identify each character’s personality. Children became quite proficient at identifying the various qualities. And all of their understanding, of course, was an aid for their own personal story writing.

Read about reading and writing programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Reading Comprehension for Young Readers

Reading specialists believe that reading for comprehension is the most important goal of reading and naturally I do too – but not at first. In my combined first and second grade, there was no stress upon comprehension while the beginners were learning how to read, not even in their own reading book. A child’s first book was a basal reader of interest to the child – one that she would want to understand. At first, each beginner was with an adult or child partner. Then later on, when they were capable enough, children read only stories or articles of interest and skipped others. These beginners were learning how to read – with or without phonics – relying upon their strengths.

If children were using basal readers and concentrating on breaking-the-code in their own way, how would they acquire good comprehension? Well, simultaneously while they were learning how to read, during the afternoons when stories were read to the class various types of comprehension were explored – about characterization, the style of the author, the setting, moods and feelings, the plot, the theme, etc. Also, they were writing constantly with a big emphasis upon stories. They each were thinking about introducing their characters and developing the plot with a good conclusion. I believe that’s where much of their comprehension developed, during discussions of stories read to them and through their own  writing, perhaps before they could understand all that they’d read themselves. Some understood what they’d read while they were very busy decoding, but others did not.

One time at a conference, the presenter put up a paragraph and covered up the top half of the words which we were to decode. My friend and I were so absorbed trying to decipher the words and soon thrilled that we were able to. Then the presenter put up another paragraph and covered up the bottom half of the words. This was really difficult. I don’t remember now if we were just able to do some of it or if we accomplished the whole thing with much struggle, but it suddenly occurred to me when it was over that I had no idea what I had just read. What it was about.

That’s exactly what I think happens when these beginners had their own book, and they wanted to read so much that they strived, willingly and enthusiastically, to decode. And as their decoding became easier, they proceeded from pure decoding to the inclusion of good comprehension – indicated by the high comprehension scores in standardized tests. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

Read more about beginning reading and the various reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Opportunities for Overcoming Egocentrism in Young Children

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both socially and intellectually. For children to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way they do – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. It is important for young children to have many opportunities for overcoming egocentrism.

During social conflicts there are opportunities to point out the other side of a situation, trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. If an egocentric child disagrees with another child, she cannot understand that there’s a different idea from her own. She fully believes that everyone understands things and sees things exactly the way she does.

Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly. If a child has enough experiences of other viewpoints, the usual time to overcome egocentricity is about age seven. (By the way – how many adults do you know who have no idea that there are other viewpoints? Shocking, isn’t it? We must help children to overcome all this so they won’t still be egocentric as adults. Those adults cause too many problems in our lives.)

Overcoming egocentrism is important for successful achievement throughout a child’s school experience. Success in math requires a good mental image of numbers of objects in many different configurations including the various shapes, sizes, and dimensions of these objects. Building with blocks or Cuisenaire rods and manipulating numerous objects in the math center provide good experiences for overcoming egocentricity – seeing all sides of and configurations of their creations. The same observations can be made with art projects when a child is constructing with paper or boxes, or working with clay, or making mobiles. A child is looking at all sides and angles – offering the ability to see all aspects. When an egocentric child looks at one side of a structure, she is unable to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions help children overcome their concentration of static situations. These experiences in turn, will allow a child to attain solid abstract math concepts.

In order for children to recognize other viewpoints and gain facility in reading and writing critically, they need experiences with appropriate questions, opportunities for debate, and brainstorming sessions. After enough exposure, hopefully they would be on the way to overcoming egocentricity – to acknowledge and understand others’ viewpoints. And when children write about their life experiences from their own perspective, it doesn’t provide opportunities to relinquish egocentrism. When writing a story, however, a child must think about his appeal to an audience and identify with his characters in the story.  Seeking other viewpoints. And without overcoming their egocentricity, children will indeed be handicapped in depth of reading comprehension along with all other academic areas and in personal relationships. But losing egocentrism isn’t something to be demanded. After much exposure to others’ thoughts and beliefs, children achieve it at different ages and stages, but they need repeated opportunities in order to overcome it.

Read more about appropriate activities in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved