Develop Kids’ Literacy Skills by Discussing Quotes
By: Steve Reifman of SteveReifman.com
I have always loved discovering new quotes, whether they come from books, song lyrics, politicians, athletes, or people who are not in the public eye. When I became a teacher, I started collecting these sayings, and I have incorporated them into my classroom practice for over fifteen years. The most effective way that I have found to use quotes has been to discuss them as part of my classroom’s morning routine. Talking about quotes as we begin our day enables me to inspire my students, start the day on a positive note, and build lasting habits of character. Discussing well-known sayings brings out the best in children and helps them focus on important ideas. It is my enthusiasm for this exercise and my firm belief in its effectiveness that led me to write my new book, Changing Kids‘ Lives One Quote at a Time: 121 Inspirational Sayings to Build Character in Children.
In addition to its character-building mission, our “Quote of the Day” conversations also offer a powerful way to promote literacy. When I speak of literacy, I am referring to the specific skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking.
In its pure form the discussion begins when a student volunteer reads the “Quote of the Day” on the board. It is critical at this time to provide approximately thirty seconds of “wait time” so each child can think about the quote, make sense of it, and perhaps even come up with an example of how the quote’s meaning applies to everyday life or connects to a habit of character.
To maximize student participation, the kids follow this “quiet think time” with a brief pair-share, in which each child has an opportunity both to express ideas and listen carefully to the partner’s thoughts. Next, a few volunteers share their interpretations of the quote’s meaning with the entire class. Finally, I close the activity by sharing some thoughts of my own. Whenever possible, I like to share a personal story that brings out the quote’s meaning in a deeper way. Storytelling is a powerful teaching strategy, and kids are likely to remember the stories and the lessons they contain for a long time.
Parents can follow the basic outline of this procedure when discussing quotes at home with their children. In addition, there are several ways that parents can modify this conversational structure to strengthen literary development.
- Put one quote per day or week in your child’s lunch and discuss the quote’s meaning after school. Reading a quote at lunchtime is a novel experience for children, and the timing provides kids with several hours to think about the quote to prepare for the evening discussion, which can take place on the ride home, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. For example, with R. Herzog’s quote, “It is better to light a candle than complain about the darkness,” it may take children a while to figure out that the saying is telling them to adopt a problem solving attitude when life’s inevitable frustrations arise, not complain about them.
- Analyze quotes for excellent word choice or interesting word play. With Rudy Benton’s quote, “7 days without exercise makes one weak,” discuss with your child how the word “weak” is spelled. The quote is not referring to a week on the calendar, but to the fact that if we don’t exercise, we will become physically weaker.
- Consider writing a quote or a set of quotes on your child’s placemat and discuss these sayings during a healthy breakfast. Over cereal and fruit, you and your child can discuss Bonnie Hopper’s quote, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little EXTRA!” Together, you can talk about how consistently giving that extra effort in school, in sports, and other endeavors can make a huge difference in the long run.
- If you’re trying to sharpen your child’s writing skills, consider using quotes for journal writing. Simply choose a quote and ask your child to respond to it using one of the prompts listed below. (More prompts are provided in Changing Kids‘ Lives One Quote at a Time.)
• Describe a time when you or someone you know demonstrated the main idea of this quote.
• What do you think this quote means? Give examples.
• Why do you think the speaker said this quote in the first place?
• Describe how you can use the meaning of this quote to help others.
• Describe how this quote can help you get along more effectively with other people.
For example, with Vince Lombardi’s quote, “If you’ll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives,” children may address the first prompt by describing a time when they finished a writing assignment at school and then continued to revise it to improve the story’s word choice and sentence structure, rather than put it away because they simply wanted to be done.
• Choose a quote and ask your child to say whether (s)he agrees or disagrees with its meaning and then explain why. This type of exercise builds the critical thinking skill of evaluation (the highest level on the well-known Bloom’s taxonomy) and develops persuasive speaking skills. For example, when considering John Hancock’s quote, “The greatest ability in business is to get along with others,” a child may choose to disagree and argue that knowing how to do one’s job with knowledge and skill is more important than getting along with other people. This would likely lead to a very interesting conversation.
Discussing quotes with children is a powerful, engaging way to build character in children and develop valuable literacy skills. I hope you decide to give it a try.
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Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time, Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8, and his two new $1.99 “Back to School” PDF’s, The First 30 Days and The First 10 Minutes. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit http://stevereifman.com. Follow Steve on Twitter (@stevereifman) and subscribe to his “Teaching Kids” YouTube channel.