Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teaching With Glue Sticks and Glitter

Acrostic Name Poem
I recently finished teaching an eight week afterschool class called “WordArt”. WordArt evolved as the answer to that perplexing eternal question: “How does one teach writing to children who can’t even read?”

Like most things in my life, it started in a typically half-baked way. I answered an ad for volunteer creative writing teachers. Because I’m a big believer in the learning and therapeutic power of teaching, and because I’m an incorrigible “help them all”, I volunteered. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my first class to find that the student body comprised a two year old, a three year old, a genius level six year old,  two illiterate eight year olds and a socially withdrawn girl of indeterminate age.


Another Acrostic Poem
I improvised.  I whipped out the glue sticks and paper, blunt ended scissors and glitter. WordArt was born.  The kids loved it. They loved cutting out words and pasting them together to make poems and pictures. They loved writing the only words they knew how to spell over and over in the blank cartoons I brought.  Several moms and grandmothers took part. I won’t say it was a huge success – attendance was terrible and eventually we all gave up – but it was an interesting experiment.

Found Poetry/Collage Poem

Then I was hired (for pay!) to teach a similar course to “grades two to four”. Imagine my surprise AGAIN when I found my class was in fact grades one and two, only half of whom could actually read! I quickly adapted my program and dove in. This time attendance was great and the kids really seemed to enjoy it.  The movie posters, family crests and found poems were a huge success. Some activities were more challenging (for me as well as for the kids) but we muddled through.

As is usual with teaching writing, I felt sometimes that I was learning more than the students.  I learned, for example, that some glue takes forever to dry. I learned that cardboard swords are great motivators. I learned that kids are much more eager to write sentences if they can make them come out of the mouths of cats, polar bears and moose.
Boys play with family crests
and swords bearing family mottos
Another Collage Poem

I learned that child writers are no different than adult writers in many ways. Each writer has their own obstacle. Some can’t focus.  Some focus so much that they can’t move onto another task. Some lack confidence. Some have buckets of confidence but can’t speak English! Some kids have problems, and might always have problems, with reading. Some kids have no trouble reading, but refuse to do the assigned work. Some struggle with handwriting, barely able to copy a simple word. Some don’t listen. Some don’t try.

A proud Student holds up his Collage Poem.
This student had very little confidence in reading and
 writing so this project was a big accomplishment for him
Movie poster and CD cover
"Movie Posters" and Album Cover

But I also I learned that all child writers need, and flourish with a little encouragement, (just like all adult writers) and that this encouragement can and should start BEFORE the writing starts. Growing a writer is just like growing a reader, or a flower; there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the soil before anything will pop up. 

Finally I learned that glitter makes good writing better, something I plan to immediately incorporate into my own writing practice.

I will be sure to keep you all posted on the result.


  1. I love adding messy art to the literacy programs I do for kids with speech-language delays. If the kids don't get covered in glitter glue, marker ink or paint, I haven't done my job! A few weeks ago we read "Mouse Paint" and then had the kids do their own version of the painting that the mice do in the story. Awesome hands-on learning.