All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Dr. Seuss for Older Students

NEA's annual Read Across America celebration is a great opportunity for tweens and teens to both celebrate their literacy and language skills and share them in meaningful ways.

Pre-writing with Dr. Seuss

An author gets his ideas out of his head and on to paper to share with others. Not all the ideas an author comes up with make it, but it's important to get ideas out to make room for new ones! Always one for a bit of fun, Ted Geisel, famously known as Dr. Seuss, jokingly responded to the question of where he got his ideas with this:

"I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Uber Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock repaired. While the cuckoo is in the hospital I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people and I get my ideas from them."

Getting students to share their ideas can often be a struggle. Students may feel they have nothing to say. Try this Seuss-inspired pre-writing activity to get the juices flowing:

Some of the best ideas may be lurking on the back of notebooks or in the margins. Geisel was a great doodler and saved his many doodles. Horton Hatches the Egg was born from a doodle — a gust from an open window near his desk blew a picture of an elephant drawn on tracing paper on top of a tree that Geisel was doodling. This started him thinking about why an elephant would be in a tree and he had to write Horton's story to find out the answer.

Share this anecdote with students and ask them to save their doodles for a week. At the end of the week, pair up students and their doodles and have them come up with their own combinations to write about. Students can produce a joint work or each write their own ideas about the doodle combo. As some doodles will be more inspired than other, don't limit them as to what they should write — it can be a simple description, a poem, or a story.

Geisel once said, "Mine always start as a doodle. I may doodle a couple of animals and if they BITE each other it's going to be a good book. If you doodle enough, the characters begin to take over themselves — after a year and a half or so...."

Note: Quotes and biographical information were taken from Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography, by Judith and Neil Morgan, Da Capo Press, 1995.

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Dr. Seuss and Service

Young people can have a meaningful and enjoyable experience while making a difference. Whether young people are involved in a one-time service activity on NEA's Read Across America Day or an extended service project, they get the most out of their involvement when they are prepared, when they perform a service that "makes a difference," and when they reflect on their service experiences. Young people engaged in service will likely have more confidence in themselves and their ability to contribute to the community. A complete and well-rounded experience could be a model for projects they may undertake throughout their lives.

Hats for Haiti

Have a "no hats" rule at your school? Here's your chance to break it with good reason with a "Hats for Haiti" fundraiser. For a $1 (or other) donation to Haitian relief, wear the hat of the Cat or the hat of your choice all day at school. Student organizers can collect donations the day before at lunch or by homeroom teachers who will give students a ticket to show they have hats on for good cause.

Here are some other ways to use Seuss silliness for a serious cause:

  • One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish: Call attention to the need for protein at your local food bank and host a canned tuna and salmon drive. Use decorations of colorful fish with Seuss-inspired poetry to raise awareness about hunger in your community and to catch a net full of food for the food bank.
  • Fox in Socks: Of all goods donated to shelters serving the homeless, new socks and underwear are often given the least and needed the most. Come up with some wacky tongue twisters a la Fox in Socks for morning announcements and posters at school to inspire student giving to a sock drive.

Wear Many Hats

You've heard the expression "I wear many hats." These "hats" we wear — sister, coach, teacher, friend, reader, gamer, etc. — represent different roles we have and different talents we share. Take a cue from Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, and use your many hats to help others.

  • Artist/ Activist

    Have a look at the art Ted Geisel created to please himself in The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss. In addition to his book illustrations, Ted Geisel often painted and was an accomplished artist. He often told young artists to "paint at least one picture a month that is just for fun." Geisel was also very involved in the betterment of his La Jolla/San Diego community and lobbied for a local billboard ban, served as a trustee to the San Diego Fine Arts Museum and La Jolla Town Council, and was a member of Citizens United, a panel dedicated to civic improvement. Combine the artist and community activist hats Dr. Seuss wore and beautify an area in your community with a student painted mural about books and reading.

  • Gardener/Environmentalist

    Ted Geisel often took an afternoon walk through his garden at his home in La Jolla, California. He believed gardening to be another form of art and enjoyed creating a relaxed, lush outdoor environment to share with his friends and family. Ted was also concerned about the environment and wanted to make the world aware of the consequences of indifference to nature. The result of his concerns was The Lorax, published in 1971, a book that has inspired generations to conservation. Combine Ted's gardener and environmentalist hats and plant a tree at your school or in your community. Hold a special tree planting ceremony and dedicate it as a reading tree — a place where readers of all ages can enjoy a good book under the shade of its branches. (For more information about the best planting times in your area, contact a local nursery. If weather or climate precludes outside planting — plant a tree seedling indoors in a container at least six inches deep with good drainage. Keep in a sunny spot until you can plant outdoors.)

  • Film Maker/Advocate

    During World War II, Ted Geisel served in the U.S. Army in Frank Capra's Signal Corps and worked on making movies relevant to the war effort. While serving, he was introduced to animation by animator Chuck Jones and developed a series of animated training films for Army troops. He also wrote scripts for live-action films for American military forces. Two of these films were later developed into Academy Award winning documentaries. Following the War, Ted's interest in Hollywood continued and the friendships he made in the Army led to more big and small screen productions, including the 1951 Academy Award winning cartoon Gerald McBoing Boing and television favorites like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Students can try on Geisel's film maker hat and create scripts for documentaries about a favorite author, instructional films about how to use the library or school media center, or creative shorts that celebrate the joy of reading.

Service and Service Learning Resources:

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Seuss and the Secondary Classroom

One of the most popular high school graduation gifts is Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go. But there are pearls of wisdom for the older reader in many other Seuss titles. "There is fun to be done!" along with learning when you bring Dr. Seuss into the secondary classroom.

Rachael Walker (2010)

There are some great ideas here! I wrote a post about what some older kids can do also including links to political cartoons and advertisements that Dr. Seuss created. If you are interested you can see it here.
Posted by: Holly DuBois  |  March 06, 2012 08:23 AM
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