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How the Grinch stole the show

Grinch stole Christmas

Every classroom teacher has a special tradition that gets pulled out each holiday season. In devising my own tradition, I fell back on what I know: Dr. Seuss. I spent my senior year of college becoming a Seuss-ologist (a term coined by my now-fiancé) while working on a research project that explored the language use in Dr. Seuss books. One of the primary take-aways from that project was that poetry has a special power to captivate kids, especially when it is shared orally.

And so, for my holiday tradition, I decided to memorize the entirety of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and then recite it to my students to kick off a day of Grinch-related literacy events.

When the Grinch-Day arrived last year, I was nervous that all of those rhymes I’d spent months memorizing would jumble together in my head. Instead, what happened was that my worries evaporated as my students and I reveled in the wonder of word play and language together. Even my most fidgety kids sat still while I shared the story; they hung on every word, despite the fact that most of them already knew the story quite well. No one interrupted, no one turned to talk to a neighbor – it was one of the most engaged moments we experienced in my classroom all year.

And, I don’t think it had much to do with the fact that I had worked so hard to memorize the story. If I had to sum up their captivation, it was 10% “Wow, my teacher is pretty cool!” and 90% “What’s that Grinch up to now?” or “That’s really fun to say!”

Kids seem to have an intrinsic interest in language and words – that’s one reason why I think the Dr. Seuss stories, which epitomize language play, continue to be so popular with readers of all ages. My students always love when our read-aloud is a Dr. Seuss tale, but their reaction to this recitation experience was on a completely different level than their typical responses.

With no pictures to take some of their attention off the words, I believe that my students could focus on the sheer delight of rhythm, alliteration, and all of those other literary devices poets so aptly incorporate into their work. It also allowed them a chance to use their own imaginations to picture the story unfolding, rather than having an illustration present them with “the way the story looks.”

And was it a fluke what happened in my classroom that day? / Well, I repeated the exercise this year in the same way, / to an audience of students who all sat bolt upright, / with expressions on their faces nothing short of sheer delight.

So teachers and parents, here’s a New Year’s challenge for you: memorize a piece of poetry (it doesn’t matter how long) and then recite it to a child you know. Be sure to share your results. As for me? I’ve started memorizing The Lorax.

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Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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