I love big words. I love the way they look in print. I love discovering a new one and letting it slip out casually in conversation. I was not certain that first graders shared this appreciation until I began a simple 5 minute mini-lesson to introduce the dual-edged strategy of Voracious Reading a few years ago. It was my first year trying out the Daily 5 model created by “The Sisters” Joan Moser and Gail Boushey. I will admit when I first saw the phrase at the top of the CAFE Menu in not one but two places, I immediately began searching for a more “kid-friendly” definition to use with my six and seven year olds. In the next moment, however, I heard my reading ideal and yours Debbie Miller in the back of my head saying, “Nothing says schema like the word schema” and so my lesson plan developed to both explain the idea behind the strategy and the word itself.
In front of my first grade class the next day I began to tell a story about myself as a young reader. I told the class that when I was in first grade all I wanted to do was to read like my older sister. To practice, I started reading all the time. Acting the part of my younger self (to the great amusement of all) I mimed reading my book while walking, eating, going up stairs and under my covers at night. I told them my mother stopped me a few days later.
“Do you know what she said to me?” I asked the class. “That you read a lot!” “You should watch where you are going!” “To put your book down at the table!” eager voices shouted. I smiled. “She said, Meredith, you are voracious. You just can’t stop reading. You do it all the time. You are a voracious reader.” I paused to let the word sink in. I noticed some blank faces—this was not exactly how they expected the story to go. But just as I opened my mouth to redefine the word and reveal the lesson of the tale, I noticed my normally very squirmy Andy with a calm hand in the air. “Teacher,” he said. “I think I do that with television. I watch it all the time. I am a voracious TV watcher.” Before I could register my surprise, Anthony told me he was voracious at playing video games and Rigo claimed to be voracious at soccer. The word whirled around the room to every child and right back onto our strategy card. They decided the word sounded like a dinosaur name and should be illustrated by a T-Rex eating lots of food. By the time I asked the question, “How do you think being voracious could help us a reader?” I could barely write their thoughts down fast enough. “Voracious” was here to stay and a word used everyday after. It opened a new window to looking for such interesting words and inspired me to pay closer attention to vocabulary instruction. Every year, I can’ t wait for this particular mini-lesson, to see again the power of holding our students to high expectations and connecting new content to what we know. First graders love big words too.