Grasshoppers, Butterflies, and Spiders

While our summer was filled with many opportunities to enjoy the nature of Minnesota, it was also a busy time of successfully completing my MA degree. Now we have time to share many more ideas with you!

On our second day back at school, my Grade One students found a giant grasshopper outside of our classroom. It was as big as a praying mantis. We took it into our classroom. What an exciting way to begin our new school year!

Giant grasshopper
Giant grasshopper

Children are fascinated with living creatures–especially insects and other mini-beasts. While some children may be a bit timid about holding certain insects, most seem to enjoy them.

Here are a couple of activities that you can easily do in your classroom.

1.  Simple, Invented Songs

It’s easy to nurture creativity in young learners through music.  Try “playing” with words.

Here’s a simple pattern to create a song or chant.

I Love Bugs!

I like ladybugs. (longer word, 2-3 syllables)

I like ants. (shorter word, 1-2 syllables)

I like bumblebees. (longer word, 2-3 syllables)

I love bugs!


Students choose three insects for their song, usually one shorter word, and two longer words.

When young children sing, they often use so and mi in their invented songs.  You can use so and mi for this song, too.

My students think it’s funny to sing the negative form of this. I don’t like ______.  I hate bugs!


Another activity to help students play with words is to repeat the first consonant of a word, such as /b/ /b/ /b/ /b/ Bees!  Bees!

2. Stories

I love using stories with my students–especially predictable ones.  A predictable story uses repetition, similar to the way a song might have a chorus.  It might have repeated words, phrases, sentences, and other patterns.  New characters, new events, and other surprises keep the children guessing about what’s going to happen next.

Story: The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

This story shows how a spider gradually spins a web. In my edition of this book, students can also feel the change in the web as it gets bigger.  You can read the book to your students in a traditional manner, but you can use the pictures in the book like flash cards to help you tell the story.

A.  Pre-read by looking at the pictures of the animals in the book.  You can chant this pattern, or sing it to the melody of “The Farmer in the Dell.”

The horse says “Neigh!”
The horse says “Neigh!”
Let’s play together. “Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!”

Many animals visit the spider, but the spider continues to spin the web.
Repeat with the other animals from the story (cow, sheep, goat, pig, dog, duck, rooster).

The cow says “Moo!”
The cow says “Moo!”
Let’s play together. “Moo! Moo! Moo!”

The phrase for the rooster is longer than the rest.

“Cock-a-doodle-doo!”  “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”  Let’s play together. “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

B. Now add the following chant pattern.

(But the spider said . . . )
Sorry. I’m busy. I’m spinning a web.
Busy, busy, busy. I’m spinning a web.

Add gestures to help children remember the language. Change your voice to express the sounds of the animals.

C.  Now I “read” the story by showing the children the pictures of the animals and singing the animal songs. I show students the web in the book.  With a small class, students can feel the texture of the web on the page. On subsequent readings, you can draw the web on a whiteboard as the story progresses by drawing a couple of lines at a time.  If your students can sit in a circle, you can even create a yarn web by passing a ball of yarn from one student to one across on the other side.

D.  At the very end, an owl comes and the spider is sleeping.

Whisper . . . .

The spider was busy, but she’s sleeping now.
Sh! Sh! Be quiet!  She’s sleeping now.

*Another fun predictable story with insects and animals is Lily and the Moon by Mari Nakamura and Patricia Daly Oe.

3.  Find It!

You can look for insects outside with your students.  You can also find them in books! In Magic Time One, Unit One, Annie and Ted are outside playing.  In addition to finding the target vocabulary, students can look for animals and insects on these pages too.  They can find a dragonfly, grasshopper, rabbit, turtle, frog, squirrel, bird, butterfly, and caterpillar.  We love to add little surprises for the students to discover.

Enjoy this season of insects and mini-beasts!  Happy teaching!



“The Apple in the Tree” : Storytelling that builds phonics and listening skills!

%22Elefante%22 by Idea go

“Elefante” courtesy of Idea go /

As teachers of young learners, we know that phonics is an important part of our curriculum.  How can we teach phonics in a way that gets children excited to learn?

 The following activity is one of our favorites!  Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Begin by showing your students the following words illustrated with colorful pictures. These six vocabulary words are part of our Magic Time series (Magic Time One, Spring ABC’s).  If you teach Magic Time, use the picture cards for that lesson. If not, make your own picture cards, placing the upper and lower case letters above the picture that begins with that sound. Attach them to your whiteboard or blackboard. You can also use items such as stuffed animals, puppets, plastic fruit, etc.  The Internet also has pictures available.

Aa   apple

Bb   bear

Cc   cat

Dd   dog

Ee   elephant

Ff    fish

2.  For each picture card, teach the letter name (optional), the letter sound, and the word that begins with it.  For example:  “A / a / apple,” and so on.  Continue until students are familiar with the six words and the sounds they begin with.  Students can also make apple shapes, or explore the movements these animals make.

3.  Draw a simple apple tree on the board, with one big apple high up on a branch of the tree.

4.  Next, read the following story to your students.  As the six words above are introduced in the story, point to their pictures on the board.  You may want to tell the story more than once as you say the words slowly and clearly.

The Apple in the Tree

by Kathy Kampa and Chuck Vilina

copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina

Once upon a time, there was a very hungry elephant.  She was looking for something to eat.  Suddenly, she saw an apple tree with a big red apple on it.  She reached for the apple with her trunk.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a bear.  “Climb up on my back,” said the elephant, “and you can get the apple.”  So the bear climbed up on the elephant’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a dog.  “Climb up on my back,” said the bear, “and you can get the apple.”  So the dog climbed up on the bear’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a cat.  “Climb up on my back,” said the dog, “and you can get the apple.”  So the cat climbed up on the dog’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

The elephant, the bear, the dog, and the cat looked at the apple.  It was such a big, red apple!  Oh, how they wanted to eat that apple!

Suddenly, a little fish jumped out of the water — up, up, up!  It grabbed the apple in its mouth, and went back under the water. “Thank you,” said the fish.  “I just LOVE apples!”


Children love this story.  And NOW they’ll have an opportunity to MOVE to it.  Do you notice the underlined words in the story?  They are the six target words, used this many times:

apple:              14 times

bear:                  5 times

cat:                    3 times

dog:                   5 times

elephant:           4 times

fish:                   2 times

This brings us to the next step in the activity:

5.  Prepare one small picture card for each child, using the six target words above.  You can even let children draw their favorite picture (from the above group) on a piece of paper and use that.  However, the cards should be evenly mixed if possible.  For example, if you have six students, each one should get a different letter picture card.  If you have more than six students, add more cards, so that more than one student will have the same word card.

6.  Have your students place their chairs in a circle, facing out.  If space is a problem, the chairs can be put in two rows with their backs to each other.  Students sit quietly in their chairs.  At this time, give each student a picture card (unless they drew their own, in which case they should be holding them).

7.  Explain to students that you are going to tell the story again.  When a student hears the word on their picture card, they GET UP QUICKLY and run around the circle of chairs, then sit back down in their own chair.  They must do this EVERY TIME they hear their word.

8.  NOW – tell the story SLOWLY.  Watch as your children jump up out of their seats and run around the circle.  As you can see from the words above, the “apple” holders have to run around the circle 14 times!  The “fish” holders only run around 2 times.

Of course, to make it more fair, mix up the cards after the story, hand them out again, and tell the story again!  This gives each child more chances to run around the circle.

This activity has many Multiple Intelligence strategies rolled into one:  It’s Word Smart (using written and spoken words), Picture Smart (using pictures), Body Smart (moving quickly in a circle), People Smart (listening and responding together), Self Smart (drawing their own picture cards), and Nature Smart (showing the relationship between the animals according to size).

Most importantly, it builds strong listening skills as it reinforces letter sounds.

You can follow up this activity with an art project:  students can draw a funny picture with all the animals standing on top of each other, with the fish jumping up to grab the apple!

You can also write similar stories using other letters from the alphabet.  Be creative!  In fact, your students may help you write the story!

Let us know how your students enjoy this activity!  Happy Teaching!

Kathy and Chuck