Cat in the Hat in the Classroom

Teaching materials are not always dense textbooks or computers, sometimes you have to use your imagination and get creative. Blair, a WorldTeach Namibia volunteer, explains how she took a famed children's book and turned it into a wonderful teaching tool.

All I can say is, thank GOD for Dr. Seuss! I have been using The Cat in the Hat to teach all my English lessons for the past two weeks. This is something that I have found to be super helpful for me AND very effective for the learners. Using just one story that the kids really get into is great for several reasons. 1. It is easier for me to have one continuous resource rather than having to search for a different one every class. 2. The learners become invested in the story and the characters and by the end they really understand the story. 3. With any story you can teach parts of speech, work on reading comprehension and reading aloud, discuss character traits, or really anything you want/need to cover.

Full Disclosure: I will now go into a long, in-depth explanation of how I used The Cat in the Hat to teach, so if you are not interested in education you might get pretty bored.

Often if you just read a book to them once, or the students read it themselves and have to answer questions, they only really comprehend between 5-20% of the book, depending on the learner. This makes doing activities based on a story very difficult. If you read the story at least three or four times in different ways and do activities increasing in difficulty throughout about a two week period, they seem to get a lot more out of each activity and assignment, AND they do better overall on the exam(s) at the end of the unit. Now this is not always the case, especially for students who are not learning English as their second language, but it has worked for me so far.

Going back to the “reading the story in different ways” I have been starting the unit by making enough copies of the story (no pictures) to have two learners to a copy. I read it to them once pretty slowly while they follow along. This may not seem as effective or helpful as having them read themselves, but at this early stage of English proficiency it helps a LOT more than you might think. I have read several papers and books confirming the importance of reading TO kids. They can hear the words pronounced correctly while looking at them. The second time we read the story, I will read out loud and either call on learners randomly to begin reading where I left off (this also lets me know whether or not they are actually following along), or I will tell the class that when I stop before the end of the sentence, they must finish the sentence together out loud (usually just one or two words…and its great with Dr. Seuss books because the words at the ends of phrases rhyme so it makes it easier for the ones who struggle to read out loud). They really seem to like this method. The third time we read the story, I will have the learners read it out loud by themselves as I call on them one at a time. It is very time-consuming and rather frustrating at times, but it is definitely necessary and worth it. Usually the fourth time will be them reading silently while answering comprehension questions or reading to create a story map.

The story map is an idea I came up with to get them used to using the words characters and setting, to get them to understand the importance of sequence, and to help them develop the skills to pick out the most important parts of a story (this will come in handy for summarizing). I divided the story into 6 parts and had them make a little booklet by folding a piece of white paper and divide it into 6 squares. They had to find the characters that were in each part of the story, the setting (focusing on the place not the time), and the main actions or events that took place. After they finished this, they then had to create a picture map that corresponded to the story map. They had to decide what picture they could draw that would best represent each part of the story. I wish you could SEE the pictures of the Cat in the Hat, the fish, and Thing One and Thing Two…priceless.

The best part about all this is that the learners LOVE the book. They will come to the library and read it in groups out loud by themselves. They love to see the pictures, because their copies do not have them. The second best part about using The Cat in the Hat is that THERE IS A SEQUEL!!! For those of you who remember The Cat in the Hat, you probably also remember The Cat in the Hat Comes Back !!! I did not tell the learners until the day we read it that there was another Cat in the Hat book. They were quite excited to say the least. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the second book, but I was able to find the audio online read by Kelsey Grammar :). So, I listened to the story, typed it out, and made copies.

Also, my mother, upon hearing that I was using The Cat in the Hat as a teaching tool, mailed me a hat!!! It is not white and red (it’s green and yellow), but the learners didn’t seem to mind. I came into the classroom wearing it :) the day we started the second book. I have been incorporating the hat into pretty much every lesson since.

The first time I used the hat was for an activity that provided a solid review of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, which they were supposed to have learned the trimester before I arrived, but it has become apparent that they are no experts on parts of speech, and I want them to be. (High expectations! Always!) I picked out ten nouns, ten verbs, and ten adjectives from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. I tried very hard to choose words that were obviously one or the other on their own without the context of a sentence, but if there was one (such as wipe), I would make sure to use the sentence from the story as an example so they understood that it is a verb in the context of the story (The Cat had to wipe the spot off the dress onto the wall). I wrote all the words on note cards and taped little magnets that I found lying around the Peace Corps house (that place is a hot mess, but its also a treasure trove for the resourceful teacher!) I drew a “CITHCB Parts of Speech Chart” on the board and had them draw it on their papers. I then let the learners come up one at a time and draw a word out of the hat. They had to decide which column it went in—noun, verb, or adjective. The other learners could give their input by shouting out what they thought it was, but the one who chose from the hat had the final say. They would then stick the word up on the board in the correct column. To keep the other learners engaged, they had to be filling in their own charts as we went along. This activity was highly successful, so I decided to review in the next lesson by playing a slightly more active version of the same activity. I took half the class outside, had them line up and close their eyes while I scattered all the words on the ground (it was windy, but the magnets kept them from flying away). I had three different colored Frisbees on the ground, each for a different part of speech. They had to open their eyes, wait until I said go, and then put all the words in the correct bin as fast as they could. The other half of the class was working on finishing picture maps from the previous lesson, then I switched the groups, and it became a competition for which group could accomplish the task the fastest. It was very fun. I wore the hat…duh. :) On Friday, I will give a test based on their ability to correctly identify the part of speech of each word in the context of sentences taken from the story. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m pretty sure I could teach an entire year’s worth of English lessons to an ESL (now officially called TOEFL in the states I think) class using only Dr. Seuss books. Do I smell a challenge?

Itching for your favorite childhood stories? Consider sharing them with students across the globe. Check out teach abroad opportunities with WorldTeach here!

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