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Who Loves to Write? Kindergartners Working on Riddles (May 03)

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Look into a kindergarten classroom, and you see young people embarking on an educational journey. Look more closely. It's also a community of writers who will amaze you with what they have to say and their passion for getting the message "just right."

Her students' love of language and learning inspires Devon Hamner to declare that she has "the best job in the world." She's been teaching kindergarten for 15 years at West Lawn Elementary School in Grand Island, Nebraska. For an equal number of years before this, she taught second grade at the school.

Hamner is among the educators who share their successful lesson plans on the NCTE/International Reading Association ReadWriteThink Web site (; her lesson for "Writing Reports in Kindergarten? Yes!" can be found at

The teaching ideas started to flow, she says, when she was planning for projects her students could contribute to an all-school project fair. She was looking for meaningful, challenging projects--something along the lines of the researching and report writing that older students were doing, but still developmentally appropriate for her students.

She took the matter to her students, asking them what they wanted to learn. They said "more about animals" and set to work researching, reading, learning, and writing.

And then things took an especially exciting twist because riddles came into the mix. "After we read some riddle books for fun," Hamner says, "I got the idea of turning our reports into riddles as a unique way of sharing them with the visitors to our project fair."

Her students loved the idea and began turning their research into clues describing an animal. They tried their clues out on others to see which ones led to guessing their animals.

It was a revelation, Hamner says, to see how willingly students revise when they have a real purpose for writing and an immediate sense of their audience. "They not only will revise, but they have a passion for it!"

Parents and other visitors reacted with great enthusiasm to the students' art, reports, and riddles, she says. "The kids were so proud of themselves. They knew the power and rewards of writing. And best of all, they knew--and their parents knew--that these kids are writers!"

Many students start writing--drawing pictures, writing their names and names of family members, and scribbling messages--before they arrive in her class, where they continue to "write all the time" and show amazing progress. Sometimes they start out drawing pictures and telling others--who can serve as "scribes"--the stories behind their creations.

Once they grasp the power of print, she says, they immediately find ways to use it. This happens when a student draws a picture of a cake and writes "B C" below it to mean "birthday cake." Hamner has also seen it as students transform a play area into a store and begin to advertise-"Go to B K" ("Go to Burger King") and "Go to Pezza Ht" ("Go to Pizza Hut") . . . or when they protect a block castle they built with a sign that reads: "Stop! Dont Tuch!"

These are exciting moments for Hamner, who says, "kids learn when they have a real purpose for writing, a message they want to share, and a real live audience to share that message with."

It doesn't surprise her that her kindergarten students can write reports and riddles, or that they love doing it. "Moving on to writing reports and riddles for a project fair is a small step after the writing that happens every day in a kindergarten classroom where kids see themselves as writers."

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts