From Dinosaurs to the Stop Game

Today was one of those ‘moments’ in teaching, the ones that turn something small into something big.  It was a simple question, yet it opened a whole new world for children.

It happened like this…

Every day we have the ‘Question of the Day’ posted for children when they arrive in the classroom.  The question is written on the easel, and there are two trays alongside- one for ‘yes’ and one for ‘no’.  Children find their name on a big craft stick and place it on the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ tray.  Today’s question was, “Do dinosaurs still live?”

After snack we tally the votes.  This is terrific, because children watch as we mark the tally votes- four lines and a cross line.  That’s five.  They’re now able to recognize five without counting the lines.  That’s subitizing.

We tallied the votes, 10 ‘no’ and 4 ‘yes’.  That prompted a discussion, and we asked ‘Alexa’ if dinosaurs still lived.  She told us they were extinct.  A child asked, “What is extinct?”

Ah, the magic question that can open doors into many wonders.

I paused, because I know children learn by hands-on; they need to see, feel, and touch.  Instead of Googling ‘extinct’ or asking ‘Alexa’, I did something far better.  I pulled out the dictionary.

It’s large, it’s heavy.  This was exciting.  The first thing we did was look at the end pages.  There were red marks all along.  Once we opened the dictionary we learned the red marks were the alphabet.  The dictionary is in alphabetical order!  This was big news, and we spent time going through the pages, following the alphabet.

This is better than the latest and greatest video game.  It is ‘real’.  And we had just started.

We slowly went through the pages to find ‘E’.  We found extinct.  Yes, it means they are no longer living.  Children wanted to see more and ask questions.  Of course they did!  This dictionary had some pictures, so that made it even more exciting.  I gave each child an opportunity to tell us a word, and we could look it up.  This was not easy, instead they wanted to discover words.

Discover words.  Yes!  

We played ‘The Stop Game’.  I fan the pages of the dictionary until the children yell “Stop!”  Then we open that page and discover the wonder of the words.  This was so much fun!  Yelling “Stop” and uncovering something new is very exciting.  It’s learning on steroids.

We stopped at L and learned about a lighthouse.  We stopped at U and learned about underwater vehicles.  Then we stopped at M, and there was Mount Rushmore.  Children remember this from our Big Book Atlas.  Recently two children in our class visited Washington DC and saw statues of presidents, the same ones on Mount Rushmore.  When I asked children if they knew the image of Mount Rushmore, they did… but nobody recalled the name.  Finally one of the youngest children enthusiastically said, “Washington!”

Bravo!  He made the connection.  That’s learning.  Today children felt the same excitement and discovery of going to Disney – and it was all in a dictionary.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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86 Responses to From Dinosaurs to the Stop Game

  1. A dictionary is a wonderful world in the hands of any of us. A real big “paper one”. Good time shared. Thank you Jennie.

  2. beth says:

    brilliant lesson on so many levels, Jenny

  3. Excellent, fun with words is the best!

  4. beetleypete says:

    Another tale of educational joy in your classroom. They always make me happy, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      I never know when something like this is going to happen. Isn’t that exciting? Knowing that these tales make you happy, makes my day. Really! Best to you, my friend.

  5. Connections is absolutely learning … Cheers to the way you crafted this. 🙂

  6. Darlene says:

    Who would have thought a dictionary could be so exciting for children. Gaining a love of words at an early age is wonderful!

  7. Ah, the excitement of learning new words! I still get a thrill from it. 😀

  8. CarolCooks2 says:

    What fun…I want to be in your class 🙂

  9. Don Ostertag says:

    You are a marvel the way you can come up with these great teaching methods

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Don. When these moments happen, something as small as a question, I jump into the water with both feet. Most of the time, these moments are not planned. They just happen.

  10. Ritu says:

    How wonderful!

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you for this wonderful lesson! What an excellent teacher you are!

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another example of excellent teaching from Jennie, the wonderful educator!

  13. quiall says:

    A game of Discovery! What a wonderful concept. And one that can be used throughout one’s entire life. Kudos my friend!

  14. OH WOW…. what a cool way of teaching and Learning, and we need more teachers like you Jennie.. ❤

  15. Ally Bean says:

    I adorn real dictionaries– and their friend the thesaurus. What an unexpectedly fun way to get today’s kids interested in learning. Well done.

  16. What a fun way to learn new words!

  17. Dan Antion says:

    I love the methodical approach you take with the children. They may not remember everything they learn, but if they remember how to figure things out, they will get far in life.

  18. Mireya says:

    Wow what a teaching moment. Yet again I am grateful for teachers like you. Far too often we are bombarded with tests, rules and lesson plans that we forget the real moments. Open House is great, but we should be painting and writing and learning every single day! The Dictionary is wonderful and talk about extinct. I forgot about them. I loved ours. I miss those days. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Jennie says:

      You hit the nail on the head- on all points. Thank you, Mireya. Those teaching moments can get lost with the required rules and testing. That’s such a shame for children. Cheers to the dictionary!

  19. Norah says:

    Great fun! The magic of words will never be extinct.

  20. sjhigbee says:

    What a lovely, lovely introduction to dictionaries. As I teacher, I’ve often played games using dictionaries – because once you can persuade children to open them up, they often discover the magic of the words inside all by themselves:)).

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I guess you could imagine that as a kid I began to read the dictionary intent on learning every single word there! I love that the kids had the same joy from this encyclopedia.

    • Jennie says:

      I suspect you were that kid. 🙂 We moved the dictionary to the bookshelf, and the children are enjoying it independently. Wikipedia, move over!

      • Elizabeth says:

        Nothing like books like that along with the later Almanac(my daughter got one for Christmas throughout childhood)and for the older and stronger stomached kid “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” My husband and his brothers pored over their father’s dermatology books. Kids are naturally very curious.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes! Thank you for the book memories. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing. Their natural curiosity is naturally driven to a book (at least with younger children). We just need to provide them with the books.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Fortunately my grandkids devoured all such books too. It must run in the family!

      • Jennie says:

        I think it does!

  22. What an amazing lesson Jennie and so much more effective than the lessons I remember from my school days that were set in stone and by rote, often from books twenty years out of date. I am sure I would have achieved much better marks and paid more attention in your class..♥

  23. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Weekly 16th May 2022 – #Images Tofino Photography, Robbie Cheadle, Cindy Knoke, #Exploration Jennie Fitzkee, #Guest The Story Reading Ape, #Guest Marcia Meara | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  24. I loved this! I teach older kids (struggling readers) who have forgotten how much fun learning can be. Thank you for sharing this uplifting story. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much for this. Teaching struggling readers means bringing in some excitement and joy so they can relax. Then they can read. When you introduce something, as if you have just uncovered a treasure chest (that’s how I introduced the dictionary), then the children are focused and eager. They forget they have a hard time reading. See, that’s what it’s all about. So, what is your cool thing you can bring in? Do you still have your favorite childhood book? That would make a great connection. Apologies for going on and on.

      • I’ve brought in my favorite reads. I’ve shared my own published books with them (which they find cool but not enough to want to read them…lol!). I’ve brought in children’s books and asked them to rethink the ending. They are a hard bunch to motivate, but I don’t give up. One of my favorite activities which tends to grab their attention is having them choose their favorite (school-appropriate) songs and write a background story to it. Another one is choosing their favorite movie and rewriting either the characters or the ending. Some of the students enjoy the activities, but it’s like pulling teeth with the majority. Our system has stolen the joy of learning from our kids because of all the mandatory testing, so by the time they get to me (in 8th grade), they don’t remember that learning is supposed to be fun. 😥 I refuse to give up, though. As the year goes on, they start loosening up and enjoying themselves, even though they would never admit it. 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        The mandatory testing has taken the joy out of teaching. Yes, by the time they get to 8th grade, they’re unhappy campers. Thank you for not giving up!! Because you may never know if what you teach reaches a child. Even if it’s only one child, you have made a difference!

        Do you know the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio? That’s a powerful read aloud. My good friend’s son became a 9th grade teacher. He was faced with everything you are facing. He was a history teacher (the most boring subject for 9th graders), so he got creative. They were learning about the Civil War, so he cut and grew his beard over the course of the term, asking students who he was. It worked! It became a challenge and excited students.

        What can you do to make lessons come alive? That’s what 8th graders need. Start with what you love, and you can turn that into fun learning. Really! I think of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. He stood on a desk to recite poetry because nothing else worked. I think of Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus. He had to teach music, and his students didn’t care about music. Suddenly he made the connection with the Beatles, and he was on his way.

        Every teacher has a passion. Bring that passion into the classroom. As soon as I read what you said about students loosening up, I knew you were on the right path. You just need to bring your passion, in whatever way, into the classroom.

      • I loved Dead Poet’s Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus! And don’t forget Freedom Writers! I have no doubt I reach my students. They come back to visit me, and many of them have stayed in touch with me via social media (once they’ve graduated, of course). And I will never give up trying to reach them. I just think of the little starfish… “It mattered to this one!” 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Yes!! When students return to visit, that speaks volumes. I have the starfish story framed. 😍

  25. When do we get a TV series with you, Jennie? 😉 Oh yes, you are fabulous in teaching, and every day seems to be a big party, with great great goals and much better achievements. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, and have a beautiful week! xx Michael

    • Jennie says:

      Haha! Thank you, Michael. I’ve always thought I could do a TV show similar to what Mrs. Doubtfire did at the end of the movie.
      When it’s exciting and fun, the children are vested in the activity, and learning happens.

  26. dgkaye says:

    A wonderful way to get a child’s interest. There’s nothing like learning from an actual book. Glad you are teaching them this Jennie. ❤

  27. Jim Borden says:

    a wonderful day for the children – full of the magic of learning!

  28. Ren says:

    I love it!!
    You give me so many awesome learning ideas. Thanx Jennie

  29. Wonderful, Jennie. I always liked dictionaries. I used to read advanced book with a dictionary next to me to look up words I didn’t know. I had picture dictionaries for the boys when they were small. I have the to the school when we were finished with them.

  30. lblooom says:

    I love this! The class discussions that can follow a simple question like that are priceless, especially if the question doesn’t have one clear answer. I wonder how they’d react to learning that birds are classified as dinosaurs, so some do still live!

  31. Carla says:

    So exciting, Jennie. I love how you go with whatever develops from kids asking questions. Using a dictionary is going the way of the dodo (see how I did that?😅) because of google and Alexa, so it is refreshing to see all the excitement.

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