Repetitive or Predictable Texts

When I was a kindergarten teacher, I used to read Mrs. Wishy-Washy by Joy Cowley on the first day of school each year. The story is about the animals on Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s farm finding the ‘lovely mud’ and becoming covered with the brown mixture.  Mrs. Wishy-Washy proceeds to wash the animals in a large tub.  During the washing action, the text repeats, “wishy-washy, wishy-washy.” I read this story on the first day so that the children can instantly participate in the reading of a story. I wanted each child to feel successful and excited about the possibility of becoming a reader. I once had a mother report that her child came home that day and said, “Mom, I have only been in kindergarten one day and I can already read!”

The story of Mrs. Wishy-Washy is an example of what is called a “predictable text” or a “repetitive text.” A predictable text contains repetitive phrases that appear in the story over and over again. Besides the wonderful stories currently in circulation, many of our traditional literature or fairytales are predictable texts. Think of the repetitive lines that you hear in the following stories:

  • The Three Pigs (I’ll huff and I’ll puff…)
  • The Little Red Hen (“Not I,” said the cow; “Not I,” said the dog…)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (Fee, Fi, Fo Fum…)
  • Rapunzel (Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…)

I don’t think that many adults who read these predictable stories to children realize how critical they are to the development of good readers. Predictable books have rhyming or repetitive word patterns, familiar concepts and simple story lines.

When children are pre-readers and beginning readers, adults should continually model for the future reader how the reading process works. Predictable books can be a vital part of this modeling, without necessarily instructing the child in these skills. Predictable books are excellent examples and provide support in the following ways:

  • The text and illustrations enable children to anticipate words, phrases or events.
  • Predictable books can be stepping stones in the reading developmental process because they are engaging and interesting to young children. The listener can also participate in the reading.
  • Repetitive phrases can help children follow storylines and more fully understand the sequence in a story.
  • Predictable books have wonderful story patterns that help the reader deliver the story with fluency and rhythm.

I have found that predictable texts are essential examples of the reading process for struggling readers, as well. A child who is having difficulty decoding words and reading sentences smoothly would benefit from predictable books.  As a listener, he is able to hear the rhythm of fluent reading. As a reader, there will be repeated words that may simplify the decoding process.

Sometimes a book will have a repeated line that is not part of the rhythm of the story but occurs often. These repeated statements or questions can be invaluable to the new or struggling reader. Pick up the latest book by Philip C. Stead, called, Bear Has a Story to Tell, and listen to the bear repeat the same question to all of his animal friends, “Would you like to hear a story?” Great stories that become teaching tools are still being published, probably now more than ever.

Dr. Seuss Books, set of 8 (BKSETE) – click photo for more information

In addition to the books listed above, you may also want to pick up these books with repetitive text:

  • Bark George by Jules Feiffer
  • Oh No, George! By Chris Haughton
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
  • Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga’g
  • What Was I Scared Of? (in The Sneeches) by Dr. Seuss
  • Hop on Pop! or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
  • Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Trout! By Teri Sloat

Developing Predicting Skills

I appreciated the comments to the last blog post. It is evident that there needs to be a strong concentration of pre-reading and reading activities for children in early childhood settings. As I stated in one of my answers to the comments in the last post, I think many of our struggling readers were left behind because of poor instruction and lack of developmental strategies.

I enjoyed looking at the website for the National Reading Panel that Scott sent along with his comments. I often teach beginning reading strategies to pre-service teachers. One component of that instruction is the discussion about predictors of reading success. We know that becoming an on-level reader in first grade is essential for a child. There are two strong predictors to that success. “Predictors” are skills so important that we should make every effort to ensure that a child builds solid foundations in these skills during preschool and kindergarten; ultimately these skills are essential to building the reading foundation. These two predictors are phonemic awareness and alphabet letter knowledge. That fact is reiterated again on the National Reading Council website. I emphasize that if these foundation skills are not taught appropriately, the child runs the risk of becoming a struggling reader, lacking the background information for making sense of the reading process.

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear sounds of speech (phonemes) in spoken language. It is the beginning stage of phonological awareness, which will eventually include syllables and phonics. Prior to the influx of large quantities of children’s literature, most children came to school with phonemic awareness. Parents used nursery rhymes and folktales with their children because picture books were not as readily available. That scenario changed as quality picture books became readily available. Nursery rhymes are one of the best teaching tools for phonemic awareness. They teach children to listen to the sounds that are the same and the sounds that are different.  Compare “Jill” and “hill” in the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill.” A child can hear how the beginning sound is different, but the rest of the word is the same. When a child has phonemic awareness, you can ask the child to identify the sound she hears at the beginning of the word “cookie.” If the child indicates /k/, then she can hear that sound. At this point it is not important if the child knows it is the letter ‘c’ that makes the sound. It is only critical that she can hear individual sounds. This knowledge is essential to beginning the reading process.

The other predicting skill is knowledge of the alphabet letters. It is so important to work on letter identification with a child prior to beginning instruction in reading. As I stated in one of my comments on the last blog entry, it is important to use appropriate activities for letter identification. Using magnetic, wooden, or plastic letters is a much better way to introduce children to the alphabet than looking at a chart or paper. When the child has some background knowledge in letters, have him form them out of play dough or some other moldable material. Wet moldable sand is also a wonderful option for the child to “feel” the letters and build some cognitive memories about the letter. We must be as concrete as possible with early reading skills because reading is actually quite abstract. As I was pointing to the letter ‘a’ one day, I told a four- year-old girl that letter said /a/. Her response was, “I didn’t hear it say anything.”  Being more concrete will help the child understand this new world of reading. It is critical for us to help children instantly identify the letters. That instant recognition is called “automaticity” by reading researchers. That automaticity is the predictor of reading success.

I was recently helping one of my pre-service teachers as she was teaching in a second grade classroom. The month before, she had received a new student who could not read. The student teacher had not had success in working with the child on letter sounds and decoding words. We decided that the child must have missed early reading instruction, so we went back and worked on phonemic awareness and letter recognition. Within two weeks the child started to improve and is now sounding out words. Because we went back to put in the foundation pieces, I believe this child will eventually be on grade level with her reading skills. Without someone taking her back to the beginning, she may have been labeled a struggling reader and provided with intervention and perhaps special needs services. This experience has made me wonder how many children with missing pieces in their learning foundation end up in at-risk learning situations.

Have you had similar experiences?