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.
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