Thursday, March 2, 2017

Teaching Prepositions through Movement and Art

Well, last night I had my first ever tornado siren experience. It was very scary. We actually had the sirens go off twice and both times I had to get all four of the children and myself into the crawlspace. I had everyone sleeping already on the lowest level (the library) so that we would be ready to dash in the crawlspace if needed. Zac (21 months) slept through the first re-location from his crib into the playpen, which we moved to the lowest level, and the second re-location into the crawlspace on my folded down comforter, but the sirens going off and another scramble at 4 am woke him up. I told him we were all playing fort and that calmed him down. After the storm passed and we came back out into the library, though, he never did go back to sleep. I'm grateful our house sustained no damage, because that wasn't true of a lot of other places in Jackson County.

Originally I was going to make this post about prepositions, and so I suppose that fits because you could have a lot of preposition discussions about hiding in a spot in your house. Under the covers, between the dining room chairs, behind the shower curtain, etc. Usually I like to use the very sweet board book, Quick Duck! to get the preposition discussion rolling.


Montessori grammar materials have you introduce each new part of speech with "command cards." These are action-filled sentences on plain white cards. Each card is kept in a plastic envelope along with one or more small colored cards containing the part of speech being taught. For example, if you are are doing prepositions, the sentence might be "Throw the eraser across the room" on the white card and the small colored card would say "across."

Doing the command cards for prepositions is a whole lot of fun and "Throw the eraser across the room" was always a favorite among my students!

You can obviously do command sentences with your child without making up the cards, but the advantage of the cards is that they build on other Montessori grammar materials which use the same small colored cards. And you would do ten or so command cards, then pull out the colored cards so that all the prepositions are on the table on front of you and ask, "What is the same about these words? What job do they do in the sentence?"


a command card for teaching adverbs


Every part of speech lesson automatically incorporates hands-on learning in Montessori (which uses color coding, visual grammar symbols, and stencils).

Many of the symbols are actually visual cues. The large black triangle for noun brings to mind the ancient Egyptian pyramids which, as they stand unmovable in the desert for thousands of years, convey the very essence of stability and physicality; the large red circle for verb brings to mind the sun which, as it moves unendingly across the sky, conveys the very essence of action. I always think of the pink bar of the conjuntion as a "handshake" between two independent clauses. I have heard that some teachers have children hold hands and they wrap a pink silk scarf around the joined hands. The orange smaller circle for the adverb is less important than the verb (smaller, less strongly colored) but still related and the symbol shows that. The little light blue triangle for article and the medium size medium blue triangle for adjective often combine in a sentence with a noun to make a baby bear / mama bear / papa bear family. The purple triangle for pronoun is related to that noun family and thus is similar in shape and color but not identical, showing that it is close but is different in an important way.

And after teaching the idea of a preposition and reviewing some examples, you would teach the symbol for the preposition, which is the green crescent.


an unsymbolized sentence


the same sentence, symbolized


I just bought a new wooden grammar stencil from Waseca Biomes this morning and it was $5.00 with free shipping.


the little felt pouch I made for our grammar stencil and pencils


It is actually part of Montessori to limit the amount of duplicate classroom materials so that students either have to share or practice waiting their turn. I decided to have two grammar stencils, though, because my students do grammar in pairs. (I'll show some pictures of this in a little bit.)

I would like to take a second to note that I don't have the money for the full Montessori grammar set up... which is EXPENSIVE.


the entire word study and grammar area in my old classroom


the contents of a grammar box laid out in a presentation tray

if you look carefully, you'll see that -- except for noun and verb -- the small colored cards are not the same color as the symbol for that part of speech; this is to keep students thinking, and prevent them doing the work hastily and just using the colors of the cards to tell them the part of speech


So, in our homeschool co-op, I keep it simple. I don't do the whole Montessori presentation trays and grammar boxes shebang. I introduce grammar in October with the Haunted House of Speech (here are more pictures of student work) and then follow up with Literature for Grammar.

I got the "Literature for Grammar" idea from Mandala Clasroom Resources.
I have chosen, however, to just use sentences from my collection of picture books and I've organized them by the highest level of symbol they use.


If you look at the list above, you can see that sentences with nouns, articles, adjectives, verbs, and prepositions (and nothing higher) would be level 5.

Students can work on whatever level helps them review the symbols they know and practice the newest one they're learning. I can add more sentences to my binder at any time. I print each page twice, then symbolize one with the colored pencils and grammar stencil to be the answer key (Montessori calls this the "control of error"). The pair of pages are stored in page protectors with the unsymbolized version facing up (the front of the binder) and the control behind it (facing the back of the binder).

The key question of "What job does this word do in the sentence?" is what Montessori grammar is all about. When it's time for grammar, I have my students each choose a page from the Literature for Grammar binder, pull out the control from the page protector and set it aside, and go through the sentences on the page word by word, thinking about what part of speech each one is. They share the box of plastic grammar symbols, choosing and placing the appropriate symbol above each word. This gives a nice visual sense of how the sentence is constructed, how the different components work together. It is also easy to put the plastic symbol back and get out a new one if they change their mind. They don't have to erase anything.

This part of the work is social and children talk together: "What part of speech is _____?" This often leads to some nice discussions and listening to their train of logic helps me to do some on-the-spot assessment.

When they think they have every word in the sentence correctly symbolized, they then turn over the control chart and check their symbols against the answer key. If they have anything wrong, they come and ask me and we go through it together. Once they have all the words symbolized correctly, they write the sentence and use the colored pencils and grammar stencil to place the symbol above each word. The final sheet goes in their Grammar folder.


The pictures above show the lower elementary grammar symbols (ages 6-9) but there are more advanced symbols for upper elementary (ages 9-12) which expand on these concepts further.


initial chart on the left; advanced symbols on the right


Here is how I made the sheets for my Literature for Grammar binder (I used a Mac). I used Pages to create my document. It's horizontally oriented and left-hand justified. The font is 35 pt Savoye LET and it's the plain font. The document is single spaced. Each page has three lines of sentence(s), with two empty rows above the first line and three empty rows above the second and third lines. This gives you enough room for the symbols. It's helpful to view the document at 100% on your screen and actually hold the stencil right up to the computer so that you can put enough spacing between the words. You don't want a symbol to be overlapping onto another word. I just use the tab key to space my words apart. In my footer, I put the copyright symbol and the year of publication in the left, the book title in the center, and the author's name in the right. You do have to remember to start a new section for every page so that you can create a new footer.

Right now I have sentences from:


The process of making the answer keys is good academic work for the teacher! I often find that sentence structure in picture books is surprisingly complex.

I think it is ok to make handmade materials like the Haunted House of Speech and the Literature for Grammar as long as you have the correct stencil, colored pencils, and box of symbols. From Nienhuis you can buy the Plastic Grammar Symbols in Box (15 compartments) or the Grammar Symbol Tiles (which are large enough for the child to jump from one to another as you read the words of a sentences out loud).

Waldorf also attempts to use some color coding for the parts of speech (see Dorothy Harrer's English book for a description of this) but their system is, frankly, thin by comparison. It is so much less rich than the Montessori system that I would go Montessori all the way for this subject. The materials are fantastic, and they are well-developed, build on one another sequentially and, as in all Montessori materials, allow the child to go from concrete to abstract at his/her own pace. Advanced grammar materials, such as Sentence Analysis, also continue to build on the color coding (see below).


Plastic Grammar Symbols in Box



Grammar Symbol Tiles



Reading Sentence Analysis Set


Another artistic idea I have for the prepositions, but haven't tried, would go with the book Barnyard Banter. I think it would be fun to do collages or handmade paper illustrations of different prepositions and make a display on the classroom wall, each child choosing a preposition to illustrate in a barnyard scene. It would also be fun to use Suzanne Down finger puppet animal patterns and sew a fabric book with felt pages and little felt animals, illustrating the different prepositions through creating little scenes. You could even embroider the word "above," "with," and so on right on the page!


Back to the events of last evening, today we are in full emergency preparedness mode. I had a shelving unit in the crawlspace which was designated for emergency supplies in the event that we get trapped in the crawlspace, but I never set it up. So over the next few days I'm gathering supplies and making that space ready. I have learned my lesson for when we are actually in the crawlspace! I lay there with my kids last night thinking, "I'm the adult. I know better. I should have had more of a plan."

Yes, we were safe and I listened to the radio and watched the weather on the news nonstop and moved my family downstairs and had a plan and we went in the crawlspace when we heard the sirens and it all worked out... BUT I could have been even more prepared and I intend to fix that.

Here's what I have on my list; let me know if you think I'm missing something:

    gallons of water
    sleeping bags
    medications
    first aid kit (this I did have - it was the only thing on the shelf)
    can opener, cans of non perishable food
    paper plates, cups, plastic cutlery
    Kleenex, cotton swabs, cotton balls, tampons, toilet paper
    trash bags
    hand sanitizer
    head lamps
    battery powered lantern
    extra batteries
    diapers, baby wipes
    crank weather radio w/flashlight
    shake flashlights


This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!

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