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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Building comprehension, one corpse at a time

September 30, 2009

A runaway train. A ticking clock. Two young kids on an adventure they don't even know about. Sound exciting? That's the premise of the first episode of the Exquisite Corpse, a new project sponsored by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

From the Exquisite Corpse site:

Ever heard of an Exquisite Corpse? It's not what you might think. An Exquisite Corpse is an old game in which people write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold it over to conceal part of it and pass it on to the next player to do the same. The game ends when someone finishes the story, which is then read aloud.

Teachers have used a similar strategy in the classroom for years, but I've usually seen it done orally. Kids sit in a circle, begin a tale, and move around the circle adding and shifting the storyline with each student. One lucky student gets to wrap it up with an ending that pulls it all together.

From a reading teacher's perspective, this is great practice. To build a successful story, students have to pay attention, formulate their own storyline, and further the plot by providing information that builds on what they've learned so far. Sounds like great comprehension work to me!

Jon Scieszka, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, has written the first episode of this Exquisite Corpse, which is "pieced together out of so many parts that it is not possible to describe them all here, so go ahead and just start reading!" And that's no joke. Scieszka drops hints about several interesting things that may unfold with the story, including an elephant clown party, real ninjas, fake vampires, a roller-skating baby and more.

There will be a new episode and illustration every two weeks, for a year. The readability seems to be around second or third grade, but the comprehension work can span into many other grade levels.

For teachers, The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Butler Center for Children's Literature at Dominican University have developed a companion educational resource center to support the project. For this episode, the resources include a list of other cliffhanger books kids might like, activities for the classroom that focus on synonyms and antonyms, figurative language, a guide to the characters, and some information about the artwork that accompanies episode one.

Here at Reading Rockets, we have our own "Exquisite Prompt," and you can learn more about the prompts, author/illustrator resources, and rules here.

I think we'll be giving the Exquisite Corpse a try around our house. Care to join me?

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