I'm presently writing my dissertation on using rhythm ONLY to help struggling readers. The ability to match rhythm and read are processed through the same brain areas. Rhythm and reading both involve temporal timing. Additionally rhythm exercises can help students process emotions more positively. I would look at Dalcroze and Orff exercises and see research by Goswami out of Cambridge. Very simple short exercises of ten minutes per week have shown dramatic results.
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I always find singing/reading lyrics with 2nd/3rd graders is highly motivating for them, but difficult at first. They can't read as fast as they can sing! But, with practice (whisper reading, choral chanting, individual practice), the tune helps struggling readers get through the reading aspect of it. The key is to reinforce eyes on the lyrics as they sing them. Chart the lyrics and have students take turns being the leaders/"pointers," or try it in smaller groups. You can "freeze" them at any point and have students call out the word under their finger, etc.
I also love to sing rhyming songs with my students and use those words for my lesson platform. "Down by the Sea where the watermelons grow" is a great one.
Lots of options: scatter index cards with their target words on it, or have them come up with their own to finish the song. You can chart their rhymes and re-read them, have students sort them into word families, go on hunts in their books for other rhymers, etc. Sky's the limit, and there are many great songs where kids can insert their own words.
As an arts integration specialist and former general music teacher, I use music all the time to support literacy and reading. One of the ways that I love to use is the technique of call and response. You can view a quick 2-minute video of how I use this technique right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stX-OWZ0Ums&feature=share
If you mean to keep them more engaged in their reading then this is what I do in my classroom: I have asked parents to share their students favorite music and I mix it up with some classical. I either play for whole class as they read or share sound buffering head sets with them to listen to the music through a shared school folder. I even use music for transitions. My students sing while they transition and know by the theme which subject area we are heading for. 2 birds: 1 stone.
I used early Beatles' music...the students, first graders, had to practice phrasing and fluency with the lyrics...then I would play the actual songs as the students tracked...eventually they would be tracking, reading, and singing. I used Octopus' Garden, Yellow Submarine, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Yesterday, All You Need is Love, and Help. I haven't introduced this yet to this year's class, but will soon.
The "Pet the Cat" series of books by Harper Collins would be great with your first graders. Some are videoed online and others you will have to borrow or purchase. The students love them.
The Singing Reading connection is awesome. Great tunes and beats, funny songs based on familiar books and stories.
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