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Inspiring children to write through rhythm and dance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For pupils at Lansdowne Elementary School, writing isn't just about putting words to paper.

It's about rhythm and rapping, dancing and fun.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at the Baltimore County school spent one day last week learning about the conventions of writing in a most unconventional way during six hours with Eric Cork - an education consultant who taught them not only about capitalization and complete sentences but also about the joys of writing.

"Reading and writing go together," said Cork, a former class-room teacher from Texas who now puts on high-energy writing work-shops for elementary school pupils around the country. "If you're a good reader, you can be a good writer, too. But sometimes, you need to make writing fun."

Cork filled his day of lessons with music from such popular artists as Britney Spears, Kid Rock and the Backstreet Boys, showing Lansdowne pupils that the words to songs are no different than poetry or other forms of writing.

"A rap is a poem with a beat" Cork told the children, as he dragged teachers to the front of the cafeteria to chant nursery rhymes to a rap music beat. "Popular music is the same thing."

Cork said he first learned to love writing when he was a child, copying down the words to popular songs he heard on the radio.

"When I started teaching, I decided to have the children do the same thing in the classroom, and that got them to like writing, too," Cork recalled. "The next year, their test scores went up, too."

He soon branched out to create his workshop - "Rap, Rhythm and Rhyme: Rebuilding the Writing Foundation" - and founded a Houston-based company, International Write Now! Inc. He also has written two plays and is a master teacher with New York-based International Center for Leadership in Education.

In the past four years, Cork has given hundreds of workshops around the country for educators and pupils, but Lansdowne is his first Maryland school. The seminars typically cost several thousand dollars, the amount varying based on time at the school, number of pupils and number of visits.

At Lansdowne, Cork spent a day working with teachers before the first day of classes, then returned Thursday to share his message with the children.

"He reinforced what he taught the teachers," Principal Anne Gold said about the seminar, paid for with school funds.

Under Cork's writing philosophy, making sure the sentence is properly conjugated is as simple as "monkey see, monkey do" - making sure the subject matches the verb.

Cork prohibits bland words such as "good," "bad" and "happy."

"You can't use 'nice' over and over and over," he said.

He brought pupils to the front of the cafeteria to act out the difference between eager writers and reluctant ones.

The children learned brief dances or other movements to remember writing basics such as "sticking to the topic" and having a "strong organization" of paragraphs.

"This is the kind of stuff I'll remember because it's fun to remember," said fifth-grader Krystal Zook, 10.

For teachers, writing can be a tricky subject - balancing the need to inspire creative thoughts with the demands for proper grammar, spelling and punctuation.

"It's really hard because sometimes they're not really motivated," said Stacey Crawford, a fifth-grade teacher. "Hopefully, this will stimulate them to want to write. It stimulated us to want to teach them about writing."

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