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Poetry #2: Runny Babbit, by Shel Silverstein

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Lesson Overview:

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein will crack even the toughest reluctant reader.  Kids see each poem as a funny puzzle, a hilarious challenge that will draw them out and have them playing with words faster than you can say “Runny Babbit.”  I’ve used Mr. Silverstein’s Runny Babbit in Grade 3 for several years.  The kids cannot get enough of the word play!  For a lesson that is sure to delight and entertain, do not miss Runny Babbit and his language antics.  You’ll have to tear them away from the assignment – it’s that much fun.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Each child will understand Mr. Silverstein’s word play in Runny Babbit and duplicate it in a few sentences of his or her own.  (AASL 1.2.3, “Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.”)

Suggested Time:

35-45 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each child will correctly identify and explain Shel Silverstein’s word play technique in Runny Babbit.  Each student will also create two “Runny Babbit” style sentences of his or her own.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Show the cover of the book and say, very slowly, “Runny Babbit, a Billy Sook.  What??  What is Runny Babbit?  What is a Billy Sook?  What is Mr. Shel Silverstein talking about . . . . ?”  Give the kids a few minutes to work out the word play.  If they are stuck, ask them the name of the animal on the front cover.  (Not the snake or turtle being used an an umbrella.)  With that hint, they should figure out that “Bunny Rabbit” has been turned into “Runny Babbit.”  With that, they should be able to figure out that “Billy Sook” is a “Silly Book.”  Once they have understood the title, they are ready to go!

2. Main:

Slowly read a few poems from Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook, by Shel Silverstein.  Here are a few I like to use:

  1. Runny Bakes a Tath, p. 34
  2. Runny’s Nicpic, p. 67
  3. Runny’s Heading Rabits, p. 43

Save “Runny’s Heading Rabits” for last since it is a big hurrah for the library!

Next, give the children photocopies of two poems from the book.  I usually use “Runny’s Rittle Leminders” because it has so many short phrases to figure out.  I use that one plus one more of your choosing.  Then, ask the children to use colored markers or pencils to show you how the letters should be switched.

For example, in the phrase, “Rean Up Your Cloom,” the children would circle the “R” and the “Cl” and draw arrows to those those letters switching places.  The result is, of course, “Clean up your room.”  I usually don’t ask the children to rewrite the phrases, only to use a colored pencils, circles, and arrows to show me the letter switches.

After they do that for two poems, ask them to turn their papers over and write two sentences with a Spoonerism.  For example, the phrase, “Sleepovers are fun,” becomes, “Feepovers are sun.”  The phrase, “I love pizza,” becomes, “I pove lizza.”  “My name is Peter Johnson” becomes, “My name is Jeter Pohnson.”

If anyone finishes early, you can ask them to write a short story or a short poem filled with Spoonerisms.  Usually, my kids do not want to stop this activity!

3. Conclusion:

Tell the children that you will send Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook with them back to the classroom.  Encourage them to play with words and to find out which phrases and letter combinations are the funniest.  Try to say “Goodbye” to them using a Spoonerism.  For example, “See you wext neek!”

  1. Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook by Shel Silverstein.
  2. Enough copies of poems from Runny Babbit so that the children can show you how the letters have been moved.  Make a few copies of a lot of different poems.  If they are not all working with the same text, they will share with one another and have more fun in reading/retelling the poems.

The name of an error in speech in which consonants are mistakenly transposed is “Spoonerism.”  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has a short podcast explaining the word and its history here:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spoonerism

Recommended books for this lesson:

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Key Terms:

Poems, Poets, Poetry, Expression, Children’s Poetry, Spoonerisms