Let Your Child Have the Last Word

Feb 24, 2013 by

emergent_literacy_buttonLet Your Child Have the Last Word

By Shara Lawrence-Weiss

I’m having so much fun thinking back over my earlier parenting (and nanny/preschool) years and dipping into some of the strategies that worked well. Here’s an idea I continue to love and use:

I sing often with my kids. While training them to memorize the songs I start to sing and I stop short at the last word. As they begin to memorize the song over time, I stop short by several words so they have to fill in more of the blanks.


Mom: Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you _______.

Child: are!

Mom: Up above the world so _______

Child: high!

Mom: Like a diamond in the _______

Child: sky!

Mom: Twinkle, twinkle little _______

Child: star!

Mom: How I wonder what you _______

Child: are!

Another example


Child: G!


Child: LMNOP

Mom: QRS

Child: TUV

Mom: WX

Child: Y and Z

Mom: Now I know my _______

Child: ABC’s!

Mom: Next time won’t you _______

Child: sing with me!

This has also worked really well (for my kids) when it comes to reading. Below is a video of my daughter reading a book that I wrote for her. She was 2.5 years old and was simply finishing the words in the story, after I got her going. She’s now six and is actively reading books and learning about phonics at school.

Here’s another video showing my daughter reading a Dr. Seuss story by finishing the last word. She quickly memorized that book and was able to read it, on her own, by the age of 3.5.

This is such a simple strategy yet it’s rendered hours of fun and learning for my kids. My three eldest children have memorized oodles of songs this way, enhancing their vocabulary and language development. Here are some of the songs we most enjoy singing in this format (where I begin the sentences and they finish). Once they have memorized a song, we move on to more difficult ones.

– Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (We do hand motions to this song.)

– ABC’s (Sometimes we sign the letters with this one – ASL.)

– You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine (With this song, my daughter loved it when I would mix up the endings. For instance, we’d sing, “Please don’t take my KIPPER away!” Rather than saying her name at the end, we’d substitute the name of a TV character or farm animal and she thought that was hilarious. In fact, just the other night she reminded me that we used to do this when she was younger. It’s been two years since we sang the song that way but she still remembers it).

– Jesus Loves Me (With this song, I decided to mix up the lines a bit. We sing, “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves you. Yes, Jesus loves us, the Bible tells me so.” Rather than saying me three times which I, personally, found a little narcissistic.)

– My God is So Big (We do the hand motions to go along.)

– This Is The Day (Great song to sing in order to encourage gratitude.)

– This Little Light of Mine (We use hand motions with this one.)

– I Love You, You Love Me (Barney song: we hug and kiss on the forehead to go along with the verses.)

– The Frog Song (We always do the funny hand motions and we sing the song more quickly than this preschool class did.)

– Wishy Washy Washer Woman (so far I’ve only taught my kids the first verse – we need to learn the others!)

I modified this song for my children to say, “Deep in the woods where nobody goes…” We used to live in the woods.

You can carry this on in multiple ways, even with storytelling. I recently wrote a post for Games for Educators offering a few storytelling games to use in the car. You can read the tips here: Games for Educators: Emergent Literacy Games



  1. Using open-ended songs and stories are a great way to develop thinking and creative literacy skills. Even when reading songs/text we read the first few words of more familiar stories/songs and them ask the kids to highlight and “read” more familiar words. It encourages them and kids are so proud when they can figure out different endings. Sometimes we sub different 3 letter words…for ex: twinkle, twinkle little….COW.They think it is hilarious but they learn from it!

  2. Hi Darla: I’m really happy to know that you use the same techniques. That tells me: the idea is a keeper! I enjoy sharing ideas with you – thanks again.

  3. Love it!!!!

    Shara, you did it again… hit on one of my favorite topics. While most people usually don’t think of it this way, reading and writing both develop as an emergent process. Your “last word” idea provides one of the best vehicles available for helping a child to slide right into reading process, without even realizing it.

    If you start the concept with singing, then you can move right into the next higher level with reading. First select a few books that you tend to read over and over. Then begin your technique of leaving out last words and having your child fill them in for you. Once you get that far, go on to the next level, which is pointing to all the words as you read them, including the last word which is the one your child will say.

    Here is the best part. As you continue to read and point to the words, keep leaving out more words for your child to say. You guessed it. The next step is having your child proudly and independently choose the book and read it on his or her own.

    Last but not least your child will get the very present he or she has been waiting for, the ability to say “I can do it! I can read all by myself” A true love of reading has just begun, and as you know, once that happens, it only grows from there!

  4. Hi Sally! Thank you. I’m glad you love it. Any time you love something, I know I’m on the right path 🙂 Right – I do that, also. I leave out more and more words, over time, until they have memorized every bit of the song or text, etc. They feel so great when they have mastered something.

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