Educational CyberPlayGround






My Journey From the School Playground to the Educational CyberPlayGround




"The key to achievement is how well children master Standard English the language of commerce." It is about respecting the home language children speak when they enter school. ~ Ellis

in 1977 Ellis started work on DOMINO while teaching second and fourth grades in St. Croix. Part of her assignment was to teach reading and writing in Standard English, in spite of the fact that her students spoke dialect and in all cases spoke Standard English as a second language (ESL).


"The material for "Domino" was collected inside my classroom during lunch time." says Ellis.

"The play of the children, and their unabashed joyfulness, affected and delighted me. I felt that the children and their songs were like gems I had discovered in my own backyard. In return the children were very motivated to teach me!"

How to build a culture of cooperation with students
in both the classroom and school-wide.

When the children realized that I wanted to spend everyday of my lunch time with them, recording, writing down the words of their playground clap pattern chants and songs - learning and practicing everything they taught me it just it blew their minds -- that they were my teacher! Boys and Girls alike no matter what their age, no matter which classroom they belonged to came into my room during lunch time to be a part of this experience or came just to watch. It was an underground cult.

They had never seen any adult care about their play culture or give it any respect like this in their lives, either at their home and especially not ever in their school!

This simple act changed everything. The culture in my classroom changed. The kids saw me as their partner as their champion, and they wanted to help me learn everything they knew.

They saw me trying hard, working hard, they understoon that I valued what they knew! and how I was amazed that some of them knew over a hundred songs with very very very syncopatted rhythms accompianied by hundreds of clap patterns and thousands of words!!! In terms of terrabytes of data they win and adults loose.

Nothing like this data could ever be tested at the end a year 3rd grade math and reading test but I can tell you that my 2nd graders could write all the verses for Down by the River at the end of their second grade year!

And the secret sause for learning?

They were willing to accept learning to read and write Standard English because I was trying to learn what they had to teach me. We were using music for grammer, syllables, rhythm pronounciation, spelling, accents, timing, imagery, poetry, writing which are all components of literacy.

This article might explain why they are willing to listen. Well before a baby begins speaking her native tongue, her inborn “drive for information” makes her a discriminating judge of who's worth listening to, said the researchers. This “heightened valuation of same-group members may have its origins in infancy,” they add. But “the origin of this preference may be a consequence of infants' drive to seek information from the optimal informant.”

How I used MUSIC Orff Schulwerk
to develop a reading module for dialect speakers.

In 1978 Ellis developed a reading curriculum that incorporated the children's own poetry and culture into their daily lessons, and therein lies the real treasure; in only a few short months the children had raised their previous reading levels one to two years.

The reading curriculum built a bridge from the Dialect to Standard English.


Over 60 songs, clap patterns, jump rope chants, jokes and elimination games comprise this charming compendium. Domino is accompanied by a live sound field recording on cassette straight from the playgrounds and backyards of St. Croix. It is designed for ages 4 through 12. DOMINO will delight parents as well as teachers. The cassette's syncopated rhythms make the games fun and easy to learn especially since the movements and hand motions are depicted in photographs. There are easy to read rhythmic charts that outline the correct timing for each movement. Every school and local library should make Domino available. Kids will love this book because, as Ellis points out, they can teach the teachers and help them learn something for a change!

How to Integrate Literacy, Music, and Technology using DOMINO

Ellis shows how teachers can use the home language of another culture to build a bridge to Standard English. Domino should be used as a complete teaching package for all the language arts, music, social studies, American history, Afro-American studies, or simply for fun, DOMINO is truly an excellent tool with proven results. Children will recognize words and rhythms from their own playgrounds and sidewalks within the unique live sound field recording from of the U.S. Virgin Islands.


One of the difficulties I had as a teacher was in understanding the dialect, and one of the difficulties the children had as students was in understanding me. I speak Standard English. These children were required to learn to read by using books that were written in standard English, however the children didn't speak standard English. Standard English is a second language for them. A person must first know the language before they can read and write in it.

Use Technology to build a Public Folklore Project that is built by the Children of the US.National Children's Folksong Repository.

Why the poetry of children's music is a perfect tool to use as a bridge from the home language to Standard English. -

See Indigenous Folksong Reading Curriculum and learn about Thematic Reading

Some people who speak in a patois, or a dialect of standard English, can experience a barrier that may keep them separate from the mainstream of society. Standard English is the language of financial success. In order for people to join in the American dream they are required to speak the language of currency.

Question: What is the difference between a Language and a Dialect? ANSWER

Dialects which differ from the standard spoken and written language have come to be considered inferior to the standard language.

It is incorrect to think dialect is inferior, and it is easy to embarrass children when we ask them not to speak "that way", or tell them they are "wrong". In embarrassing them, we cause them to feel shame about who they are and what they are speaking. The whole family may speak this way and an even bigger conflict erupts.

It is very difficult to carry a burden of shame about the people you love. Children are not psychologically sophisticated enough to handle this kind of dilemma, most adults can't handle it either. Their shame makes them feel alienated from and disrespected by the society they wish to join.

It should seem obvious that when you shame and alienate someone, you don't give them any reason to respect you or join you.

Like it or not, this is how children feel. Ironically, this produces motivation but the exact opposite kind of motivation, the motivation NOT to learn!

It takes more than drill and kill phonics to teach reading and writing, there must be a more humanistic approach that involves the whole child.


It is mandatory to respect dialect speakers. They speak in a wonderful language that is colorful, descriptive, and eloquent. If there is doubt about this then you are obliged to go to the Linguistics area and the Literacy area of this site and begin learning.


Everyone can show respect for the people who speak another language. Students and parents will feel more inclined to respect K12 Standard English Teachers and Administrators in return.

The roots of language learning.


When Philadelphia resident Karen Ellis recalls the memorable teachers in her life, she likes to talk about how they gave her the "building blocks of how the world works." These teachers "gave me the skills to negotiate for the rest of my life." Read the rest of the story - PDF

Karen S. Ellis has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Temple University and graduated Magna Cum Laude. She also has her Certification in Orff Schulwerk from Memphis State University. She gathered the material for "Domino" while living on and managing a six acre sugar cane plantation called Diamond and Ruby with her two cats Friday and Guavaberry. Biography Karen Ellis


It was natural for me to progress from the real playground of schoolyard to the virtual one of cyberspace and invent the educational cyberplayground. I first wrote about this online in 1997 when invited to participate in the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts' Artsedge websites' 1st Virtual Conference.

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 21:10:40 -0400
From: Bob Morrison <> (Former VP of VH1)
To: AMC Mail List <>
Cc: ArtsEdge Listserve <>,
Goals 2000 Arts Partnership <>
Subject: AMC Music News 4/22

In This Issue of AMC Music News:
- NEWSWEEK Releases Special Edition "Your Child"
- "ARTSEDGE Virtual Conference" Now Online
- Quote of the Week

NEWSWEEK Releases Special Edition "Your Child"

The much anticipated Newsweek Special Edition "Your Child" will hit the news stands on April 23, 1997. In the section " How to Build a Baby's Brain" writer Sharon Begley (Known for the February '96 "Your Child's Brain" cover story) examines how the brain develops and includes coverage of the recent research from Drs. Rauscher and Shaw. This is the second Newsweek article this month covering this ground breaking brain research involving music making!

This special "Spring/Summer" issue will remain on stands for the next 4 months. Pick it up at your local news stand. The article *may* be available on the Newsweek site on AOL.

There is still more MAJOR coverage due about this research. We will keep you posted.

" ARTSEDGE Virtual Conference" Now Online

From our friends at ARTSEDGE:
The First "ARTSEDGE Virtual Conference" is now online! Enjoy presentations and join in ongoing online conversations with the likes of: Researcher, Dr. Frances Rauscher; Music Educator, Doug Goodkin;
National Symphony Orchestras musician and educator, Yvonne Caruthers, and many others about this important, controversial, and timely subject!
"Attend" the conference at:

The presentations and discussion will be constantly updated over the course of the conference so visit often!

Karen Ellis the owner of the Educational CyberPlayGround was one of the panalists, and you can read the paper here:

TECHNOLOGY AND THE ORAL TRADITION: The New Cyber Playground© 1997 by Karen Ellis, all rights reserved
Upon completing the Indigenous Folksong Reading Curriculum a thematic reading module, you and the other teachers involved will help each other to submit the material that has been gathered from your classroom to this site. You'll be able to see your name, the kids will see their name and work, Parents will see it if you link this to your schools web site, other teachers will see your work and be able to show it to their classrooms. Everyone can share and compare!