A Writer of Note: Erik Cork Sounds Off

By Lori Myrland
Journal Staff Writer

Rapid City, South Dakota

“I feel eight … parts of speech navigate. I fe-e-e-e-l eight… parts of speech navigate. There’s eight (dant-dant) …There’s eight (dant) …and they’ve got rules! (dant-dant-dant-dant)”

Who would ever have thought a James Brown song could teach the parts of speech to elementary school kids? Erik Cork did, and with a new set of verses set to the same tune, he led students in a rousing rendition Monday at E.B. Bergquist Elementary School. It was just one of many songs – including the Oscar Mayer bologna song – that the nationally known writing teacher used to teach good writing habits.

To the amazement of their teachers, the youngsters stayed enthusiastic about the presentation from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program was in the gym, with Cork using an over head projector, hip-hop music blaring from loudspeakers and frequent opportunities to sing, move around and take breaks. The children clearly enjoyed singing along to their favorite group hits, and most of the teachers were seen boogying at least once or twice.

“Rap, Rhythm, & Rhyme: Rebuilding the Writing Foundation” is a program developed by Cork, a native Texan who began his career as a newspaper editor. He started volunteering in schools, and it eventually became a vocation. He is a master teacher with the International Center for Leadership in Education and formed his own company, International Write Now! Cork, 39 has been conducting school workshops for 11 years and has taken his show on the rod for the last five. He visits more than 250 schools each year in the U.S. This was his first visit to South Dakota.

“It was fun,” said Zach Thayer, 8, saying he liked listening to music while learning. Brianna Pate, 9, said playing songs she and her classmates already knew made them want to learn new things. Cork says his goal is to both inspire students to develop good writing skills and to inspire teachers by showing them new ways to help children learn. The basics of good writing don’t change, and music has been helping the learning process for a long time, he added. Point in case: Cork led teachers in the “Conjunction Junction” theme and the “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle for Rolaids.

Cork’s lessons weren’t without structure. He has written a workbook that children fill in all day long, then keep in their classrooms to use later as teachers expand on the al-day workshop. Liz Venenga, district literacy coordinator, said she observed the program in the morning and came back late in the day to see how the kids were holding up. She was impressed at how Cork was able to hold the youngsters attention and noted that the workbook contains much information that relates to the district’s writing curriculum. Other areas covered were capitalization, punctuation, editing and revision, spelling and using descriptive words.

Tiffany Dean-Wright