When Children Tell the Stories

Storytelling is a huge part of my classroom because it ignites the fire of listening and learning; new words, different ideas, adventure, compassion… hearing stories told aloud brings words and ideas to life.  This is exciting, because children are captivated and also absorbing big doses of language.  As they listen and think they gain a ‘golden link’, connecting the words they hear to the building blocks of complex emotions.

What’s the next step?  Having children tell the stories.  Here’s how I do this:  I show the children a picture, something that represents a host of feelings or questions.  Then I simply say, “Tell Me a Story”.  The first time I did this I showed a picture of Humphrey from the book Humphrey the Lost Whale by Wendy Tokuda.  Humphrey was on the bottom of the river, not doing very well.  The stories that children told exploded.  I couldn’t write their words fast enough.  Humphrey was either sick, sad, hungry, or lonely.  Then I asked the best question of all, “Why?”  Children couldn’t wait to answer.  This was exciting, because they had to really think.  This was hard!  We analyzed every ‘why’ from food to water to loneliness.  The more children looked at the picture of Humphrey, the more they thought.  And, the more they came up with answers.

I did “Tell Me a Story” with the Mona Lisa, and the same thing happened.  Children were captivated with telling what they thought was happening.  Did you know there is significant outdoor, woodland background to the portrait?  I didn’t know, but the children certainly picked that up when really looking at the portrait.  I never underestimate children.  The “why” question prompted a long and rather serious discussion.  It was remarkable for preschoolers, because the depth of discussion was on the level of elementary school.  Children’s minds were stretched.

Oh, the picture that children see for “Tell Me a Story” can’t be one with an obvious set of answers.  That would defeat the whole purpose.  It has to be subtle.  Children need to express their thoughts and stretch their minds.  That requires more complex pictures.

I often think that “Tell Me a Story” has the same power as my reading aloud.  Language is the foundation for learning how to read, then all the stories and reading aloud is the groundwork for learning how to think.

Goodness and knowledge.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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