My first project of the school year is writing picture stories with the children. Language is critical to learning in all academic areas, so its only natural that creating picture stories is an excellent tool for teachers. Its a fun activity for children, because they want to tell you a story. Yet, children really have to think in order to do this. They must pull words from their heads to tell a story. Here is an early-on picture story:
As the year progresses we begin to write group stories. This is a great way to build upon the multitude of books we read, and give children an opportunity to use their rapidly developing vocabulary and language in order to create stories with depth. Writing is as important as reading aloud, with a real push to use those words they hear. Creating a story as a group has the added benefit of boosting children’s social and emotional skills. Here is an example of what children can write (and I never change a word):
When we changed our hallway display to highlight our unit on Bears, we had to stop and read, yet again, our own classroom story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Other classes also delighted in reading our story, as their trips down the hallway to the bathroom included eagerly stopping to read. Parents and families took time to read it. The the story was surrounded by bears children made from tracing and cutting circles, and from tracing actual stuffed bears.
In the words of the children, the big chair was ‘rough’, not hard. Mama’s bed was ‘fluffy and puffy’, not soft. These are very descriptive vocabulary words for three and four-year-olds. Not only are the words in our story expressive, the text is long. How did this happen? To start with, we read picture books every single day. We have planned, scheduled books to read, and unplanned, spontaneous reading. Our bookshelf is always packed with books, and children are free to read them whenever they want to… and they do, all the time! The children like to sit in the teacher rocking chair and ‘read’ to a group of friends, or read on the couch to ‘Gloria’, or simply read to themselves.
Then, we chapter read. This is really a very intimate time of our day, because chapter reading has no pictures, and forces children to listen, think, and come together. There is nothing but the words we are all hearing together. It takes us forever to get through a book because we stop to ask questions and talk about what has happened, all the time. Today we stopped to talk about an anchor. We are reading The Story of Doctor Dolittle, and today Doctor Dolittle found a boat to travel to Africa. Polynesia the parrot told him all the things he would need to have for the journey, including an anchor.
Now we get complicated and even more language-based. The discussion of an anchor started with describing the shape and the size. Finally a child said, “It’s a big line, and a big curve, like an I and a C”. Another child asked what it really does, so we talked about how it is attached to a rope, and sinks to the bottom of the sea in order to stop the boat. We then talked about why a ship moves in the ocean. Can you picture these thirty minutes of listening, language, thinking and reasoning? Chapter reading opens the door to words, and words open the door to the world. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that. When we read Charlotte’s Web, the words that children asked about were ‘irate’, ‘curiosity’, ‘tremendous’, and ‘radiant’. How wonderful!
When we write stories, or picture stories, it gives children the opportunity to use all those wonderful words they have heard, over and over again, through our picture books and chapter reading. Now, it is their turn. Instead of listening and learning, they are taking their own experiences, using what they have learned through reading, and making stories. That is why their stories are rich in vocabulary and text. Writing stories also increases social skills, language skills… and confidence.
We were very fortunate to have Jim Trelease, the author of the million-copy bestseller, The Read-Aloud Handbook visit our classroom. I highly recommend this book to parents. It tells you all the reasons and benefits to reading aloud, and gives book recommendations for all ages. I have used this book since my children were very little. Did you know the number of words a child hears is directly related to how s/he will do in school? That is why we read at school, and why we encourage you to read at home! Imagine if you turned on the closed-captioned component on your TV, and your child always saw the printed word. Powerful, indeed.