Why Write Letters and Picture Stories?

Learning begins with language, building words upon words.  The more words children hear, the more they learn, and the better they do in school.  All of this leads up to reading readiness.  So, if I can give children hundreds and thousands of words in a variety of ways, they will have a head start.

How do I do this?

Letter writing
When we have a guest visit the class, or we want to ask someone questions, we write a giant letter.  In that way, I am helping children to visualize what is on their minds.  But there’s more; children need to touch and feel to ‘cement’ an idea or a concept.  I have them decorate and draw on the big letters.  The words are reinforced and children feel as though they have written the words themselves.  Often, they add their own writing.  This week we wrote a letter to Her Majesty the Queen of England:

Note the many places children practiced making letters.

Picture Stories
Children have much on their minds.  They’re constantly learning, soaking up information at a rapid clip.  In late September I ask each child what they like to do in school.  This is not a casual question; it’s the first time their teacher has asked, one-on-one.  First, they have to think.  I can almost visualize a fast-forward movie playing in their brains.  With no other prompting or questions, I get “the story”.  Each child watches as I write his / her exact works.  I have not only put their thought into a written image, I have validated that what they say is important.  Because it is.  Next, each child draws a picture of their story.  I mount the story along with their photo and hang it in the hallway.  Of course we have a field trip to the hallway to read aloud everyone’s picture story:

Note the detail in the drawings and expressive, thoughtful vocabulary.

I tell stories for two reasons: hearing words without an image requires brain work and concentration.  It is much the same with chapter reading.  Children make the images in their head and vocabulary grows in leaps and bounds.  Secondly, telling classic fairy tales with voices and animation is a favorite, along with Jennie Stories (true stories of my childhood), as it connects the children to me.  There is the element of love, that intangible feeling of wanting to be part of the story and also part of the teacher who was once just like them.

And what does all this language do, along with reading a gazillion picture books?  It gives children the skills to learn to read!  There is both visual and auditory processing at work, plus making all those connections with what they hear, what they see, and what they write.  This also translates into focusing- learning and listening at school in all areas.

Finally, it is fun for children.  When the big chart paper comes out to write a letter, or when they hear the words “It happened like this”, or when the lights go out for chapter reading, children are excited and engaged.  Words make all the difference in the world.


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.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Imagination, picture stories, reading, reading aloud, storytelling, Teaching young children, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to Why Write Letters and Picture Stories?

  1. Ritu says:

    I love your ideas Jennie! I may be magpie-ing a few!

  2. A delightful post, Jennie. If you find out whether the Queen would like bows on her shoes, I would also like to know [smile].

  3. beetleypete says:

    I think the Queen does like to go fishing, at least she used to. I recall photos of her standing in rivers with a rod. No doubt she had bows on her shoes at one time too. As for chicken nuggets, I suspect they are not on the menu at her palaces… 🙂
    Great ideas as always, and I hope that Elizabeth Windsor replies to your class.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      My husband thinks she likes fishing, too. I wonder if she had silk laces on her fancy shoes to tie into a bow. Chicken nuggets on the palace menu? Nope. I do hope she replies. A hundred thank yous for the website to correspond with Her Majesty. I took a photo of my personal letter to her that accompanied the children’s letter. When she replies, both letters will be a blog post. Best to you, Pete.

  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Enjoy Jennie Fitzkee’s latest post on why write letters and picture stories.. always educationa whatever age you are.#recommended

  5. J L Hunt says:

    I love the inspiring tips suggested here…a wonderful article, a very enjoyable read 🙂

  6. Dan Antion says:

    As they grow older, regardless of their career plans, the ability to tell stories will be an essential skill.

  7. dgkaye says:

    Fabulous post Jennie. So true, picture books are great for getting to know what things look like. but telling a story make them listen and use their imagination. 🙂

  8. Jennie, you are so great with teaching them that as imagination grows with words, pictures accentuate the words hey have learned in their thoughts – what a wonderful post, Jennie. You should write a book about your teaching or have you, and am I missing something great? K D 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Karen. And, you say it beautifully. Interesting question, and you are not missing anything. My ‘lightbulb’ moment was a book about all that I do and have come to know in teaching. I envision something similar to Chicken Soup For the Soul, a collection of these stories. I’m pitching lit agents (killer query letter!), so we’ll see how that goes. Then, there’s my children’s book (well, two). Isn’t writing exciting? 😀

      • Oh, Jennie, I am so excited for you! Awesome. I know your book will be success. Are the children’s book written already? Are they on Amazon? I hope so. K D 🙂

  9. Jennie, what wonderful ideas you have. I particularly love the letter writing. It is becoming a lost art in our society. I also really like the idea of decorating them. Storytelling is so great for kids! The other day, I was in a high school reading class for readers (who are below grade level). I was telling them how I loved to read as a child and how we only had 3 television channels. They looked at me in horror, and at the end of class, they asked, “How many channels do you have now, Miss?” LOL!

    • Jennie says:

      What a wonderful story! And you had to get up and go to the TV to change the channels. Storytelling really is so important. Yes, lettering writing is becoming a lost art. Last year we had a pen-pal, so lots of letter writing. Many thanks!

  10. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another wonderful post from Jennie, an extraordinary teacher!

  11. Tina Frisco says:

    Jennie, you are so innovative. Now I know why my nephew would sit as close to me as he could on the couch when saying, “Tell a story, Aunt Tina.” He wouldn’t budge the entire time. He’d stare straight ahead, his eyes periodically opening wide. He was visualizing and making connections with what he was hearing. Somehow, pressing his body next to mine impacted that process. Your students must love you to pieces ♥

  12. Just wondering: after reading your fantastic posts for a while now…have you ever pubbed them as part of a teacher’s lesson plan/ideas/inspirational resource?

    • Jennie says:

      Interesting that you ask, Laura. I have been submitting your idea to lit agents. A collection of stories on this subject. Great query letter but no bites yet. Fingers crossed! Many thanks.

  13. Love this post, Jennie! These are wonderful exercises and activities for building language skills. The context of telling a story with a picture makes language learning so much more meaningful…and fun for your students. 🙂

  14. Wonderful, Jennie. Whoever said that learning isn’t fun, hasn’t visited your classroom. You’re so creative in the ways you reinforce lessons and experience and it all feels like play. 🙂

  15. Wonderful Jennie… Children have such wonderful inquiring minds, and this is such a good tool in allowing them to explore their skills in bringing not only their writing skills to the fore.. but their imaginations..
    I have a pencil and paper in the back of our car.. and when its our turn for the school run on certain days because her parents shifts do not allow time.. We often find lovely stories in the note pad..

    Have a beautiful rest of the week and a Happy Halloween to you and your students.. 😀

  16. Once again, I am delighted with a post of yours, Jennie! I love the letter to the queen and the children’s drawings.

  17. Writing letters, I always felt I was right there in the room with the person I was writing too… yet painfully aware of their absence. I like that better than picturing them floating like ghosts somewhere in the Ethernet…

  18. Wonderful ideas! I love the giant group letters and the picture stories!

  19. Darlene says:

    I do hope Queen Elizabeth answers the letter. The kids would be delighted. I think she might. These are all such good ideas.

  20. ren says:

    Bless you Jennie! You are beyond special!

  21. Norah says:

    These are lovely ideas, Jennie. But even more important than that, they are empowering. They show children that, not only are they valued, their thoughts and ideas are valued too.
    I love what the children have shared about school. I do hope that their love of those things is enabled in school for a few years more. Sadly, for many those times of play are cut short by too much formality too soon. Learning through play, and language as you have described, is the best way in early childhood.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Norah. Empowering children is so important. As we know, the foundation of being valued sets the path for later down the road. Sadly we can’t change the lack of play in later years, but we sure can give children a big dose of play and language right now. I just love it when children and their thoughts are valued! I’m glad you enjoyed their letters. Best to you, Norah. 🙂

      • Norah says:

        Oh, I so agree, Jennie. We must do what we can to enrich their lives for the times that we have them. Hopefully they’ll carry a little of us in their hearts for the rest of their lives, whether they know it or not. Today, I bumped into a parent whose children I worked with twenty-five years ago. She told me that if she was asked to tell one thing that made a positive difference to her life and the lives of her children she’d say it was me, that I am her star. It warmed my heart today. It’s lovely to get reminders that our work is valued and does indeed change lives. Best to you too, Jennie, for the positive impact you have on lives you touch. 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Oh my goodness, Norah. What a wonderful thing to happen to you. Twenty-five years later, and the parent has the opportunity to tell you that you were the one who made the difference. That is fantastic! I think there are many more children and parents who feel the same way. They haven’t had the opportunity to tell you. And, they may not even realize it, but the mark you left is there. Best to you, Norah. You put a big smile on my face today! 😀

      • Norah says:

        Thank you, Jennie. I was pleased with the opportunity of sharing with you. I knew you’d understand, as you share so many similar stories of your own. It is true that they may never realise it, but it is wonderful when they do, and tell us! 🙂

  22. Letter writing appears to be a lost art, which is a shame. Thanks for working to instill this skill in your students. 🙂

  23. Joseph Satish says:

    I absolutely agree with the need for letter writing as part of education! Btw, maybe you’ll relate to my post about a father’s letters to his daughter, from prison… https://abravenewscience.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/describing-nature-to-a-daughter-from-a-prison-camp/

  24. Pingback: Bookish Meet and Greet – Usborne Books and More With Niki

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