Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 1

As a teacher, I want to grow readers.  I want to help children develop a sense of understanding.  I want children to become curious, and eager to discover.  I learned early on that in order to do this, it all begins with language and hearing words.  Fact:  a child’s success in school in all areas, not just reading, is directly attributed to the number of words s/he hears.  As a parent of young children, that fact alone made me want to run to the public library.  And I did.  As a teacher, I became an advocate for reading to children.  I just knew that pouring all those words into their brains was filling the learning reservoir.  It happens in this order –  listening, speaking, reading, then writing.

Reading aloud became a passion and a constant in my classroom.  The guru of reading aloud, Jim Trelease, visited my classroom to hear me read.  He was curious that I read chapter books to preschoolers, and that they were glued to the story.  He was also writing the latest edition of his million-copy bestselling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  I am fortunate to be included in the book.

At chapter reading, children know that they make the pictures in their heads.  This week I said,

“The words go into your ears, and then into your brain and into your heart.  When that happens, you can see the picture in your head.  Can’t you just see Wilbur standing under Charlotte’s web?  Can’t you just see the morning dew making SOME PIG stand out?”

Oh, we had a wonderful, rich conversation!  Language and literacy.  Yes, it starts with language.  But, I felt pulled to do more, to help children cross over, to give them the tools to be a bigger part of it all.  I wanted children to use their own thinking – their own language.  Here is what happened:

I read our first “fact” picture book of the year, Humphrey The Lost Whale, by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall.

It is the story of a whale who goes into the San Francisco bay and gets lost.  He turns the wrong way and travels up the Sacramento River.  It took an entire day to look at and talk about the inside cover alone.  Geography at its best!

The small map is the United States.  Note the small red area.  That depicts the location of the large map.  We could see the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and Humphrey’s path up the river – which got smaller and smaller.  Questions and curiosity and conversations were abundant.  Plus, it was so cool that it was a true story.

The next day I read the book to the children.  We often stopped to talk about what was happening.  When we hit this page, I showed the illustration and just said, “Oh, no.”

Silence.  Big eyes.  Worried eyes.  We talked for a long time.  This was a meeting and a marriage of the mind and the heart.  This was also where children expanded on their language.  And so, they told their own story:

“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
-William Butler Yeats-

Stay tuned for Part 2.


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 Book Review, books, chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, geography, Imagination, Jim Trelease, picture books, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, storytelling, Teaching young children, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 1

  1. beetleypete says:

    Great story as always, Jennie. Looking forward to Part 2. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Darlene says:

    I remember pouring over maps as a child. I found them so intriguing. I loved my Atlas!! That WB Yeats quote is so perfect!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Darlene! I love maps, too. And so do the children. So, to find a map in the book that introduced the story was awesome. Glad you liked the quote! 🙂

  3. tidalscribe says:

    When I was very little knew America was on the other side of the sea and I pictured a strip of water with two equal sized blocks of land either side! I wonder if children find globes or maps easier?

  4. Ritu says:

    Powerful stuff Jennie 💜
    You know I am in full agreement. I’d love to be able to allow my children to access knowledge this way.
    As most of my students are EAL or English as an additional language students, I need the pictures in picture books to explain vocabulary and I stretch their thinking with the questions I pose as I read a story and share the images. I hope the exposure to new words sinks in so doing they can enjoy the wonderful chapter books we have out there. 💜

    • Jennie says:

      Hats off to you, Ritu. And I know we both feel the same way. I typically have one ESL (over here it is English as a Second Language) child each year. You are more diverse, and that in itself means you absolutely need the pictures to accompany your questions. Children are amazing sponges. I definitely think those new words you give them will sink in. By the end of the year, can your EAL students follow chapter reading?

  5. Opher says:

    What a great quote that is Jennie! I like lighting those sort of fires.

  6. You are absolutely the best ever, Jennie!

  7. Jennie, you’ve given us another treasure! Your descriptions are always wonderful. Thanks for including the pic with their scenarios. That last one about cousins made me snort. 😸 💙🐖 Hugs

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Teagan. Thank you! The cousins was too cute. I am still amazed at how many different ideas the children had. They’re eager learners. Hugs to you. 😍

  8. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another wonderful post on education by that excellent teacher, Jennie!

  9. I wish I had known any of this when I was raising my children but I didn’t. All I knew was that I would always talk to them like they had a mind and could understand real adult words. I hated hearing people talk baby talk to children. I love the quote by William Butler Yeats. Your students are so very fortunate to have you in their lives and parents that want you there. There is hope for that next generation.

    • Jennie says:

      You did the right things, Marlene. I will talk about some of that in Part 2. You would be shocked at how many parents simply don’t talk with their children. They might talk TO them, telling
      them what to do, but that’s totally different. I’m glad you liked the quote. Thank you so much, Marlene! You say the nicest things. 😊

  10. Norah says:

    I just knew I would love this post, Jennie, and I am looking forward to part 2. It’s so true what you say about the importance of language to learning. If only we could get all parents to spend time talking with, playing with, and reading to their children, whatever their ages.

  11. Dan Antion says:

    Thinking back on elementary school, some of my favorite memories are from when the teacher pulled down one of the maps. I had one teacher who did it often, to add some context around what we were reading. These are great stories, Jennie – you are helping these children in ways they can’t yet imagine.

    • Jennie says:

      I remember the pull-down map, much like the screen that is pulled down for a slide show. I love maps, and like you think they add so much context to stories. Having a map inside the cover of that book was so cool! Thank you so much Dan. I do believe I am helping children. 😊

  12. dgkaye says:

    The world needs more Jennies! Looking forward to part 2 🙂

  13. Brilliant Jennie, just goes to show what happens when you unleash children’s imaginations and give them a chance to share their thoughts. Looking forward to part two… hugs

  14. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Tuesday October 2nd 2018 – The Story Reading Ape with Claire Fullerton, Christy Birmingham #40sHealth and Jennie Fitzkee #Reading #Preschool | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  15. You lit a fire, Jennie. Thanks for keeping the children’s light smoldering! May knowledge always burn bright. xo

  16. Thank you for the recommendation, Jennie! Good to know, also for English learning kids. Best wishes, Michael.

  17. You are so right-and I love that quote!! will post it in my class today! thank you! love Michele

  18. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday, October 8th, 2018 – Jennie Fitzkee, Balroop Singh and Nicholas Rossis | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  19. I was always read to as a child and we do it with our children. I totally agree, my education and my learning is directly attributed to my family reading to me

  20. Sarah says:

    Discovering the world through books and maps – is there anything better than that? 😄

  21. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Christmas – The Third Day of Christmas with guests Jennie Fitzkee and Lisa Thomson | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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