Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about growing readers, reading aloud, and chapter reading.  I talked about how language, and the number of words a child hears is critical to academic success in school.  And I took language to the next step, expanding on a picture book and writing what children saw and thought.

Part 2
I begin with that last word, ‘thought’.  How do I help children climb the ladder and take them to the next level?  Let’s start with some facts:

  • Every child wants to read when they begin school.  Enthusiasm is 100%.
  • By fourth grade only 54% read something for pleasure every day.
  • By eighth grade only 30% read for pleasure.
  • By twelfth grade that number has dropped to 19%.

The key word is pleasure.  Reading aloud = academic success + pleasure.

The U.S. Department of Education’s report in 1985 on Becoming a Nation of Readers stated:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.  It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

I was a new teacher then, yet I just knew this was true.  Teachers can tell.  I jumped into reading aloud with both feet, and I quickly saw the results.  Statistics talk, and I was a witness.  That’s the backstory.

In order for children to climb that ladder and take language to the next step, my first project of the school year is writing picture stories with the children.  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 it, 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. 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.

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.

Stay tuned for Part 3.


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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65 Responses to Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 2

  1. Oh Jennie, This is so incredible! It’s odd in a way because it should be basic knowledge, but it is not so, and I can understand the way teaching is done today why over the years children begin to stop reading AND writing. You are so amazing and I think you deserve a certificate of quality every single day you teach. You touch my heart with your most sincere caring for the children and seeing them so happy is even more touching. This will last their whole lifetimes. Thank you so much.

  2. What a great exercise, Jennie. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Ritu says:

    This is a marvellous idea!
    I always scribe what the children are telling me as they are drawing, and they love the idea that their spoken words, can actually make written ones. It’s like that concept isn’t there until you show them!

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Ritu! Like you, I scribe what the children say on their drawings and paintings. Doing picture stories is a great because their words go first. You’re right, when they make the connection with the written word, it’s a big lightbulb moment. 😀

  4. Opher says:

    Jennie – that’s the way to do it! We need more like you!
    Valuing children, opening their minds, encouraging creativity and instilling the fun of reading! Superb!

  5. Afzal Moolla says:

    these are amazing pieces. Incredible and brilliant.

    Long may your pen remain dipped in the ink-pot!

    Peace ✌

  6. What a fun and fantastic idea!! 🙂

  7. I love these. Pictures are so great for storytelling. No worries about printing, losing train of thought, or anything like that. Just draw!

  8. beetleypete says:

    More inspirational and wonderful stuff, Jennie. I love what each child wrote about school in those captions.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. srbottch says:

    Jennie, this is wonderful. By telling a d showing us what you do, you are teaching us the skills young people need for success. Those of us who interact with kids can use these lessons to our advantage. Thank you.

    • Jennie says:

      You said it well, Steve. We do learn better that way. Best to you, and how is the crossing guard going?

      • srbottch says:

        A month into school and I have a story to write about it, Jennie. At least I have a title, ‘Who Is Jeff Bezos…and Other Stuff Kids Know’, the story is still percolating. Meantime, I just posted my recent ‘Bar Chronicles’ story about a story. Hope you read it. All my best, Jennie.

      • Jennie says:

        Oooo… you know, I will!

  10. Gosh, Jennie… Those are sad statistics. Actually, they’re downright disturbing. I don’t think most people would realize how severe it is. Thank you for sharing the information. People should know.
    Thank you for another lovely post. TGIF hugs!

  11. TanGental says:

    Now this is delightful and heart warming but I have one question, that is triggered by a debate that is rumbling around here and I’m sure in the US. The last little girl’s words are about housekeeping and food and babies while the last little boy is about swings and trains. A lot of heat is being generated about sexual stereotyping of young children – boys = colour blue, football and science, girls = cooking and arts and pink. The indications are you can’t start too young in breaking those down but then again children will chose their likes and some go one way and some the other. Does this factor at all into what you’re doing here? It’s a new world to me, Jennie – both kids adult but, who knows, grand kids may appear and it’s as well to be prepared!

    • Jennie says:

      Good question, Geoff. I support what children like and want. No influencing. While I always offer “everything” to all children, I typically see girls as the leaders in housekeeping and dramatic play areas. BUT, boys are often eager to play along. Really. On the flip side, boys are typically keen on playing with trains, cars, and trucks. And I do NOT see girls following along. When we play outside, all children enjoy everything – from discovering nature to riding bikes, to digging in sand, etc. I hope this helps. As you said, grand kids may appear. #1 is reading aloud. Many thanks! 🙂

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is part 2 in this excellent series on reading and children–by the wonderful teacher, Jennie.

  13. delphini510 says:

    Jennie, this is such a positive way of teaching without seeming too. The children will have fun
    instead of finding the work a chore. I love to read their work.

  14. Lovely post, Jennie. I have found that reading does drop off a bit during the teenage years. I experienced that myself. Teenagers are trying to conform and socializing becomes very important. I have noticed that children that develop a love of reading always go back to it as adults even though it drops off a bit during the teenage years.

  15. Dan Antion says:

    We were always encouraged to read, and we always encouraged our daughter (although she didn’t need much encouragement). Reading remains a passion – and – a pleasure. You’re doing a very good thing for these children, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      The impact of reading is so far reaching, once that pleasure is established. I’m glad that you were encouraged, and Faith too. Many thanks, Dan.

  16. I loved reading until about middle school when reading became work; It was more about breaking it down to last period; understanding each book structurally, psychologically, and critically rather than for pleasure. I hated reading then. There was so much homework, and the books were assigned or chosen from a required list. There wasn’t too much time left for reading for pleasure. Poetry kept me sane then. Little snippets of poetry and music. Once out of school I could and did begin to read for me and pleasure again.
    I saw that with my friends as well although most did better than I did with it.

    The reading log has came home to record #1 Grandson’s reading this week. So this journey begins. I hope he’s able to keep reading in his life forever, and though it may ebb and flow he always finds his way back to a good book for his own pleasure.

    • Jennie says:

      Your story is what happens in school all too often. I had pretty much the same experience. Terrible books that we were forced to read, dull teachers, and NO reading aloud beyond first grade. So, I didn’t like reading. As soon as I had children of my own and started teaching, that all changed. Thank goodness! And grandchildren – the best reading times, ever! 🙂

  17. As always motivating and inspiring Jennie and all your posts should be required reading for teachers in training in the US and in the UK.. in fact everywhere… I am sure that Mrs Miller, who was my first teacher and is still fresh in my mind, would have got on with you very well. Even after 61 years I remember her vividly and her encouragement. xx

    • Jennie says:

      My goodness, Sally. That is so nice. I have always felt that a collection of these stories in a book for teachers and parents is a good idea. Hoping that an agent feels the same way 🙂. Yes, we do remember those teachers, like Mrs. Milller. Thank goodness! Hugs to you!

  18. Great work, Jennie! It is to be seen, it really comes from your heart. later. Best wishes for the “World Teachers Day”. Sorry, but I had just read about it from Charles. Here in Germany there was nothing to hear or read about..Best wishes, Michael

  19. I think that if a child is having trouble connecting we should consider maybe it is the writing not connecting to THEM… I would always suggest reading through the Newbery Awards books and the Caldecott winners…That seemed to have been what caught my imagination on the adventure of reading…EVERYTHING…as a child. And if Publishers would start paying attention to the changing needs of kids (including our demographic changes) I think kids might rediscover a desire to try reading more…

    • Jennie says:

      I always show children the gold and silver seals on Newbery And Caldecott books, and tell them all about it. Yes, if a child is struggling reading, then go to these books. Interestingly, children haven’t changed yet the world around them has changed. Agents and publishers are looking for books to address the changes. But, since the child hasn’t changed, it is not working. Children need and gravitate toward stories of adventure, humor, trying to fit in, on and on. I read so many children’s books, and I see more and more that just miss because they are trying to put a child into a demographic situation. Now that being said, there are many books that hit this mark, especially YA books. Still, I would put my money on the Newbery And Caldecott books. Many thanks, KC. I hope my ramble makes some sense. 🙂

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  21. dgkaye says:

    You are a gift to your children Jennie. ❤

  22. Norah says:

    This is wonderful, Jennie. I very much enjoyed reading each child’s story. It makes me long to be back in the classroom. Developing enthusiastic readers, writers and learners (it’s all inter-twined) is my first love. Writing their stories word-for-word as they dictate them is so important. It shows them the power of their words, that stories are words written down, that their words can be written down and read by others. It helps them unlock the mystery of print and share in the secret world of stories. Such joy!

    • Jennie says:

      Beautifully and perfectly said, Norah. Your words ring true. Words are so powerful. I thought about that this afternoon when I was at Book Bears, my library reading group. Now, I have the children read aloud their favorite part of the book. Adding another layer to reading and language. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading the stories. Thank you for your wonderful, thoughtful comment. 🙂

  23. Sarah says:

    Wonderful ideas! So much inspiration!
    The statics though, they really make me sad. It’s the same thing over here.

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