Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 4

In Part 3, I shared proof of the powerful and positive effects of storytelling, through the story of Cuban cigars and their high quality – thanks to la lectura.  I am also happy to report that the 12th grade English teacher from my “Ravioli” post has found ‘lights out’ to be successful in his classroom reading aloud.  Currently he is reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut to his students.  From preschool to high school, we are both doing the same thing, and it works.

Part 4
I have discovered much of my storytelling happens in the bathroom at school.  Perhaps it is the captive audience, much like a car ride with children.  Perhaps it is the rhyming, the make-believe, and including children’s names into the stories.  Perhaps it is because I’m sitting with them on the bench, not waiting in the doorway.  I simply make up words and stories.  If Emmett, Norah, and Alex are in the bathroom, I might say something like this:

“Once there was a girl who lived on the edge of the woods.  Her name was Norah.  One night she woke up and heard a sound in the distance. Her voracious appetite kept her awake.  The sound was coming from the woods!  She tip-toed downstairs, opened the back door, and there was Emmett.  He heard the same noise.  They decided to be brave together, hold hands, and walk toward the woods.  Suddenly Alex came running over…”

I will include difficult vocabulary words.  I will stop and ask questions, maybe make the sound of an animal or give clues for them to guess.  As children come and go in the bathroom, I’ll include them into the story.

I play I Spy.  I play The Animal Game, where I give clues to an animal and they guess what it is.  Then, I make up a quick rhyme about the animal.

“There once was a snake who got caught on a rake on his way to a lake.”

I then ask children to add to the rhyme.  Often they come up with excellent words, ones I never thought of.  The whole process is open ended.  So is storytelling.

So, what is really happening here in the bathroom?  Much like chapter reading, children have to carefully listen and think.  They are getting a huge dose of vocabulary words in an intimate setting.  And, much like lunchtime at school, we are sharing conversations and stories.  It’s more than the number of words a child hears; it’s humor, emotion, learning where you are with your peers – a friend, listening and learning.  It’s really a long list.

This is how important it is:  A study was done to determine if there was a common denominator among the National Merit Scholars.  Were they all class presidents?  Captains of their sport teams?  President of the Drama Club or Literary Magazine?  Were they all volunteers in their community?  Surely there had to be one thing that they all shared in common.

There was one, and only one:
Every National Merit Scholar had dinner with their family at least four times a week.

Sounds simple?  Not at all!  At the dinner table they developed language skills, thinking and reasoning, empathy, humor, patience, compassion… the list is a long one and a good one.

These are life skills, the foundation for learning.

This is what I do in my classroom at lunchtime.  I create the “dinner with the family” environment for children.  Everyone’s opinion is valued.  We are listeners, and we are storytellers.  Oh, the stories we tell!  Jennie Stories (from my childhood) are beloved.  Why?  Because through storytelling, children know that their teacher had the same fears and tears.  Every day is a Jennie story, from spiders to bats to birthday cakes to The Peanut Man…

I know the difference this makes with the children I teach.  What do I tell parents?  Have dinner together, talk, listen, tell stories.  It makes all the difference in the world.

Stay tuned for the conclusion, Part 5, and the story of a teacher who made a big difference.


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 books, chapter reading, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, preschool, reading aloud, reading aloud, storytelling, Teaching young children, wonder and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Language, Literacy, and Storytelling – Part 4

  1. Sounds like a great method. Well done, Jennie.

  2. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, you are a brilliant teacher!

    • Jennie says:

      You are far too kind, Charles. 😊 Thank you. If every preschool teacher felt passionate about literacy and did simple, fun things like tell stories, all children would be ready for you and reading Shakespeare. It’s true!

      On Monday, the grand niece of E.B. White is coming to hear me read Charlotte’s Web. Very cool! 🙂

  3. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is part 4 in Jennie’s excellent series Language, Literacy, and Storytelling!

  4. Norah says:

    This is gorgeous, Jennie. I used to tell stories with my own children when they were using the bathroom, but not at school. The bathrooms were not attached to the classrooms where I taught. But what a wonderful opportunity. You could say you have a captive audience, for a little while at least.
    I agree with you about the need for language – for discussion with adults – and dinner time is a great time, if only children and adults alike could turn off those screens for a little while.

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Norah. Screens off and just talk together. The bathroom is across the hall. There is a long bench for children to wait, and I just sit right down and join in. Makes all the difference. And the need for language is HUGE, as you know. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Thank you.

      • Norah says:

        Screens off and talk. I think sadly many future children won’t know what quality talk time is.

      • Jennie says:

        It only takes a little effort to make a big difference. An hour of talking and connecting every day is powerful. I need to use the words from the Nike commercial to parents: Just Do It!

      • Norah says:

        That’s right. This is one instance in which a little effort is rewarded with a huge return. 🙂

  5. beetleypete says:

    I love the idea of your made up stories. Being included in a story adds that crucial personal connection.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      It definitely adds that connection, and it is very crucial. Building language is the single most important thing I can do, and storytelling or reading does it. Thank you, Pete. Best to you.

  6. Ritu says:

    You can create the basis for stories anywhere . You just need to start talking.
    I love all that you stand for Jennie. 💜

  7. Opher says:

    The power of stories! The power of gathering together and sharing.

  8. Mireya says:

    Yeah on Friday I did a craft with the kids and let them create what they wanted. The point is it’s amazing what happens when you discuss and draw upon life experiences and learn together as opposed to lecturing and doing boring busy work.

  9. Sharing stories around the dinner table is to be valued.. I always have dinner around the table, and my children were brought up that way.. However in todays modern so call world, I know my granddaughter does not always eat with her parents as they often are on opposite shifts, so when her dad comes home its past her bed time… So Her and her mum have TV type dinners…
    Where as when she stays on her sleep over nights with us, we always have dinner and pudding… You can tell she so enjoys the conversation and never stops speaking between mouthfuls of her day at school or what she has been up to with school friends..
    I also spend time doing crafts, painting etc, and again its encouragement time to especially when we play Barbie dolls.. 🙂 And she weaves her stories..

    What you are doing with your young students Jennie is WONDERFUL.. I so wish that there were more teachers like yourself who can see the value in allowing children freedom of expression..

    Love and Hugs.. Sue ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Sue! What you are doing with your granddaughter is so important, but you already know that with her big smile and engaging dialogue. Yes, the world has changed, and families have changed. I think the good news is that parents today truly care to listen to their children. If they can’t have dinner together often, they have other times. I so love your story, Sue. All that you are doing together is the best! And a big thanks for your kind words. Yes, allowing children the freedom of expression is what I do. It’s so important. 😀😍❤️

      • Thank you for that validation Jennie.. We take her to school certain days and bring her home, and she often reads or writes in the back of the car.. We always arrive early so she writes, Last week she wrote a poem, it was so good… I asked her to copy it out on good paper as she only scribbled it down..
        I told her that it was that good I thought she should take it to school for her ‘Show and Tell’ day.. She did,, Her teacher was so impressed, he asked her to read it to the class, then the headmaster got to hear about it and This Friday, the last day for half term she is reading her poem to the whole school in assembly..
        After my series have finished, I intend to share it on my blog, I was so proud of her.. 😀

      • Jennie says:

        That is so wonderful!! And it really started with your encouragement. That is huge, Sue. I look forward to reading it on your blog. 🙂

      • I will give you the wink when I post. it may be a while yet.. ❤

      • Jennie says:

        That is so nice. 🙂

  10. Darlene says:

    I so agree, at the dinner table, we develop language skills, thinking and reasoning, empathy, humour, patience, compassion and other life skills. My parents were farmers and worked very hard. But we always ate our meals together and discussed the day and shared stories. We were lucky as we didn’t have a TV until I was 11. And we were never allowed to eat in front of the television. Neither were my children. I love that you tell stories waiting for the bathroom!!

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right, Darlene. And thank you for sharing your story. Whether a farmer or a surgeon, the basics of family are the same. Thank goodness we never ate in front of the TV. Everyone eating in front of a screen is sad, and therefore the least I can do is have lunchtime at school that is a family time. It works. Plus, the stories in the bathroom are the best! 🙂

  11. sjhigbee says:

    It really matters – we always used to sit down with the children and now, again, we all sit down together when the grandchildren come to stay. And the issue of including them while they are in the bathroom is an incredibly good idea!

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right! Like you, I relish sitting down to eat with my children and grandchildren, the way we used to when the children were little. Many thanks! And I’m so glad you like including them in the bathroom. 😀

  12. Beautiful post, Jennie. The headmistress at the Nursery School both my sons attended is like you. Everything is a wonderful learning opportunity and she loves her children and it shows.

  13. Dr. French and Sue are exactly correct about how you teach. You are amazing in how you teach.

  14. Dan Antion says:

    Storytelling is great – adding to the story is magic.

  15. dgkaye says:

    I’m so with you on the family meal and communication time Jennie. It’s not hard to spot those kids who don’t get enough of this time. And the bathroom. hey, isn’t that a great place to ponder? Lol 🙂 x

  16. Wow I love this and i’m sure my kids aged 5 and 7 would love you.. think I need to take some of your advice here and use it.. we try and have dinner together every evening but the electronic gadgets are an arguement every night… grrr to Apple.. and yes i do my best thinking in the bathroom…

  17. I hope someone writes a whole book about you and the children you have taught! I will be one of the first to buy it.

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