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  • Mallory Foster

How to Play - With Words and Stories

It's National Library Week and Poetry Month! I used to LOVE trips to the library - for story times, summer reading programs, finding books, my first job as a volunteer, a quiet place to work and study in college. Now, as a first time parent, I have gained a whole new appreciation for the community libraries create by simply holding space for parents, caregivers, and kiddos to come share stories and build friendships. Our weekly story time, coffee, park trip has been such a joy! I get to be mama, not teacher/leader and watch my little one learn so much! SO, go to your library this week! I challenge you to find a book of poetry for yourself or a book that rhymes for your kiddos. Maybe, try some of the ideas below to play with words and stories when you go home. You can also find more ideas in the posts about International Literacy Day and Ingredients of Emergent Literacy.


  • Do something before, during, and after reading a story: Before reading a story, you can point to things on the cover and predict what the story might be about. While reading the story, clap syllables on one page. Read a repeated line together. Talk about the pictures. Guess how characters are feeling using the pictures and words. After reading, ask if kiddos have ever felt a similar way to the characters or been in a similar situation. Have them create their own illustration for a line from the story.

  • Make, tell, and show stories: Storytelling boosts literacy skills. When kiddos are invited to tell us stories, we are inviting them to attend to the structure of stories, the feelings and experiences of characters, different and new words to use, and so much more! Stories help learners discover places, events, and experiences they might not experience in real life and story telling helps kiddos take on new perspectives - a key sill for developing empathy. So, how do we invite learners to tell stories? Start small! After a little kiddo draws a picture, ask what it shows. Point out things you notice (even if what you notice is a red and purple blob). Write down what your kiddo says the picture shows. It is awesome if they can then show this picture and caption to someone else and tell again what they drew. You might hear something totally new! In the classroom, I'd give students 5-6 words to tell me about their weekend or we'd do tweet summaries of a new concept we learned. We also used partner reading, where students would read the same text together and then take turns summarizing what they read - this is GREAT for boosting comprehension of higher level nonfiction texts (note - I rarely did this in a leveled manner - I let students choose their own partners or assigned them for classroom management issues. I circulated the room to ensure all students knew what was going on, but if you consistently make pairs of "higher" and "lower" students, students catch on and lose confidence and self-esteem as readers and learners which spirals to no where good in learning. However, I did on occasion play the role of the partner for a student who was really struggling with focus or comprehension). Another strategy is telling "and then..." stories. After a day at work/school, after a field trip, in the car on the way home from vacation, these are fun ways to collaborate to recall what has been happening recently. You go around the room or table telling what happened in chronological order. When one person is done talking (at least a sentence), they say "and then..." and the next person starts picks up. You can do this a few times in a row and see how the story changes. Story cubes (a dice for characters, setting, weather, conflict, magical items, etc) are also a fun way to build stories. Want more ideas to aid storytelling? I love the resources from Emily Neuburger's Show me a Story.

  • Play with sounds and words! This is a repeat from my other posts on literacy, but it is so key to laying the foundation of literacy skills. Nursery rhymes are fantastic because playing with rhymes and alliteration boosts children's attention to different sounds we can make (phonemic awareness), eventually, we then match these sounds to letter shapes and blend letter sounds together (phonics). In my yoga class, one way we do this is by taking a line from the story, writing it big on paper, and taking one beginning letter out of a word. Each little yogi gets a different letter on a piece of paper with a piece of tape on the back. We read the line together, sound out and name each letter, and try out each letter to see if it is a word and to see if it makes sense in the sentence (BOOM, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension all in one!). You can also pre-read a book and write down different words from the book on cards and go on a scavenger hunt for those words as you read. With older kids, I love a task called "Tossing Lines". Each learner gets a line from a text. They stand in a circle. When they get a ball thrown to them, they read their line in a loud, proud voice. We would do this to get familiar with tough science words and to predict what an article or text might be about. This boosts reader confidence because learners can find a line they already know in the text as they read.

  • Act out what you read: Reading something sciencey? Show the processes in action. If you read about the water cycle, you could melt an ice in a hot pan and hold a glass lid over it - notice the phase changes (ice to water to water vapor) and processes like evaporation and condensation taking place. Want a new way to act out a story? I like shadow puppets! We recently read a lovely story by Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon called Yellow Kayak. Inspired by KidArtLit, I created shadow puppets for each page. After reading the story and telling it with yoga poses, we went outside and told it again using shadow puppets. To create the puppets, I used old cereal boxes, skewers, tape, and an xacto knife. Reading a book about an adventure or hunt? Go outside and act it out. Maybe even hide a few things related to the book and create your own rich scavenger hunt. After the hunt, learners can draw a map of where they went, tell the story, and write it down with help.

Does your family/class have traditions for how you dig into and tell stories? Are you excited about your library or a poem for this month? Share using #watchwonderbloom! And stay tuned for an interview with Ms. Brittni Delmaine, an outstanding high school English teacher!

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