One of my 4th graders asked me for ideas on how to start a story. We had a great conversation and looked at some wonderful examples. Here is what we ended up with:
Ways to Start a Story
Once upon a time there was…
Dialogue (people talking)
“Mom! Help me! I can’t…” I shouted to my mom as I fell out of the tree.
“But you promised to take me to the movies today! You promised! You promised! You promised!” I started crying.
Action (something is happening)
My brother slammed the door just as the rain started. This time he did not get caught in the rain. This time he did not get struck by the lightning.
I watched from behind the bookshelf as the thief snuck into the living room and opened the top drawer of the desk. He did not know I was there.
4a. Description (what does the setting look like? sound like?)
The spring flowers bloomed and the honeybees buzzed along the banks of the river. The sleepy town woke up to the sounds of the roaring river flowing down from the dark mountains. Something floated in the water, trapped by an old tree branch.
4b. Description (what does the character(s) look like?)
Jaime was only 4 feet, 2 inches tall but he was the best goalie the team had ever had. He could jump higher than kids who were 5 feet tall. But he never bragged about it. He did not have to.
The house I moved into in Lima, Peru
Is not rather old nor is hardly that new.
The floors are of concrete, the walls made of brick,
New wall-to-wall windows that close with a click.
Yet still I hear sounds like an old wooden floor
When I rise from my bed and I head toward the door
of the bathroom to assure me that nothing is leaking.
I realize then ’tis my knees that are creaking.
Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education. Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking. This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.
Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way. Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong. What would you say? What would you do? Can they ask for an additional person to assist?
Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake. Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.
There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice. Try it; see what happens!
The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best. Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:
What you can think, you can say;
what you say you can write;
what you can write you can read.
When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best. Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know. “No,” I tell them.
When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences. If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop. Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.
Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
What do you think will happen next?
Would you have done that?
How would you solve the problem?
Tell me the story
Talk, talk, talk!
There is much research about the importance of oral language. Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.
I am collecting a list of online places to read and/ or listen to stories in English for elementary school students and families.
What great sites am I missing?
Please let me know and I will add them to my list!
Any time we can help students organize their thinking, plan their learning, make their learning visible, we are helping them build connections and increase the number of synapses– that is learning! With graphic organizers we can increase literacy, too.