March 19, 2012

There's a Story in My Head

There's a Story in My Head
I've been sharing some of the content from my "Read to Me: Hands on Tips for Enriching Your Story Time" workshop that I recently delivered at the PCPO Conference and discussing the National Research Council's six key skills recommended to prepare children to become readers when they enter school. Today's topic is Narrative Skills: Being able to tell stories and describe things and sequences of events.

Now I have to confess something to you:  There was a time (not too long ago, actually), when I didn't understand "why" kids "needed" to learn how to tell their own stories.  I mean seriously, it's not like they are all going to grow up to be writers (or are they?...I think that will be a topic for another post).  Don't get me wrong.  I think writing is super important, and it makes sense to me that everyone should learn to "write," but why does everyone need to learn to "tell stories?"

My epiphany on that topic came to me a few years ago (I know, embarrassing that it was such a recent epiphany!), when I attended an early literacy conference hosted by several library friends (thanks Kendra for inviting me!). One of the speakers really brought home the idea that communication (written and spoken) "is" story.  To be heard and understood, to get our needs met, to participate in this world, we need to be able to tell our stories, describe the things around us, and sequence the events in our lives.  Ponder this for a bit.  It's kind of mind blowing, actually (or at least it was for me, because I hadn't really thought about "story" in this way before--a dead giveaway that I wasn't an English major, huh?).

And...according to the great minds at the National Research Council, building Narrative Skills is also a key element in building a readiness to read.  So how do you build Narrative Skills?   Encourage children to chant along with repeating phrases in stories; Read cumulative stories that children tend to naturally join along with; Invite children to make predictions about what is going to happen next; Read the story by reading the pictures; Invite children to retell the story with props, or make up their own endings to stories or tell a new story with the same characters. Need more ideas?  Nellie Edge has great tips on her website and via her "Writing to Read" workshops, and one of my library angels, Kendra has great ideas on her own blog and links to other great literacy-related blogs.

Here are some of the ways I incorporate building Narrative Skills when I read books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children:

Hip, Hip, Hooray! It's Family Day!:  I encourage children to predict what family member(s) might appear next after I've read several verses in this story. After the story is over, I invite children to act out one or more of the scenes in the story, or I ask them to share a time when they have done something that's similar to one of the scenes in the book (like gone swimming, played soccer, painted a picture) with one of their own family members (they can either share with the full group or share with the friend they are sitting next to).  Another option is to provide art supplies and have the children draw a picture that tells the story of when they have done something similar with one of their family members.  I also like to play a cumulative memory game (i.e. (Player One) I had a party and I invited my mom.  (Player Two) I had a party and I invited my mom and my sister.  (Player Three) I had a party and I invited my mom, my sister and my uncle).  This game is enriched even more if each player makes the sign(s) for the family members in their story, as they say each family member word out loud).         

There's a Story in My Head.  Although the signs covered in this story relate to parts of the body, the book itself is about the story ideas that surround us: in a shared giggle with a friend, in a sloppy kiss from a puppy, in the aftermath of a disappointment, and even in a dream.  The book ends with an invitation for young writers to get busy writing their own stories.  When I facilitate young writers’ workshops, I read the story, teach the signs for body parts, and then have kids look for a scar or scab on their own body (if they don’t have a current wound, most kids have a stockpile of memories about past scrapes and stumbles!).  I ask the children to write their “How I got Hurt” story, and then invite them to share their story with a friend. Another option is to let children put a bandage on a doll and then tell the story of how their doll got hurt.

So Many Feelings:  After reading this story, I give children a paper plate some crayons and some pieces of yarn.  I invite them to use the yarn and/or crayons to make faces that show how they are feeling right now.

Four Seasons! Five Senses!: For this story I bring out the dress up clothes and we get bundled up for winter or we put on sunglasses and visors for summertime.  My favorite activity for this story is to "make rain."  This is a fun trick I learned (way!) back when I was a high school cheerleader. Start by slowly rubbing your hands together and gradually getting faster.  Next, snap your fingers together, gradually getting faster and faster.  Now pat your thighs with one hand then the other, first slowly, then faster.  Now stomp your feet until they are stomping like crazy.  The rainstorm is full on now! I like to end by doing all of the hand motions in reverse to return the storm to a soft sprinkling of rain, and then quiet.  This is most fun with a big group, but it's something you can do all by yourself...go ahead, try it!  Fun, huh?

The Nest Where I Like to Rest:  After reading this story I invite children to write a story about what the Mama hen does next (after all of the eggs have hatched), or I ask them to draw a picture that shows what the Mama hen might dream about if she ever gets some rest.  Another option is to invite the children to draw and name all six of the chicks, or re-enact the hatching of the chicks, which can be a fun wiggle buster!

I hope this gets your creative juices flowing.  I'd love to hear some of your ideas for how you build Narrative Skills into your own story times.  Go ahead, tell me the story that's in YOUR head!



  1. I suspect you are a supreme hit at schools! What great ideas that we can all borrow. :-) The new books look terrific, can't wait to see them up close in May!

  2. Thanks, Robin! I love that you might borrow some of my ideas for your own books/author visits! I can't wait to share them with everyone at SCBWI in May. Stephanie Bauer did an amazing job with the illustrations!