Children's Story Telling
(from Mr. Harper’s Public Speaking and Reading Thingee)
In a first semester course that focuses mainly on speaking skills, Children's Story Telling is the lone entertainment based unit. Usually performed by two students, it calls upon each of them to demonstrate skills designed not only to entertain a child but to inspire a love of reading in them as well. Of all of the units that we do over the two semesters, this one has the longest and most far reaching goal, for its intent is not just for the students but for their children as well. We stress to the class the importance of making reading a pleasure for their children, a bonding experience for them, and that the gift they give of themselves to read well for their child is the best, cheapest gift they will ever bestow on them for it could well alter their child’s entire attitude towards reading, imagination and educational in general.
This unit allows your class to go back in time to when reading class was intentionally fun, when reading stories aloud was still exciting and literature was meant for joy and not analysis. We even demand of our students that they read to their classmates in the same voice their parents or primary grade teachers might have read to them. It is a project that calls upon them to think as a child thinks and to create delightful characters through their voice and imagination. If this is the last project you are completing for the first course, it is a fitting way to end your curriculum. If you are a language arts teacher who chooses this unit to bring some laughter and amusement back into your classroom, I believe it will do exactly that.
Common Core Standards:
SL.6.5. SL.7.5. SL 8.5. SL 9-10.5 SL 11-12.5. Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.
W.6.3. W.7.3. W.8.3. W.9-10.3. W.11-12.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
The easiest thing to do is to let the kids bring in their favorite books and have at it. It will save you library time and the need to take a daily accounting of those materials. The problem is the students don’t always grasp the concept of what makes a good story for this unit. For instance, I loved, Go Dogs Go! by Dr. Seuss, but it isn’t sophisticated enough for what we are looking to do with this project. What the class is really looking for are “picture books”, stories that contain much more material and the likelihood of dialogue. For that reason I suggest that you make the trip to the library - or perhaps your local grammar school – and find at least thirty to forty books that are well suited for this unit. Once you have them, bring them back to the class and have them on hand to show to students once the modeling and objectives of the unit have been explained. They can bring in their favorites for consideration but at least now you have books as a back up in case theirs fails to deliver on what is required.
I never impose the rule that students type out their scripts, but many of them find it beneficial to do so as it makes for easier reading; not to mention that once it’s completed they can print out as many scripts as they like. If you are in agreement, a day or two in the computer lab to type up scripts would be appreciated by your students. If they don’t want to type, then the material can be transcribed by hand. As to stopwatches, they really aren’t necessary as the classroom clock can easily tell them whether they stand between five minutes and eight minutes. If you can, start up a list of successful picture books for years to come. It will make the following years easier when it comes time to collecting resources and the depth of your quality material will grow with time.
I don’t recommend you modeling this project as it is important to establish from the beginning your seriousness about a certain style of delivery. Instead, I would select two talented, reliable students, one boy and one girl, and train them as your examples. With the student who undertakes the role of the narrator, you must impress upon them the need to read more slowly than they would with middle or high school students and that energy, eye contact and facial expression are the keys to doing a successful job. The student who reads your dialogue must be willing to have fun with this task and take it seriously. The voices must be creative, distinct and consistent. If this model goes over well, the rest of your students won’t have any trouble adapting to the concept. That buying in is crucial for success on this project. If students sense that this unit will be something that will make them look foolish rather than acting as a vehicle for something enjoyable, you will never really get the results you want because too many will be concerned with their image. Worse still, too many performers will end up laughing and cutting up when they need to take the presentation seriously.
When you direct them, make sure that their introduction is complete and that it captures the feeling of reading to little children. Impress upon them that whichever students they choose for their audience they should be ones who won’t derail their efforts. The students chosen should be mature and willing to join the readers in the pleasure of the reading. Timing also plays an important role for this model and the class needs to see that even though both readers are separated by distance (Each has their own small audience of students.), their pace and coordination with one another should be excellent. One of the areas students will lose points on in this project is “gaps” – the silence that occurs when teammates lose their place with one another. Your models need to be well rehearsed so that each knows exactly what has to be said and when. Don’t trust any of this to your example students. You need to make sure that every detail is covered. If your class sees that you and your modeling students take this unit seriously, they are much more likely to do so themselves.
Clearly, if you are going to have to direct a piece and bring in additional materials to help out your students, this project needs planning well before its starting date. In the years that we’ve been working on it we’ve gotten a great deal of satisfaction from taking our best presentations to local child care centers or to cooperating grammar schools within our district. That opportunity has acted as a strong incentive to our students to perform well; not only because it’s a chance to deal with the real McCoy (and get out of school), but because the students have quite a bit of fun returning to the primary grades and visiting former teachers.
My caveat is that you should be selective about material. Series books are well suited for this project, but they often make a poor read aloud. You want material that is genuinely funny or provides the chance for students to create humorous voices and be as physical as they can while still being limited to a chair or stool. The best course to take is to select a piece for your modeling that is exactly the type that you could take to a local school and be successful with. This will also show students the standards you expect them to meet if they have hopes of joining you on the trip. If you decide to incorporate this element into your program, you can’t start too early to coordinate this with your grammar school counterpart. Primary grades often have a lot of activities in the closing days of any semester and getting in your reservation early will make it easier for everyone concerned. In our experience, the best grade levels are third and fourth grade.
Before this unit begins, alert your students of your intentions and have them begin to bring in their own books so that you can see whether their materials match the requirements of the project. Explain the three ways in which the presentation may be done; as a duet, as a solo or as someone playing the role of one type of reader while a guest reader plays the other role. Once they understand these three approaches they are more likely to bring in appropriate materials.
I would base this unit under the usual conditions on the following time schedule:
Day 1 – Modeling of the project, explanation of the objectives, review of the rubric, search for materials, begin transcribing text (all period)
Day 2 – search for materials, transcribing, editing (all period)
Day 3 – transcribing and editing (all period)
Day 4 – typing, transcribing, editing (all period)
Day 5 – completion of the script, timing, completion of introductions, first practice (all period)
Day 6 – first practice (30 minutes)
Day 7 – second practice, lambs for introductions (30 minutes)
Day 8 – thirds practice, lambs for narrators (30 minutes)
Day 9 – fourth practice, lambs for voices (30 minutes)
Day 10 – lambs for complete presentations and final practice (all period)
Day 11 – presentation (all period)
Day 12 – presentation (all period)
Day 13 – presentation (all period)
It’s my hope that with the conclusion of either Persuasive Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking, Poetry Analysis – or a combination of – that this day is greeted with great joy from your students. By all accounts it should be, because this project is all about the pleasure of reading and entertainment. With the completion of your model, the explanation of the objectives should be fairly simple and straight forward. If you really want to get your students’ attention, remind them that adulthood is not that far away. I get back big eyes from my middle school students when I tell them that within ten years one of them, by all statistics, will be a mommy or daddy. That’s usually enough to get them thinking.
(more to follow)