The pre-kindergartners’ study of sculptures has taken them inside the adventures of sledding penguins, and the third graders’ author studies have opened up a curious portfolio of drawings. Odd as it might appear, both of these projects focus on a form of storytelling, and when Mrs. Moriarty and Ms. Andrick ran into each other in the hallway earlier this week, they were amazed at the similarities in their students’ activities.
The pre-K students were literally and figuratively drawn into composing their own stories as a result of their investigation of the flowing lines in wire sculptures. Mrs. Zamore and Ms. Andrick began reading the Harold and the Purple Crayon stories, encouraging the children to draw their own line-based adventures. This unit was so successful that the teachers expanded it with Three Topsy Turvy Tales by Anne Brouillard. The children eagerly engaged with the whimsical illustrations in the wordless book, generating their own storylines for the animals depicted on its pages. One of the stories, “Snowfall Downfall” was such a favorite that the teachers reproduced the pictures and created a challenge: choose any four images, put them in any order so that they tell a story, and then dictate the story to a teacher.
Meanwhile, the third grade class has been absorbed in an author study of Chris Van Allsburg. The students have read a wide collection of Mr. Van Allsburg’s books and have developed an understanding of his particular style. As a culminating project, Mrs. Moriarty brought out The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a strangely compelling set of illustrations, each of which is accompanied only by a short caption. With just the picture and the caption as prompts, the students wrote their own stories to explain the images.
The results of these endeavors are extraordinary, demonstrating the children’s creativity and joy, as well as their understanding of how stories are constructed. Writing a good story requires knowledge of the “deep structure” of narrative. Elements of character, tension, setting, and sequencing are essential, as is a mastery of language. Third graders demonstrated a flair for phrasing with openings like “It all started on a sunny Sunday,” and “Well, it was just one of those days.” The pre-K authors dictated familiar phrases such as “once upon a time” and “they lived happily ever after,” but they also ended their stories with such comforting conclusions as “It started snowing so they dug a hole,” and “they all went home for hot chocolate.” Stop by the hallways and classrooms of these storytellers to see their wonderful narratives.