Telling stories has always been an essential feature of human life. Ancient stories have enthralled and informed our lives, and stories continue to remind us of who we are, where we have come from, and how to make meaning out of life.
Literacy is about making meaning. It starts with speaking, listening, and interacting with others.
There is an intense inter-relationship between speaking and listening, reading and writing, viewing and representing as we make meaning through language.
NSW English syllabus K-10 2012 p. 24
The support we provide for parents working with their children at home does not need to be confined to the completion of set work. It can be extended from a focus on ‘school’ learning to different speaking, listening and interactions. Having imaginative opportunities for interacting takes the pressure off completion of set tasks and worksheets, for everybody, and opens up authentic talk.
Dialogue becomes valued, not for the purpose of measuring outcomes or observing behaviours, but for the essential purpose of communicating.
The following ideas are for using talking, listening and interacting through story-telling, that centuries-old medium proven to support literacy development of students. All suggestions are easily adapted to the appropriate age level. Every one of them can be taken further.
Students can develop the suggested projects and undertakings for themselves. The emphasis shifts from ‘set’ work, to students developing their own perceptions of themselves as learners, with ‘voice and agency’ (Burman 2020 p.4) in their learning.
- Stories came before books. Many cultures have a primarily oral history. ‘Traditional’ stories may be thousands of years old, or only a couple of centuries. Look for legends, myths, folk-tales and tall stories. In Australia, Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines by David Unaipon (MUP), some Greek Myths and Legends, some African Legends, European myths and legends, and so on. Students and their families can investigate their own traditional stories. Learn a few of these off by heart so the stories can be told at any time.
- Parents and grandparents have stories from childhood. Arrange story-telling afternoons. Have students learn a story off by heart. Practise the telling with parents, siblings, grandparents, pets etc, Record the telling of it, with props if they wish. Video to be shared with the class. Students can add variations according to the current context, if that’s appropriate.
- Every family makes up its own yarns and myths. Old photos are a good way to add realism to the yarns. Record these, too – a grandparent’s voice telling family stories and reminiscences is a wonderful legacy. Be careful – these stories can involve known participants, who may have been the butt of a joke, or whose recollections could be very different.
Students’ identities as readers or as word learners depend on the literacy practices of the communities with which they identify.
Scott et al 2008 p.195
- Perform the play of any familiar story. Use dress-ups, props etc and perform for an audience. Video and share the performance. Turn any story into a puppet show. A cardboard box (with a cutout if necessary) is fine. Make your own puppets, or use any of the commercial ones available.
- Children write their own plays about current events, their friends, their activities.
- Readers Theatre provides practice and support for students’ reading for performance. No need for learning by heart, costumes or perfection, but a space, and reason to perform. Students can use a familiar text to make their own scripts, and an online search will provide scripts. Get the whole family involved.
- Cumulative stories. These are collaborative stories where the group decides on a beginning, then each person in turn adds a sentence. It is a good idea for members to agree on basic guidelines regarding setting, logical links to previous events, number of characters, and so on, without locking the story into unnecessary predictability.
- Starting with making 1. Draw and cut out characters for a story. Everyone does their own character, and each will need to be woven into the story as it progresses. New characters may need to be added as the story develops. So may settings and props. Traditional tales are fine to begin, if you can’t think of anything else.
- Starting with making 2. Provide a variety of drawing materials. Children create a story using pictures, line, colour, shapes. They can collaborate on this if the paper is big enough; sticky tape pieces together if it isn’t. The backs of already-printed pages work well – 80 gsm office paper is strong. Add coloured and textured papers, cutouts from advertising material, lettering, etc. Then children tell the story.
- Continue with making. Check out the work of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy (You Tube extracts from Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers & Tides – Working with Time(2001) here), Nellie Marks Nakamarra’s Travelling Through My Country, the sketchbooks of Tommy McRae and Mickey of Ulladulla, (part of the NGA Collection) or Artist at work painting an abstract. Make up a story for some of the sculptures, installations, or paintings. Children can explore the making themselves with fallen leaves, sticks and twigs, displayed and recorded as Goldsworthy does, on film only. His pieces are environmentally friendly, and temporary. Children can draw their own country, using symbols and colours of significance to them to tell the story, drawings of scenes from their lives and the animals around them, or make their own abstract picture over three days.
‘… we all play a significant role in scripting the future of our students and, therefore, the future of our global community’.
Iturbe, 2020 p.7
These suggestions will mean that students will be exposed to different vocabulary from the ‘normal’. It’s the richness of these contexts that is valuable for this learning.
All language learning … is situational and interpersonal. … Context and communicative intent play a central role in vocabulary instruction.
Scott et al 2008 p.195
The National Literacy Learning Progression describes observable behaviours in the three components of literacy: Reading and Viewing, Writing, and Speaking and Listening. Within this last component, speaking, listening and interacting with others have equal value.
Students can demonstrate essential literacy skills and understandings in their talking and listening and in their interactions with each other, with their friends, and with their parents and caregivers, and take that learning further.
‘Thinking doesn’t belong to the individual, but is shared among members of a community’
Parkin & Harper, 2019 p.3
Burman, L. (2020) I’m an author, you know! Children’s perceptions of themselves as writers in Practical Literacy Vol 25 No 1 February 2020, Adelaide: Australian Literacy Educators’ Association
Iturbe, Y. (2020) 2019 ALEA Conference Reflection in Practical Literacy Vol 25 No 1 February 2020, Adelaide: Australian Literacy Educators’ Association
NESA (2012) NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum – English K-10 at http://www.educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/english-year-10/english-k-10/organisation-of-content accessed 16/02/2019
Parkin, B. & Harper, H (2019) Teaching with Intent 2: Literature-based literacy teaching and learning Newton: PETAA
Scott, J., Nagy, B. & Flinspach, S. (2008). More than merely words: Redefining vocabulary learning in a culturally and linguistically diverse society. In A. Farstrup & J. Samuels (Eds.). What Research has to say about Vocabulary Instruction (pp.182-210) Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association