I’ve volunteered in the writing center of my daughter’s preschool classroom on as many Mondays as possible this school year. I hadn’t been there since January 11th, but I knew it was time to take it up a notch. After all, my daughter and most of her friends are able to tell true stories about their lives. I’ve been reading Engaging Young Writers: Preschool – Grade 1 by Matt Glover, which made me realize it was time I figured it was time to nudge them forward by having them tell a story across pages. In other words, I was going to have them start making books today.
Last night, Isabelle was not pleased when asked what I was doing with her and her classmates. First, she didn’t like that I was going to read a book aloud during circle time. Second, she didn’t like that she was going to have to tell a story across pages. “I don’t want to do it,” she declared.
“This is the kind of work that writers do, Isabelle. You’re going to give it a try tomorrow.”
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“Why?” I probed.
She looked at the three-page book I created. “It looks hard.”
“You can tell a story across pages. We’ve done it before at home. I’ll be there to help you.”
She didn’t look convinced.
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This morning, we talked about what might be a good topic for a story on the car ride to school. She came up with sledding in our neighbor’s backyard the weekend of the blizzard. Once we got to a long stoplight, I helped her rehearse the story by telling it to me across her fingers. She said, “First, I put on my gear. Next, we walked to Ms. Lori’s backyard. Finally, I went sledding with Daddy.” It was a little spare, but it was a great first attempt.
“Write it!” I declared.
* * * * *
I read Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and talked with her peers about all of the great storytelling they’ve done in their journals this year. Then, I told them it was time to do what the authors of books in their classroom do: make books! We reviewed the thinking/drawing/writing chart. Once all of them thought of a story to tell, I had them go knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye with a partner to tell their story aloud. I listened into a couple of conversations. I noticed some of the kids were writing bed-to-bed stories in the air just to come up with a third thing to tell. When I brought the class back together, I reminded them that their books should have three parts that were related. I wasn’t convinced, after the minilesson, that today would be successful. Alas, I wanted to see what they could do with some gentle nudging once they came to the writing center.
When each child arrived, I had him/her retell the story to me across their fingers. Then, I had them touch each page of their stapled book to tell me what would go on each page. From there, I they drew their pictures. Finally, I either added the words for them (on sticky notes) as they told me the story aloud or they wrote their own words.
I made Isabelle go through the same process as her peers even though I knew the story (and knew she rehearsed it in the car). I was a little disappointed that she changed it around from her initial telling of it in the car. However, in an effort not to put words in her mouth, I scribed exactly what she said.
The only thing I did do was have her go back and add more detail to the second page where she and my husband walked to the neighbor’s house. We looked back at Knuffle Bunny and noticed how Mo Willems had pictures of Trixie and her Daddy walking through their neighborhood so the reader could understand where they were. She had a tough time drawing a house, but with a little practice, she was able to make it look like a house. (BTW: Those dashses are hers. I drew a house with dashes that she had to trace over on scrap paper. For some reason, she thought she should draw the dashes prior to drawing the solid lines of the house.)
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I’m thinking I’m going to do a few more weeks of telling stories across pages. By mid-March, I’m hoping to give the kids the option of telling stories in their books or writing books that tell a lot about something (Glover, 2009, 20). I think that choice will be interesting to see play out once the kids get more comfortable with writing across pages, rather than writing on one page, which is what they’ve been doing in their journals this year.