Once upon a time, I was supposed to get standing ovations on the Broadway stage. That was my childhood ambition and I’ve gotten more laughs from my friends who stayed in the performing arts when they found out that I became a librarian. Well, I may not be on Entertainment Tonight, and I may not be raking in a StevenSpielberg salary, but I get instant gratification, by making kids whoop and laugh at a funny book and then, by getting them out of their chairs and acting out stories.
When we use our imaginations, we become somewhat like super heroes; we can make wonderful things happen. I have had the privilege of reading Oliver Jeffers new book, Stuck, to about seven classes so far. Where time has permitted, I then had them get up and act out the story. There are only a few human characters…but then, there’s a tree, a cat, a duck, an orangutan, a kitchen sink, a whale…you get the picture. The kids were asked to become them.
What made this even more fun was getting the students to make the sounds of their characters, and then making those sounds in the order in which the characters got stuck. One very imaginative boy with a possible future in stand-up comedy insisted on being the kite that was stuck in the tree who made comments about how ridiculous the whole situation was. He had the teacher and me in stitches.
I have to write up these experiences for my library newsletter and I’m probably jumping the gun by putting this into the blog, but I can’t emphasize how important this kind of literacy and performance art activity is. When you have children growing up in an Internet culture, what happens to stories? What happens to books whether they’re printed or digital? Can we make readers out of this technology driven world? First of all, when you’re online, you are reading, pure and simple. Maybe reading responses to your Facebook page is not what educators would call reading, but…we are reading after all. I think that this may be a motivation for kids to read.
Now when we show kids that reading is pleasurable, we are creating positive associations. By drawing on the imagination to act out stories without props or costumes, we are asking kids to do creative problem solving. The fact is that creativity is becoming a skill that is more and more in demand. Not all education is easy or fun. I’m not even convinced that it should be, but this is! Acting out a well written story is fun, and if a child is not inclined to do this, then watching other children do it can be fun too. Taking the time to do this with a class is definitely not wasted time.
Literacy skills are intrinsically linked with academic success, so if we want to get children to be readers, there has to be a fun component to it. Giving students access to books that they will like is key, getting them to model expressive reading by being hammy ourselves is also essential. It’s a good idea to pick books that have some repetition and not too much text on the page for the first few forays into Story Theatre.
So even though I’m not on the Great White Way, I bring a little bit of it with me to every school that I go to, and I am continually surprised by the imaginative ways that elementary school students find to make stories come alive.