We Know It's a Story-But What If It Were True? Using Drama and Nursery Rhymes to Support Reading for Meaning

By Harrison, Larraine | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview
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We Know It's a Story-But What If It Were True? Using Drama and Nursery Rhymes to Support Reading for Meaning

Harrison, Larraine, NATE Classroom




Have you ever asked a young child to consider how the fictional characters in a story might be feeling at various points in the narrative, only to be reminded firmly by the child that it's just a story and not really true? In my experience this is quite common, especially if the child feels under pressure to perform, or has more pressing things to do than answer your questions! However, it can also indicate that the child has not suspended their disbelief sufficiently to consider the all important question that they need to ask when reading for meaning, and that is; We know it's a story, but what if it were true?

Why is this question so important? Once children accept that the fictional world is a world behaving as if it were real, they can begin to consider the consequences of the fictitious events, empathise with the characters and also begin to make meaningful links between the fictional world and the real world. In other words they can begin to read for meaning. So if we can encourage very young children to consider the characters and events in rhymes and stories as if they were real, then we can begin to move beyond the factual recall of events into something that more closely resembles reading for meaning.


Beyond re-enactment

This is where drama can be very useful. By allowing children to have an imagined interaction with the characters and events, drama can give very young children a foothold in the imagined reality of the fiction. At FS/KS1, dramatising a story is often associated purely with reenactment, but drama can also be used in other ways to support reading for meaning. Dealing with the consequences of events in nursery rhymes and traditional tales for example, can engage children with the characters and events in a very different way to that of a re-enactment.

Nursery rhymes contain lots of unresolved situations that a group of helpful four to six-year-olds might easily rectify through a dramatisation --and if they were asked to do so, they could also write notes to the characters to offer advice or inform them of what they had done to help. The list of suitable rhymes for this kind of work is endless but here are a few suggestions:

* Little Bo Peep will keep losing her sheep unless a fence is built to contain them.

* Jack and Jill will have no water if someone else doesn't go to fetch it .

* Who knows how long Mary Mary's garden will grow without some help with the gardening.

* Rock-a-Bye-Baby needs a much safer place to sleep.

* The old woman in the shoe could do with a much bigger house.

* Old Mother Hubbard needs a shopping trip to fill her cupboard.

* Someone needs to put a safety net over the well to stop cats from falling or being thrown in.

* Miss Muffet might need some information about spiders to allay her fears.

* Little Boy Blue needs advice on getting to sleep at night so he doesn't nod off at work.

Humpty Dumpty

Using this kind of situation to help children engage with the characters and events in stories and rhymes is fairly straightforward but it does require some understanding of how to set up the necessary dramatic context, so the children can respond appropriately. There are many ways of setting up a dramatic context but here is just one example based on Humpty Dumpty.


* The children should be reminded of the rhyme Humpty Dumpty, before the drama begins.

* You will need a cleared space, though not necessarily a large space.

* You will need to write a letter to the children from the king, asking them to fix Humpty Dumpty and put him back on the wall. The King could also ask the children to send him a letter to let him know how they get on.

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We Know It's a Story-But What If It Were True? Using Drama and Nursery Rhymes to Support Reading for Meaning


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