Magazine article NATE Classroom

Using Storyboxes to Develop Language and Thought

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Using Storyboxes to Develop Language and Thought

Article excerpt

In collaboration with Buckinghamshire teachers Rosemary Gadd (Buckingham Primary), Debbie Morrison (St Edwards), Suzanne Best (Marlow C of E Infants), Jenny Nunn (St Mary's C of E, Fairford Leys, Aylesbury), Elisa March (Stone), Hannah Robinson (Stoke Mandeville)

At the start of Robert Mulligan's 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird the camera zooms into and pans over a box of objects. This is Jem's collection box referred to in chapter 4, containing treasures such as Boo's secret 'gifts' of Indian pennies and 'two small images carved in soap' (chapter 7). This filmic 'starter activity' presents us with hors d'oeuvres or 'out-takes' from the story, objects such as a ticking watch whose significance we cannot yet fully understand, but which, along with Mulligan's rather lumbering inclusion of a white and black marble, come to acquire a symbolic function as the story unfolds.

At the start of her lesson in 2009, Elisa displays six objects to her year 2 class and, before reading The Enormous Crocodile, asks the pupils to discuss the kind of setting, the kind of characters and the kind of story which these objects make them think of. Hannah, in teaching year 6, gathers objects to retell 'Kensuke's Kingdom' and pushes pupils beyond the literal by asking what the green gauze might represent literally--(the net?); representationally--(the seaweed?); and symbolically--( jealousy?).

Creating shoe-boxes of objects for favourite stories has been a project taken up by well over 25 Buckinghamshire Primary schools for the fun and support it brings to literacy and learning progress (see previous article in NATE Classroom no. 4, Spring 2008). Schools have found that the advantages include:

for children:

* support for memory, listening and hypothesising in creating associations between objects, pictures, words and feelings (cf. the support for EAL learners of 'realia'--real objects rather than pictures);

* confidence to talk at length, in role, collaboratively and in detail ('inky black');

* providing access and responsibility to different kinds of learners (making reading 3-dimensional--particular progress was seen in boys' engagement and the confidence of younger and less articulate talkers. A Year 4 boy said, 'If you'd seen the story in the storybox, you'd want to read the book.');

* closer comprehension and finer interpretation skills when revisiting favourite books or topics (Charlotte and Aaron, Year 4, talked about The Tunnel by Anthony Browne:

C: 'I think he called it The Tunnel because it's mostly the tunnel that started the whole concept of the stone and the forest ...'

A: '... and it also got the girl out of her fear of the dark because she normally screams--now she can sleep at night.... When you get older, you'll conquer your fear.');

* relish for vocabulary, enjoyment and understanding of narrative voice and story structure (Leon age 5, retelling Mick Inkpen's Kipper's Birthday; Aaron and Charlotte age 9, retelling The Tunnel).

for parents and carers:

* greater involvement in reading support by offering quick, practical ways of talking and supporting children's home learning, with clear products (Aaron, Year 4, talking about his Pinocchio storybox, said, 'Me and my nan made the big long nose.');

* clearer understanding of the higher order skills involved in revisiting texts rather than the reductive simple decoding cline implied by 'getting on to a more difficult book'.

(This brings home and school literacies together imaginatively, as advocated by shoe-box activities described by Martin Hughes in his book Improving Primary literacy; linking home and school, published by Routledge.)

for teachers:

* cheap, easy and enjoyable ways of integrating oracy and literacy in sustained units of work;

* creative solutions to cross-curricular integration;

* devolvement of responsibility to the learner. …

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