Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Starting off with Story Elements

One of my favorite ways to start with reading instruction is to work with young readers on the topic of story elements. Why? When students can talk about characters, about events, about problems, and about themes, they are on the way to having engaging conversations about what they read. Starting out with story elements makes independent reading go so much more smoothly in the early months.

I've found some great resources for teaching story elements. Since I've made the move to fourth grade, I've started looking more at fairy tales and folktales for these early months. Students can't resist these stories of magic and mystery. One new site is called Interactives. Students can see the story of Cinderella, and then see how the story elements fit together. What a great resource for students to use with parents, with tutors, and on their own!

When we tell and retell stories, fourth graders need concrete manipulatives. I like to have students use figures or pictures for their retelling. Playmobil makes absolutely irresistible sets of little figures to use for retelling. Last year, I bought their Sleeping Princess set (really the story of Snow White.) When combined with a picture book of the story, it's an instant retelling center. I especially enjoy seeing boys find their way through the story...many of them did not know that the stepmother had tried to poison Snow White twice before she succeeded with the enchanted apple. They were so amazed to find that the poisoned kerchief was included in the set!

Here are some of my other favorite books for early discussions of story elements:

Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky. The illustrations are fascinating for the kids. Of course, this story gets kids questioning--what is the deal with the little man? Why does he want the queen's firstborn son? Great way to get kids thinking early in the year!
Mole and the Baby Bird by Marjorie Newman. Get a copy of this one while you can. It is a gentle, thoughtful introduction to theme. (And it is also a helpful book to remember when kids bring in toads and want to keep them in the classroom as pets...maybe this doesn't happen to everyone)
The Twelve Dancing Princesses There are lots of versions of this floating about. With the new, deeper retelling by Jessica Day George, I'm hopeful that this book will get lots of kids reading.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. Kids really enjoy this one, as it has such a neat problem and solution. It is also good for the start of the school year, as it helps us to have important conversations of what we want our classrooms to be.

Today, as I was working in my classroom, putting away my books, I found some of my favorites...and I started to feel excited for the coming year!

I was also playing around on my computer and I updated my Story Elements Powerpoint. I like to put some of my major teaching points for the whole group lesson on Powerpoint, so that, no matter what the distraction, I can be sure to teach my key content deeply, richly, and well.

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