From time to time I will include a Guest Blog post. Today’s Guest Blog author is Kathy Rappaport, a longtime educator and reading tutor.
Here’s a fun way to get young children reading with greater fluency: engage them in the art of storytelling.
Children generally love to tell stories, especially while they play with toys. However, when most young children try to write down their stories, limitations with spelling and writing speed slow them down, turning the writing process into a chore.
In my tutoring business, I often write down the stories of young children while they dictate them to me. To spark their storytelling spirit, I’ll put out blocks, stuffed animals, dollhouse furniture, and other props and let them create a scene. As children play, a story usually unfolds. If no story comes to the child’s mind, I often ask questions to prompt the child to begin. Sample prompts I use are: What’s happening now? What happens next?If such questions fail to start a story, sometimes we read a story, and at the end, I ask the child to imagine and tell me the sequel.
As a child dictates the story, I type it into my computer. When the story ends,we read it together, taking turns or — if some of the words are a bit beyond their reading level — we read in chorus. Basically, I try to keep the whole process fun.
For children, reading their own stories seems to have at four big benefits, if not more.
1) Because children are so familiar with their stories, they naturally read with greater fluency. This helps early readers wean themselves from the letter-by-letter, sounding-out-each-letter, style of reading and instead, look at the overall shape of words. Once they’ve developed this skill, they seem able to transfer it to unfamiliar texts.
2) Because children are fascinated by their own stories, they pay close attention to the words. This focused attention has helped my students, even struggling readers, take greater notice of spelling patterns (word families), sight words and new vocabulary words, all of which helps them become more fluent readers.
3) Children get the added benefit of hearing their thoughts read back to them, giving them a glimpse into their own thought process and validating their thoughts as something meaningful enough to be written down and read. It’s a real confidence booster!
4) Last of all, even though the children aren’t doing the writing, it helps improve their writing skills.
I used this dictation approach with my own daughter. She was homeschooled during her early years and spent a lot of time telling me not only stories but also her comments and observations on topics she was studying, dictating as I wrote down her ideas. She didn’t write on her own very much until about 5th grade when she entered a public school. Even so, she automatically began writing easily and in an organized, clear manner for her school assignments. It was as if after years of concentrating just on the “thinking” part rather than the “writing” part of communication, she had learned to organize her thoughts so that they now flowed freely through her writing.
Observing my daughter has made me wonder if, in addition to teaching young children to write, it’s also important to just let them talk while we adults do the writing, just to help them unleash their thoughts freely and completely.