This article is Part II to The Importance of Story Dictation published October 6.

Building language skills and developing a sense of community are two of the greatest areas of focus within early childhood. These foundational skills set the stage for all later schooling and for life in general. One of the best ways to accomplish this within a classroom is to act out, or dramatize, the stories that children tell.

As we know from research and from our own experience as teachers, children learn best through hands-on experiences. When children dramatize the stories that they create, they see, hear, touch, move and speak in a variety of ways making their story a concrete and physical experience. We have also learned that once they experience dramatizing their stories, they become better storytellers. They increase their use of action words, dialogue, and complete ideas within their stories.

Dramatization is also an opportunity for class collaboration. It includes other children in the “telling” of the story, which builds friendships. In addition, as the story unfolds, children may ask questions like “how many monsters are there?” These moments allow the author to clarify the story, and in turn, teach the class that details are an important aspect of the story telling process. As a result, children begin to add more detail in their dictations, which creates richer stories.

Children also develop critical thinking skills through this process. Each time they hear their words read aloud, they are given the opportunity to evaluate those words. Children might add or change details. They may clarify or say, “That’s not what I meant.” These opportunities allow children to think back on their own words and hone them. This is critical thinking and the beginning of a skill that they will use throughout their entire life.

Dramatizing stories also serves to make abstract ideas more concrete. This is especially beneficial for children who are reluctant storytellers, especially English language learners or children who have difficulty communicating. Imagine a story about a child going on vacation to California. A child may have difficulty understanding these words, but as a child gets up, spreads their arms out and begins to move around, children see visually the concept of an airplane and begin to connect this with the word vacation. Similarly, characters may have different emotions during the story. As children see these emotions visualized they not only learn to name these emotions, but they identify them in other people, thus building their empathy and understanding.

In our early childhood classrooms at St. James, dramatization occurs at a special time at the end of each day. This keeps it as part of the everyday routine so that children learn to expect and look forward to this time. In addition, this protected time each day, signals its importance within our classroom (children’s stories matter). During this time, students all gather on the outskirts of the circle area. Roles are assigned to students, which correspond to the characters within the particular story. The teacher, who is the narrator, reads the story aloud, pausing after every sentence to allow the students to dramatize the actions accordingly. Students are allowed to represent the actions as they choose; the teacher does not direct the acting as this would hinder their creative interpretation. During these events, teachers are skillfully observing the students to see how their storytelling and acting skills are developing.

The stories that children tell come to life through dramatization and children come to life listening to and acting in these stories. Not only do we see the excitement build in our students, but their oral language, representation skills, social development, and critical thinking build as well. For all of these reasons, story dictation and dramatization maintain a prominent place in every one of the early childhood classrooms at St. James.

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