Posts filed under ‘Talk’

Storytelling Workshop Activity for Children

A student works on writing her own story in the Storyteller Workshop.

This summer, ReadBoston has been experimenting with new supplemental literacy activities in a pilot program at several Storymobile sites. In an effort to design a more comprehensive literacy curriculum to accompany the Storymobile program, we have been developing new activities and leading workshops on some new ideas to accompany our Storymobile program.
This activity, introduced by one of ReadBoston’s summer staffers, has proved to be a favorite with children of many age groups! Called the “Storytelling Workshop,” the activity complements the storytelling theme already present in the Storymobile programming and encourages children to be creative while practicing many skills that are important to improving literacy. The group conversation time at the beginning reinforces new vocabulary and verbal communication, while the storytelling aspect helps to develop memory and critical thinking. Though the individual writing component itself has obvious benefits, the focus of this exercise is on developing ideas rather than on grammar and spelling. Sometimes, a fear of being wrong can discourage children from even trying to write. However, by emphasizing the importance of creativity, children are free to practice without fear of making mistakes.

The activity is fairly straightforward and easy to do with any number of students: together, kids and their teacher come up with the beginning of an original storyline with fully developed characters, setting, and conflict. Together, the class composes sentences and begins to tell the story. However, when the story reaches its climax, students break off to write their own creative endings. Once finished, these stories can be copied and made into books!

All you need is paper and colored pens. It can be good to set up larger sheets of paper on the walls so everyone can see what the group is brainstorming (or you can use a whiteboard if you have access to one). You can start by talking about components of the story, like characters, plot, setting, dialogue, and conflict. For more advanced children, this conversation can be more in depth and include complex ideas like themes, points of view, and climax. Then, once the kids have an understanding of the story components, start to develop your own story by asking them questions about your main characters, the setting, and the plot. The more detail the better, so ask them to be specific! As you work together, you can start writing the story out as the students describe it.
Once the story gets to an exciting cliffhanger—with lots of questions, split up the kids to write their own endings. Supply them with paper and colored pens or crayons and encourage them to use the tools you talked about to finish the story in their own creative way. If students don’t feel comfortable writing, they can draw pictures to express their ideas. Once they’re finished, you can turn their endings into individual books by adding the beginning section you wrote together, making front and back covers, and binding the pages to each other.
This project can be as elaborate and advanced as you’d like depending on how much time you have and the reading experience of the children. Practicing storytelling in this way can strengthen literacy skills of all kinds while reinforcing the natural creativity of the students.


August 9, 2012 at 1:27 PM Leave a comment

“Pressure-cooker Kindergarten” – Where are we now?

In 2009, The Boston Globe took a look at a trend of increasing academic demands on our youngest students, their teachers, and families. Even in kindergarten, children and their educators are being subjected to tests and standards “that early childhood researchers agree are developmentally inappropriate, even potentially damaging.” These new expectations arose out of concern for the achievement gap between white students and minorities; mandatory standardized testing was meant to hold schools accountable for all their students. According to Globe, accountability has come at the cost of play time and other activities critical to early brain development. Their special report featured the experiences of educators and experts struggling with the balance between accountability and best practices – many of whom work in the Boston area.

Three years later, what are the academic pressures of the kindergarten classroom? Do the experiences of the teachers in this piece reflect your own? How do you balance accountability with play? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? Where do you think we should go from here?

Continue Reading April 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM Leave a comment

Book Spotlight: Gilberto and the Wind

Jumpstart’s sessions and its activities are inspired by 20 books, which we call core storybooks. Every session revolves around these books. They contain great vocabulary and there are many opportunities to apply to concepts in the books to learning that is happening in the classroom. I wanted to highlight one of my favorites today (along with some ideas for how to bring the book to life)!

Title: Gilberto and the Wind
Author: Marie Hall Ets
In this book Gilberto hears the wind whispering at the door and runs out to play. The wind teases Gilberto by carrying his balloon away and breaking his umbrella. The wind is playful too, racing Gilberto, lifting his soap bubbles, knocking down an apple for him to eat, and gently lulling him to sleep.

blur: something you cannot see clearly
clothespins: clips for hanging wash on a line
soft, mild, kind
making a long, loud cry like a wolf
a sudden tug
a toy that flies in the air, lifted by wind
a toy that spins in the wind
ready to eat
a cloth attached to the mast of a boat that the wind pushes along
not fastened, unlocked
speaking softly

Dramatic Play: Playing House
: Children can use vocabulary and comprehension as they engage in play about doing laundry, especially hanging clothes outside to dry in the wind.

Materials: Basic house-play materials including clothesline, clothespins, pillowcases, doll clothes and chairs to hang clothesline (if possible)


  • Observe children as they play and comment on their actions using rich vocabulary.
    • “Look at all the clothes on the clothesline! I wonder if they are going to fit on the clothesline. Do you have enough clothespins?”
    • “I notice you have washed the pillowcases and the apron and hung them up just as they were in the book about Gilberto.”

*NOTE: It can be helpful to string the clothesline between two childsize chairs so that the line is within easy reach of children.

Science: What Can Air Move?
Purpose: Children develop vocabulary and comprehension as they begin to understand that it is possible to investigate air and classify the results; observe an experiment and make predictions about the results, like similarities and differences.

Materials: Hair dryer (and extension cord if necessary); 3 shoeboxes with signs attached (Moved Easily, Moved at a Higher Speed, Did Not Move); Various objects to test


  • Use suggested vocabulary during discussion in ways that make their meanings clear: breeze, speed, wind, heavy, light, strong, weak.
  • Show children the hair dryer and turn it on the lowest speed to create a breeze. Tell the children that you will do an experiment together to test which objects the air from the hair dryer will move.
  • Read the signs on the shoeboxes and show children the collection of objects. Together, name each object you will test.
  • As you test each object, use rich vocabulary and make connections to Gilberto and the Wind when possible.
  • Have children select an object to test. Ask children to predict whether or not the object will move.
  • Place the object on the table in the path of the hair dryer.
  • For safety reasons only Corps members should use the hair dryer. Test at a low speed, then at higher speeds if necessary. Talk about what happens.
  • Have children place the object in the correct box.
  • Talk about how the objects in the same box are alike.

These are just a few of the possible activities that you could use with this book. Grab a copy…I’m sure you can find many more!

February 28, 2012 at 9:04 AM Leave a comment

Think Like a Preschooler

Last night I had an interesting conversation with a friend. While we were chatting, our conversation naturally veered toward the children that we work with and how often we find ourselves underestimating them.  That made me think of a series of questions that had recently been posed to me by a coworker. These questions compare adult knowledge to a preschooler’s knowledge–seemingly simple questions that 90% of adults get wrong, and the majority of preschoolers get right.  So, I posed these to my friend who has spent almost every day of her summer surrounded by 3 and 4 year olds:

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

3. The Lion King is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend …. except one. Which animal does not attend?

4. There is a river you must cross but it is used by crocodiles and you do not have a boat. How do you manage it?

 She answered all of these questions wrong, and so did I.  Take a stab at them yourself before taking a look at the answers below!

 Each question has a purpose, one that is very simple.  As adults we tend to make things more complicated than they actually are and forget details in trying to look ahead.  I tried to use knowledge I already had (ie characters in the Lion King, my certainty that giraffes and elephants could not fit into a refrigerator, and figure out what “trick” there could be in the crocodile question) and found myself not actually listening to the questions themselves.  Preschoolers will answer these questions with the knowledge they already have and understand these questions for what they actually are, while each one helps hone their thinking and learning capabilities.  Here are the answers that preschoolers knew but two adult preschool “experts” did not:

 1. Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.

2.  Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your previous actions.

3. The Elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator. You just put him in there. This tests your memory.

4.You jump into the river and swim across. Have you not been listening? All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting. This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.

 School is right around the corner and as we look forward to another year of learning and growth, I am going to try to remember just how young children think and learn and see what I can learn from them.  Sometimes it is easy to underestimate their young, mold-able minds when they might actually have all the right answers.

August 5, 2011 at 1:24 PM 1 comment

Talk, Read, Play Day!

Mayor Thomas Menino kicked off Talk Read Play Day by flipping the switch and illuminating the TD Garden with the Talk Read Play logo. In the photo, left to right: Dr. Carol Johnson, Supt. of Boston Public Schools, Mike Durkin, President of United Way, Mayor Thomas Menino, Joe Blumenfeld, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lisa Hughes, WBZTV and Curious George.

On Tuesday, April 12, thousands of volunteers and early childhood educators donned brightly colored teal shirts emblazoned with a simple statement: Talk, Read, Play. The t-shirts commemorated “Talk Read Play Day,” a citywide effort that aims to create awareness of the need for parents to actively engage verbally with their infants, toddlers and young children. Across the city and throughout the day, sponsors, volunteers and early educators helped promote the program’s message through conversations with parents and story time activities with children. In addition, families received tips on how to talk, read and play at home, along with a goodie bags filled with crayons and stencils and a brand new Curious George book to keep, thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This citywide visibility effort reached more than 10,000 parents and children. 

The Talk, Read, Play campaign is a comprehensive reminder of the simple but sometimes overlooked steps that lead to a child’s healthy development:

  • Talking to a child from birth is one of the most important things that a parent can do to foster vocabulary, critical to the future

    Curious George helps celebrate Talk Read Play Day at the Mattapan Head Start.

    development of reading and writing abilities.

  • Reading with infants and toddlers helps them develop a longer attention span, a larger vocabulary, an eagerness to read, the ability to predict a storyline, and book-handling skills, all of which will help with learning to read later.
  • Playing exposes children to essential social interactions that help to develop creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills. This interaction also prepares them emotionally for the classroom setting.

 “Talk, Read, Play” is a collaboration between ReadBoston and Countdown to Kindergarten. The message of the campaign is to promote parents as their child’s first and most important teachers. The campaign provides critical information and resources to support parents in educating their young children. 

To learn more, visit

April 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM Leave a comment

The Value of Play

Play is one of the most important aspects of childhood. It is through playing that children learn about their surroundings and how to interact with others. As part of Countdown to Kindergarten’s mission to enhance early learning opportunities for the children of Boston, we offer FREE Play to Learn groups. Our playgroups bring together parents, children and an early childhood professional to build a community of peers for support, to foster nurturing behaviors, to help families access other needed services and to model developmentally appropriate practice.

Families have the opportunity to join one of two hour weekly playgroups at any of our nine sites. We are currently looking for participants for the Trotter and  the Holmes Elementary Schools and for the Saturday group at the Tobin Community Center.

Each of playgroups sessions includes:

  • Educational play
  • Circle time
  • Snack
  • Information and resource sharing
  • Gross motor and sensory play
  • Goodbye circle
  • ReadBoston’s Reading Trail lending library

Our playgrops have proven to offer an enriching early learning enviorment, provide a positive “first school” experience, empower parents to be teachers and foster realtionships that build community. If you have a family or a small group who may be interested in participating, please refer them to our schedule and let them know they can register by contacting Rosa Inniss at 617-635-9288.

March 2, 2011 at 10:36 AM 1 comment

The Third Grade Deadline

At ReadBoston, our mission is to have all children reading at grade level by the end of the third grade. We’re often asked why third grade is so important. The reason is that until third grade a child learns to read; after the third grade a child reads to learn. Children who can read at grade level by the time they enter fourth grade are likely to continue to experience educational success, graduate from high school, secure post-secondary education, and enjoy higher levels of professional challenge and financial security. Recently, new research and articles have been published emphasizing this “third grade deadline.” In June, Boston-based nonprofit Strategies for Children commissioned a report written by literacy expert Nonie Lesaux. This report, entitled “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” details strategies for improving children’s language and literacy development by third grade. Lesaux writes, “There is a limited window of time in which to prevent reading difficulties and promote reading achievement.”

In addition, ReadBoston founder Richard Weissbourd and Paul O’Brien, Strategies for Children Board Chair, recently penned an article in MassInc’s CommonWealth magazine entitled “Early Read.” In this article, Weissbourd and O’Brien emphasize that strong reading skills in early education are critical to closing the achievement gap and ensuring success in school and beyond for all children. They state that, “Children who master reading in the earliest grades are well prepared to learn in any subject. Everything else on the educational agenda – eliminating the achievement gap, reducing the dropout rate, increasing college completion, improving science and math skills – becomes considerably easier to tackle.” 

ReadBoston has detailed many of the steps we can take to ensure reading proficiency by the third grade in earlier blog posts. For instance, in Baby Talk, we emphasize the importance of talking to your baby. Talking to your baby is one of the most important predictors of his reading success. And, in Back into the Swing of Things, we talk about home reading – children who read outside of school do better in school than those who do not. Together we can provide schools, after school programs, early childhood centers and families with the resources they need to set Boston’s children on the path to reading success. 

Click here to read the Nonie Lesaux’s full report: Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success

Click here to read Richard Weissbourd and Paul O’Brien’s article in CommonWealth Magazine: Early Read

October 22, 2010 at 11:24 AM Leave a comment

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