Tag Archives: folktale study

Planning for Choice Time

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”
― Winston Churchill

revising the first grade building planWhen I decided to call my blog Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration, and Play, I purposefully put forth my vision for the meaning and direction of Choice Time by using those three key words: Inquiry, Exploration, and Play.

On a first visit to a school, I always ask to spend time in rooms during Choice Time. To my dismay, what teachers often refer to as Choice Time is actually an end-of-day wind down time for children after a morning and afternoon spent in reading, writing, phonics, and math lessons. This Choice Time might consist of board games, legos, table toys and, if the children are lucky, dramatic play and (not so often) blocks. There’s very little planning for these centers. It is usually a free playtime, a throwaway half hour at the end of the day before dismissal, giving the teacher time to grade papers, prepare homework, conduct a reading or math assessment, or do some other type of paperwork. I rarely see teachers interacting with children or writing down observational notes during this Choice Time.

I have a different vision of Choice Time. Because it is so important, it should be scheduled at a prime time during the school day, allotted a full period (perhaps even a bit more) and carefully planned for by the teacher. I’m not suggesting that centers should consist of task-driven activities. Quite the contrary, I think that they should be open-ended enough to allow for much exploration, discovery, collaboration and creativity.

The teacher should be able to explain very specifically to another adult – an administrator, a parent, and a colleague – the important learning that is taking place as children are exploring playfully. Let me explain a bit about the preparation for my vision of Choice Time centers.

When I present the concept of an inquiry-based and exploratory Choice Time to teachers, I introduce them to a simple planning template. This template is divided into three sections. I’ll attempt to explain how the planning is done.

We begin with the initial setting up of a center and describe the instructional rationale behind this center. For example, at the start of the year the instructional rationale for the block center might be to encourage children to collaborate and share, to give them opportunities to discover the unit blocks different sizes and shapes, and for children to gain an understanding of three-dimensionality. Later in the year, the instructional rationale might include providing opportunities for children to write signs for constructions using their knowledge of phonics, the word wall and words.

If the teacher has a strong understanding of the learning that is taking place at each center, it’s so much easier explaining this learning to administrators, particularly if they question why prime time during the school day is being used for play. Most administrators, it seems to me, have very little knowledge about early childhood and theories of child development. Parents also often need reassurance about the learning taking place while their child is engaged in important, playful, age-appropriate work during Choice Time. This can be at the art table, dramatic play, and the block center or at a science center.

The next part of the first section describes the Materials and physical set up of the center. Where is the center located? Is there a designated area of the classroom where children can do science observations and experiments? Is there enough space in the block center for four children to work cooperatively and is it in an area where constructions can be left up for a few days so children can work on long- term projects? Is the art area well stocked with materials that children easily and independently access? (Hint: If you can find them, clear containers are wonderful to use for materials because children can easily see what is inside.)
Are there appropriate books in each center for children to look through for new information, ideas and inspiration? Are there a variety of writing materials for recording new, surprising information, writing notes, making signs, etc?detail-block market

When I arranged my classroom, I incorporated the tables and chairs into the different centers. For example, in the art center I had two tables that abutted each other, creating a larger area for art projects. A table was in the science center and one in the math center. My goal was to give the message that our room was an art studio, a science lab, a math lab, a library, and a construction/architectural site. It was a big lab for learning and creating. The space in the room was broken up in a more interesting design than if all of the tables were together in the middle of the room. This seemed to work well for me.

After the room and materials are set up and instructional goals are clear, it is time to observe how children use the centers. Therefore, the second part of the template focuses on Assessing the Center. This is done after the children have been using the center for about two or three weeks. We now ask our selves: How are the children using the materials in this center? Sometimes the materials that we put out are not open-ended enough and children quickly tire of them. Sometimes they are too open-ended and they are not being used constructively. Writing down some observations during center time can be very helpful for assessment.

After assessing how the children are using the centers and the materials in the centers, it’s time to do some Reflecting and Planning Based on these Reflections.

In this section of the planning template, we ask ourselves: What materials can be added (or removed) to support growth in this center? One year I noticed that the children were losing interest in the science center. They had been exploring with all different types of magnets. Some of the children were particularly interested in mazes. I provided paper, paper clips, pencils and magnets and challenged them to create maze games. They were totally engrossed in using the magnets to pull the paper clips around their mazes. This interest lasted about a week or so but I noticed that it was ebbing. I remembered that my daughter had a magnetic storybook theater when she was younger and began to rummage around at home to see if I could find it. Success! I brought this wonderfully magical-looking theater into school to share with the class and, as I anticipated, the children were enthralled. I wondered, out loud, if we could use shoeboxes and our magnets to create our own storybook theaters. My wondering caught fire. What happened next was a combining of the science center and the art center. Some children found their favorite storybooks and looked through them for ideas as they built their theater scenery. Other children created original stories and scenes or made a scene from their own life. As they drew and cut out characters I demonstrated how to fold the bottom and glue on a paper clip so that the figure could stand upright and be moved around the shoebox surface. Some children glued two clips on to make it easier for the magnet to move the character around the stage. They had to hold their shoebox stages so that they could move the magnet around under them but one child came up with an ingenious solution. He found four empty sewing spools that were in a container full of spools in the art center and he glued (tape had to be added later on!) one on each corner of the shoebox, creating a stand. He placed the shoebox on the table and swiped a wand stick magnet under the box to move his “people” around the stage.

Another question to consider is: Are there any ways that you can connect work and explorations in this center to classroom studies and inquiries? As an example, if you are in the midst of a whole-class folktale study and this week you’re focusing on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the addition of the storybook and some stuffed bears in the block center can provoke children to construct the forest and the house of the bears. They may use the book and props to start reenacting the story and this is without being given any specific task.

everyone is busyA second grade class that I’ve been working with has been doing a Car Study. After visiting a garage and interviewing a mechanic they opened a “take apart” center where children were using tools to take apart an old machine. They also had a map center filled with all different road maps and materials for children to create their own maps. Recycled materials were stocked in the art center for creating cars.

It may seem somewhat overwhelming to plan out each center using this template and it probably will not be used all of the time. However, there’s so little support that teachers today get in understanding how to develop an exciting, enriched, playful and also challenging Choice Time. I was very lucky. I had so many mentors who taught me about the importance of play my journey as a teacher. I fear that, for new teachers, there are no mentors in their schools who can help them understand how to create exploratory, inquiry-based centers in their classrooms. Hopefully, this planning template will, if not take the place of a mentor, at least give teachers some support.

Once Upon A Time


Once upon a time there were Three Billy Goats Gruff. They wanted to go over the bridge to the other side of the canal to get to the diner that sold some great grassburgers . The first billy goat, the littlest one went trip- trap- trip- trap over the swing bridge.

This script was written and performed by some of my kindergarten students about 14 years ago. We were immersed in a bridge study and had recently visited the three movable bridges that spanned the nearby Gowanus Canal. We also read lots of traditional folk tales that year. Both studies worked their way into this wonderful play that a group of the children wrote during Choice Time. The entire class acted it out for their families during our end of year celebration.

As I reflect on this whimsical production, my mind wanders to the new Common Core Learning Standards and the anxiety that I encounter around these standards when I consult in various New York City schools. I’m not about to defend the Common Core Standards. I really do believe that we can have high standards for our students without having some outside “educators” micromanage every learning point that we are responsible for teaching. However, I do think that we can interpret many of these standards in ways that make sense for young children.

Here are some ideas that I have for implementing a kindergarten folktale study that isn’t planned specifically to address the Common Core Learning Standards but that seems to meet them anyway. This isn’t a checklist of how to do a folktale study and it’s not a teacher’s script. I’m just describing some of the possibilities. The beauty of teaching is often in the excitement of that serendipitous moment when children become intrigued with some part of a story and the teacher and class take time to dig in for a deep exploration. Allowing for, and even encouraging, detours that are driven by a child’s question or observation, are so fundamentally important to creating a vital learning environment. I’ve outlined some possibilities for planning a folktale study but don’t’ forget to listen to the children and enjoy revisiting these tales through their fresh eyesight and youthful innocence.

The Common Core Learning Standards
A Folktale study will address many of the kindergarten common core learning standards for literature. Here are some of the Common Core Learning Standards that might be met by implementing a folktale study:

With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to ask and answer questions about key details in a text
With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to retell familiar stories, including key details and also identify character, settings, and major events in a story,
• With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text
• With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to recognize common types of texts (e.g. storybooks and poems)
• With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.
• With prompting and support from the teacher, children will be able to describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts)
• With prompting and support from the teacher, children will have opportunities to compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories.

Some rationales for teaching a folktale study early in the kindergarten school year
A folktale study:
• Introduces young children to the joys of traditional children’s literature
• Helps children develop a rich vocabulary
• Helps build an inviting, appropriate classroom library.
• Provides opportunities for meaningful discussions
• Encourages children to extend their understanding of literature through art, music, drama and play.

Introducing a study of The Three Little Pigs    3rd -little-pigs
• The teacher reads many versions of The Three Little Pigs over the course of one or more weeks
• Posing open-ended questions that encourage children to synthesize the ideas in the book and theorize on possible outcomes facilitates discussions. For example:

-How might you have built your house if you were one of the pigs and you wanted to protect        yourself against the wolf?

-Why would you build it that way?

-What do you think it means when we describe someone as clever? (This might not be a word that children are familiar with and could involve some defining by the teacher after children have a go at figuring it out)

-Have you noticed any examples of clever thinking on the part of the pigs or the wolf in the story?

– Why do you think the mother pig sent the little pigs out into the world by themselves?

-How do you think the little pigs felt about leaving home?
• Children can be encouraged to make connections to incidents in their own lives and in other stories by referring to the pictures in the text for support. When children see the pigs hiding in fright from the wolf behind the door, it could open up a discussion of times when they were frightened and how they handled their fright. When the pigs trick the wolf into going apple picking at the wrong time, it might remind children of tricks that they played on friends or siblings. On the other hand, it might also begin a conversation about times that they, too, went apple picking! Straying from the story plot and remembering a family trip to an apple orchard could be a fairly typical connection for a five-year old to make in response to the apple-picking illustration.

Class Discussion
The teacher’s line of questioning determines the quality of the discussion.

• Initially, simple factual questions might be asked such as, “ What did the three pigs use to build their homes?”
• After asking simple questions, more thought-provoking inquiries could be asked such as “I wonder why the wolf was so easily fooled by the pigs?”

When open-ended questions are posed, the teacher does not expect children to arrive at one definitive answer. A key point here is that all theories are debatable and worthy of discussion. This supports higher-level thinking and richness of language. Open-ended questions can tap into children’s curiosity, sense of wonder and ability to attempt some creative thinking. When the teacher asks open-ended questions, children are presented with a message that says, “I trust you to have good ideas and I value your thoughts.”

Drama and Play
All of these supports inspire children to interact with the text using age-appropriate modes of exploration.

• The teacher can encourage children to refer to illustrations when they are reconstructing the story as they play in the various Choice Time centers. This can be done by adding copies of the book to the dramatic play center and to the block center. A book may also be put in the art center.
• Photocopies of illustrations from the book can also be posted in easy view in these centers too.
• Teachers can make story props available. Small models of animals from the story can be put in the block center.

After hearing many versions of the same folktale

• The class could create a Venn diagram, showing similarities and differences in the various versions of the story. For example, there are always three pigs but perhaps in one story, instead of going to pick apples, they go to pick cherries!
• Children might create personal versions of the story in their writing workshop. Four and five year olds would probably begin with drawings. Children could dictate the text to the teacher, or if they are ready to use invented spelling they could write it themselves.
• These new versions could first be displayed on a bulletin board in the classroom and later turned into class books.
• The teacher could document this writing process by photographing children working on their books and recording brief transcripts of children’s thoughts and comments as they work.
• These photos and children’s comments could be added to the wall display, which would serve as a visible assessment of the learning process.
• At independent and partner reading, children should have time to “reread” the books to each other. At this stage in their literacy development, they will probably be retelling the story using picture clues and the memory of having heard the book read aloud.
• As children read, the teacher sits at the side of a child to engage the student in a book discussion.
• These one-on-one discussions give the teacher the opportunity to hear if the child is using storybook language, following the sequence of the story, speaking in complete sentences and remembering significant expressions from the story (i.e “not by the hair of my chinney chin chin”).
• These conferences provide the teacher with invaluable information for future lesson planning and for differentiating instruction.
• If there is a big book version of the story, this can be used for shared reading.
• A small copy of a folktale book can be used for shared reading by projecting the book onto the wall or Smartboard. If the school does not have a document projector, an overhead projector can be used with transparencies of each page.
• Shared reading gives children opportunities to ask and answer questions about key details in the text, retell this familiar story, including key details and identify character, settings, and major events in the story, with the support of the group.
• Shared reading scaffolds the retelling and reenacting of the story that will take place during Choice Time and independent reading.
• For kindergarten children, singing is a joyful and crucial part of their school experience.
• The class might compose a Three Little Pigs song, using a popular tune or by making up an original tune!
• The teacher could act as scribe, recording the words to the song.
• This class-composed song could become one of the songs that would be sung throughout the year!
• After children know the song “by heart” the song chart can be used for shared reading as they sing along.
• Reciting poetry can be another way to make connections to the story.
• Young children have for generations recited Mother Goose poems. To Market, To Market could first be learned as a playful chant. As children learn the poem the teacher can help them understand some of the unfamiliar vocabulary such as “hog” and “jig”. (The children might also try dancing a jig to some appropriate music!)
• What was first learned as a chant can now be transferred to a shared reading chart. Because children know the poem “by heart”, they will be ready to make connections to some of the significant words that are written on the chart.

To market, to market
To buy a fat pig;
Home again, home again,
Dancing a jig.
To market, to market
To buy a fat hog;
Home again, home again,

• In a shared writing experience, children might dictate a new class version of a folktale (or create an entirely new tale, using the folktale format!).
• Individual groups of children can illustrate each page of the new version of the folktale that the class created, matching their drawing to the words on the page. When these pages are completed, the class will have an original Big Book version of the story. This version can be revisited many times for shared reading and dramatic presentations.
Informational texts that match the story can be read to the children.
• During a study of The Three Pigs, the teacher might read Gail Gibbons’ informative text, Pigs.
• Children could be encouraged to make connections between the attributes of real pigs compared to the pigs in the folktale.
• Some other nonfiction books to read might be “Pigs! Learn About Pigs And Learn To Read – The Learning Club!” and Pigs (First Step Nonfiction Farm Animals) by Robin Nelson
• The introduction of a new folk tale such as The Three Billy Goats Gruff could follow up the study of The Three Pigs.
• Reading a variety of folktales provide a perfect opportunity for comparing and contrasting adventures and experiences of different characters.
• The Three Pigs and the Three Billy Goats Gruff all had to use their creative intelligence to overcome obstacles. How might you describe the similarities and differences in these obstacles? Did you notice any similarities or contrasts in the ways that the bad guys in both stories were outsmarted? The possibilities for discussion are endless!
• Because of all the opportunities for comparisons to be made between the two tales, the conversation would most likely become even more complex than proposed by the Common Core Standards!

“Helping children engage in the drama of reading, helping them become dramatist (rewriter of the text), even critic (commentator and explicator and scholarly student of the text), is how I think of our work as teachers of reading.”
Aidan Chambers
                                                                                                     Tell Me: Children Reading and Talk

“Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
  John Steinbeck