Alternative Teaching Methods · Reading for Pleasure · Storytime · Webcasts

5 Ways To Help You See The Bigger Picture During Storytime

Here at SLS Guernsey, Elizabeth and Tiffany signed up to listen to the School Library Journal’s (@SLJournal) recent webcast Children, Children, What Do You See?: Using the Whole Book Approach at Storytime.  Here’s what we’ve learned from the webcast:

Elizabeth’s write up:-

I have just listened to the webcast about the Whole Book Approach (WBA) hosted by the School Library Journal that was broadcasted on the Wednesday 9th March 2016. Whole Book Approach(WBA) explains very clearly how this works.  I run regular story session with class groups and, having shadowed the Kate Greenaway Medal book awards for illustrations, felt that I was relatively comfortable in using the WBA during my sessions.

I can say, however, that I did learn several things from speakers, Megan Dowd Lambert, Yolanda Scott and Emily Prabhaker who were very easy to listen to. They covered several areas that interested me, which were orientation, jackets & covers, endpapers, front matter, typography and visual intelligence. Megan has written a book about Reading Picture Books With Children which adds more to the information given in the webcast.

Reading Picture Books with Children

Webcast speaker Megan Dowd Lambert’s recent book (Charlesbridge 2015)

The WBA is all about asking questions as you go through the book, in order to ensure that the children understand the story and are fully engaging with the pictures. The presentation started by talking about the orientation of the book and suggesting that it is important to make the children think why the illustrator drew the book in landscape or in portrait. It was pointed out that picture books about journeys are generally drawn horizontally, which enabled the concept of space and movement.

When questioning the children about the pictures, I normally end up giving the answer to the children if they have not given me the response that I was looking for. It was suggested in this presentation not to do this, but instead to let the children discover the answer for themselves thereby making the discovery personal. I like this idea because when a child has achieved something for themselves they are more likely to remember it.

I was aware that the the front cover holds an important key to the story in a picture book, but I didn’t know that you could lose the point of a story if you do not look properly at the pictures before the actual story begins. It is critical to ‘read’ the story before the story itself starts.This is a lovely way of engaging the children before you start reading. What can the pictures tell us about the characters and the story?  I have also talked to many children about typography, although I don’t think that I have used that terminology with them. The presenters suggested that it would be good to read the typography in the ‘wrong’ way. For example, instead of shouting a word written in capital letters, try reading it quietly and ask the children if they think that is the right way to read that word. Then, see if they can explain why they would read it in a different way.  One thing that was pointed out in this webcast, was the importance of using the right words and how it is possible for children to understand the correct terminology. I do feel that simplifying words for younger children is beneficial if it is used alongside the real words.

It is important to nurture the visual intelligence in children and, even though we are interrupting the flow of the story, this is not a problem. Unless we take time to stop and talk about the story a child may not understand it anyway, and the enjoyment would be lost.

So what are the benefits of using the WBA?  Well, I am usually in a classroom with a teacher who has expectations that I am there to read a story and give them a 15 minute break. If I can be seen to make a difference to the children’s understanding and enjoyment of a story, then hopefully the teacher can see the benefit of giving me some of their teaching time and maybe start collaborating with me. The benefits highlighted in the presentation were:-

  • Encouraging visual intelligence
  • Validating children’s insights
  • Promoting peer learning
  • Promoting art as play
  • Demonstrate the way a picture book can be a meeting place for child and adult

Here is a list of books that they talked about in their presentation.

Tiffany’s write up:-

Having also listened to this webcast, I would like to echo Elizabeth’s response to the fascinating points raised by Megan, Yolanda and Emily about the Whole Book Approach (WBA).  My personal experience with storytime sessions has ranged from one-to-one readings within the public children’s library, to more full-on story telling performances to classes of up to thirty children.  The styles of reading I use in these different settings can vary considerably.  Having heard in depth what it entails, the WBA is something that I would love to include more when reading with children.

Although the narrative itself is of course a wonderful part of storytelling, with younger children it is the illustrations that can often do a lot of the talking.  In this sense, it was interesting to hear about the picture book more as a physical piece of art, which children and adults can explore together to enrich the storytime experience.  The webcast went into detail about how different features of the picture book can be used to add interest and meaning to a story.  Examples included but were not limited to: the importance of even a single colour as a book’s endpaper theme in its reference to the feature of a main character (as in Lambert’s own work A Crow of His Own), or even the way the text itself is presented, to convey a story’s subject matter or themes (demonstrated excellently with a news report style and format in David Biedrzycki’s Breaking News: Bear Alert).

Lambert’s A Crow of His Own (Charlesbridge 2015)) uses a green endpaper to match the main character’s tail, whereas Breaking News: Bear Alert (Charlesbridge 2014) cleverly makes use of a news-style format

Author of Reading Picture Books With Children, Megan spoke about asking these three main questions while reading a story:

  • What do you see happening?
  • What can you see that makes you say that?
  • What else can you find?

These three focus points can ‘invite’ children to really get to know the book, and therefore learn even more than perhaps what the story alone could offer.  She also touched upon how the experience of reading together interactively should be enjoyable because “at its heart, it’s play”. This struck a chord with something that I personally believe in, which is the significance of encouraging a child to have fun whilst learning.  I really think that if this approach to reading, and therefore learning as a whole, is encouraged from an early age then it can follow a child throughout their entire life.

I think what the webcast really highlighted to me was that, while it is of course still valuable to read a story in a more traditional way, the integration of the WBA can add layers of meaning and enjoyment to the child’s experience.  As Megan pointed out after all, it is ‘ultimately the child that matters at storytime’.  The young mind is an amazing thing, and it is often the case that when reading a story a child will comment on something that I have never even contemplated, let alone noticed within the book!  This knock-on effect can allow us as the adult reader to also enjoy the reading experience. However more importantly, it can give the child opportunities to offer perspective and knowledge to us adults, which in turn can do wonders for their confidence and instills a positive approach to learning.

In conclusion then, what can we take away from this webcast and apply to our own experiences when reading stories?  The brilliant ideas raised by Megan, Yolanda and Emily can be translated into any storytime situation.  Here’s our top 5 tips on how you can do it too:

1. Look at the bigger picture

Have a look at things you might not have noticed before in a picture book – are there any clues on the endpapers or within the front matter that might give us a clue as to what the story will be about?  Find out for yourself and then see what your listeners have to say about it, either before or during your storytime.

2. Mix it up

It may be that you’ve read a story the same way a hundred times; why not mix it up a little bit?  Try reading a shouting word in a whispered voice, and see how your listeners interact with you.  This can teach them about the importance of typography as well as other formatting methods that are used within picture books.

3. Learn while you teach

Every now and then, your listeners may surprise you.  Sometimes the world is seen completely differently through young eyes; embrace their imaginative responses, and you may learn something new!

4. Use big words!

This can be very dependent on the children you are reading with, but why not teach your listeners the proper word for something?  Of course, there is great value in explaining something in a way that is easier to understand, but children may well pick up technical terms just as easily.

5. Have fun with your listeners

Storytime should be for everyone to enjoy.  Even if you manage to encourage one child to notice one small thing, it may well make all the difference to not only their confidence, but potentially their whole outlook on the importance of reading and learning.

What do you think?  Whether you have also taken part in this webcast or have been inspired to learn more, why not leave us a comment below.  Alternatively, get in touch with us via Twitter (@slsguernsey) or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you.  Happy reading!

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