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Story letters.

This Idea-Sparker was submitted by Kathy R. Fox.

Children's literature is a significant segment of the book market, and includes authors with household names like Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle. Even celebrities are in on the fun, with their own titles on the best seller lists. Along with the increased visibility of children's literature, parents have become better informed and more interested in the books and stories their children read, in and outside the classroom. They also may look to teachers for suggestions on how to choose good books for home reading.

One way in which I communicate about children's literature choices is with Story Letters. These one-page communications can be compared to "Book Notes" in the New Yorker or "Book Talk" in Instructor Magazine. Whatever book I have read with my class in a given week, I turn into a Story Letter. These letters go home on Friday afternoons as a family communication tool about literature. They serve as a link from classroom reading to the children's homes. In my classroom, the letters are written both in English and Spanish, but they could be written in any language as long as the teacher is able to communicate about the book. Parent volunteers can help produce the letters, making it a routine and easy practice to manage. The letters communicate about our classroom curriculum as well as the wealth of fine children's literature available today.

To get started, I create a frame or template (see example on page 242-I). Twenty-five or so of these templates last throughout my school year. As I make lesson plans for each week, I include a Story Letter. This communication spotlights the book we have emphasized for the week. Each Friday, I distribute a copy of the Story Letter for each child to take home. This letter becomes their optional homework for the weekend. I copy the cover of the book onto the back of my Story Letter. This helps the little ones to recall the book when discussing it with their families, especially if the title does not directly name the main character or event.

The activities suggested in the Story Letter emphasize oral language but almost always have a writing, art, mathematics, science, or social studies component as well. Make sure to include suggestions for activities that are accessible to all children. For instance, writing "Take your child to the aquarium" as the suggested follow-up activity to Leo Lionni's book Swimmy may encourage families to go to the aquarium, and would encourage discussion and comparison of real fish to the fish in the text. However, not all families will have the cultural and/or economic means to visit an aquarium. Therefore, I suggest including this type of activity as one of the choices in the "Other Literature Extensions" section of the Story Letter. As the primary activity, I encourage: "Go on a walk around your house. Are there any items, such as a chair, a plate, or a book, that stand out from the others as Swimmy did? How? If you walk outside, are there rocks, shells, or leaves that stand out?" (By color, size, texture?)

By the end of the year, Story Letters represent a record of my classroom selections. I can see a year's worth of classroom literature at a glance, and evaluate the breadth and depth of my selections. I can ask myself such questions as, "What subjects or themes did I emphasize with this year's class?" Furthermore, I can ask, "Were there any gaps?" and "Did I have a balance of literature genres?" This record of the Story Letters can remind me of books I have forgotten and should include next year.

The Story Letter project demonstrates an ideal example of developmentally appropriate practices, as it consistently involves parents in the learning and experiences of their young children. The impact purpose of the Story Letter is to inform parents about the depth of children's literature available to them and how it creates wonderful learning opportunities. Offering a variety of appealing and authentic suggestions for extending children's literature opens up the mindset for parents to explore themes in books in a variety of ways.

Additional outcomes of the Story Letter project include building an ongoing partnership and sustaining reciprocal communication with parents. As the teacher documents and analyzes the nature and quality of the activity related to each Story Letter, it serves as an authentic assessment tool for young children's learning and development. Documentation and analysis of student learning and parent involvement facilitate teachers' personal professional reflection to refine/enrich the activity. Thus, both the teacher and the parents have the opportunity to scaffold and enrich young children's cognitive and socio-emotional interests.

Example of a Story Letter to Parents

Date: April 10, 2009

We have been reading: Frog and Toad Are Friends

The author is: Arnold Lobel

Please ask me about:

Why did Frog trick Toad and wake him up early?

I can also tell you why:

Toad was banging his head on the wall and doing other silly things.

Suggested at-home activities:

* Look on a calendar for names of months and beginnings of seasons. What else is on a calendar? Make up your own story at home.

* Make your own calendar.

* Play Leap-Frog.

* Make figures of Frog and Toad using play-dough or clay.

* Pretend to be Frog and Toad and tell stories to each other.

Other Literature Extensions:

* Visit your local library and find other book to read about friendships.

Thank you--

From my teachers and me

(A copy of the cover of Frog and Toad Are Friends would be copied on the back of this letter.)

Story Letter Template


We have been reading:

The author is:

Please ask me about:

I can also tell you why (or how):

Suggested at-home activities:

Other Literature Extensions:

Thank you--

From my teachers and me

Children's Literature Websites notablechibooks/index.cfm


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Title Annotation:Classroom Idea-Sparkers; teaching children's literature
Author:Chakraborty, Basanti; Stone, Sandra
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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