Let's act out the story!

Using Music to Enhance a Literacy Experience

In every classroom, we’ve been reading and retelling folktales, and one of the favorites has been The 3 Little Pigs. We decided to use an afternoon music group to see if the children would be interested in creating a sound script that could liven up their story, and, maybe, encourage some of the children to ask to act out the story.

We started by reading the story together (using a favorite version that clearly implies some sounds and actions) and talking about the various characters and what they do. Then, children used a variety of body sounds and percussion instruments to represent the important actions:

• Building a house of straw – ch ch ch ch with seed and other gentle shakers
• Building a house of sticks – tapping rhythm sticks and hands
• Building a house of bricks – loud slow thumping on the carpet (bricks are heavy and it’s hard work) with a large low drum
• Knocking at the door – knocking on the floor while tongue clicking
• Running away – quick patching in a running pattern
• Falling in a pot of hot water – splish splash

Children agreed that a wolf has a low voice, and the pigs had higher voices so everyone acted accordingly, and we told the story with sounds while a teacher narrated (read the book).

The chickadee class has been retelling the story spontaneously ever since. Not all the children were in the first music group experience, but now everyone uses the same sound effects for their play. Children choose roles now, and some are the audience and musicians, watching with the narrator as the story is acted out. Whenever the book is chosen at reading times, a crowd comes over and requests for the chance to act out the story are often made. And we’ve been watching as many children build “houses” in the block area, create pretend games, and tell stories.

Giving children opportunities to put stories into action (have a play) and use their growing pretend skills adds enthusiasm and excitement to our shared readings of familiar stories. A play gives structure and action to the parts of a story or book that we teachers would like children to be able to identify – titles, authors, characters, narrators, etc. in a way that is engaging and meaningful for just about everyone.

Music helps represent the characters and actions in a way that is both clear and memorable to the actors. In working together and taking a part, children come to realize that there are times when working together leads to a different, and sometimes more interesting, result than working alone. They also begin to understand that practicing improves the result, and that it is often worthwhile to try more than once and develop ideas and skills together. But one of the best by-products of these experiences is that children create and take ownership of the play with all its parts on their own and discover they can accomplish great things – in their pretend, in their own stories, and with stories that everyone knows and loves.

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