Happy Holidays to you! I have been thinking about the classroom right about now and the lighthearted energy that accompanies this time of year. I recall a mood of anticipation and fun. I also know that the pressures of teaching and accountability are always present in the important work we do to teach our students how to read. So, I thought we might step back and look at our reading instruction with a little playfulness in our perspective.

Over the years, I have visited multiple classrooms with Native American and African refugee students. I have observed the power that stories have when working with these students maybe because of the important roles stories play in their cultures. Yet, stories have for generations been the modus operandi for keeping history alive, sharing values, and teaching lessons in all cultures. Stories fascinate, capture attention, and can create a mood of playfulness and increased attention during learning for all of our students. Stories can help us teach hard to grasp concepts; stories are fun; stories are our heritage.

Telling Stories to Teach a Concept

There is one story that was shared with me many years ago by a teacher whose name I cannot recall now. Thank you, if you are reading this! I have retold the story many times to teachers and students who are each captivated by it. Here is that story – I hope YOU will use it too!

I use this story to teach the soft C phonics rule – teachers and students of all ages love it.

There once was a mama C cat who had some little children. Her children a, o, and u were SUCH good children. They always followed their mother’s directions, obeying her. They helped her carry the groceries up the stairs and into the house. They went to bed when they were supposed to, ate all their dinner, and always used good manners saying thank you and excuse me. They were SUCH good children. Whenever they came after her, mama C cat would purrrr. (Make a /k/ /k/ /k/ sound to show the hard sound for C.)

But her other children i, e, and y were such naughty children. They were always fighting, they didn’t follow her directions, they were rude and were not nice to each other. Whenever these children came after mama C cat, she would hiss, /s/ /s/ /s/.

Let’s see what mama C cat will say in some words. (Write CIRCUS on the board.) “I see mama C cat right at the beginning, what child comes after her in this word?” i. What will she say? Right, she will hissssss!” Scoop the first syllable and read it, CIR-.

Move along in the word, “Here is mama C cat again. What child comes right after her this time? U. What will she say? /k/. Right.” Scoop under the second syllable and read it, CUS. Put the syllables together and read the word, CIRCUS.

Lead students to use the mama C cat rules to determine the sounds of C in multiple words. Ask students to read the words, discuss meanings, and to write the words from dictation.

Use this story to correct students’ spelling. For example, a student spells soaked as SOCED. How can you use the mama C cat story to direct the student’s attention to her spelling in order to correct it? Well, obviously the vowel spelling is one thing this student needs to know in order to create an orthographic image of the word to connect with meaning. So teach that. Thank goodness she knows the morpheme that spells the past tense, -ed. Lead her to see that the word she spelled says SOSED. And ask how she will fix it to spell SOAK and then change it to SOAKED. Provide additional examples of hard and soft C to make the learning stronger.

The reason why you would spend the time correcting her and explaining to her ‘why’ and providing practice? One reason is because this student is in 5th grade. This student missed out on some very important foundational instruction earlier in her learning. Tell the story early, refer to it often, reinforce teachings frequently! Always be on the watch for those teachable moments… I think there is a story in there somewhere!

Telling Our Stories

Stories that we tell, that we share, about ourselves are meaningful in other ways. We become real to our students through these stories. We become people who share similar experiences with our students and their families.

Share your stories about how something was hard for you and how you overcame the difficulty with your students who struggle with learning. This can validate their feelings, which is important because these kids need someone to say, “Yes, I understand what you are feeling,” and gives them hope.

Tell stories about your mothers and fathers, about your own children. Share some storytelling time with your students during community circle. Model for them how you organize your thoughts, how you use conjunctions to combine ideas, how you avoid the use of AND to limit run-on sentences. Use these opportunities for implicit instruction. You can return to your story later in the day when you are explicitly teaching sentence construction. You already have a captive audience – go for it!

How do you use stories to help teach concepts? Where can stories fit into your routines this time of year to benefit your teaching? Be purposeful, model the use of language, use a deep vocabulary, describe emotions and actions and people using the vocabulary from the texts you read to students and they are reading. Bring some fun learning into your days with the stories you share – your students may not know they are learning, but you will.