It’s rather well-known that reading aloud to children is one of the best things you can do to promote literacy. While simply hearing the story has its benefits, really building literacy, comprehension, and vocabulary requires conversation off the page. Here is an example of some of the conversation that took place as I recently shared a wonderful book, Brontorina by James Howe,* (*affiliate) with a group of young children.
Before starting the story, I show the children the cover and ask what they see. They notice the ballet dancers and the enormous dinosaur on the cover. They love that the dinosaur’s head is bumping into the letters above. Some point out that there are BOY ballet dancers, and an old lady. “Probably their grandma,” someone suggests.
I ask what they think the story might be about.
“The dinosaur wants to eat the kids.”
“No, that’s a plant-eater.”
“I think he’s dancing. Wait, is that a boy dinosaur or a girl dinosaur?”
We talk about their ideas. We’re building prediction skills and a foundation for connections and comprehension. Then I point out the title as I read it. We talk about the letter it starts with and the sound it makes. Then someone points out that the name of someone in the class starts with a B as well. We talk about who Brontorina might be, and they all agree it must be the dinosaur on the cover. The kids can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen, so we jump in!
In this delightful story, a massive bright orange dinosaur named Brontorina Apatosaurus arrives on the steps of Madame Lucille’s Dance Academy for Boys and Girls hoping to fulfill her dream of becoming a ballerina. While Madame Lucille hesitates, Brontorina begs her, saying, “In my heart I am a ballerina”. While two of Madame Lucille’s students, Clara and Jack, beg for Brontorina’s admission, others whisper in the back, saying that she is too big and doesn’t have the right shoes. The children and I talk a little about how that might make Brontorina feel.
“Downcast, she turned to leave.”
What does that mean? I ask the children if they can make faces that look downcast. They each make their own sad, heavyhearted looks and I comment that they do indeed look very “downcast” and then I throw in a few more synonyms like “sad” and “disappointed”. We read on:
“Wait!” Clara called out. “Don’t go. My mother has been working on a surprise for you all week, Brontorina. She is bringing it today.”
“Oh my goodness!” I say, very excitedly. “What could the surprise be?” I ask, modelling prediction skills that help with comprehension.
“Maybe a tutu!”
“Maybe some shoes!”
“Probably a huge treat!”
The children make their predictions and we go on with the story. Soon, Clara’s mother comes with……BIG ballet shoes!
“I knew it!” several of the kids say.
And of course, when presented with those perfect shoes, “Brontorina beamed”.
“What does it mean to beam?”I ask the children. “How do you think Brontorina feels if she beams?” After a little discussion I ask the children to make their faces beam too. (And my heart takes a little picture of those darling “beaming” faces.) We talk about how “downcast” and “beaming“describe opposite emotions for Brontorina.
With her new shoes, Brontorina is happy, but then remembers that one problem remains. She is still too big for the studio.
“I am a ballerina, or I would be if I weren’t so…big.”
Madame Lucille decides the problem is not that Brontorina is too big, but that her studio is too….(I pause to let the children fill it in)…SMALL!
Madame Lucille and her students, including Brontorina, search for a place that will be just right for all the dancers. Finally, they end up at a barn. Too small once again. But then someone says they have an idea!
“What could their idea be?” I ask the children.
“The barn will work!”
“They’re going to build a new one!”
“They see another place!”
We turn the page and find the whole group dancing out in a pasture. Above them, a new sign reads:
“Madame Lucille’s Dance Academy for Boys and Girls and Dinosaurs…..and cows!”
Clara’s mother sits at a booth, selling shoes in all sizes. And on the last page, we see Brontorina being lifted by her new dance partner, a triceratops, as we are reminded:
“And it all began with a dream.”
I talk a little with the children about what that means. Is it the same as a dream they have when they’re asleep? What was the dream that started it all? Did Brontorina’s dream come true? What are their own dreams?
Brontorina was a fantastic book to share with this group, and it was enjoyed by all the children (yes, boys included). Enjoy it with the children you love and teach, but remember that reading aloud is more than just reading. Move read-alouds from passive listening to active engagement, and you’ll find that the stories not only become more enjoyable, but that your little ones will build more reading skills in the process.
What tactics to you use to engage children in a read-aloud?
For more tips on how to improve your read-alouds, try:
How to Improve Your Read-Alouds with Young Children
10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Story Time with Your Preschooler
This reminds me of a favorite strategy for talking with children about works of art (in a museum or with a large poster) called Visual Thinking Strategies. The gist of it is that children are asked “What’s going on in this picture?” in order to illicit all sorts of personal responses. It’s quite the opposite of the teacher-driven approach where children are told what they are looking at. Predictions and interpretations come out in the conversation, and they’re all started by the children. I’m also impressed at how you scaffolded the conversation and checked in with the children to test their understanding of the words in the story. You clearly have a gift for teaching. Oh, and you’ve inspired me to search out this book in our library!
I love the connection to art! Children really learn when they make connections. Sadly, too often we’re in too much of a hurry to get to what WE want them to think, to take the time to let them connect to what THEY think. Hope you find the book. It’s a fun one!
Rebecca B says
Great story! Thanks for teaching me how to slow down when reading aloud and make sure my child is really engaged in the story. I would still like to be an elementary school librarian, so I better practice with my daughter!
JDaniel4's Mom says
What great questions! The book looks just wonderful.
It’s a great read! The questions are easy when the book is so much fun!
LOVE IT! We talk about slowing down and reading WITH our kids a lot, but a lot of times we skip over the WITH part and just read TO them. This was a great blow-by-blow, and a good reminder to let the kids be involved in the reading process as well.
Great blog! Thanks!
So true! Thanks for reading!
Brittany Atkinson says
Thanks for the great post. It was such a great example of how to help build your child’s language skills, that I sent home a copy with my younger students. This was perfect.
Glad to be helpful!
What a great post! I told my husband tonight that your blog is seriously helping me so much daily! I read a story tonight with my little 4 year old and we had so much fun laughing while reading the book “Frank was a Monster who wanted to Dance.” It is a short little story but it turned in to a great long read with all the additional questions. Thank you for the great ideas!
I’ve heard that’s a great book. I might have to borrow it! :0)
Thank you for this wonderful post! I will be using it as a resource for my university student-teachers this week – authentic literacy experience in action, excellent model of teacher role, and connecting with books in meaningful, deliberate ways. Fabulous! And, I am a huge fan of James Howe and will definitely need to pick up a copy of ‘Brontorina’ for my own library 🙂
Kathy Hansen says
You must be an amazing preschool teacher. I love the things you have on the site.
Reading aloud to my kids is one of my favorite things. I will be so sad when they think
they have outgrown it. I will keep going until they tell me to stop 🙂 I just saw this book on
another website and need to go get it. Thanks for telling about your fun experience with it.
Travis Sherman says
You are so right about engaging children’s attention by asking questions! That way they become part of the story process instead of passive listeners. Makes all the difference!