Having students create illustrations to show their understanding for the plot of a story was something that I tried this year for the first time on a whim. One of my teammates suggested it as a way for students to show their understanding for the beginning, middle, and end of a story. I don’t do it often, but sometimes I just get tired of the same ol’, same ol’ and decided spur of the moment to see how this would go over with my students. Will they like it? Will they actually learn anything from it? Will it help them with their understanding of the story better?
I had them take a piece of notebook paper and fold it into thirds. They labeled each section beginning, middle, and end. I had them put the paper under their books so they would focus on the story, not the exciting opportunity to get to draw pictures. I told them they would listen to the CD reading of the story, and I would stop it after the beginning of the story. When I paused the CD, I encouraged them to look back at what had been read to help them pick out the most important part, or main idea, of the beginning of the story. I then followed this same procedure for the middle and end of the story.
I gave them two minutes to come up with a rough sketch of what had been read. I told them if they couldn’t think of what to draw, they could jot down a couple of sentences to describe the plot and go back later to draw their picture. Throughout the week, I encouraged them to work on their plot illustrations.
The day before they were to take a test over the story, I had them share their plot illustrations. This was voluntary. If they didn’t want to share, that was okay, but they had to at least let me take a peek at it and explain it to me. Using a document camera and Smart board, those that presented had to show what they drew for the plot of the story and explain how it represented those parts of the story.
Here’s what I noticed from this impromptu activity:
- Students enjoyed it immensely! Those that shared were proud of their work. Some students were still working on their illustrations while others presented, because they wanted it to be ‘just right’ for when they shared it with the class. I started this activity on a day when I had quite a few students that were at their gifted/talented class. I don’t like starting something new when they’re gone, but starting a new story is different. It gives the rest of my class more time with the story, which does them good. My students who go to gifted/talented class pick up on stories quickly and easily. However, when they realized what the rest of the class had done while they were gone, they begged to do it as well. Of course, I let them. We all enjoyed looking at and discussing the different ways students had chosen to illustrate the parts of the story. This was an activity they constantly asked to do with just about every story and book we read in class.
- Students put forth time and effort to really show their understanding of the story. They knew that at the very least I would be looking at it, and that I would ask them about how their picture represented each part of the story. Every free chance they had in class, they were working on their plot illustrations. They were showing it off to students in their groups. Some still couldn’t quit working on them during the presentations.
- I did see improvements on their tests over the story. Those students who usually struggled on the tests did better. By having to figure out the main idea for each part of the story, put it into a drawing, and then explain their drawing, it gave them extra opportunities to think about and discuss the story. I especially noticed a difference with a couple of my students who struggled with reading but loved to draw.
- There was an improvement on pinpointing the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Breaking a story into parts for some students was difficult. By stopping at each point in the story and having them illustrate what had been read, it helped them to better identify those parts of the story. It also helped some of them with sequencing in a story.
- Students were better at having to justify their work. Either myself or other students in class would ask why there was a certain object in their drawing, or how it related to that part of the story. They had to be able to explain their thinking about what they did. Sometimes they would draw something that didn’t pertain to the story, but just wanted to put it in their art work. We’d discuss this as a class. Yes, it’s your art, but you still need to stick to the directions for this activity.
- Students were more willing to share their work with the class. After doing this a few times with different stories and books, more and more wanted to share their work with the entire class. Even those that claimed to ‘not be good artists’ wanted to share. Some of my shy students even wanted to share their work.
By having my students present the plot of a story in a different format, it helped to deepen their understanding of the story. This was a fun way for them to demonstrate their understanding, which made it worth their while and encouraged them to do their best. I did this activity with 3rd graders. Next year I’ll be teaching 5th grade and I’m looking forward to seeing how older students respond to this activity.