By Pam Kenney
It's often difficult and frustrating to engage a boy's interest in writing projects. When I taught elementary literature/composition, one writing activity that was a sure winner was creating scripts for wordless books. Yes, I know wordless books are primarily for pre-readers, but the very fact that the story is told without text means the pictures are so detailed it's hard to resist adding words mentally as the action unfolds. Boys and girls alike love being authors, and a wordless book project can provide hours of fun, as well as surprising opportunities for acquiring important reading and writing skills.
Just giving children a few initial guidelines will be enough to get them off and running. One book I often start with is Frog Where Are You? by Mercer Mayer. In pictures only, it tells the story of a boy's adventures after his pet frog escapes from its glass jar home. I divide the students into groups of two or three and, after they have "read" the book, they start writing a script for the story. As they write, although they're having a grand time, they're learning about the beginning, middle, and end of a story, when to use sequence words, how to use and punctuate dialogue, how vivid word choice can enhance a story's enjoyment... I could go on and on.
Once the script is in its final form, it's time for the fun part. The kids love to add homemade sound effects to their story, including a ringing bell to signal when a page needs to be turned. I've had students spend hours experimenting with legos falling into in tin pan to simulate breaking glass, blowing through cardboard paper towel tubes to create winds sounds, clucking like chickens or barking like dogs, and having the times of their lives.
When all the parts of the wordless book story are in place, the next step is to record it. When I was a teacher, I used a tape recorder. Now, however, there are incredible resources on your computer that will fascinate any child: VoiceThread; Audacity; GarageBand (for Mac users); even iMovie (Mac users). I love Audacity because it's free, open source, and has all the bells and whistles you could want during a recording session. VoiceThread is great, too, because it allows you to invite your friends and relatives to listen to your children's creations. Stories can be recorded, also, to entertain preschool children.
When it's time to record, children working in groups usually choose one member to read the script, one to ring the bell when it's time to turn the page, and the third to make the sound effects at the appropriate time. Children working alone can do all three with a little practice!
Writing is laborious for a lot of children, but introducing them to wordless books is one way to make learning fun.
Some wordless book suggestions:
The Midnight Circus by Peter Collington
Tuesday by David Wiesner (a Caldecott Award winner)
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang
Will's Mammoth by Stephen Gammell
Good Dog, Carl books by Alexandra Day
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod
Frog Where Are You? and sequels by Mercer Mayer
Still more on wordless books at LIM Resources