The Picture Show: An Exploration in Oral Narrative

The Picture Show

Last week I conducted an experiment.

I set up an overhead projector on the floor of the storytime room , I attached overhead transparencies  to clipboards, and sprinkled colorful dry erase markers about the room. What happened next could have been a complete flop on a late Saturday afternoon, but I went for it and held a spur-of-the-moment program for kids and their families:

The Picture Show

After setting up the projector, I went into the general children’s library area and made an announcement that I was conducting an experiment, and anyone who was feeling adventurous or curious was welcome to join. We would be drawing pictures and then projecting them on the wall like a movie. If they wanted to talk about their picture that was encouraged, but if not that was a-okay too. No pressure.

The Picture Show is an idea that has been percolating  in my brain over the past week. The idea was born while watching an episode of the kids’ show Tumble Leaf. Main character Fig shares stories with the other characters by using a firefly projector. Ever since watching it, I’ve been mulling over how to bring this concept into the library. It wasn’t really planned out and I had no idea what to expect. After I made the announcement, I wasn’t sure anyone would follow me in the room, I wondered if this idea was too simple and boring, but patrons followed my lead and more onlookers continued to trickle in.

TumbleLeaf Picture Show

To kick things off, I did a very short demonstration of how The Picture Show could work. Emphasis was on “could”.  It was entirely up to the participants.  I showed everyone a picture of a turtle in a pond I had scribbled on a transparency a of couple minutes before and talked about it a bit. And then I showed kids how they could tell a story AND draw at the same time using a familiar picture book,  Go Away, Big Green Monster. I drew the monster’s features on the projector as I read the book aloud and then erased them as the features go away in the book. (I thought of this idea right before I started and I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be a great visual device for the kids.) Then I gave the stage to them.  I explained they could draw whatever they’d like and when they were done to let me know and we will take turns sharing one another’s pictures. Talking about the picture is optional. Luckily, my 4-year-old and I have been doing this for awhile (with and without an overhead), so she jumped right in and started drawing and telling a story while the other kids watched and drew.

When a child was ready to share, I invited them up to the overhead, asked them their name and then introduced them and gave them the stage. If they simply stated what their picture was I would ask them deeper questions. What is the bird’s name? Where are the people going? Have you seen a scene like this before in real life? What time of day is it? If they were less eager to share, then I took cues from their behavior and didn’t force it. But at the same time, the kids who were a little less confident in sharing their picture’s story opened up over time. Or, they found confidence recreating a picture and/or story of another child. It was also fun to watch the stories overlapping; children inserting elements of another child’s story into their own. The group was very good about taking turns, and since they took various lengths of time to work on their picture, there was never a line to present. The audience listened, watched, and drew when someone was presenting. As a group, we applauded after every picture and every story and I thanked every child who presented a picture for sharing their picture with the group. Here’s a small handful of the picture stories created from that day:

picture show swim cat

picture show mountain range

picture show rain drop falling on me

picture show walk with my dog

picture show ocean

picture show turtle in the sand

picture show volcano

picture show volcano 2

picture show sister flying over ocean with stuffed dog

picture show ballerina

picture show first day of school

It was a large range of children from 3-10 years old and parents in the room. Kids telling stories, sharing stories, collaborating on stories together through an unstructured time for artistic expression. Sure this happens to be a great literacy exercise, promoting language development both in written and oral forms, but to me that is secondary. The number one objective is to create an engaging, enchanting place for kids to grow and be themselves. To use communication and storytelling as a form of play. And you better believe that the parents had just as much as the kids did. This activity required very little prep and happened organically with little structure.

The feedback was encouraging, so I’m going to add this as a regular “storytime” staple starting tomorrow. It will be an exploration of art, play, and light in an organic, open-ended storytelling experience. On with the show!


3 Responses to “The Picture Show: An Exploration in Oral Narrative”

  1. Katie says:

    Hi Rebecca! This is a super cool idea! I have been doing a STEM program with preschoolers + an adult, and we’ve had a lot of fun with science, engineering and math, but technology/tools has been a little tougher since we usually have between 12-25 pairs of kids and parents and that is a lot of supplies! Using an overhead projector is a nice, simple but powerful way to show parents how technology and tools can open some really cool doors to imagination, play, and early literacy skills. Now I just have to find out from IT if we still have an overhead! :) Thanks again for sharing!!


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