Storytelling by the Rules at Kent Elementary

It is not easy to tell a story. Besides coming up with a good tale and learning to organize a lot of information, there are writing skills that are easy to miss until a teacher points them out.  

Teacher Nancy Faccilonga explained some of the rules of good storytelling recently when her fourth-grade students revised a personal narrative about a child who had polio.  

“We go over a lot of foundational skills,” Faccilonga said. “We do a lesson on sensory words, a lesson on dialogue, a lesson on vital verbs. Then they put all the pieces together.” 

To revise the narrative, the students pretended to be television reporters on the hunt for the details of a story.  Teacher helping students write narratives 

Holding a popsicle stick like a reporter’s microphone eight-year-old Madison asked Emilio a question.  

“How did the experience of having polio change you?” Madison asked.   

“I didn’t give up and I felt stronger,” Emilio said.  

“Felt stronger, that’s sensory,” Madison said.  

The lesson was part of the curriculum of Core Knowledge Language Arts, or CKLA. The Carmel Central School District instituted CKLA as its districtwide reading and language arts program this year in kindergarten through sixth grades. The approach is based on research into the science of reading, which has shown that students have greater success when rules for phonics, decoding and writing are explicitly spelled out, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Santabarbara said.   

“We piloted three different programs for 12 weeks and then we measured students,” Santabarbara said. “CKLA came out on top. Now we have all three elementary schools implementing the same program providing our students with similar experiences.”  

Over in Cathleen Rossetti’s fourth grade class students took the same lesson in another direction. They color coded their narratives on their laptops to highlight different elements. They used yellow for sensory words, red for dialogue and blue for active verbs. They also used the thesaurus feature in Microsoft Word to try and expand their vocabulary.  

“I like that because you can change normal words into something better,” Emma said. “I changed ‘good’ to ‘magnificent.’ I changed ‘excited’ to ‘thrilled’ and ‘fast’ to ‘speedy.’ I would never have thought to use the word ‘magnificent.’ It makes me a better writer.”