Stories are always a key ingredient of teaching in our setting. We almost always launch a new topic with one, and they underpin much of what we do as we teach that topic.
Stories in EYFS need to be dynamic – it has to be more than just a story being told. It is crucial we think through how the story can be brought alive.
So drama is really important. We know that young children need to move to learn and to sometimes "physically" process the story. We will spend time re-enacting, then retelling the story and "tuning in" to the rhythm of the patterned language.
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I love to lead children chanting with the "trip-trapping" of Three Billy-goats Gruff or a "fee-fi-fo-fum". As we do so, we encourage children to explore moving their bodies in different ways or tapping an instrument.
We are constantly on the lookout for new ways of meeting the many objectives of our use of stories, so I was very excited to stumble upon an idea that perfectly complements our literacy teaching, while offering something new.
In recent months, I have noticed an increasing buzz around "helicopter stories". I was curious to find out more by reading Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories by Trisha Lee. It has been around since 2015, but it now seems to really be becoming a feature of EYFS classrooms.
I instantly liked the approach, so we have been trialling it with our classes. The method is incredibly simple and dispenses with the need for a huge amount of resources.
So how does it work?
Helicopter stories can be mapped out in three phases.
1. Acting out the stories
We begin with some whole-class drama teaching. We mark out a rectangular "stage" using masking tape. The children are invited to begin to re-enact a few simple stories together. We put lots of emphasis on the verbs to encourage action.
We chose to use the example stories given in Lee's book, as they are written by young children and are therefore very simple, but you could write your own. Stories about animals work well, as they involve children using their imagination to move in a particular way.
2. Story scribing at the stage
In early years, children are regularly given opportunities to make up stories, as they engage in small-world and imaginary play scenarios. However, we rarely capture those stories or celebrate them.
Through the next phase, children are empowered to create their own story and to experience the impact of it being performed to an audience.
So we begin to scribe the children’s own stories within a large group. The process of seeing the story being written down and then acted out helps the children to develop an understanding of the way in which stories are structured.
A child is invited to tell their story and an adult scribes. We use a large piece of paper on a flipchart. The adult repeats the child’s words precisely, writing the words down. We talk slowly through the story, working one sentence at a time. Once we have recorded the story, the children are invited to act it out.
3. Individual stories
The final phase offers opportunities for children to tell their stories in a one-to-one scenario during child-initiated times. A child finds an adult and requests that their story is recorded. The child watches the adult scribing. We use a "special" gold book (A5 size). Later, the story is performed by the child to the class. They may also invite other children to join them and take on a role. This is the favourite part for most of the children.
We have had lots of excited children coming to find us to ask for their story to be scribed, and story performances have been hugely popular, too. I can also see how inclusive this teaching is, particularly for children with English as an additional language. We have used a version in both our nursery and Reception classes.
While this is a fairly new venture for us, I can already see so many benefits for developing children’s language, communication and literacy skills, not to mention their confidence. It has the potential to be an excellent and very flexible teaching strategy.
Helen Pinnington is early years foundation lead at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in Bedhampton, Hampshire