Learning Literacy through Play

How can we build more play into our literacy units?

In preparation for our Grade 1 Arts Festival students were exposed to familiar stories. We are fortunate that our narrative reading and writing unit also align with this performance & arts-based Unit of Study, so I structured this literacy project to include a lot of hands on play, group collaboration, and opportunities for artistic expression while also making connections to the key concepts and skills.

Skills & Concepts:

  • Communicator
  • Creativity
  • Reasoning
  • Predicting
  • Connection

Unit Summary:

This unit has been written to help students understand the concept of storytelling. Students will have opportunities to discover and use reading comprehension strategies to understand their texts.  They will concentrate on the skill of retelling a story focussing on the most important part of the text. Students will consider what it is to tell stories and whilst emphasis may be on writing stories they will also tell stories using to 100 languages. ( orally, music, dance, song, art, puppetry etc)

This unit culminates with the Arts Festival and teachers may like to use aspects of this unit to generate ideas and content.  


Week 1 TUNING-IN: Awareness of Narrative (Four Familiar Stories)

To start the unit, students were put in mixed-ability groups to read these familiar stories together and talk about the different parts.

Narrative Story Elements

We then discussed what was similar about each book we read and came up with 4 story elements:

Characters + Setting + Problem + Solution


We then did a shared reading lesson looking for these 4 elements in Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.

Children went back to their stories and found these 4 elements in the books. Together we crafted a chart to remind us of these 4 key elements in narrative stories. Toward the end of the week  we did a shared writing and created a story arc for The Paper Bag Princess.

Visualising Narrative Stories: STORY ARC:

We then did a shared writing to visualise how narrative stories have a beginning, middle and end. We plotted the different parts of the story along the story arc and also included the emotions to show how the mood of the story changed over time. We discussed how the Problem usually happens near the middle/end and has the strongest emotions.


Students created their own story Arcs in groups of the beginning, middle and end of their story. Emotions were also added to the arc to show how the mood of the reader changes over time.



Week 2 FINDING OUT: Awareness of Performance (Reader’s Theatre Scripts)

Children were introduced to their scripts. I chose not to assign the roles but use this as an opportunity for them to practice compromising and making decisions as a team. It took some groups just a few minutes to agree, while other groups spent time debating and trying to involve the teacher for help (which I did not). All students were happy with their chosen role by the end and were able to begin learning the script.

readers theatre

Awareness of Performance & the Audience:

After letting students get familiar with these stories, I used this Google Presentation to tune students into Reader’s Theatre and start noticing things they enjoyed as an audience and what performers could do better.

We watched a video example of the 3 little Pigs from Youtube and discussed what kids liked and what could be improved. We also discussed if their performance captured our attention as an audience.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.48.26 am

We made a list of things that capture our attention (using expression, loud voices) and things that made us bored.

Student took some of the ideas we discussed and adapted them to their own Reader’s Theatre performance.

We watched a second video performance by high school students who incorporated some more actions and body percussion to draw in the audience. Children had the choice to use these ideas in their own performance too. By the end of week 2, all groups performed and received feedback from each other. Each group’s video was posted on SeeSaw inviting students and parents to comment as well.

readers theatre

seesaw comments

Week 3 SORTING OUT: Abstracting to Play (Student act out these stories)

After students were thoroughly familiar with the stories and their scripts, students turned their stories into SKITS. However, no props and no scripts were allowed. The purpose was the give them a chance to ‘live’ the narrative sequence through play. They were invited to use their imagination to craft their story in under 3 minutes.

Going Further & Reflecting: Student continued to reflect on their own performance based on feedback from students and skills and techniques taught in mini workshops.

play acting

GOING FURTHER: Revisiting Narrative Writing

Students modified one of the four familiar stories they’ve been reading and learning about in their own writing.

We completed a Shared Writing of a fractured version of The 3 Little Pigs called “The 3 Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig”.


We talked about how authors PLAN before they WRITE. We do a general plan together of CHARACTERS, SETTING, PROBLEM, SOLUTION for my ‘flipped’ or ‘fractured’ fairytale.

Students brainstorm different characters we could use and different settings and how that could change the story.

writing sample

Sorting Out (Abstraction): What different ways can people express an idea or a story?

In conjunction with the written experience of their stories, students are also exploring different ways performers can express an idea. My colleague, Komal and I created a shared document to help guide the inquiry into different types of performances. We looked at a variety of performances and students had a chance to participate in different workshops led collaboratively by the G1 teachers. As a team we created a shared document of some different workshops we could do in class with students. We kept the same story throughout so students could see various ways one story could be expressed:

Week 4 GOING FURTHER: Applying performance and narrative elements to a new context

Our next step is for students to create their own narrative stories based on their plan. Students will then have the opportunity to express this story through drama and performance in any of the different forms we’ve talked about.

Democratic CHOICE for Groupings:

As a class we brainstormed the different types of performances we’d learned about. I numbered each type of performance and students voted their TOP 3 choices. This helped facilitate group-making as children would feel they had a choice of which performance style they got to do, while I helped balance groups based on confidence, ability and friendships.

CHOICE arts Festival groups

Before sharing the groups with the class we discussed ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ reactions. We also discussed that not everyone was with their friends because we agree that part of learning included learning to work with different people:

1JSU Arts Festival Groups

Then students got together in their groups and began to brainstorm ideas from all the stories we’d read and all the stories they’d written in their writing notebook. Some students chose to combine stories together to make a new story (they drew new story arcs to help with this) while others outlined the new characters and problems their ‘fractured fairytale’ would include.


The ‘Mime’ group planned a ‘jail escape’ for their performance. They’ve outlined the story by emotion using a story arc.


Th “Freeze Frame” group brainstormed the stories they most enjoyed, and blended different characters they want to be for their Freeze Frame performance


The ‘shadow puppet’ group started their shadow puppets already.


I organised each group’s draft plans in plastic sleeves so it was easy to find each practice session.

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