Diving into Storytelling: A Creative and Theatrical Approach to Literacy

Literacy, Playful Learning

Image 1. Students lining up in front of the classroom to provide tickets and be seated

During this winter quarter, I had the opportunity to visit the Room 13 Theater as students became the characters from a wordless book called Where’s Walrus?  On this day, I watched as the students brought their creative interpretations of the book into a live performance.  I lined up in front of the classroom alongside the students of Room 13. A student was waiting at the front of the room, and asked me to put my boleto into his ticket box. “Boletos please”, said the student as he collected the tickets from the class. After I gave him my ticket, he instructed me to sit in the last row. Everyone was seated in the audience, eager to see their peers act out Where’s Walrus?. I was equally as excited. As the teacher drew the curtain, the narrator began storytelling in Spanish. Two main actors took the stage, portraying two characters: one, a security guard relentlessly searching for a walrus that escaped the zoo, while the other played as a walrus cunningly camouflaging itself to elude the guard’s detection.

Where’s Walrus is a wordless picture book – a book with little or no words and detailed illustrations. EC2 demonstration teachers Kelly Peters, Eric Varela, and Arlen Nava have been working with Dr. Christine Lee at CONNECT Research in exploring how wordless picture books can support playful literacy and storytelling skills.  Each page of the wordless book unfolded with the walrus disguising into a mannequin, an artist, and even a fireman. I found myself utterly captivated by the students who were acting as they radiated genuine enjoyment as the story unfolded.

Image 2. Demonstration Teacher Eric Varela announces that the play will begin.

That day, I was able to watch two groups of students performing and telling the story Where’s Walrus? in their own ways. It was interesting to see how the student who played the role of the escaped Walrus in the first group acted differently from the one in the second. Despite reading the same book, their portrayals in the scenes differed. Although the interpretation of the story was different, they both made sense.

Image 3. Students acting and interpreting the scene in their own ways from Where’s Walrus? [1].

In a scene where the Walrus was blending in with the showgirls, the first student posed by lifting his leg upwards, while the second student kicked her legs left and right. It was interesting to see different students interpreting the dance moves through their own imagination and unique perspectives. As an audience during these two performances, I came to realize the potential of blending wordless books, highlighting characters’ body language, and empowering students to share their interpretations freely. By enacting the story from wordless books, embodying characters and scenes, not only did the students deepen their understanding of the plot, but they also gained confidence in expressing themselves. This experience led me to understand the significant role of introducing wordless books to children as an essential step in their literacy journey, nurturing a lasting passion for reading. In essence, the synergy between wordless books and theater nurtures a love for storytelling, as they become co-creators of the narrative, filling in the blanks with their own ideas and perspectives to the play.

I took a moment to peruse through the wordless books, contemplating how wordless books help students engage into stories on a deeper level. Indeed, images within books embed and convey rich story details as it enabled me to focus solely on the pictures, characters, and their body languages. From what I’ve observed while watching the Where Walrus? theater production, the synergy of theater, play, and wordless books not only ignited curiosity and creativity for students but also ushered them in a fresh perspective on reading.

[1] Savage, S. (2011). Where’s Walrus?. Scholastic Press.

Gayeon Koh

Gayeon Koh is a sophomore at UCLA majoring in Education & Social Transformation and minoring in Data Science Engineering. She is an aspiring educator with strong passion in AI curriculum development and teaching profession, particularly for youth. She joined as a CONNECT Research Intern under Dr. Christine Lee’s supervision in Winter 2024

This blog post comes from a CONNECT Research study, Storytelling and Writing in Kindergarten STEAM Curriculum. Questions about this study can be directed to Dr. Christine Lee (clee@labschool.ucla.edu)