Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Play’s the Thing

Most people have clearer memories of something they experience than of something they hear or see. Episodic memory, or memory for experiences, is an important part of long-term memory that savvy parents and educators use as much as possible to improve learners’ recall of important material.

This topic probably brings hands-on science experiments to mind, but experiential learning has its place in language arts, too. Allowing children to act is a lot of fun, but it can also help them remember new words, recall events in stories, and understand plots and character motivations in new ways.

Acting and Vocabulary
  • Studies show that children, especially English Language Learners, understand and recall new vocabulary words more easily if they act out the new words while learning them. It’s easy to act out a word like “slumber” or “skip,” but some words require a little more imagination. For words like “perplexed” or “humble,” remember that facial expressions can go a long way. When defining a new word, act out the meaning and encourage the child to mirror your actions. Later, say the word and ask them if they can remember the motions.
  • If you’re looking to move vocabulary practice beyond flashcards, try vocabulary charades. One by one, players secretly choose a word from a previously studied list, then act it out without using words. Whoever guesses the word correctly gets to act next.
Acting and Literature

Performing stories can be great fun for students, and it also helps them to think actively about the plot because they are experiencing the events firsthand. There are a number of ways in which students can act out what they read.
  • The simplest way to act out a story or a scene from a story is to assign parts after kids have listened to the story (ideally more than once) and ask them to act it out from memory. Reassure actors that they do not need to remember their lines verbatim; paraphrasing is fine. Even shy kids will enjoy participating if given non-speaking roles; most books have plenty of these and they are often critical to the plot. Allow kids a rehearsal before they run through it more smoothly a second time. This can be a particularly interesting exercise for books in which the characters’ lines are not spelled out. If a book contains a scene that describes a conversation without actually documenting the words used in the conversation, for example, challenge students to make up lines that reflect what was probably said.
  • Readers’ Theater is an excellent format in which to read stories that have lots of dialogue. It does require some preparation on the part of the adult, though, as scripts with characters’ lines (drawn straight from the text) need to be typed up. An adult should present scripts to elementary-aged readers. Those working with middle or high school students, however, might put students into groups and assign each one a chapter; the students can be assigned to write their own scripts together, and a whole book can be performed in this way!
  • Got a single student on your hands? Provide him with figures such as Legos or dolls so that he can play all the parts. We are particularly fond of Playmobil for this purpose because sets come with so many props.

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