Close Your Eyes; Open Your Ears; Speak in Turn

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Teachers can work attention-getting, student skill-building magic by putting their voices to work in creative ways. Think about the range of emotions that a voice can express!

Voice is heard, not seen, and heard more sharply with eyes closed, ears open. Closed eyes = distractions minimized! And, when you ask children to listen before speaking, you invite them to experience speaking in turn.

Have you ever had your ears wide open and listened to someone whose voice so captivated you that you felt absolutely “glued” to her or his words?

Browsing through 1001 Children's Books is a wonderful tour through literature from around the world - ready for storytelling with voice power at work!

Browsing through 1001 Children’s Books is a wonderful tour through literature from around the world – ready for storytelling with voice power at work!

It happened to me when I listened to a storyteller read a selection from an incredible book at a recent workshop for educators.

She hoisted the nearly three-inch thick book for all to see and read its title: 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.  We laughed, because teachers are “supposed to be” grown up, although the best teachers I know are always young at heart and learning something new.

The storyteller explained that this amazing collection – engaging synopses of 1001 books – was first published in the US in 2009 by Universe Publishing. The General Editor is Julia Eccleshare, but the included selections were made and reviewed by leading international critics from around the world. The Preface is by Quentin Blake.

The storyteller pointed to one selection titled Mr and Mrs. Pig’s Evening Out by English-born author, Mary Rayner. Then she read aloud without sharing the illustrations that accompanied the selection.

Listening to her make funny oinking sounds as she read with a proper English accent triggered an idea for a new attentionology trick…

Put voice power to work to help students learn to:

  1. listen better
  2. sustain a single focus
  3. follow directions. 

Make up a game – Close Your Eyes; Open Your Ears; Speak in Turn – for storytelling time with your class.

It’s easy to play.For Grades K – 2, follow these steps:

1) Pre-select the story your plan to read aloud. (Not a synopsis of a story, an actual story)

2) Gather the class in a reading circle on the floor of your classroom.

3) Announce that in this storytelling game, everyone will get to see the illustrations AFTER they hear the story! Why? “Because,” you explain, “we’re going to CLOSE OUR

Synopses of children's stories from around the world include snippets of ear-catching dialog.

Synopses of children’s stories from around the world include snippets of ear-catching dialog.

EYES AND OPEN OUR EARS!” Remind the class, “Be very quiet while your eyes are closed, and listen very very carefully to what the story is about.”

This storytelling approach helps children 1) practice good listening skills, and 2) sustain a single focus.

4) Begin reading the story, picking and presenting voices that seem to suit the characters in the story you’re sharing with children. No theatrical training is necessary to use this FAB 15 A-GE – attention-getting element – voice!

5) Pause at a logical place in the story, and tell the class that they’re doing a great job keeping their eyes closed and their ears open (if this is true). As needed, voice gentle reminders to keep eyes closed. You can even ad-lib with one of the character voices, saying for example, “Justin, this is Mrs. Piggly Wiggly reminding you to close your eyes and open your ears only.  Thank you, Justin.”

6) Pause again after more reading, but BEFORE the story ends, and tell the class to open their eyes to play SPEAK IN TURN, the second part of the game.

7) Call on different students by name, one at a time, and ask them questions about the story they’ve heard so far. For example, “Julia, what’s the name of the farmer in the Piggly Wiggly story? It’s your turn to speak, Julia.”

This part of the game tests listening skills and comprehension, but it also teaches children to follow directions and speak when spoken to.

8) Announce to the class that it’s time to finish the story with EYES and EARS OPEN! Continue reading and show corresponding illustrations.

9) Ask if the characters look like how students imagined them. Same for setting and action elements.

10) Close the storytelling time by inviting the class to say aloud in unison, “That’s the end of the story!” followed by the funniest sound they can make that’s relevant to the story they heard (like oinking sounds of pigs)

1001 Children's Books is rich with illustrations, like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, written by J.M. Barrie. This illustration by Arthur Rackham

1001 Children’s Books is rich with illustrations, like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, written by J.M. Barrie. This illustration by Arthur Rackham

For Grades 3 – 5, elaborate on the steps above.

  • Play Close Your Eyes; Open Your Ears; Speak in Turn on more than one occasion using a longer story.
  • Add in review time, when you’re picking up a story that you’ve previously begun reading to the class.
  • Invite students to illustrate a story that they’ve heard only and not seen. This activity encourages imagination.

This approach further tests listening skills and comprehension.  It also develops memory skills.

During instructional times that don’t include storytelling, use the “tricks” of asking the class to close eyes, open ears, speak in turn, when students seem distracted or are losing focus on lessons.

TEACHING NOTE: This game harks back to the days before television and other visual media when families would gather around the radio to hear stories unfold. There were no pictures; just voices…dramatic powerful voices. Radio audiences enjoyed imagining what the elements of the story looked like – the characters, setting and action that the voices described.

No question – voice is a powerful teaching tool!

It’s important to modulate your voice to sustain attention. Research supports this. An article published online by the Association for Psychological Science, titled Teaching Tips by Cathy Sargent Mester and Robert T. Tauber, suggests that teachers can help students “stay with it” throughout a school day by incorporating theater techniques, including voice.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Stop by on Wednesday for Mid-Week Focus.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
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