Looking for a fun way to engage your students’ minds and bodies using books? That’s exactly what my colleague Jubilee Roth and I were looking for last year—a fun activity to wrap up the semester with our students—when she came across the idea of StoryWalks.
The StoryWalk Project was created by Anne Ferguson in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont. Ferguson was looking for a way to get kids and parents active together, and thus the StoryWalk was born. Since then, StoryWalks have been installed in over 300 public libraries in the United States and even worldwide in such countries as Malaysia, Russia, Pakistan, and South Korea.
Reading isn’t generally considered a dynamic activity, but students who participate in a StoryWalk get to not only hear a great story but stimulate parts of their brain that are normally at rest when they sit down with a book. Instead of snuggling up in a cozy reading spot, readers are presented with colorful pages from an illustrated book, displayed one-by-one on stakes as they stroll along an indoor or outdoor walking path. Readers are able to take their time and reflect on the subtle nuances of the story, make inferences about what may happen next, and have co-constructed conversations with any walking partners.
How to Set Up a StoryWalk
You’ll need two copies of whatever book you choose because the pages of most illustrated books are double-sided. After taking the books apart, laminate them and mount them. Make sure you get stakes that are high enough that the pages can be read without crouching down, then place them at a relaxed distance from each other along the path of your choosing.
It’s really important to consider where you place your StoryWalk path. I did not take into consideration, for example, the closeness of my StoryWalk to our third-grade portable classrooms, which had the windows open because it was warm. Not only was the StoryWalk disruptive to that classroom, but all of the third-grade students knew the ending of the story.
Choosing Books for a StoryWalk
The right book at the right time can make all the difference. Since books bridge the gap between what readers know and what they have yet to experience, careful book selection can make StoryWalks even more powerful. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Picture books are ideal for this activity because they’re short and captivating.
- Social and emotional learning can be supported with illustrated books that include themes like self-awareness, self-management, self-efficacy, and social awareness.
- It’s important to keep readers interested so that they continue to the end of the path. Try choosing a book with a surprise ending and keep them guessing!
- It helps to choose a book with readability and possible relevance to the community.
Here are some of the books I chose:
- Baghead, written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
- Weezer Changes the World, written and illustrated by David McPhail
- One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small
- Sheep Take a Hike, written by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple
Although we tend to think of fiction when choosing books for a StoryWalk, nonfiction can also be effective. Imagine learning the parts of a cell as you walk between pages or reading a how-to instructional story or the biography of a prominent historical figure.
Behavior During a StoryWalk
Managing behavior during a StoryWalk can be a bit tricky if you don’t provide students with some expectations ahead of time. Much like a field trip, StoryWalks involve a lot of space sharing, which requires a different set of social norms. I found that younger students especially were not accustomed to traveling in a large group.
Explain to students how to ensure that everyone has a view of the pages as you walk. The front row will need to crouch down so the back row can see. Students need to form a half-circle around each page. You can, of course, arrange your StoryWalkers into multiple smaller groups as opposed to an entire class, which could make it easier.
It is also important to show students how to walk and talk about the story, so they are not just quickly walking through the StoryWalk, missing the benefit of reading together in this way. Have students raise their hands to read a page aloud. Ask stimulating questions between pages to help them relate the story to their own experiences, further drawing them in. Encourage students to take their time and interact with each other, sharing their thoughts about the story and characters.
After completing a StoryWalk, extension activities can provide a deeper understanding for students as well as keep the conversation—and therefore the learning—going.
Students can try to write an alternate ending or even add to the story’s original ending. Our youngest students can draw their responses to these prompts, while we transcribe the words to go with them. Older students can do peer reviews, co-write responses, or illustrate them and even use media to animate.
Invite students to share about a time when they did something that was featured in the story. Before we did our StoryWalk for the book Baghead, I held up a paper bag that I had cut holes out of to make a face. I asked students, “Why would someone wear this?” Students wrote down their predictions. After our StoryWalk, they came back to their predictions to write about what came true or didn’t, and any surprises in the story. Some chose to write about a time when they tried to cut their own hair, as the protagonist had, and what happened next.