An International Preschool-Grade 12 Academy 

Explore a Unit: Written & Oral Expression (Grade 3)

What is a story? Why do people tell them? Are stories that we write different than ones we tell each other orally?

These are some of the questions third-graders at GEMS World Academy Chicago considered as part of their Written and Oral Expression unit, a dynamic exploration of the nature of stories and storytelling.

To spark questions in students’ minds, our teachers recited personal stories of their own in front of their classes. They asked students to pay attention to the gestures, changes in voice and facial expressions used during the telling of the stories, as well as the details that the teachers included.

This led to a discussion about how stories are “built": What ingredients does every well-crafted story need?

“One of the suggestions we had was that every good story starts with a problem,” said Maya Knight, the collaborating teacher in grade 3. “That helped the students find those interesting, and often funny, moments in their lives that would make good stories.”

Students then got to work writing their own personal stories. Many of them focused on moments of particular joy or disappointment in their lives — the time a Christmas present was stolen, a fun afternoon at the beach with family. The narratives had to demonstrate understanding of storytelling concepts like protagonist/antagonist, exposition, conflict and climax. Students followed Writer’s Workshop protocol throughout this project; their drafts went through rounds of peer and teacher editing, which the young authors used to deliver a polished final story for “publication.” The Writer’s Workshop  model is an essential component of literacy instruction at GEMS.  

After producing final drafts, students drew illustrations to go along with the stories, and then they created iMovie videos that included the pictures and their oral performance of the stories.

A couple of Field Studies supported the students’ work. Both classes visited the American Writers Museum and the Chicago History Museum, which helped them explore the techniques writers/storytellers use to convey information about characters and events. (The story of the Chicago Fire was a key focus during this part of the inquiry.)

An unexpected and well-received addition to the unit was a chance to participate in Traveling Tales, an Adobe Spark platform that brings students from around the world together to create and perform stories. Groups of students from both third-grade classes participated in this unique project. These stories, which were based on U.N. Global Goals for sustainability, featured contributions from students in the U.S., Hong Kong, Vietnam and Switzerland, among others. The Traveling Tales project aligned well with GEMS' ongoing focus on global citizenship. Videos of the stories can be seen below.

Written and Oral Expression is one of the core units in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program for third-graders here at GEMS. Congrats to all of our students and teachers for the great work!


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