Late one afternoon I gathered paper and fabric scraps for a collage project I’d planned for the following day. Slivers of paper fell to the floor and I scrambled to clean up my mess. The next morning, one of my speech students found two long scraps I’d missed – one sliver of orange felt and a slip of black construction paper. His eyes went wide. He held them close to my face and whispered, “Did you have a tiger in your room?” The other children looked confused for a moment then their faces lit up as they saw the tiger in their imagination, the one that had lost his stripes. Their thoughts took off faster than the animal they’d imagined tearing around the room leaving two stripes behind. They all spoke at once and started scouring the room for the jaguar’s spots, after-all something must have been chasing the tiger. Their story grew with their excitement and so did the opportunity for learning.
Many of the content standards for education can be taught through stories, both those read to children and those they create themselves. When they learn to write or dictate their tales they’re learning correct sentence structures and grammatical forms. It was easy to remind the students that the tiger hadn’t “runned” through the room but he “ran”. And when students begin to create their own stories, they listen more closely to the structure of others and they begin to understand central ideas.
I didn’t throw out my lesson plans the day we found the tiger’s stripes but I was certainly able to expand on them. And the next time I find a couple slivers of paper on the floor, I doubt I’ll sweep them away without a thought. I hope I’ll think of the tiger that lost them.