Monday, December 6, 2010


by Laura Krauss Melmed

Joan Waites blogged recently about using an egg to jumpstart inspiration in a writing class.  An inspired idea!

I, too, have found that props are a useful and engaging device for helping kids make the leap from “what is” to “what if.”  For example, at an urban elementary school where I tutor students in reading, I and a group my fellow tutors took our twelve tutees, ages six through ten, to a children’s theater production of The Dancing Princesses, a musical adaptation of the Grimm’s fairytale. 

In preparation for our trip, I shared with the children a beautifully illustrated picture book retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Rachel Isadora, set in Africa where Isadora once lived.  I asked the children to keep the book in mind when viewing the play and notice how they might be similar yet different.    

A post show group session provided a good opportunity for a writing exercise.  Seated in a circle, we reviewed the play (universally declared a hit) and talked about the differences and similarities between it and the storybook.  We agreed that one common important element was the princesses’ journey to a magic land.  Then I asked each student to imagine his or her own version of the magic land they would chose to visit if they could.  They were to describe it to the group and then write an illustrated page about it.  This is where the prop came in:  To spark the student’s imagination in a fun way, each one in turn got to put on a bejeweled and gilded cardboard crown that transformed the wearer into a princess or prince ready to begin a journey of the imagination. 

The children came up with magic places ranging from the seashore, to a huge playground, to a Transformer-land where a fearsome but “good” robot stood ready to fight the “bad guys.”  They eagerly illustrated their ideas, and with help from their tutors, wrote sentences explaining their pictures. 

To spur a writing exercise that spins off of traditional tales, props might be a pair of boots for Puss-in-Boots (where would they take you?),  a pumpkin for Cinderella (what besides a coach might it turn into?) or Aladdin’s magic lamp (what would you wish for?).   

In planning such an exercise, just go where your imagination takes you.

1 comment:

  1. These are great ideas! I need to remember this when I go to schools and talk to kids. Props are great icebreakers, and definitely engage kids in a physical way. :)