Friday, 22 February 2013

Storytelling: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? Bill Martin Jr & Eric Carle

As well as reading to my little book bugs at home, I also do storytelling sessions for non-English-speaking 2 to 6-year-olds and their carers in my local bookshop. The aim is for families to take part together in fun activities, share as many lovely books as possible, and learn and/or practise a bit of English!

I want the sessions to be fun and participative, and not too hard on tender, non-native attention spans, so we mix stories, songs, crafts and games for 45 minutes a time.

So this is the first post about these sessions. See what you think.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?

Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996

Main Target Vocabulary: animals, colours, same/ different

Session One
·   Starter: Sit in a circle and greet each child individually by name.

·      Read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? book with different voices and sound effects for each animal. Check out the author reading it himself on Youtube:

I expressed surprised at the blue horse and the purple cat (isn’t that strange?!) and we laughed, but otherwise read it straight through so as not to lose the children’s attention. I tried to get my listeners to join in with the last page when the children list all the animals they see looking at them. They are non-natives with little to no exposure to English, so they joined in in Catalan: I read, “A yellow…?” with rising intonation and paused for them to fill in the animal, which they did in Catalan, I repeated the target word in English, and onto the next animal. For me, the most important thing is that the children enjoy the story and follow as much of it as they can, so if they’re participating, even in their own language, that’s great! A round of applause and “Bravo!” ends each activity.

·      Next, I showed the children photocopied pictures of each animal from the book (, some the same colour as in the book, some a different colour. “Look, a brown bear. A yellow duck. A green bird??? Is that the same as in the book? Or is it a different colour?” And we checked it in the book: “ No, it’s different! The bird in the book’s RED!” etc.

·      Then I handed out animal pictures for the children to colour in themselves, a few colours in each of three or four pots set around the space.

The first time I did this session, the children enjoyed it but it lasted just a couple of minutes as they just scribbled in the animals quickly and wanted to move on. The second time (different group of children and within term time rather than in the holidays. Wonder if that had anything to do with it…?) they took their time to colour as nicely and as multi-colouredly as possible, and even wanted another animal to colour. It took me some time to get the keener ones to tidy up and move on to the next activity. In fact, one little boy sat and finished his bird colouring until we were well into the next activity. So this time there was enough time for me to move around to each child, get to know them a bit and reinforce vocabulary with comments like, “Hey, I love your orange dog!” Or, “Wow, you’re colouring your horse black!”

The first time I did this activity I was interested to know if the children would colour their animals the same as they are in the book, but not at all! They were constrained neither by the colours in the book, nor by real life. The older children did the most beautiful multicoloured designs, while the younger ones tended to stick to one or at most two colours.

·      Next we played “Guess the animal” in which I acted out an animal from the story for the children to guess. Then some of the children had a turn acting out for the others to guess.
The first time I did the story-telling sessions, I didn’t do this game until the 3rd session, but this time I tried it in the first, and was amazed at how ready some of the children, even the little ones, were to have a turn at acting, and at how effective they were in transmitting their chosen animal to us! Although I must say that it was mostly the adults that were doing the guessing while the children were acting; the others tended to get a bit distracted. The children, obviously, didn’t limit their animals to those in Brown Bear, and one little girl was keen to have our guesses translated into her language to make sure we’d got the right animal!

·      I put A4 pieces of coloured card on the floor around the space, and as I called out a colour, the children had to run to that coloured card and stand on it. There were no winners or losers, just a running around game, but we could see that some children were keen to be the first to each colour, whereas one little girl would only run to the card holding onto my or her mum’s hand. The children also had a turn at calling out a colour for their groupmates to run to.

·      We sat down again in a circle and sang the Rainbow Song (

·      Ending: We stretched our legs out in front of us, toes into the middle of the circle, and I said goodbye and thank you to each of the children by name, wiggling my toes as I did so as if it were my toes that were talking to them.

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