Using the Arts to Learn –



Acting out One Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova

Today while reading others blogs I was surprised and excited to see Annie Murphy Paul write about using movement to help reading comprehension for young children.

Paul’s post is called Making Stories come Alive.              (The Brilliant Report: She shares some of the research done by Glenberg in using dramatic play along with reading to boost comprehension. He was working with young children to use farm toys to act out the story they were reading about the farm.

This way of learning has been used in arts integration or arts learning projects for some time. The use of Readers Theater, or the dramatic reading of a text helps students to slow down and process what they are reading. When a students is asked to add expression, or speak like the character in the story you have to stop and process what that character is thinking or feeling at the moment they are talking. As a reader you have to make inferences – you have to comprehend the text.

Another arts learning process is the use of the theater strategy called Tableau.  Tableau means making a frozen picture. Students take small moments of time in their story or text and create a frozen image of that moment with their bodies. This can be done simply by asking students to pose like they are the main character in their story at one particular moment, or to show the expression on their face of someone who is expressing a strong emotion in the story.

It could also be more involved where a team of students show the beginning, middle and end of a chapter but making frozen moments of the main ideas. ( or the beginning, middle and end of a picture book)

I had the honor of working with a team of great theater artists in Minneapolis, Mn. who worked with classroom teachers developing this strategy to support student comprehension. Steve Busa and Miriam Must, from Red Eye Theater, supported teachers and students in grades k- 6th making stories come alive.

We found this strategy not only supported comprehension but could be used to boost student writing skills as well. I have included a video link that we created a few years ago with the help of  (

I know the testing world is forcing us to narrow our teaching practices and time seems so short but the students and teachers who took the extra time to explore their reading through movement and theater found a world of understanding through making their stories come alive. You might want to give it a try!

(If you are looking for more resources just google Tableau – drama strategy and you will find lots of information from the Kennedy Center and Annenberg foundation as well as many others.)



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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