Friday, July 10, 2015

10 Story Time Extension Activities for Early Elementary Audiences

It seems like I frequently see librarians asking for suggestions for story time extension activities to share with older kids - usually Kindergarten to grade 2 or 3. Though sometimes kids in this age group simply like to sit and hear stories, there are some types of other activities they really do enjoy. I've decided to post my list of favorites here so that they are all in one place for easy access.

1. Taba Naba

This song by the Wiggles, heard here on YouTube, appears on a video that is clearly intended for preschoolers, but the movements - which are essentially dance steps performed while sitting down - are definitely too challenging for most three and four year olds. It is older kids who are drawn to them, and who enjoy practicing to get the motions to match up properly with the rhythm. What works best is to memorize the words and sing the song a cappella. That way, you can vary the pace of the music according to the abilities of your group, and speed up as they get better. Another option is to practice several times through without the recording, and then try to keep up with the recording. This song works well with kids in all grades, even at the upper elementary level.

2. Interactive Aikendrum 

Aikendrum is probably the song I play best on the ukulele, so it is a staple of my story time sessions. A couple of years ago, a first grade class helped me come up with a way to involve  the audience directly in singing the song. Instead of me singing the traditional lyrics - his eyes were made of meatballs, his nose was made of cheese, etc. - I invite the kids to choose a part of Aikendrum's body and a food to represent it. Your mileage may vary on this one. Though it has not yet happened to me, there is always the possibility that a child will choose a part of the anatomy that is not appropriate to discuss in story time. Usually, though, you will get responses like, "his legs were made of pretzels" and "his eyes were made of grapes" which give you a lot of insight into the creative minds of elementary school kids.

3. The Banana Dance 

Dr. Jean's Banana Dance became an obsession for me and a former coworker one summer, and we performed it together every chance we got. It really requires you to ham it up - the more foolish you look and feel, the better the chances are that you are performing it properly. The tune is tricky and the motions require some practice so definitely don't introduce this one in a program without trying it first on your own, but the rehearsal is worth the end result. Especially rewarding are the puzzled looks on the faces of the parents or teachers in the room who can't quite believe grown people are dancing around like various foods.

4. Tooty Ta

Tooty Ta is a song I have never performed in public (and likely never will), but I know many people - my mom included - who swear by it. It's another Dr. Jean favorite, which will make you look even more ridiculous than the Banana Dance.

5. Hat, Coat, Pants, and Shoes

I wrote the lyrics to this song, which is modeled after Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes and sung to the tune of London Bridge. Each verse begins as follows:

Hat, coat, pants and shoes
Pants and shoes, pants and shoes
Hat, coat, pants and shoes

Pause dramatically after glasses, holding your note to build suspense, and then move your hands quickly to a silly position and name something silly the kids could be wearing. Some of my go-to favorites are bat wings, moose antlers, squirrel tail, party hat, bow tie, mittens, and wristwatch.

In the summer months, and when promoting summer reading, I adapt the song to suit summer clothing, and change the words to "Visor, T-Shirt, Shorts, and Shoes."

6. Bag of Verbs

This is a game I invented to use in my Read-Along Story Times for Beginning Readers. I printed out a set of interesting verbs, cut them apart, and put them in a paper bag. At the halfway point of the story time, I brought out the bag and invited each child to take a turn choosing a word for the group to act out. Kids who could sound out words enjoyed decoding each verb, but even those who did not yet read usually got a kick out of being invited to move around the room and act silly. This is my go-to activity for kids who feel that music is too babyish.

7. Quick as a Cricket Flannel Board Game

This is a classic picture book I loved in childhood, which works really well as a flannel board guessing game. I printed out the clip art for the book provided by, which includes a sentence strip for building the sentences from the story. When I present it, I put the adjectives up on the flannel board one at a time and have the kids guess which animal each one describes. When I have heard a fair number of guesses, I show the picture to reveal the correct answer. This works well in groups of all sizes - I've had groups of 40 kindergarteners enjoy it just as much as small audiences of 3 or 4 preschoolers. See a photo of the flannel board in action here. (Note: Because I only had travel flannel boards, I needed two to hold all the pieces. If you have a larger flannel board, you will definitely need it!)

8. Ears Hear

This poem by Lucia and James L. Hymes, Jr. appears in Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, selected by Jack Prelutsky. Just as the Bag of Verbs invites kids to move in fun ways, this poem encourages them to make funny sounds. The room can get quite loud, especially with a large group, so it is usually wise to have the door closed and to invite teachers, parents and younger siblings to cover their ears for sounds like "shout" and "scream." If your group is a little older, you can also try turning the poem into a guessing game as I did for this story time.

9. Making Lists

Early elementary kids love to share their thoughts on anything and everything. Channel their energy into a list-making activity. On a piece of poster board or chart paper (or on a chalkboard, white board, PowerPoint slide, etc.) post a question for the kids to answer. Then record each child's answer and display the list in the story time room or other suitable location. Suggested topics include:

  • If you could wish on a star, what would be your wish? 
  • What do you like most about the library? 
  • Can you name something green? 
  • Do you have a pet? If so, what is it? 
This concept would also work as an ongoing display for your library or classroom. Leave markers and poster board out and let any child who wants to participate add his or her thoughts to the list. 

10. Happy/Sad Faces

Another way to engage kids' inherent desire to express their opinions is to provide happy and sad faces to each child. (I usually print out paper faces and tape them to popsicle sticks, but you could use more durable materials if desired.) Ask the kids yes and no questions - or read a book posing such questions - and allow them to show you their opinion by holding up the appropriate face. This activity is really good for small, quiet groups who might be shy about participating, as well as very large groups where there isn't time for every child to express an individual opinion.

How do you engage older kids in story time? Share your favorite activities below!
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