Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Compare and Contrast : A StoryPlay activity for Preschool to Kindergarten

“His cookie is bigger!”  “I want the piece with the MOST frosting.”

Children are little observers and they are comparing all the time, especially when it relates to them –“ I can jump higher”, “my daddy is bigger.’ The trick is to transfer their observations to relate to a broader world, especially as they step into the academic classroom. The Core Curriculum affirms “identifying similarities and differences” is important even in the Preschool classroom.  

I use storytelling to start a compare and contrast discussion with very young children. I start by telling two stories that have the same object – a cooking pot. My first story is Anansi and the Bean Pot.  Grandmother Spider tells Anansi not to touch the bean pot cooking on the stove while she is out buying spices at the market. But, Anansi loves beans and his desire gets the best of him.  He is lured to the bean pot first by the smell, then remembering their taste, then seeing Grandma’s Spider’s ladle by the pot. When Grandma Spider returns, Anansi tries to hide the beans he scooped out of the pot and into his hat by hastily jamming the hat onto his head. The beans burn Anansi’s scalp, making him sweat and cry. When caught by Grandma Spider, Anansi takes off his hat to reveal that the beans have scorched his hair off. (The story sounds a bit gruesome, but preschoolers enjoy nothing more than to see me pretend to be Anansi in exaggerated pain. It brings down the house.)

My second story is my rendition of the classic Grimms tale, The Magic Porridge Pot. (Paul Galdone has a good print version for young listeners.) A young girl, Emily, tries to help her mother out when there is no food in the house. Emily meets up with a magical old woman who gives her a pot that makes porridge using some special directions.  The pot makes magical porridge the first time.   The next time the mother needs to use the pot, Emily is at school. The mother forgets how to stop the porridge from cooking and the porridge overflows, running down the street like a porridge river.   Emily saves the day by running through the porridge and using the magic words to stop the pot from cooking.

When I tell these stories, I purposefully do not describe the pot, except to say that Anansi’s pot is on the stove, and I “show”  Emily carrying the magic pot home.  In the second story, I do take time to interact with my young listeners when describing the delicious, magic porridge. It smells of brown sugar and maple syrup and even pancakes … and I prompt them to tell me how it smells. I get everything from ice cream to grilled cheese. There are two places in the story where their imaginations are engaged with the porridge descriptions.

After the tellings, I take out two pieces of paper. At the top of one I write “Anansi’s Bean Pot,” on the other, “Emily’s Porridge Pot.” As I’m writing, I ask the children to tell me what was cooking in each pot. Then I say, “Both pots are the same because they are used for cooking. The pots might also be different.  Do you think they are the same size?  Which pot do you think is bigger?”    

Because of the way I portrayed the stories, the children usually tell me that the Porridge Pot is bigger. Then I look for another similarity: they both have handles because they both need to be carried. Then I ask them about color and other differences.  Usually, the magic pot is more colorful.   Often the children will say that the magic pot has a spoon with it; the bean pot has a lid. (The spoon is an important part of the magic instructions, and at one point in the Anansi story, Anansi lifts the lid to “just smell” the baking beans.) 

This compare and contrast exercise can be as detailed or as summarized as time and age level allow.   In small groups, the children can actually color the pots. With older children, they can go back to their desks and draw the two pots. I always end with a reflection on not just the similarities and differences between the pots, but also the stories. For example, in the Anansi story, Anansi got into trouble. In The Magic Porridge Pot, Emily was a helper; it was the mother who got into a bit of trouble.

Compare and contrast, or similarities and differences, is a great foundation for future story readers and storytellers. After all, isn’t every classic tale about how the main character is both the same and different in the end. For the storyteller, examining and highlighting the similarities and contrasts as the story develops can assure and interesting tale.

Other "cooking pot" stories:

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