Stories of Science for an Authentic Audience

Eighth graders can be a tough crowd to please with graduation on the horizon. Mix in state standardized tests along with a four-day class trip to Washington D.C. and you have more students checked out than books at your local library.

This year I wrapped up the school year with kamishibais, traditional storyboards that originated in ancient Japan (great interdisciplinary tie-in!) Students were asked to create their own children-oriented kamishibais that included a simple earth or space science lesson from the school year. Initially confused by this task, I converted the children’s book, “The Falling Raindrop” into a kamishibai format and read the book to the class. I then distributed the project overview and rubric to the students for their review.

Students had about one and a half weeks to construct their kamishibai from brainstorm to final product. During that time our LLD instructor made contact with the nearby kindergarten teacher (they are conveniently related!) and arranged an hour’s time for our students to take the short walk over to the school to share their stories with an authentic 5 and 6 year old audience.


The power of an authentic audience reared its head immediately. Eighth graders previously coasting to the inevitable finish line began to work with a heightened sense of urgency, detailing illustrations, fine-tuning the story-line, reworking their vocabulary to be more “kid-friendly.”  Some students, just days away from the deadline, announced to me, “Mr. Musselman, I need to start over, my book just isn’t good enough.” Nice.


Admittedly, the kamishibai projects scientific value is limited (though there is something to be said about asking a student to synthesize their knowledge to something digestable for five-year olds.) But what might be lacked in scientific rigor is more than made up for in the many intangibles brought out through such a project. The need for thoughtful design was critical from early outlining to putting the final product together in a way that can be read easily to students. Presentation skills were at a premium and worked on over the days leading up to our trip with emphasis on reading rhythm, enunciation, and dramatic voice.

The trip to the elementary school was a huge success. Kindergarten and first-grade teachers alike raved about how well our students interacted with their kids and the quality of their stories and illustrations. They were impressed at how well our teenagers patiently listened to the little ones experienced an audience of their own, reading books from their desks when time allowed. But the greatest compliment came later when a thank you email anecdotely added, “after [the eighth-graders] left one student said, ‘That really makes me feel like writing and drawing my own book.’ “

Awesome. This project will undoubtedly become an annual experience for my students. Check out the videos below to see a few of our digitized kamishibais.


About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in Classroom Activities, Professional Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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