Literacy Connections

What is “Literacy” in the Bridges model?

Bridges offers activities, approaches & tools that support an authentic connection between arts processes and literacy processes. Bridges uses embodied comprehension to make abstract literacy concepts concrete and supports students to acquire the skills they need to communicate, express and develop their ideas.

Classroom teachers spoke about how concepts they were struggling to get across to their students through manipulating the written word, suddenly became concrete, relevant, and engaging as they created a character puppet or a setting.

“Revising setting drawings makes “revision” concrete for my kids.” – Jeannine Longo, 2nd grade teacher

Compliments a wide variety of reading writing programs

3 Bridges model is not anchored in any reading or writing programs. Bridges is not a reading or writing program, but an arts program. The 3 bridges model explicitly teaches important expression and metacognitive skills that are essential to academic success and are inherent to authentic artistic working and thinking.

3 Bridges model has been used and adapted by teachers using a wide variety of reading and writing programs to make them more accessible and deepen learning for all students, and scaffold to learning requirements in those programs.


What does literacy building look like in Bridges?

Learning vocabulary through multisensory immersion and physicalizing

  • Emotion Statues 1-3 activities
    • Students learn the statues game, where they physicalize words. This game is used to explicitly teach new vocabulary of all kinds. Here we see it used for learning complex emotion words. Through a process of embodying and feeling the energy of that word in their body, listening, repeating the words, watching varied expressions of the word’s meaning, and hearing those expressions described,  students actually digest the words and as teachers report, build an active vocabulary.
  • 5 Senses Journey into Puppet Play
    • Students explore settings & environments in the 5 senses journey where they are first exposed to new vocabulary, through pretending to be in the many places of the environment imagining sounds, smells, tastes, and things they can touch as a whole class.  They revisit this vocabulary through visual arts, creating the environment as a setting from their imagination. Then they creating puppets and playing with their puppets in their settings. During this process students acquire a great attention to detail and broad understanding of the environment – including environments they’ve never been able to experience themselves.

Descriptive Language and Inferencing

  • Multisensory expression is a scaffold to verbal expression
    • Students’ artistic multisensory expression is the focus of conversation throughout class. Bridges supplies educators with describing tools to generate vocabulary in their planning process, to ensure a rich vocabulary as they respond to students’ spontaneous physical, visual and verbal expression in class.
  • Students build inference skills
    • As teachers model – students learn to notice details to gather evidence. “What did you see that made you say that” is a phrase asking teachers to step back from their impressionistic interpretations of artwork to gather evidence using describing tools. From this classroom practice, students begin to make comments such as: “he looks angry because his eyebrows are furrowed and he is leaning forward”.

Story Concepts and Skills

  • Character emotions/My Emotions Curricula
    • Students build understanding of how story problems and arc, and dialogue are shaped by character emotions. Students understand that characters like themselves have complex, sometimes conflicting emotions that come out in story situations.
    • Students are building these literacy skills: character emotions, story problems and arc, inference, emotional literacy
  • Settings into Story
    • Students learn to imagine unknown places, familiar places and fantasy places all as settings that can be perceived and experienced through the five senses. Five sense details help imagine and describe a place, and are what teachers mean when they ask for “more details in your story”.
    • Students create details and show their knowledge of environments, beyond what they have the vocabulary by working in visual arts. As teachers describe their setting artwork, students hear the words for what they know from experience.
    • Students see the connection between story setting and story problems. Creating settings, imagining and understanding settings helps students understand what can happen in such a place and develop possible problems.
    • Students create characters who they imagine in those settings, and then puppet play to create story problems and dialogue.
    • Students are building these literacy skills: details, elaboration, vocabulary, story problem, beginning-middle-end, retelling, how story problems develop from setting

Impact on Literacy

Multi-Sensory Literate Expression

Bridges emphasized authentic discussion of character, setting, and narrative of stories – with embodied classroom practice – as opposed to a more formulaic presentation and recall of classroom texts. Young children benefited from experiencing language in an authentic manner, and physically embodying language through the artistic process.

Students developed new expressive skills, using their bodies and art materials in addition to verbal communication. Students were able to comprehend complex concepts and stories through multi-sensory immersion in location, character and narrative. Multi-sensory immersion helped students envision physical locations of a story. The resulting “mental picture” supported students’ understanding of the setting and sequence of a story, which in turn supported their reading and writing skills.

Notice, Describe and Ask Protocol

Teachers used the descriptive language process to help students observe and describe their work, thereby developing language skills. Teaching artists in professional development emphasized using the five senses and descriptive detail to convey character and settings in theater arts and puppetry. Teachers developed skills in describing details of students’ artwork. They modeled the use of detailed observational language for their students.

Students practiced using descriptive language for settings, characters, narrative and their artwork. The students also applied the meaning of “detail” during the visual artmaking and responded to artists’ suggestions about adding details on their own. Their perceptions and understandings were reflected in their work.

Young children practiced using descriptive language describing settings, characters, narrative and their artwork. Vocabulary typically included words such as: articulation, character, contrasting, costume, detail, horizontal, layer, levels, setting, shades, three-dimensional, two- 4 dimensional, and vertical. The students also directly and tangibly learned the meaning of detail during the visual artmaking, as they applied the artist’s suggestions about adding detail, and added details on their own.

An Artist’s Work Process

Bridges supported teachers’ ability to identify the characteristics of thinking and working like artists, and to observe their students’ artistic development.

The program emphasized creative, critical and complex cognitive thinking, as opposed to rote recall of information. Artists typically learn to observe, reflect, construct meaning, represent complex ideas and engage in the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy in the cognitive and affective domains to create their art, and the program supported that level of artistic thinking for students.

Students learned a rigorous series of steps for developing and expressing story ideas through the arts and language. The steps of the artistic process included brainstorming, exploring and play, developing an idea, reflection, feedback, and revision.

Students practiced developing and communicating ideas and emotions in non-verbal, verbal, and artistic domains. The teachers explored the relationship between multi-sensory learning and developing language skills. Artists helped students explore using their imagination to “visit” and experience different settings through their five senses. The use of metaphors and imagery involved higher-level thinking.

For further elaboration, consult the full report

External Research