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Psychological Stories for Kids: Reading and Life Comprehension

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Jeffrey Pflaum, blogger on BAM, is also hosting CREATIVELY SPEAKING on the network's new show, PULSE (category: "Classroom Innovation").  Please check out the 12-minute podcasts on creativity, creative thinking, EI, social-and-emotional learning, and more.

Psychological Stories for Kids: Reading and Life Comprehension 

Want to communicate with your students about what you believe are crucial ideas for living in this scary brave new world?  Experiment: Make up your own original lessons so kids know where you’re coming from, loud and clear.


“Here I Am, Here I Am: A Tale of Two Worlds” is a surreal story activity that shows children connections between reading life and real life.  In fact, isn’t this one key continuing and open-ended conversation in education: to relate literature to life?  Even more important: Isn’t the idea a road to self-motivated readers?  Many articles you see describe how to engage kids in reading, but, for the most part, have little to do with the real deal, intrinsic motivation, which is, in my opinion, and also, supported by the research, fundamental to developing leisure-time and lifelong readers.


Think about it: There are fresh, inventive, artistic, imaginative, creative, entertaining reading universes waiting to be discovered by your kids.  That is what I realized long ago and far away in the dinosaur days of education—the sixties—when teachers’ guides were one of the important resources for teaching reading comprehension.


In attempting to show at-risk, reluctant, struggling, and even good readers how to discover the “scary” brave new inner worlds of reading I imagined would inspire them, I relied on an inquiry- and passion-based approach, or to put it simply, questions that would, hopefully, generate thoughtful answers.  Through the process of “question storming”—creating or brainstorming one question-after-another—I conjured up questions for my lessons linking reading to living.


Creative, provocative, fun, absurd, challenging questions stimulated kids to dig and see deeply inside, to come up with answers about the story (reading comprehension), as well as inner-sights about themselves, their actions, behavior, and character/identity (life comprehension).  When kids learned to connect their internal dots (life stories) to those external dots (literature), they began to realize and appreciate, what the links were between real life and reading life.


My short absurd tale, along with the reading and life comprehension questions that follow, require deeper thinking, reflection, sensitivity, creative thinking, and visualization.  The life comprehension questions connected to the story can be motivate, empower, and can be applied to students’ reading and everyday worlds.




Here I Am, Here I Am: A Tale of Two Worlds


Little boy Paul stared out of the window.  He liked to look at the blue sky and gliding white clouds.  Everything moved so slowly.


“Hey, see that?” Paul said to himself.  “It’s a bear with a fat belly. There’s an island made of ice, too.  And, gee, can you see the people and the faces in the sky?”



His mind drifted into the outside world.  From one moment to the next, the sky pictures changed.


“Paul, are you upstairs?” his mother called.  “Where are you?” Answer me, please. ”His mind struggled to leave the sky and come back to himself.  He glanced around and saw: his desk, books, pictures hanging on the wall, his stickball bat, and an old tennis ball.  However, the pictures from the sky remained inside his head.



Paul tried to get rid of them.  He breathed deeply, feeling the breath go all through his body as he approached the mirror.  Peering into it, he realized that he was standing on the floor of his room.  He took another quick glance.  Turned away.  Then looked again, smiled and laughed at his reflection. But this still did not work.  The pictures stayed inside his mind.



His glance turned into a stare. Paul became hypnotized to his reflection.  But a strange thing happened.  He saw the blue sky and white clouds once again. Only now they were in the mirror.


His thoughts switched to Charlie, his parrot.  Charlie would grab the bell that was attached to his mirror inside the cage.  He would stare at his face, lick the reflection and then start laughing crazily.  Paul used the thought of Charlie to help himself answer his mom.


He licked his finger and drew a picture of a smiling face on the mirror: two dots for the eyes, one dot for the nose, and a “U” for the mouth.  To finish the finger painting, he breathed over the entire smiley face as if he were bringing life to his little picture in the mirror. The face became frosted, yet he could see the eyes, nose, and mouth clearly.



“Here I am!  Here I am!” he said to the face, himself, and of course, to his mother.



Reading and Life Comprehension Questions


1. What is the first mind-picture or image you see in your mind?


2. What is the second or next picture you imagine in your mind?


3. Can you recall an experience when you stared out the window?  Do you remember what you saw,         thought, and felt at that time?


4. What are you thinking and feeling if you stare at a person, place, or an object?  Describe what   happens inside your mind and imagination by giving an example from your life.


5. What does Paul experience while looking outside the window?  Can you get into his thoughts and feelings?  Describe them by pretending to be Paul.


6. What does “His mind drifted into the outside world” mean?  How does that happen?


7. Recall a time your mind drifted away.  Where did it go?  How did you bring yourself back to the present moment or reality?


8. How do you know Paul is totally into his own head?


9. How old do you think Paul is?  Why?


10.  What happens as Paul glances around his room?  Does he “come back to himself”?  Is it a problem for Paul to “return to himself”?  Why or why not?  Explain what happens.


11.  When you are distracted, what is your method to get your concentration or focus back?  What do you normally do?  Does it work?  Explain your answers.


12.  Paul tries deep breathing and then looks into the mirror to get rid of the “sky” in his mind.  Does it work?  Why?  Describe the picture of Paul that you visualize in this scene.


13.  What strange event occurs after Paul becomes hypnotized to his reflection in the mirror? Describe the mind-picture you see.  If you were Paul, what are you thinking and feeling at this point?  Why?


14.  From your own experiences, can you remember a time when you wanted to stay inside your head and not return to reality?  What were you thinking and feeling?  How did you snap out of it?


15.  Paul’s imagination runs pretty deep.  In fact, all our imaginations run deep: there are no walls or dead ends where it stops.  Imagination is infinite: it goes on forever.  How can this be a good thing for you?  How can it become a problem?


16.  Paul’s thoughts of  “Charlie the parrot” help him return to reality: Explain how that happens.  What images do you see of Charlie?


17.  Can you recall a time you felt so “spaced out” that it got you a little worried?  Describethe mind-pictures you still can see and your thoughts and feelings at the time.


18.  How does Paul finally return to the “real world”?  How does he use the mirror to come back?  Describe the final mind-pictures you see.


19.  Pretend you are Paul in this last scene of the story: What are you saying to yourself?What self-talk is going on inside you?  Describe what you are doing as Paul using your own words.  Take us through your experience of returning to reality.


20.  You can get lost in: (a) a book, (b) your thoughts, and (c) a feeling: Describe what happens in each of these events.  Give examples from your own your life.  How did you handle them: for better or worse?


21.  What are the connections between stories (literature) and your everyday life?


22.  How can reading fiction and non-fiction stories help you in your life?  Give an example.


23.  What is the main idea or theme of the story?


24.  What can you take away from this story?  What have you learned?  What can you use or apply from the story to your own life?


25.  Think about this: Take a few minutes and reflect on books, novels, short stories, and poems you have read independently or in class.  Did any of these works connect with, and affect, your everyday life?  Explain your answer by giving an example (write the name of the work and its author if you can remember them).


26.  As a reader, do you believe that books, stories, or poetry can change your life around for the better?  Can books have negative effects or create harmful feelings, where your life becomes worse?  Explain your answers.


27.  Reading can help you find yourself or lose yourself: How can this happen?


28.  What are your thoughts about Paul’s experience?  Is he aware of himself and what he is doing?  Does he know what’s happening or is he spaced out?  Would you say he is living in the present moment?  Why or why not?


29.  Describe the “two worlds” in the story: Give examples of what happens in each one.


30.  Were you able to change yourself and become Paul?  Was it easy or difficult to make this imaginary change?  Why?


31.  Does a story come-to-life in your mind and imagination as you read it?  Explain your answer.


32.  Try this optional activity for fun: Contemplate, or stay focused on, the mind-pictures you visualized in the story.  Briefly describe the images you see in your mind for the following parts of the story.  What thoughts and feelings are triggered by each of the mind-pictures:


  • Paul looking out the window
  • Paul sees clouds that look like things
  • Paul’s room
  • Inside Paul’s head, mind, and imagination
  • Paul looking into the mirror
  • Imaginary “mirror” experience
  • Visualization of “Charlie the parrot”
  • “Finger painting” in the mirror


33.  Do your visualizations of the mind-pictures change when you take extra time to contemplate or to look closely and carefully at them?  How is contemplating a mind-picture different than reading-and-visualizing a mind-picture at the same time?  Explain your answers.



Deeper Reading/Learning, Connecting Inner to Outer Dots, and Discussion Topics



After reviewing the stormed questions for the story, I compiled a list of areas that might be covered in class discussions.  Keep in mind that all the questions do not have to be given in the written part.  Some can be thrown in during the discussion as impromptu oral prompts for kids to answer.


“Life comprehension questions” enable students to find greater depth, meaning, and motivation  in stories by adding emotional intelligence and intra- and interpersonal communication skills to the reading/learning process.  This absurd tale can be used from grades 2 through 6; however, the questions would have to be modified for younger kids.




What can be discussed when you and your class talk about stories?  My inquiry method for reading, learning, and experiencing allows teachers to roam, develop, improve, and expand the vast inner landscapes of children’s minds, imaginations, hearts, and spirits, and also, to create self-motivation, emotional intelligence, and awareness.  To support the statement, here are areas that would, potentially, be covered in class conversations:



  • Mind-pictures


  • Visualization


  • Recall/Memory


  • Students’ past real life experiences


  • Differences amongst the words: looking, seeing, staring, glancing, and gazing


  • Life inside the mind and imagination


  • Reality: the real world in front of our eyes


  • Empathy, empathizing, becoming someone else: pretending to be a character in a story


  • Experiencing: What is it?


  • Discovering the psychology between-the-lines


  • “Mind drifting” = distractions = leaving the present moment, the now


  • How to regain self-control: techniques for students to get back their concentration or focus; relating their personal experiences and original methods


  • “Cross-fertilizing students’ ideas” on how to regain lost concentration


  • Self-realization: Paul’s insights and the students’ realizations they make about themselves


  • Problem-solving: How to do it?


  • The limits of imagination: pluses and minuses


  • “Triggers”/”Buttons” to push to return quickly to awareness or present time


  • Re-focusing: How to do it?


  • Mental image pictures or mind-pictures, thoughts, and feelings that are “distractors” for students


  • “Spaced out”: definition, description with real life examples from students


  • “Zoning out”: Why?  Plus student examples


  • Effects/Affects of pictures in in the mind: pluses and minuses with kids’ examples


  • Rating the ability to empathize with other people’s situations on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means easily getting into someone else’s head, and 0 means having a very hard time getting out of one’s self and into another person (reasons given for all ratings)


  • “Self-talk” as a distraction or a possible attraction: How does self-talk affect/effect you, your thinking, and your life, for better or worse?


  • Using literature in everyday life: yes or no with explanations and examples


  • Reflecting on things, on any thing: Do you reflect on your life, what happens to you?  What happens if you use reflection in your life?  Does reflection mean you will automatically have inner-sight?  How can reflection change your world: affects/effects?


  • Book/Stories/Poetry and transformation/change with real life student examples


  • Words: Can they change your life?  Written, spoken, read, and imagined words.  Examples from kids of words that either affected or really changed their lives with descriptions of what happened.


  • Finding/Losing yourself in a book: the process, what happens?  What is it?  How do you use it in your life?


  • Self-awareness, awareness, present-moment, the now, being-in-present-time: definitions, descriptions, and student examples.



Optional points and potential questions



  • Many ideas discussed—questions from the story—can be applied to other literature:novels, poems, and non-fiction (history, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs).


  • What is the level of awareness of a given character in a story?  Is he/she living in present time?  Does he/she reflect on things and gain greater inner-sights?  What is his or her ability to think: critically, creatively, and futuristically?  Can the person change? Does he/she have the “tools of change” inside his/her self, mind, imagination, heart, and spirit?


  • What is contemplation?  How does it compare to reflection as a “mental-emotional self-help process?  What is the difference between contemplation and concentration or focusing?


  • Inner versus outer reality: What are they like?  What are the similarities and differences?  How do we manage to live in both realities at the same time?  How is that possible?




Additional resources for “Psychological Stories”: See author’s Bam Street Journal Posts:



  • “Traveling with Students on a Lifelong Haiku Journey” (12/13/13)
  • “Johnny, Wake Up and Read, Wake Up and Read” (7/29/13)
  • “Teaching to Jumpstart Students’ and Teachers’ Creativity” (5/9/13)
  • “Comprehending Aesop: Fables that Enable” (3/15/13)
  • “Vocabulary Creativity and Expansion: Imaginary Word Problems” (11/11/12)
  • “Motivating Ideas To Pump Up Adolescent Readers” (10/2/12)
  • “Questions Educators Should Ask Themselves About Their Teaching Lives” (6/12/12)
  • “Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs” (2/21/12)
  • “A Novel EI Reading Experience for Adolescents: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach” (2/5/12)
  • “The Reading-Writing and the Writing-Reading Connections: Two Ways to Get There” (1/14/12)
  • “Silent Reading” (12/27/11)
  • “Reading as a Three-Dimensional, Holographic, Virtual Reality” (12/11/11)
  • “Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation in Reading: Which is the Real Deal?” (11/15/11)



Also, you can go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more information and background to the author’s educational projects developed and expanded over 34 years in the NYC Department of Education (1968 -2002).  My book, Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Can Lead the Way (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011), is composed of a thousand plus questions on reading and reading life experiences to motivate adolescents to read for some serious fun and self-entertainment.


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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

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