Pellegrini, A. and Galda, L. (1982). The Effects of Thematic-Fantasy Play Training on the Development of Children’s Story Comprehension. American Educational Research Journal, Fall 1982, 19(3): 443-452.1


This study outlines a brief intervention in which kindergarten and first grade students heard a story and participated in one of three story-related activities—drawing a picture, discussing the story with an adult, or acting out the story with three peers and an adult. Students then took a criterion-referenced test and a test of recall. The results indicated that higher comprehension occurs when students can reconstruct a story through thematic-fantasy play rather than through either drawing or discussion.

Key Findings:

  • Participation in thematic-fantasy play led to higher comprehension scores for kindergarten and first grade students than participating in drawing or discussion.
  • Thematic-fantasy play students recalled more events and the sequence of events better than other students.
  • Thematic-fantasy play students were better able to answer judgment questions about the story and its characters than other students.
  • A positive relationship connected the centrality of the role that a student in thematic-fantasy play took on and that student’s story recall. Students that played more major roles had better story recall.

Significance of the Findings:

This study examines how young students process information from stories. It demonstrates that acting out a story seems to best help students process information and comprehend the story.


The study involved 108 children from Kindergarten through second grades, evenly split by gender and grade level. Researchers read three different storybooks to the students. Students participated in either thematic-fantasy play to re-enact the story, adult-led discussion of the story, or drawing scenes from the story after the readings, depending on assignment. The first two storybook readings were used as training sessions, and the third was used as a formal test of story comprehension and understanding measured through a criterion-referenced test and scaled story-telling task.

Limitations of the Research:

There were some unclear areas in the authors’ approach that limit the findings presented. First, it was not clear if the stories read were completely new to all of the students. Second, it was not clear how students were assigned to the different conditions. Finally, it was not discussed how student reading ability might interact with the conditions nor how student’s understanding of the stories might have affected the roles they took in the story dramatization.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Does acting out a central character during thematic-fantasy play consistently lead to better story recall, especially for struggling students? How does a student’s reading ability impact the effect of thematic-fantasy play on story comprehension and understanding?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.