Storytellers know a
secret…children are natural storytellers! However, our education
system seems to downplay the importance of storytelling and of letting
our children’s voices be heard. How can we squeeze one more thing into
the school day, when there are state standards to meet and state
testing around the corner? One way is by forming a storytelling club.
As with anything worth doing, it is worth doing well. Below are some
ideas that others and I have gathered to help facilitate the concept
of a "The Storytelling Club."
Permission from the Administration
Run your ideas for forming a club past the teachers and
administration well ahead of actually launching it with the kids.
See ahead of time if there are any restrictions to what
type of story you can tell. Some schools don’t allow any type of ghost or
witch story and, on the other hand, they don’t allow any kind of
religious-based story either. Just find out the rules. There are plenty of
stories to choose from.
If you want to visit classrooms, go to parent club meetings
or to youth concerts outside your venue at the school, you will need to know
the procedure to get permission slips and what your liability is. Ask, if it
is possible, to have an overall "Application/Permission slip to do outings,
then send out reminders to the parents as the occasions arise. It would save a
lot of gathering of signatures.
See what kind of space is available for meeting. Try to get
a place that is quiet in a room by itself. Chairs in a semi-circle work better
than desks, but desks are doable. Be sure that is okay for you to move the
chairs or desks around to provide different spaces for telling.
How big? It is good to start small so you can get the kinks
out and feel more in control. Six would be a good starting number, but an
experienced teacher can manage around 15 students.
How long? An hour or hour and one-half, once a week should
You will need to decide how often the club wants to meet.
Once a week is ideal. But, ahead of time, make sure that the time you choose
does not continually conflict with another activity.
Before you meet with students:
Set goals and objectives for what you hope to accomplish.
Such as: Goal – Students will learn communications skills: Objective - Each
child will learn to tell a how and why story and a tall tale or
the group will tell for the parents’ club or Kindergarten room. If you are
continuously meeting with the group throughout the year, you may want to set
6-8 week goals/objectives, and then move on to other goals to keep the club
from getting too repetitious.
How to attract students to join the club: If you are not a
professional quality storyteller, see if the school will hire a teller for the
school. Then, announce the formation of the club. The professional teller will
inspire the students to become a teller. See if the school can attend a
storytelling concert or festival to hear professional storytellers.
Since computers are in most schools, find out if you have
access to do research for stories on them. Some of the following items may be
in a supply closet. See if you have access to pencils, paper, clipboard,
chalkboard, flip board, name tags, etc. It comes in handy to have a cheap
folder with each child’s name on it to hold stories and other material.
Use the school library or get a library card and bring in
folktale collections from the 398.2 section. See if you have access to a
copier to run off short stories. A stopwatch may come in handy once the
students need to time their stories.
The First Meeting
Introduce yourself and tell them why you want to start the
club and what you want to accomplish. Maybe tell a humorous story about
yourself to put them at ease. Let them know how you became interested in
storytelling and what you do as a teller of tales. Tell them what you expect
of them as a group – attendance, supporting each other, practicing at home…and
Talk a little about what storytelling is, what the club
hopes to accomplish, establish the rules (see below), and tell them the
benefits of being able to tell (collaboration, making new friends, getting
over stage fright, self-confidence, recognition and applause, etc.
Go around the group and have them tell you about themselves
– their family, what grade they are in, what subjects they like, their outside
activities, what kind of stories they like, etc. You may need to coax them to
open up or may need to limit the talk, if one becomes too chatty.
Have a "Getting to Know You Activity" In Raising Voices
there are a few listed with complete directions and ready-made handouts –
Storytellers’ Bingo, Scavenger Hunt, Hello Bingo, etc.
Decide on a good storytelling name
Tell a good beginning story
Everything runs smoothly, if the
students understand the rules of behavior. Elicit from the group the behaviors
that are needed for good storytelling to take place –
Good listening skills (keeping eye contact with the teller,
sitting quietly, keeping expression appropriate to the story, not talking to
others or making comments, applause, etc,) Write these behaviors on big sheets
of paper and hang them around the room.
Creating a "safe environment" where the students feel
accepted for the talents they have and feel safe to try something different.
Some will have to work harder than others to learn a story. There is a
difference between criticism/compliment and a put-down. Respecting the teller
(respond with positive comments and ask if they want "suggestions;" don’t
discuss the story with others outside the club unless the teller gives
Listen to the moderator…let the students know that you are
in charge and what the consequences will be if the rules are broken. Some
tellers have a contract that the students sign agreeing to the above. Have a
place where the unruly can go, if they continually break the rules. Also, let
the class know your comfort range in telling a story. Older students may want
to put something sexually explicit or meaningless violence or curse words,
etc. For younger students this probably won’t even be an issue because you
will be the one who ultimately okays the stories.
Attendance: If someone continually misses the meetings,
find out why. They must understand that, if they don’t come, they will not be
chosen to perform the stories to other groups.
Students like structure whether they
know it or not. Although the structure will vary according to the focus for the
day, this is one way to line up a session.
Set up a social time to talk or have a snack while you take
attendance. Clean up the snacks and take a short restroom break.
Set up a little ritual by having them sit down quietly,
turning on a special light, reading a special poem or singing a little song.
Outline what you would like to see accomplished at this
Ask the group to relate any storytelling experiences they
had that week.
Tell a story (or have former club members come in to tell)
Discuss with the group why the story was one that kept their attention.
Discuss the characters and the structure of the story. Discuss the setting and
the climax of the story.
Do some warm-up theatre games. There are many books and
Work on stories – story selection or telling stories in
pairs, small groups or to the whole group (see below)
Feedback (see below)
Closing (see below)
Choosing a Story to Tell
The best way to find a story is to
listen to storytellers. Perhaps you know a storyteller who would come to your
group on occasion. They may be working on a new story and need the opportunity
to practice it. Listen to CDs or watch DVDs of storytellers who are telling
stories that you think would be good for retelling. Some storytellers have audio
and video on their websites. And, of course, you can read, read, read to find
that story that pulls at you.
Look for the following traits when
trying to select a story (from Storytelling Art and Technique by Baker)
A single theme, clearly defined
A well developed plot
Style: vivid word pictures, pleasing sounds and rhythm
Appropriateness to listeners
For really young children (first thru third), it will be
easier to work on one story that they all will learn. Find a story that is
repetitious such as "The Little Red Hen." Tell the story to them. Take a big
piece of poster paper and fold it into 8 squares. Ask them to tell you about
the scenes in the story and draw the simple scenes in the squares. Using that
piece of paper ask a few of them to tell you "about" the story. Do this again
another week with another story such as "The Three Little Pigs". Let the kids
have their own piece of typing paper, fold it, and draw the pictures. Retell
the story with the children doing the dialog as you narrate the story. As the
kids become more adept, they will no longer need to draw the pictures. They
will tell the stories on their own. As you go on…encourage others to tell the
stories that you already learned.
For older students, have a variety of stories at their
disposal – books, DVDs, CDs, computer sites, paper copies of stories. Give
them enough time to read through a variety of stories to find the one they
want to tell. This can take a long time, but remind the students that whatever
they choose, they will be working with it for a long time. Discuss with the
student why they like the story.
Telling the Story
The process of being able to tell takes
a lot of beginning steps, listening to feedback, trying again and again until
the story becomes smooth. It is not a quick process. It takes sometime days and
weeks to get a story ready. Here are some ideas on how to proceed…
Learning the story
Some storytellers teach storytelling by
using the six-step method: Raising Voices:
Choose the story.
Read it aloud.
Create a storyboard or story map.
Now, put the printed story away. Visualize the story – use
all the senses while "seeing" the story. See the whole story through…don’t do
just the beginning over an over. Try to get through the story each time.
Tell in pairs, and then small groups, and then to the whole
group. Give Feedback (see below)
Prepare to tell in performance.
Encourage positive feedback from the
group. Harsh criticism at this age can squelch a child’s natural storytelling.
There are three main kinds of feedback
: Tell them
what worked…what you liked. Then, ask if they want some suggestions. Normally,
you can do this in front of the group so everyone learns. However, if there is
a major problem, try to do this privately, not in front of the others. Try
avoid saying things like, "I didn’t like way you said how Jack said…" Instead,
try this approach. "Tell me a little about Jack……Okay, Jack was very stubborn,
right? Now, say that line again."
questions the student can ask…What did I like about my performance? What do I
need to work on for my next performance? How did the audience respond as a
whole? What went over really well?
things the students need to think about before they make comments…
Is my question about the story?
Are there parts of the story that I don’t understand?
What parts of the story did I really enjoy? Why?
Describe the stories strong or weak points.
Comment about basic speech techniques:
make use of different voices for different characters and using the
Storytelling "V" - where you will shift your facing (or posture) as the
dialog switches from character to character. Use your voice to create the
atmosphere or tension as the story progresses. Project your voice whether
whispering or speaking loudly Use gestures and facial expressions add
much to the visualization of the story. Be sure they are appropriate and
natural. Practice them! Pacing involves both the volume and rate at which
you speak, and the progression of the action in the story. Dialog slows a
story's pace down, while narrating action speeds it up. Repetition and
Exaggeration have always been basic elements of story telling. Eye
contact – look out at your audience making contact with their eyes.
Ending the Meeting
Come together in a circle and discuss
what you did during the session. Reflect on what worked well or why something
work as well as it should have. Discuss ways to improve for next time.
Closing: have a little ritual – read a
poem or sing a song, thank group or individuals for their contributions, if
time, tell another story, turn off any special lighting, put the chair back and
Take out some books on starting a
storytelling club. You can find them at your library or order them from the
library. Amazon and other book sites have some terrific deals. Here are some
titles to get you started:
Mentorship: Setting up a one-to-one mentor with a
professional storyteller. Check with individual storytellers for availability
and prices. Here is a link for St. Louis tellers: http://www.stlouisgatewaystorytellers.org/finderindex.html
Ensemble Story Teaching:Where Students Learn and Tell
Together See -
Besides telling for you club members,
your students will want to continue telling stories. Here are some places for
them to think about:
Campfires – There’s nothing better to conjure up the night
spirits than by telling a story. Imaginations go wild!
Slumber parties – Be the hit of the party. Tell some urban
legends. Turn off the light and put a flashlight up to your face and tell a
short jump tale.
Classroom telling – Telling to your pals in front of
classroom can be daunting, but a good "how and why" story will add something
extra to a unit on Native America
Public Libraries – See if the children’s librarian will
work with you to provide space to tell to young children or to come in to tell
a story for a particular story time.
In the car – Going on a long trip and the DVD gets boring,
spice it up by telling a story in the round, that is stop the story and pass
the story on to the next person.
Family Gatherings – Some families are really into letting
their kids "show-off" in front of others. Be sure that the family takes the
story time seriously to avoid hurt feelings.
Babysitting – Gosh…you’ve got 4 hours with the same kids!
What to do! Aha! Tell that story you’ve been working on. Try to add some
participation to the story to keep them involved or have them put on a puppet
show afterwards…you’ll be surprised how much those little ones can remember.
Scouts – Many organizations either have a storytelling
badge or storytelling is a requirement for another badge. Tell at meetings,
Blue and Gold Banquets, campouts, and other activities.
Nursing Homes and Senior Centers – You will need some
experience here. You need a mic and to slow down for the seniors to understand
you. Keep the stories short, but they will love you for coming and giving them
some special time.
See if there is a local storytelling guild in your area and
see if they encourage youth to come to tell stories.
Youth Storytelling at storytelling concerts or