The Art of Storytelling
- Grades: 6–8
The arts are essential in education for they provide students with the means to think, feel, and understand the world around them in ways unique and distinct from other academic disciplines. These skills have been recognized as essential to lifelong success both in and out of school.
- Various children's picture books
- Copies of favorite student family stories
- Storytelling rubric
Set Up and Prepare
Each year, several students from our campus are chosen to go to an elementary school and read a story to a class. Many of my students are very quiet or shy and most would prefer not to read orally in front of their peers. I prepare my students for this task by introducing the art of storytelling.
I start the process by telling a familiar children's story, such as the story of "Hansel and Gretel." It's easy to take for granted that all children know the story, and yet many of my students have never heard of it. So I tell the story just like I use to tell my first graders. I use gestures, props, and make eye contact. I try to make it as exciting as I can. Some of my students really enjoy it, while a few will act like your "typical middle-schoolers."
Then I tell them they will have one week to tell a story to the class. After many groans and moans, I give them the specifics. They can either choose a children's book or they can tell a story that has been passed down through their family. I tell them to focus on the following areas:
- Speak with an appropriate volume so everyone can hear the story.
- Make sure to pronounce their words and to use expression.
- Use gestures, props, etc. to make the story come alive
- Make eye contact with the audience
- Use different voices for the characters
- Learn your story well enough to keep their interest
Next, I allow them to look through all the books on my shelf to see if they can find one that interests them. For those that cannot find one, they are allowed to go to the library to find a book. I tell them to practice reading their book several times at home for homework.
The next day, I go to each student's desk and have them read their story out loud to me while the others are practicing reading their story to a partner. During this time, I only give a couple of suggestions on ways to improve their reading - I try not to be too critical or they will get discouraged. If I don't have time to listen to everyone the first day, I use the second day to listen to the rest of the students. Each night their homework is to practice reading to every member of their family, or neighbors, or in front of a mirror.
These are some of the "helps" I give my students to learn their stories:
- Write down the events of the story, usually no more than five
- Practice telling the story using a variety of volume and pace
- Decide how to begin the story and end the story
- Practice, practice, practice
- Have fun telling your story
On the fourth day, I give each student a skills checklist:
- Knows the story _____
- Uses expression______
- Uses gestures_____
- Uses different voices for the characters_____
- Story was enjoyable to listen to_____
I have them tell their partner their story instead of reading it, using index cards. When they are finished, the partner fills out the skills checklist. Then the partner and the storyteller discuss what would help them make their story more interesting. Then the partners switch and repeat the process.
If needed, I have students make their props for homework or use some class time the next day. For those students that do not need time to make props, I ask them get into groups of 3-4 students and each take turns telling their story to the other students. Encourage constructive feedback from each group. You will need to walk around and listen and make notes on who needs improvement and acknowledge those that have made significant improvement.
Supporting All Learners
Use your own judgment on when the majority of the class is ready to present. You may need to plan on two to three class days for final presentations. You might consider giving a few a second chance, if they do not do well the first time.
Since the beginnings of cultural history, people have been passing on knowledge through the speaking/listening process of storytelling. Storytelling across the curriculum makes subject areas come to life when narrative is introduced. Use storytelling techniques and processes to explore concepts such as science mysteries and abstract thinking in math.
As far as grading, I usually use some type of checklist or rubric. I have included several resources for you to peruse
The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story by John Walsh
A story outline for students that need this type of support:
Online story resources and websites, storytellers, and associations devoted to the art of storytelling:
A great lesson plan on cultural storytelling:
A storytelling skills rubric to use to assess the performance effectiveness of a storyteller:
Collection of folktale plots for student retelling:
I feel storytelling gives students more confidence in their reading ability and in public speaking. It also encourages listening skills by the audience. As far as grading, I usually use some type of checklist or rubric. I have included several resources for you to peruse.