January 31, 2017
Close the Book: Storytelling for Children
We hear them, we read them, we write them, we create them. Stories are a huge part of what it means to be human – they form our past, contribute to our present and pave our way to the future. Ordinary or fantastical, light-hearted or life-changing, storytelling is personal, varied, and can be a wonderful teaching tool within the classroom.
But it’s all too easy to conflate ‘storytelling’ with ‘storytime’, where everybody sits in a nice, neat group to listen to a book reading. Storytelling is so much more than that. It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s evolving and it’s limitless.
Pioneered by the Society for Storytelling (SFS) 17 years ago, National Storytelling Week is an opportunity for us all to wax lyrical. Whatever the format, whatever the age, whatever the genre – tell a story! And where possible, break away from that stereotype that a story must be read. SFS actively promotes oral storytelling, believing that “face to face gets much more across than the dip and dunk of hurdling over the text in a book”.
Detaching storytelling from ‘reading books’ can seem scary, but it needn’t be. All you need to start a story is an idea – a single idea – and as soon as you have it, multiple avenues of possibilities begin to unfurl in front of you.
Within schools, this approach is particularly delightful. Never underestimate the imaginations and storytelling abilities of young people, who seem to understand better than anyone that the words “tell us a story” needn’t be feared, but instead hold a million possibilities.
One Day has a selection of storytelling games we love to play within schools, which are excellent at getting imaginations firing and stories flowing. Try one of these with your class and see what adventures you can create and tell together. Remember, when it comes to telling stories, anything is possible – that means there are no wrong answers and, blissfully, no pressure!
1, 2, 3: What are we going to be?
A fantastic call-and-response game that encourages children to develop characters and use body language to begin to tell a story. Get the children to walk around the room naturally in any direction. You shout “1, 2, 3!” and in return they stop and call “What are we going to be?!” The answer is up to you! Perhaps you want to give them an emotion, a character or an action. Whatever you choose, the children must then continue moving around the room but using their bodies to physically convey the word(s) you gave them.
Stories can go anywhere and include anything. This game shows off how storytelling does not fit in a single format and can sometimes take unexpected turns! Sitting in a circle, start off the game by saying “Once upon a time …” – it is then up to the children to add a single word to the story, one-by-one. Keep going round until a full(ish!) story has emerged. Each and every child has the opportunity to influence the story, while still having to work within the confines set by preceding answers. This is communal storytelling, and the result is an often weird and wonderful story which every child has ownership of.
This flexible game gets children creating scenes using their bodies – stories can be seen, just as well as they can be heard! The exact format is up to you, but essentially you divide your class into small groups, giving them each a still scene which they must create using their bodies. They can all contribute towards a single scene (e.g. Cinderella on her way to the ball – one group can be a forest, another can be the carriage, another can be the castle in the distance etc) or it can be different scenes from within the same story. It’s always great fun to finish with one BIG team statue (e.g. the giant from the BFG!), where everybody must work together.
Sometimes storytelling is just a simple, seated affair – and that’s fine too! But it’s always possible to add to the tale and get everybody involved by creating sounds to the story as you go. Creaking doors, the pitter patter of rain, cackling laughter, fading footsteps – stories contain umpteen opportunities to get noisy! Share your story and allow time for your class to imagine the sounds within and deliver them altogether.
Building stories around props, physical improvisations and freeze frames are additional ways to bring storytelling to life at home or in the classroom. Wherever you are, remember that stories hold a lot of wonder, influence and joy – and often come straight from the heart. Storytelling is a special tool for learning, and as SFS say themselves “the web of stories [is] spun with sufficient magic between the breath of the teller and the ear of the listener”.
Love Ruth and the One Day team x