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Chapter 14     Teaching through Storytelling

Tips on Telling Stories to Groups of Small Children

1. Stories can't be appreciated unless the children have learned to listen. If you suspect that some of the children have had limited listening experience, go back a few steps and use action rhymes to draw them into the pleasures of listening. They are short and the promise of a punch line helps keep attention focused.

2. Often, when a child interrupts a story, the child is caught up in the story and is predicting what's going to happen next. Try to build the interruption right into the story: "Yes, that's just what she did. Goldilocks tasted a bit of Papa Bear's..." You can talk about the conventions of listening another time.

3. If a child interrupts the program by talking persistently about unrelated things to a neighbour, stop telling or reading, really look at the child or children and say, "I can't tell (or read or whatever) when you're doing that." Most of the time that is enough. It it's not, try moving one of the children. If there are other adults with the group, expect them to place themselves nearby and kindly but firmly insist on quiet so that the other children can listen. Other adults should also model good listening skills -- no talking or doing planning at the back of the room.

4. If the children are generally unsettled, consider the appropriateness of the story - is the language too difficult, the topic not of interest, the pictures or presentation not captivating enough.  Perhaps the children need extra preparation prior to hearing the story to help them to follow the language.

Stories can be anything from a short poem or rhyme to an epic tale such as "Lord of the Rings"  From a very early age,  everyone loves a good story. A good story, told by a creative storyteller will stay in one's memory for a lifetime. Stories often carry inbred lessons and these lessons last as well.  They can be recalled from time to time well into the future.

In our age of technology, resurgence in the field of storytelling seems to be happening. When was the last time someone told you a story?  Reading a story in a book is one form of storytelling and a wonderful experience everyone (especially students) should get into the habit of doing on a daily basis.  Before TV, people used to sit and listen to the radio where dramas unfolded. You had to use your imagination to fill in what you could not see.  Today, television presents stories but it fills in the visual details for you so you do not have to use your imagination.

Have you ever watched a skillful storyteller 'work' his or her audience? This is where the storyteller derives his greatest pleasure - that of watching the faces of his listeners. He may keep them spellbound, leading them from one emotion to another with rapt attention.

Storytelling is a skill you as a teacher can learn to master. There are many reasons for teachers of young children to use storytelling in their classroom.

Choosing Suitable Stories

It is important to select the right kinds of stories for your students - for their age and their comprehension level.

The first stories children tend to enjoy, at about the age of two, are simple pattern stories -- that is, stories in which the same thing happens over and over with an important change of detail each time. The Enormous Turnip, a Russian folktale retold in many collections and picture books, is a good example. The problem is how to get a huge turnip out of the ground; more and more people and animals are summoned to help one by one, but the turnip won't budge until a tiny mouse lends a hand. There are no great threats or exciting twists of plot here.

You can read or download the story of The Enormous Turnip from the following website:

Everyday puzzles and surprises are intriguing enough to little children. Often these stories allow children to participate in the telling -- perhaps making sound effects or joining in a chant or refrain -- and this, in turn, encourages them to listen closely. All of this is highly satisfying to small children.

As children get a little older and more experienced, at about two and a half to three years of age, they begin to enjoy stories in which the patterns are a little more complicated and the plots more exciting. The old nursery tales with their patterns of three begin to please, such as The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs.

Many of these stories are about little people dealing with the giants, trolls and wolves that confront them and finding their own places in the world. In symbolic language, they reassure children that eventually they, too, will grow big and wise enough to contend with the trials they face in their own lives.

The repeating of the pattern may seem boring to adults but to small children, to whom the world is new, each repetition allows them to compare their prediction of what is likely to happen with what really happens. As they reach four or five years of age, they will continue to enjoy folktales but will be ready for longer, more complex ones.

From about two and a half to three years of age, children often enjoy hearing stories about themselves when they were younger (last week included) and about their friends and families. "Tell me about the time...," they will say. You do not have to create a polished tale but try to add the colours and sounds, the rhetorical questions ("And what do you suppose they saw?") and the dramatic pauses that little children love.

Finding good stories to tell

Once you know the kind of story you are looking for, your task is narrowed down. But the only way to find a good story that is right for you is to go searching. Resource lists are helpful, like the one included with this article or in books on storytelling. The folktale section at the library is a good place to hunt. As you look, keep these points in mind:

1. A good story for telling does not spell out its meaning or describe how the characters feel in great detail. It describes what happens and leaves room for the listeners to imagine how the characters feel and to draw their own conclusions.

2. Do not be tempted to learn a story because it fits a theme. Tell only stories that you really like. They are the only ones you will be able to tell well.

3. It is worth noting that many folk and fairy tales were never intended for children. Make sure you choose traditional tales that address the concerns and interests of small children. The right folktales make for wonderful telling. They deal with what it is to be human and, in the process of being passed down orally from one generation to the next, they have been pared down to their luminous essence.

4. While some find modern literary stories for children tell well, many do not. Folktales are probably a better place to start until you develop a sense of what sort of language and plot work in telling.

5. Although a story may be appropriate for native speakers, you also have to consider whether it is appropriate for second-language learners.

6. Turn everyday situations into themes to weave into stories, as they occur.  Yes.  I want you to listen very carefully. Today my voice is very croaky and quiet.  I have to hold onto it very tightly and only let it out a little bit at a time, BECAUSE......Yesterday on my way home from work, my voice suddenly jumped out of my throat, ran away and hid under a car. I tried to call it to come back, but of course, I had no voice to make a sound!  My voice just stuck out its tongue and blew a raspberry at me.  So then...........Elt;/FONT>
Stories such as this can be easily acted out for better understanding,  and their mixture of fact and fantasy will entrance young listeners.

How to Learn a Story

Different storytellers use different techniques to learn their stories. Some read a story or listen to a story on a storytelling tape over and over and then practise telling it. Some record a story on tape and listen to it repeatedly. Others draw a map or diagram of the story, showing the main events and how they are related.

1. Look for the structure of the story -- how it starts, develops and ends. In stories appropriate for preschoolers, the patterns are simple and predictable. A story that seems long can be easy to learn because much of it is taken up with repeating patterns.

2. Read the story over, picturing it in my mind, until I think I know what happens. I tell myself the basic story, looking for the places where I stumble. Then I fill in the gaps.

3. Try to see the details of the story in your mind's eye as you tell it to yourself. Use other senses as well. If you can't imagine the story, you won't be able to convey it when you tell it.

4. Practice by telling the story to others -- friends, family and young children. The more often you tell it, the more polished it will get.

Telling Your Story

Work on developing your own style of storytelling.  Forget trying to imitate someone else whom you may admire. Some fine tellers are very quiet, others are highly dramatic. Some use different voices for their characters, others only change their tone. Be yourself.

If you feel very nervous, rely on your carefully considered beginning to get you underway. By the time you get to the body of the story, your pleasure in the story and your audience's pleasure will probably take over and carry you to the end.

If you suddenly can't remember what comes next, remember that you have spent a lot of time inside your story, making it something like a memory to be recounted. Drop back into that inner memory, find your place and you will be able to go on.

Make your story telling inter-active.  Be prepared to use props and other storytelling devices to help enhance the story and get your meaning across.  Keep a whiteboard marker in your hand to whip up a quick sketch (however bad) of that crucial word the kids dont understand.  Put on a face, a pose, a demonstration, or get into character.  Will your YELs understand;  EOne day an old, old woman was digging in her garden.E  They will if youve already drawn her garden and used your students suggestions to fill it with fruit and vegetables and flowers, then you hunch your back, hoist your skirt, pick up your spade and start digging.

Using this roughly tuned input, a simple story telling takes on the added dimension of teaching your students language as they listen.

How do children benefit from being told stories?

When someone simply tells a story, a direct connection is made between the teller and the listeners. Nothing comes between them. Eye contact is constant. The story comes straight from the teller's head and is told especially for the listeners. But the process is not one-way. The listeners' response feeds the teller who may well alter the story or how she is telling it accordingly. This experience is personal, direct and vital. It tends to engage even the most reluctant listeners and strengthen the relationship between the teller and the listeners.

This process is also very active compared, say, to watching TV. The TV viewer is handed plot and image in a fixed form which will not change no matter what his response. The listener, however, is given only the teller's words and must bring them to life in their own mind, based on their experiences. They must use their imaginations.

Stories can help children to come to a better understanding of life, society and the world around them. Stories are usually about some kind of conflict. Someone has a problem.  How the problem gets resolved becomes the plot f the story.

Finally, all of this contributes to the development of strong pre-literacy skills. Children with this sort of experience know that listening is worthwhile and that stories in many forms are enjoyable. They know that stories and rhymes have predictable structures and that you can play with them. For children with this knowledge and experience, learning to read and write is a natural next step, not a fearful one.

The best way to develop an appreciation of the value of storytelling is to try it yourself. You do not have to be a brilliant or experienced storyteller to tell well to small children. They are a forgiving and appreciative audience and your efforts will be rewarded.

Story telling also provides invaluable language and vocab enrichment.  Its a natural context for listening to newly acquired language, and gives a highly motivational reason for YELs to strive to understand slightly beyond their ability.

Encouraging Young Children to become Storytellers

Teachers of young children can help children to build skills as storytellers.  This will have many benefits for the children.

 - It gives them an opportunity to be creative

 - It lets them communicate their ideas and feelings

 - It is a chance for them to talk about experiences that are meaningful and relevant to them

 - It helps them to build self-confidence.

 - It aids them to get over a fear of talking in front of a group.

 - It helps them to build their vocabulary.

Here are some ideas for helping your students to become storytellers:

1. Photos are a meaningful way to enhance children's stories. For example, children can use a Polaroid camera to create their own storybook.  Photos can also be used to show what happens in the playroom on a typical day.

2. Children could also bring in pictures from home and talk about the picture, who is in it and whay it is special.

3. They could cut pictures out of magazines and make up stories to go along with the photos.  You might have to help them wuith text.

4. Pick a familiar big book that is a group favourite. Write the text on large pieces of construction paper and have the children create their own illustrations. Assemble the pages with a large ring and have each child read his/her own page. Keep the book in the book centre for easy reference or for reading to parents.

5. Four- and five-year-olds are just beginning to "get" jokes. Jokes are stories, as are rhymes. Stories don't always have to be epics. In fact, the shorter the better.  Remember how short an attention span young children have.

6. Story kits are a wonderful way to encourage reading and storytelling. Children can create their own adventures. Have the children create story kits using items found on nature walks or within the classroom. Put on a story time when several children are invited to tell his/her story kit to the class. The children might even like to perform their "bag stories" for parents at the end of the day.

An option is the takeaway storybag. You can let children take home their storybag to perform the story for their family.

7. Help children create their own props for dramatic play such as tickets for the bus, menus for the restaurant and prescriptions for sick babies, pictures.

8. Tell a "clothes-line" story, pinning up characters and key pieces of the story as you go along. After the story is finished, leave the props so that the children can experiment with them.

9. Invite parents and grandparents to share stories from their childhood. Perhaps a local elder can tell stories about your community. Set the scene by creating a special storytelling area.

Ninety to ninety-five per cent of what children learn by the time they are adults is not from books, school or church curriculum. Children learn by mirroring the most consistent patterns presented to them. They become what we are. We are the curriculum. Children are open to process, not always to content.

Storytelling is a powerful teaching method. In our classroom, we teach students how to convey concepts using process and guided imagery. The storyteller also takes advantage of this process orientation. The storyteller can use voice and gestures and act out the story for the enjoyment of the listener. The story is metaphoric as the storyteller creates alternate realities.

Education is more than facts. The meaning of education often isn't dealt with -- students may get an education, yet not understand the value of it or how to use it! The story as a processing tool helps give meaning to the learning.

Chapter 15
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