Tell Me A Story!

31 Aug

Welcome to Monday’s Muse! Every Monday morning of the school term in 2014, Write Away With Me posts an open ended writing and/or storytelling activity that you can try with your class or your children at home.

After a recent storytelling workshop, a young teacher stopped me and asked, “How do you get the kids to listen to you like that? You had them … mesmerised.”

Now let’s face it, children these days can be a tough audience to impress. They’re accustomed to a continuous stream of instant high tech infotainment. At any one time, they’ll be listening to an ipod, watching T.V and/or playing on their ipad. Sometimes all at once. But the latest research shows that this constant multitasking makes it difficult for children to focus their attention on a single outcome. (No kidding!) And all too often, children are passive participants in these activities, so the opportunity to think creatively and activate their imagination may be limited.

So why then, is something as simple as storytelling, so engaging?

The teacher who described the effect of storytelling as ‘memerising’ was pretty close to the truth. A great story simultaneously engages a child’s physical, mental and sensory channels. When a child is immersed in a story, they are not only interpreting complex information, they are visualising it, they are feeling it. And if the immersion is deep enough, they can momentarily lose track of time and ‘travel’ to a different space. Their eyes open wide. They start to imitate the teller’s facial expressions. Their breathing slows a little. They hang on every word. The storyteller also experiences this change of energy. The story itself may be fictional but the storytelling experience shared by both the teller and the listeners, is very real. And just a little bit magical…

So if a child is actively listening and I have their undivided attention, storytelling can become a powerful teaching tool?

Yes definitely – there’s only one condition really. For all this valuable learning to take place, the listener must feel connected to the teller. In a busy classroom, I think we sometimes underestimate the importance of giving the children our full attention but storytelling demands this of us. It snaps us right back to the present moment. Before I begin telling a story, I gather the children around me so I see each of their faces, especially their eyes. I tell them there is an invisible string the reaches from their eyes to mine and that the story travels along this string to them and their feelings travel back to me. This exchange is exactly why storytelling builds trust and creates community. Sharing stories connects us to each other. And to think that all this can take place in a classroom or home with no costly resources or special high tech gadgets. No gimmicks at all really. Just you, the kids and a story. Okay, want to get started?

Here are three quick storytelling possibilities you can try today:

• Children love to hear stories about their teachers and parents. Think back to what it was like to be the same age as the students you teach. Tell them what life was like for you. How have things changed? What games did you play? Who were your friends? What pets did you have? Did you know any funny characters? Let them ask questions. Your personal stories will creep out of the crevices of your memory and come to life right before your eyes.

• Find an extended joke that has a beginning, middle and an end so it’s easy to remember. You’ll have them not only listening but laughing along with you. On second thoughts, better find a couple of jokes – guaranteed they will want an encore.

• Re- tell a favourite fairy tale, folk tale or a fable. These stories live in our memory and can be easily adapted and extended to suit your audience.

Interested in reading more? Check out these blog posts and our Pinterest boards relating to storytelling!

After 25 years teaching experience, from Early Childhood to VCE, Beth Cregan combined her passion for books, writing and storytelling to launch ‘Write Away With Me’. Now in its fourth year, Write Away With Me offers a wide range of original and creative storytelling and writing workshops across Victoria. Our high energy workshops cover a wide range of writing styles/genres and a flexible approach, means it’s possible to tailor the experience to match the needs of your students and your school. Interested in booking a workshop for your class? Check out the range of storytelling and writing workshops today! Workshops for secondary classes and Professional Development programs are also popular.

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