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The Art of Storytelling – Part 2

5 Ways to Improve Your After School Storytelling

Storytelling in the purest sense of the word is the tradition of oral narrative. It is timeless entertainment and education shared by the relating of a story. As after school educators you are front line to use storytelling simultaneously for both purposes. If you want to try storytelling I will outline a few tips to help you get comfortable and engage your listeners.

1. Know your story. Know it inside out and upside down. So for an example let’s choose the Three Little Pigs. Most of us could tell that in a pinch without much thought. If you did tell it, would it be riveting to students? When you are ready choose another story, read it several times. Become very familiar with it. Get all the characters straight in your mind and the story sequence.

2. Now envision the story in your mind. See those little porkers waddling down the dusty dirt road?  The first piglet stopped as soon as he saw a place to build a house. It was not far from momma, it was not far from school, it was not far from afterschool. (The number three is very important in story, 3 wishes, 3 pigs, 3 visitors in the night) Tell your students exactly what you see in your mental movie. Give them story sights, feelings, smells, weather, clothing… anything. Of course you don’t need it all at every moment, their little minds will be busy making their own movie.

3. The Big Bad Wolf, here he comes and the children know it. Be aware it might scare a little one – watch their faces. Be sure to assure them if they are frightened that the story is just a story. Your Big Bad Wolf can be different than any other. It’s great to create a character that surprises the listeners. Could the Big Bad Wolf be a girl, have a different accent, can it drive a pink car, fly in on a drone, wear high heels, have a big deep voice, speak with a French accent? Yes your Big Bad Wolf can be as crazy as you want.

4. Voices, yes I hear voices. The voices in my head are not a symptom but are a relevant tool in my storytelling toolbox. I imagine what I think a character might sound like. Is the voice low and slow, high and squeaky. Voice creates a reality in your telling and helps listeners keep track of the story progression. It also helps keep their attention and we are always working on that! The trick is to practice the voice often enough that you remember it each time the character speaks. Don’t worry as you are learning you will see storytelling can be very forgiving. Students may call you on it, “That wasn’t what he sounds like!” You can be honest and say, I’m learning the story, thanks for reminding me, then repeat the line with the right voice. There is a great lesson for kids there in making mistakes and working through them.

5. Move, motion is an example and can illustrate a story point. There is a fine line when it can be too much. You don’t need to leave your space, if standing, or even your chair. If a bird flies over you should look up. When the wolf bangs on the door you need to pretend to bang on a door. The motions of our body fill in language the students hear. Kids love things like shaking with fear, ask to see how they would shake with fear (remind them not to burst anyone else’s body bubble); let them join you in putting motion into the story. “Not by the hair on my chiny chin chin,” said the pig. You better rub your chin on that one. From these examples you can imagine how much vocabulary can be introduced and reinforced through storytelling.

Now you can extend the story into a lesson or activity.

Here are some suggestions:

● Students can do an art piece of a story image.

● Be house builders, with pieces of drinking straws, popsicle sticks and Lego bricks. Whose house can withstand wolf wind? Now we have taken a literacy activity and turned it into a STEM lesson too.

● Have the student retell the story. Retelling helps students learn story sequencing, a precursor to good writing.

● Relax, have a good time as you begin storytelling. If you are looking for more help the CT Storytelling Festival is April 26-27, 2019 at Connecticut College in New London. 


Carolyn Stearns is a professional storyteller and Site Coordinator for EASTCONN Community Arts Connection.


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