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Classroom Telling: The Gift of Story
By: Staff at

A Storytelling Activity for 4th-6th Grade Children
(Written by Beverly Burton)

The mechanics of the story

I created the old “box-in-a-box-in-a-box” trick. I used a large, white, unwrapped gift box with a very colorful curled ribbon on top. Inside this box I placed a box covered with an ivy and vine-print wrapping paper. It’s important to note that only the lids of the boxes were wrapped, thus allowing for easier access and retellings. The next box was wrapped with very “old-fashioned” paper. Inside this box I placed the smallest box, made of gold foil and tied with a simple gold ribbon. The box contained an old skeleton key found at the one hundred year old home of my husband’s grandparents. The key was wrapped in gold tissue paper.

You can imagine the kids’ curiosity from the minute they saw the large white box. Of course they thought I had brought cupcakes, after all, I had told them the day before that I would have a surprise for them the next day! As I told the story, they caught on very quickly that the next “thing” inside would be another box. However, because of the impact of this story, they came back to school for several days with many oral and written stories to share that they had heard for the first time in their lives! When ten year olds are excited to tell a story about a great-great-aunt who rode a train to town buy new clothes, a grandfather who served in World War II, or a father who learned the lesson of honesty the hard way, you listen! And everyone certainly learns!

“The Gift of Story”

Your life is like this box. But this box is very plain. Your life is not plain, but you have so much more living and learning to do, just like this box could use some paper. But look at the ribbon--it’s very colorful. This ribbon can tell a story about your life. (Hold up any combination of colors of the ribbon.) Perhaps you have a cool purple and yellow bicycle. Do you remember when you learned to ride it? Did you have bumps and bruises? Or, perhaps you liked to wear ribbons in your hair when you were a little girl, like these pink and white ones. Have you ever been in a wedding wearing ribbons in your hair and a beautiful dress? What was it like watching the wedding? Just what is a wedding?! (Other ideas to provoke memories: Cub Scouts-blue and gold, holiday celebration-red and green, etc.) Think about some special times in your life.

Now let’s see what’s inside the box. (I let a child lift the lid off; this makes it more fun for all of us!) Well, it’s another box. But this box is very different from the first box. If the first box is your life, whose life do you think this box represents? (There will be many different responses, and they may not have caught on just yet. But there may be a very precocious child that chimes right in with: “My parents!”) This box represents the lives of your parents. Look at the vines that cover the box. These vines curl and wind all around. Your parents’ lives are like that. They have lived through their infancy, childhood, adolescence (or teen-age years), young adult-hood, and some may even be over forty! They have done so many things in their lives. Can you think of a something that they’ve shared with you that happened to them when they were your age? Have they ever told you a story about it? Ask them what it was like without roller blades? What kind of skates did they have? Find out what kind of cereal they ate! What was their favorite game to play?

(I do not allow the children to share their stories at this time, although many have already forgotten this request and have begun to wave their arms frantically over their head. I ignore them, at least for now! The excitement grows, they all want to remove the next lid, and they all know, of course, that the box inside will represent their grandparents.)

I knew that you would all know whose lives this box represents. It’s your grandparents of course! Look closely at the paper. It’s very simple. Sometimes people think that times were very simple when your grandparents were your age. Most of them didn’t have televisions until they were older, maybe even grown. Most of them had to grow their own food, do their own canning of vegetables, and cook from “scratch”. Most of them had only one car in the family, and some didn’t even have a car! If they wanted to go to another city they probably rode a bus over two-lane roads. Boy, those things do seem very simple in this world of computers, frozen dinners, microwave ovens, and interstate highways! But if you talk to your grandparents they will tell you that they had to work hard on farms, in cotton mills, and in their homes too! That’s what I want you to do—talk to them! Find out what life was like for them. Do they remember spending time with their grandparents--your great-great grandparents?

(Of course by now someone will have volunteered that the next box will represent their great-grandparents. As the previous lid is removed to display the small gold box, the children grow confident in their answer.)

This box represents all of your family who lived before you--your aunts, uncles, great-grandfathers, great-great grandmothers! All of the stories that someone special in your life can tell you about these people are a gift! They are a gift of your heritage.

(As I discuss the meaning of family heritage and how stories can be a gift, I let one child untie the gold ribbon and another lift the lid from the box. The suspense of just what is inside the gold tissue is evident by the sudden quiet that has enveloped the room. All that is left to do is to unwrap the object in the box. The child who is given this great task is honored!)

What is this? (I let the children answer!) An old key? What would an old key have to do with families, heritage, and stories? You would be amazed at the number of children who caught on!)

Yes! Stories are the key to your family heritage! These stories can be unlocked, shared, and enjoyed--just by telling them! Now go home and ask your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, and uncle; whomever you can talk to! Find out about your family!!!

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C. 2002 Beverly Burton has a B.A. Early Childhood Education and is a storyteller in North Carolina. Her Web site:

Author Information:
Name: Staff at
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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