Leading a “storytelling club” for local kids is a rewarding experience for the leader and participating kids.
Storytelling motivates the club’s kids to read more and better, thus enhancing their reading skills. It helps to develop their thinking and creative capacities, and builds their sense of empathy (concern for others), just to mention a few benefits. For the leader, it provides continuing opportunities to sharpen and improve the leader’s storytelling skills. And the interaction with kids provides a great learning opportunity, lessons that are valuable to anyone who works with youngsters.
For storytellers who might be considering the formation of such a club, I’ll briefly relate several storytelling-related exercises we use in my “Storytelling Club” -- a group of kids (usually from age 8 to 12) that have been meeting every week for the past 18 years at our local Boys and Girls Club. When a member becomes too old to be an active member, a younger lad or girl is ready to take over that spot. During the sessions I tell stories, the kids tell stories, and we all participate in a variety of fun and educational exercises.
These activities could be practiced by parents, teachers, librarians – anyone interested in working with and helping kids. Here are a few specific exercises:
1. Continuing stories
I will start a story, then ask kids to complete it right off the top of the young heads. Kids love this activity, and usually every one of them wants to share a personal version of how the story might progress. Some want to add two or three alternate versions as they think about it. But I usually limit it to one per kid, for the sake of controlling time expended for that activity.
These are often story beginnings I make for the express purpose of creating a good launching pad for the youngsters using their imaginations to think up and tell the remaining portion of the story. However, in some cases I’ll tell a classic story – perhaps a folktale or fable – and ask for volunteers to come up with a completely different type of conclusion. Sometimes that results in very creative ideas, even better than the original story, in my opinion.
2. True-false stories
The youngsters are invited to tell a very short story -- up to 2 minutes -- that must be totally true or totally false. The group then votes on whether they think it was true or false. Some of these short stories are very convincingly told in a way that leads the group to believe it’s true when actually false – or false when true. This is their challenge, and after a few times as the storyteller they become skilled at telling their story convincingly.
Most of the participating young tellers relate a true story. As others in the group tell their stories, they think of experiences in their lives they want to focus on in their turn as a teller. And it’s often quite obvious the story is from real life. But after some experience, they think up some very creative “false” stories and tell them as if true.
3. Progressive stories
We go around the group with each participating youngster providing a brief segment of a progressing story. It follows a “good news/bad news” sequence. One segment must be good news for the principal character. That’s followed by a bad news segment ... then a good news segment ... etc.
As with the “continuing story,” I will provide the beginning of a story, just enough to establish a basic plot and ending with a definite good news or bad news event. Then, one by one, the kids provide segments. They begin with a statement like, “That was the good news, but here’s the bad news.” Or “That was the bad news, but here’s the good news.”
4. Picture/object stories
I will show the kids a large picture that could relate to many kinds of stories. I then ask them to individually make up a story about what they see in the picture. The same thing could apply to an object shown to the kids, or a fixture in the room, or something seen through the window. It’s amazing how quickly and creatively children can be in constructing a storyline tied to the visual object.
5. Telling a past story
I will ask for volunteers to tell a story that was told during our last storytelling session. I may offer a small prize for the youngster who remembers and tells the story best. I always have many volunteers for this challenge. They often remember small details in the story better than I remembered them. The same exercise could involve stories told a month or two in the past.
6. Famous adage stories
The youngsters are asked to create a story based on some famous adage. They are given a few examples, such as “All that glitters is not gold” or “A stitch in time saves nine.” Their storyline can go in any direction their imaginations may take them, but it must in some way be based on an adage.
7. Personality stories
Stories are formed around a particular personality well known by the youngster. This could be a teacher, parent, relative, close friend – anyone known by the child. The story can be true, partially true or totally fictitious, but must reflect the personality and characteristics of the targeted person.
8. Wordless stories
I will tell a short action-packed story, then ask volunteer kids to relate the same storyline, but without using words. They can use any gesture, movement, grunts -- anything but words. At first, this boggles their minds. They have never before given thought to relating a story without the use of words. But then those creative juices start to flow and they often come up with very effective ways to communicate the story.
In some cases, I will tell them to pretend they are living back in the era of cave dwellers before languages were developed. I will then set the stage for a very simple scenario and let the kids take it from there.
In some cases, the young person creates the no-word scene strictly on their own. Following the no-word presentation, other kids then relate the story in words, as they understood it from the no-word scenario. These exercises are not only fun, they also give youngsters a new appreciation of the spoken word.
Oral storytelling is increasingly popular with all age groups, including adults. But kids receive the richest rewards from this age-old communications art form. It’s up to adults to give them this opportunity.
Jim Woodard, lives in Ventura, Calif. He has presented hundreds of storytelling programs at schools, libraries and other venues. He started storytelling while working as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebr. He can be reached by phone – 805-647-2720. E-mail: Storyjim@aol.com. He has a website: www.jimwoodard.net.