A Student Storytelling Day

February 16, 2011 at 9:10 am 4 comments

Yesterday was a good day.
Now let me just start by saying that this good day wouldn’t have happened without:

  • storyteller Lainie Levin(www.storytelling.org/levin), who recommended me for the job and stayed in touch and connected and involved the entire way
  • the PTO, who funded the project and the PTO liaison, who embraced the project
  • the principal of the school, who enthusiastically endorsed the project
  • the school librarian, who helped the kids with story selection
  • the teachers, who did everything I asked them to in advance of each of my visits
  • the kids, who showed up ready every time

What happened? What made it a good day?
Every — EVERY — student in grades 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 in the entire — ENTIRE — school told a story.
Starting with an assembly, I (re)introduced them to storytelling. Over the next 2 months, I was given the opportunity to meet with the kids and (1) mentor them thru story selection, (2) work on setting the words aside and focus on images thru storyboarding, (3) expose them to the possibility of using voice and dialogue, and (4) explore the use of facial expressions and simple gestures.
We practiced. We tried. We tried again.
Yesterday the 5th graders met with the 2nd graders, 3rd graders met with 1st graders, and 4th graders met with kindergarteners. Students sat knee to knee. The older student told their story to their buddy. A sincere and specific compliment — what they liked best — was offered by the younger student at the end of the telling. Then the younger student told to their buddy. Again, a sincere and specific compliment was offered by the older student. Then the older student stood, looked around the room for another student standing, they traded places, and the new storytelling duo began again. In the 30 minutes available, students told their stories about 4 times to 4 different partners. (kindergarteners did not learn a story, so that exchange was one way)
Listening in, the kids — some with more enthusiasm and confidence than others — added voice, dialogue, and a bit of facial expression or gesturing.
Listening in, the compliments offered were specific to what they’d been taught. “I liked the voice of the shoemaker.” “I liked the way the bear laughed.”
Listening in, I witnessed real compassion – every student knew what it had taken for their partner to get to this point. Their introductions, their deep listening, their leaning in all spoke to respect – for you, for your effort, for story.
Listening in, I could see the kids were serious about doing a good job. This was indeed a performance, what they’d been working toward. That sense of ‘this is it’ caused some of them to pull back on what they’d added during practice; some grew more inhibited telling to ‘a stranger’.
But they did it.
500 kids told stories.
In the evening Story Cafe, 30 kids came back to school to tell again – this time to a crowd. (They had signed up in advance.)
We went to 2 gorgeous, intimate rooms. Lainie MC’d one room; I took the other. The kids took a deep breath, stood in front of a microphone, and told to parents, siblings, and school mates. One 1st grade boy wore a white shirt and tie and with hands tucked into his pockets and a smile on his face, charmed us all. One 3rd grade girl wore a hat and her Sunday best, then told about the elves who made $50 shoes and the shoemaker and his wife who bought yellow and purple and pink and red fabric to make gorgeous clothes for the elves.
Two students, when  it was their turn to tell, asked, “Can I go later?”, and when ‘later’ arrived — now or never, we’re down to our last teller — they took a deep breath and did it. DID IT. Nervous, unsure, scared, heart pounding.  And in spite of all that, determined.
Walking out to my lone car in the parking lot last night all was quiet. The kids and parents were gone. The teachers and PTO were gone.
Just me.
My cup was running over.
This was huge. HUGE.
But …
No fireworks exploding overhead? No marching bands? No cheering crowds?
This was big, people. BIG.
Was I the only one who truly knew?
But …
Maybe not.
During the day there had been hugs and high fives from kids. There had been satisfied smiles and deep breaths of accomplishment.
And just moments before during the Story Cafe there had been Samantha, who had ‘passed’ twice. It was all just too scary for her. But with time running out, encouraged by enthusiastic applause from parents and kids, she nodded just once and walked to the front of the room.
When she told her story of The Tortoise and the Hare, when the tortoise kept repeating “I can do it. I can do it.”, we all knew Samantha had chosen her story well. We all knew she could do it; she could do it.
And now Samantha knew too.


Entry filed under: Just Do It -- Stories from the Field, Teaching Artist.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jacquie Sewell  |  February 16, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Kudos to you and all the students and everyone involved! What a wonderful day! The world and those children’s lives are so much richer now thanks to the power of story.

  • 2. Mike SP  |  February 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm


    Congratulations! I think your passion & devotion are contagious. Now you’ve got a school full of ‘carriers’ to be proud of.
    Bang, Seeeeeeeer, Fizzzzz, THOOM!! (Fireworks sounds)

  • 3. Debra Morningstar  |  February 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm


  • 4. Mim Braaten  |  May 31, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Wow, what a great experience. Your school must be so proud of you and the students. Those kids have increased self esteem and much more. Way to go!


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