The Art and Struggle of Storytelling

Some of the central questions to narrative study are: why do we tell stories, what can we learn from them about ourselves and others, and what makes a story relevant and engaging?  Throughout this week, a number of teachers explored these questions as they began narrative units, and some utilized a storytelling strategy designed by Kevin Cordy (a professor from Dominican University and a professional storyteller).  In the activity, students begin to explore narrative through the art of storytelling.  I saw three variations on the strategy that all had strengths.

The first one was used by Melissa Larisch.  She began the lesson by going over norms for group work.


Then, students were grouped in sets of five and given the list of prompts.  They had two minutes to tell a story of his or her choice, and after each one, there was a one minute period of positive feedback.  She also used the timer suggested by Eric Koch on his list of “helpful resources” sent out last week to keep time for transitions. The next day, the students rehashed the activity and identified areas of struggle.

Renee Jackson used the same list of prompts, but instead grouped students and had them complete the following two activities:

1.  Discuss what makes a good movie or story.

2.  Write the beginning to your own story of choice and be prepared to share with your group members.

Renee focused on the idea of a beginning to a story that would make the reader want to read the rest.  After all of the groups had time to share with one another, then they picked the favorite and read it to the rest of the class aloud.

Dave Watros and Diana Glanzman paired two students to share a story aloud, and each person got to pick the prompt that they wanted to hear from their partner.  Then, after they shared, they moved on to a another partner, and told the same story to a new person.  As homework, students wrote about what they learned from the activity.  The next day they shared what they learned in groups and also shared what they learned about themselves from the activity.

When Dave and I circulated to talk to students in groups, the things they learned were really interesting.  While some cited specific elements of others’ lives, others discussed the the varying degrees of truth or the range of creativity of their peers.

One of the challenges that the teachers identified for students was the ability/confidence to share stories with one another.  Public speaking, especially combined with narrative, may be a novel skill for many high school students.

However, this activity does introduce students to later speaking and listening standards.  It also introduces the concept of narrative through exploring storytelling.  One element that seemed to be really important in the activity was the ability to reflect on the experience and examine the skills required and how the struggles faced could be overcome.  It might even be a good idea to chunk this activity over a couple of days with short stints each day (maybe a warm up the first five minutes of class?) with a rehash each time to see what students learned about narrative and public speaking through the activity.

Here is a copy of the story prompts these teachers used: Storytelling Scavenger Hunt.


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