Stories! Imagination! Joy!

Rekindle the art of storytelling through imagination and oral tradition.

By Linda Fitzsimmons Pierce

Kids sitting in a circle around their teacher

“We are all storytellers. It’s been going on as long as there have been people…” Jane Treat.

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover, Bastille Day, and all of the special days that are celebrated around the world have one thing in common: their traditions have been passed to the next generation through stories. Just how cool is that? Your students will love sharing their own stories, as well as studying the origins of some special occasions. 

Everyone is a Storyteller 

When you really think about it, all of us are storytellers. Daily, we tell stories with characters, settings, plots, climaxes, and resolutions. Here's an example of a first grader's recounting of an incident on the playground.

Pay attention to the key transition words that are a part of most verbal narratives:

"Jessica and I (characters) were playing on the monkey bars (setting). Then (transition and sequencing) Trevor and Dylan (characters) came up and took over the bars (problem). They are so mean to us sometimes (character development). So, (transition and sequencing) we went and told Mrs. Adams. She doesn't listen to us most of the time (character development). This time, (transition and sequencing) she did! (further character development and resolution) She told the boys to sit on the bench until the end of recess. I hope they don't do it again." (lesson hopefully learned)

Storytelling is natural. Take some time to pair up your learners. Instruct them to tell one short story to each other. Limit the time by setting a timer for five minutes per person. Let them know when they have one minute left so that they can end their stories properly. You will be fascinated with the natural sequencing that you will hear as they talk. Then, allow those children who would like to re-tell their partner's story to do so. Boom! Immediate results. Everyone sees the beginning of the storytelling process. It's really simple.

Rumor Has It

Ask the partners if the re-tellings were accurate. If not, it's your time to point out that stories can be changed through the telling over time. For example, point out that Halloween began as a pagan tradition to get rid of evil thoughts, feelings, ghosts and goblins on the night before Catholics celebrate All Saints' Day. Because the saints were considered holy, Halloween was originally called All Hallow's Eve. Explain that hallowed means holy. Thus, over time, All Hallow's Eve was changed to Halloween.

Talk about how stories can also be changed in negative ways with re-tellings. Take this opportunity to talk about the meaning of the word rumor. Discuss the importance of re-telling stories as accurately as possible so that the character of other people is not damaged. Ask your pupils if they know the meaning of the word character. Take some time to talk about the difference between a character in a book and this other meaning of character.

Inspire Imagination 

After attending a reading conference in Denver in 2011, I was inspired by a woman named Jane Treat. She is a storyteller and proponent of the important art of storytelling. She offered many ideas for inspiring children to find joy through reading, listening,and imagining with stories.

Imagination was the crux of Treat's presentation. She pointed out that researchers have released information citing that when one reads, he is using his imagination. For example, she knew an eight-year-old boy who seemed to care only about sports.  He discovered imagination when he went to the Renaissance Fair. Thus, he began to broaden his interests by checking out books about knights and jousting. "Stories are how we frame our world," Treat said. "When we attach meaning to stories, we hook people."

Treat worries that kids are losing the joy of reading, that they are getting burned out with it...SO she endeavors to generate a huge amount of fun connected to books, stories, and learning. For instance, she encourages teachers to have their students draw their own images as stories are read to them. Our culture's emphasis on testing often causes kids to lock up at the idea of imagining and illustrating. They are afraid that they will draw the wrong picture.  It is wonderful when you can bring them to the understanding that since books don't tell them details, their own imaginations are right!  

Impart Age-Old Wisdom

We can enchant, delight, frighten, and inspire with reading and storytelling. We can also impart age-old wisdom through stories. Immerse your students in the past by having them research the contribution of stories to cultural and religious celebrations. Allowing them to choose the holiday or celebration they want to research will heighten their interest and excitement. They can use this research as a basis for storytelling. Each learner can orally present a re-telling of one of the cultural stories they researched, or make one up based on the information they found. Either way, they can experience passing on accumulated wisdom, beliefs, and values or explaining how or why things are the way they are. 

More Lessons:

Australian Aboriganal Art and Storytelling

Your class will learn about the Aboriginal storytelling tradition through the spoken word and through visual culture. They will have the opportunity to hear stories of the Dreamtime told by the Aboriginal people, as well as to investigate Aboriginal storytelling in contemporary dot paintings.

The Importance of Storytelling

This resource shows how African Americans escaping slavery used storytelling to communicate. Writing stories to be passed on is emphasized to the class using the "Reading Rainbow: Follow the Drinking Gourd" video and/or reading the book by Jeanette Winter.

A Storytelling Festival

Learners hear examples of stories from various cultures. Writing and re-telling their own creations top off this unit.