My mother-in-law is highly involved in the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival here in Orem, Utah. She had a meeting for the festival today and asked me to meet up with her. While I was there, I met a sweet lady named Tamara who travels to elementary schools teaching children the art of oral storytelling. I told her I was a private Speech-Language Pathologist practicing here in Orem, Utah, and that I was interested in the art of storytelling. She began telling me about the changes she sees in children after learning techniques of storytelling; how they exhibit more self-assurance, learn proper oratory and presentation skills, and are less afraid of speaking in front of an audience. These techniques continue to be invaluable throughout their lives. As I sat there listening to her, I thought to myself, I would love to teach these techniques to my students who stutter! And then I thought, why stop there? I would love it if all my students with language disorders learned these techniques!
Now, we already know that it is critical for children to learn how to tell a basic story. Unfortunately, this task is very difficult for many of our speech kiddos. Nearly all of my language students have a storytelling goal. But the big epiphany happened when I thought about teaching my students the art of storytelling in addition to story fundamentals (ie: sequencing, plot, characters, main idea, problem, etc). The art of oral storytelling incorporates techniques children struggling with speech and language need to learn anyway (good eye contact, poise in front of an audience, use of appropriate voice, proper pacing, etc). I quickly realized teaching kids to become storytellers rather than simply learning to tell stories could make all the difference! They could learn several critical skills in a highly engaging and entertaining way!
So, I decided to do a little research to find out exactly how to teach children to become good storytellers. I found this great website that gives session by session instructions on how to teach children to become good storytellers. There’s a TON of stuff on the website, so I’ll just discuss the main points here. Feel free to peruse the website for more detailed information. Obviously, everything I’ve listed will take several practice sessions and will need to be adjusted to meet the needs of your child or student. At the end of each “session” homework should be given to ensure the children are practicing their stories.
To become a good storyteller, students must learn the following:
1. Learn what a good storyteller is/does through example and observation. You can display a bit of talent yourself, or you can go to this YouTube link and show the children examples of professional storytellers. Your choice. 🙂
2. Explain why we learn to tell stories:
- So that people remember us after we die
- Entertain others
- Teach lessons
- Earn money. Some people tell stories for a living.
3. Introduce voice projection and proper “belly breathing” techniques:
- Explain the importance of voice projection when speaking in front of an audience.
- Teach the physiological process of speaking. This would be a great time to use the FREE Speech Helper’s Ebook from Home Speech Home.
- Teach them proper breathing techniques. Teach them how to speak from their diaphragm. You can have them lay on the floor with a book on their belly and have them practice breathing through their diaphragm. If they are breathing correctly, the book will move up and down. Have them feel the difference of breathing and not breathing through their diaphragm by feeling their throats when they speak.
4. Introduce story sequencing by using picture story cards. Choose a story and make simple picture cards depicting the sequence of the story. Tell the children the story and have them practice rearranging the cards in sequential order.
5. Let the children pick a book. It is important that the child choose their own book so that they feel a sense of ownership over the story. The website contains a Bibliography of tried and true storytelling books for children. Here are some pointers they give for choosing a good book:
A good book for storytelling will:
- Have a clear beginning, middle, and end
- Have short, simple, and straightforward text
- Contain repetitive phrases where the audience can join in (ie: “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll BLOW your house down!”)
- Play on basic human emotions
A bad book for storytelling will:
- Depend on illustrations to help tell the story
- Contain a lot of text with a lot of dialogue
- Contain lots of symbolic language that makes it difficult for a child understand and/or rephrase in their own words
6. Introduce Character Mapping. Character Mapping involves describing a character’s characteristics using word webs. Have the children identify the main characters of their story and create word webs using words the describe each of their characters.
7. Have the children memorize the first and last lines of their story. Storytelling isn’t about memorizing, but knowing the first and last lines gives the children confidence that they know how to begin and end their stories.
8. Teach children how to speak with expression. The website describes a fun game that you can use to illustrate this concept. First, have each child count from 1 to 10 in a monotone voice. Then, have each child practice counting from 1 to 10 with different vocal expressions. For instance, they could count like a toddler just learning to count, count like an angry parent, count like you were dropping pennies into a penny bank one by one, etc.
9. Teach use of different facial expressions. The website suggests using a game called “Pass the Face.” Everyone sits in a circle, and one person makes a facial expression. They show the group, then show their expression to their neighbor. The neighbor makes that expression, then makes an expression of their own. Play continues around the circle.
10. Teach the children to use body language. You can teach this by playing pantomime games. The website provides three game examples, but I like the following two:
Game 1: Catch It! Everyone stands in a circle. A player calls another player’s name and yells an object (ie: dirty sock, hairy spider, birthday present, etc). The “catching” player “catches” the object and makes appropriate body language and facial expressions.
Game 2: Walk the Walk. Have the children walk across the room pretending different scenarios. For example, walking through snow, walking home from school knowing chores are waiting, walking barefoot in the desert, etc.
11. Discuss pauses and volume in storytelling. Ask the children to identify parts in their story where it is best to talk in a slow whisper with a scared fast, or talk fast and loud with an excited face, etc.
12. Help the children create an introduction for themselves and their book.
13. Put their hard work to good use! Have a storytelling event where the children get to perform their stories for each other!
Until next time,