Professional Storyteller

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At what age do you have Youth tellers work on personal stories?

Does personal story storytelling have any tie-in to school content standards distinct from storytelling in general?


Tags: personal narrative

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As a youth, I stayed away from personal tales. When talking with other high school youth, sometimes they feel that their lives are not interesting enough to share with others.

When it comes to introducing personal tales, it probably would be a positive impact if taught for the elementary age. Have them value their experiences from the beginning and perhaps we would see a gradual change in attitudes when it come high school time.

Original tales, jump tales, and fables seem the most popular for elementary students to tell.

On Wednesday I will hear barely-turned-seven-year-olds (twin sisters) share a tall tale in tandem. Perhaps I could get their opinions on the subject!

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
I know two tellers who were serious about telling to audiences about age 8. Both began with folktales and still tell them. [One just turned 17 and still in high school; the other is about 20 and in veternary school.]

Teens in our intergenerational Becoming a Storyteller workshops often start with personal stories since they expect that tales have to be memorized. They don't realize how much editing they'll be doing. I remember one teen working all week on why he did not become an altar-boy. On the last morning it jelled into a wonderful comic piece that his friends insisted he tell again that afternoon.

I have taught and used personal storytelling in my 4th grade classroom very successfully for decades.

I call them "Neighborhood Stories" . They cannot be hearsay. Strictly stories about events that the kids have either been directly involved in, or they have witnessed firsthand.

That eliminates most flights of absurdity. It also removes the necessity of creating characters, settings and plots out of thin air. While 4th graders LOVE to read and create fantasy, (indeed, I submit that fantasy is crucial to their development at this age), I channel their storytelling to actual events and people that they are able to describe fully and authentically...and hence, ring true.

I require that the stories be told first, then written. The written stories then go through the entire writing process (see also Language Arts Core Curriculum guides for most states in the U.S.) including draft, responding, revision, editing, and this case, oral presentation.

Most Language Arts core curricula include non-fiction writing, the writing process, and some degree of public speaking requirements, be it memorization or persuasive speaking or report making. I also take the opportunity to teach audience manners and appropriate responses to performing artists. Autobiographical storytelling fills ALL of those standards.

I take it further when we write and illustrate "blank book" story collections for our Authors Fair. Parents love it.

When the students are comfortable with autobiographical storytelling, we are free to branch out into any other genre of tales. Folktales, fairy tales, historical accounts, etc are a natural way to tie into Social Studies and cultures. History IS story, or at least it OUGHT to be. "The ant and the grasshopper" and the "Wide-mouthed frog" are super starters for science investigations of insects and amphibians. The list of story tie-ins is literally endless.

I tell in my classroom constantly. I use storytelling time as a class reward (they love it). I use storytelling as a quick filler while we're waiting our turn to go to an assembly. I use storytelling as a wonderfully calming tool before high stakes testing. It always leads into art classes, (portray a setting, a character...) There is a wonderful series of short picture books that tell math stories.

Storytelling clubs are great for coaching/ mentoring student tellers preparing to participate in local festivals. (Help your school district start one if there isn't a festival nearby. Nannette Watts has a terrific guide just for that.) This really validates the kids' stories, and just watch their own confidence and self-esteem soar! (That's in the Healthy Lifestyles core curriculum, too.)

Storytelling can be infused into almost any part of school life, and its benefits are huge and long lasting, at absolutely no cost to the administration.

Good luck and good telling, Karl Behling
I worked with a local school that was doing a "Family Stories" unit, and the kids were in 3rd grade. Their main problem was that at that age, they were still learning story structure, and had no idea what to include and what to leave out, but they had some fascinating stories.
I think that any younger than that, and you won't be able to get good results. By the time they get to be teens, some kids go back to being shy in front of others, so there is awkward phase at that point. So to me, grades 3-5 are a good opportunity to work with them on personal stories, but after that you might have to wait until high school for our next shot at getting them to tell.
If you're going to work with young kids, it helps if you can have one or two stories of your own childhood to prime the pump.
So slow getting back to things. Wish I could've responded sooner, and hope that folks are still replying to your topic.

I've worked with students as young as five on sharing their personal stories; the narrative is very simple, and touches only on what we would deem as "real" ("truth" is another matter, which I won't get into now) in their lives at that moment.

Such narrative ties into content standards as communication, oral communication, nonfiction study, research, etc., which may be owrded in different ways, but can be found under English Language Arts, as well as under Social Studies, if you make it a "community" effort of sharing family hsitory and culture.

Lyn Ford
I'm surprised that you got good results with kids as young as five telling personal stories. Still, there are a lot of kids who pick up on the concept of stories very quickly. Not all, though, and a lot of the ones that can learn someone else's story quickly enough still have trouble with their own stories.
I had a very good experience recently with a group of young Girl Scouts. I told them a little bit about being a storyteller, and also about stories, and shared different kinds of stories with them, telling them a folktale, a historical piece and a personal story. Interestingly, the personal story is the one they liked best, and at least one girl went home and told her mother the story, after one hearing.
I love working with GIrl Scout groups. However, I've told more folktale and scary-type stories to them than I have told or encouraged personal narratives--I'm not sure why, other than that is what I was asked to do. I have had many wonderful experiences with the five- and six-year-old "authors" in Thurber House writing sessions here--please keep in mind that the personal-story writing I do with them is very simple narrative of one morning, one special day, one special event, etc., in their lives, and that the "writing" of the story is done with the assistance of adult scribes, who take notes on what was said; some of these children can't put their stories on paper in a literary format yet, but they can illustrate and tell the beginning, middle, and end. They love sharing their own story!




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