Storytelling at school
to master the art of speech
How to tell stories at school?
What stories can be used?
What would be the benefits?
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TELLING TALES AT SCHOOL
Good speaking skills can be taught, but how?
By practising with stories.
It all starts with listening
The word belongs half to the one who speaks, half to the one who listens.
Discover the act of storytelling
Ask a class: “Does anyone know a story?” And many will raise their hands. Now ask them: “Who wants to tell a story they know?” The few children who have kept their hands raised will certainly have someone in their family circle who tells stories orally.
In this phase, the aim is to allow all students to discover and experience oral storytelling, without the support of a book. The discovery phase covers as many sessions as necessary until some children first dare to tell a story (usually 2 to 5 sessions).
Imitation is the first means of learning. Here, the teacher (and/or an external speaker if necessary) is the main speaker and tells several tales, of varying complexity and duration.
To drive children’s desire to tell stories, the adult must feel comfortable with their story, must believe in what they are saying. Without conviction, how can they expect their audience to believe in their story? To do this, the adult must use their own words, their own gestures, while feeling free to interact with the listeners. This is how they can allow listeners to form the mental pictures and associations that make up the story.
It is the emotions, the inner states that these listeners go through that allow them to understand and picture the story through their own mental portrayal – rather than the words themselves.
To reach free speech
This phase is an occasion to offer children an immersion in speech and storytelling in order to awaken in them the desire to tell the stories that they have heard themselves. This moment must be a time of freedom to listen for all. The teacher will have to be patient and wait for the children to request to speak. Some will very quickly seize the opportunity to tell, others will take longer. In addition to becoming familiar with the act of storytelling, and allowing each child to build a common storytelling culture, listening to the stories will allow them to:
- Exercise the sense of active listening and memorization.
- Create their own mental images.
- Understand the logical structure of the story.
- Expand their vocabulary, phrasing , ways of constructing speech.
The transition to the next phase will depend on the speed at which speech becomes accessible in the classroom. In some groups, children ask to speak at the third session, in others it is sometimes necessary to wait until the sixth session…
What is at stake with repetition
To take ownership of a story, it is better to listen to it several times. Here is how the perception of a story (active listening) can change from one session to the next:
1. First listening:
discovering the story.
2. Second listening:
we check if we have understood correctly, we appreciate some details better.
3. Third listening:
we acquire the whole story by seeing it as a whole, we possibly connect it to other ones by discovering or constructing hidden meanings – it is a stage of interpretation.
4. Fourth listening:
we take ownership of the story,
we have an active knowledge of it,
we can tell it in our own words.
You give it, you take it back
We cut it off
and yet without seeing it
It can be distorted
Who is it?
Teachers, you can do it!
For children to start speaking, they must first have a model. Children will be all the more likely to do so if it is their teacher, and not an outside facilitator, who sets an example for them. Children will see storytelling as an activity in its own right, as a skill worth learning and cultivating. In practice, children tend to be much better at telling stories than at reading them out loud.
Some teachers initially doubt their abilities to tell stories, but storytelling often reveals their inner talent at it. Even without experience, the teacher must allow themselves to start telling stories: just because they have never told a story before does not mean that they cannot do so. In addition, children respect the teacher’s speech. So go on!
Stories have been put in books, but we can get them out. Some will argue that because they are already so well written, we could not and should not change their wording. But yes, we can change them! Close the book. You already know the story, try to say it, trust yourself. Be bold with your words, your emotions. A tale can be told without a book or illustrations, but not without your voice, which makes it come to life.
It is not a matter of delivering an artistic performance, but of teaching children to speak in a structured way. Use your body, your voice, take the time required to install these images. You do not have to tell the story in a theatrical way, or perfectly well. Children like stories and are an easy audience. And remember: they don’t pay attention to the storyteller when they are listening to a tale, but mostly just to the tale itself.
Time for the children
A ritualized activity
It is a matter of creating a real practice of speaking, of setting up an activity with its own codes: listening and participating when asked, respecting the storyteller’s word without interrupting it. The child will have the opportunity:
- to listen and to participate
- to respect the storyteller’s words without interrupting him or her, without criticizing him or her, to allow everyone to tell a story to the group, from beginning to end.
The Speech Circle
The children and adults are placed in a circle. Why this circle configuration? It is a framework that allows everyone to be at the same level and face each other, thus facilitating the circulation of speech.
From now on, everyone can ask to tell a story, and the teacher can also encourage them to do so.
Practice makes perfect! Is is by speaking
that you become a good speaker!
If a student does not wish to listen to the stories (that occurs quite rarely) they can move away from the circle and stay in the room without interrupting the others. However, the circle remains open and they can rejoin it whenever they wish.
The role of the teacher is then to facilitate the circulation of the speech. Little by little, with experience, students learn to listen to and respect each other.
The teacher adds one or two new stories to each session to enrich the common repertoire. The teacher may choose to restrict speaking to stories already heard or open it to what children may want to bring from outside.
Key phrases can be used to start a story (Once upon a time – a long time ago, back when animals could talk…) and to end it. These are points of anchor that can help children when they begin to tell their stories.
Have a designated space (library, classroom space...):
• large enough for the whole class to sit in a circle (on the floor or on chairs).
• calm enough so that children are not distracted by surrounding noise.
• not too large to avoid voices resonating or getting lost.
Set up a regular rhythm:
• a weekly session, same day, same place, same time (if possible in the morning).
The duration should be adapted to the age and listening ability of the students:
• between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
Conduct these sessions with the whole class (if possible):
• in order to build a group dynamic through the practice of respecting the speech of the other pupils and sharing the same oral heritage.
• Children sit in a circle (on the floor or on chairs). The teacher and any other adults sit among them in the circle.
How do I inspire the desire to tell ?
Testimony of Jean-Christophe Gary, teacher
“I choose in advance an hour that seems convenient to me, preferably in the middle of the week, avoiding the end of the day. At the beginning of the hour, I take attendance, then, without transition, I tell a story. Then I continue with the current lesson. The following week, at the same time, after taking attendance, I tell one or two stories.
The third week, I take attendance, then I move on straight to the lesson. Immediately, the students react: “What about the story?” I pretend to be surprised, then, this time at their request, I start telling them several stories. So, little by little, the latter will occupy the whole hour, and very quickly the students ask me: “Can we have a story time?” They are the ones who name it like that. From the moment that a story time is created, I prepare a surprise for my pupils: when they enter the classroom, the desks are moved away and the chairs arranged in a circle; the following sessions, it is the students who take care of the set-up.
We organize a rotation, on a voluntary basis, which works very well. Feeling the pleasure of listening to stories, they instinctively feel the urge to tell them. So when some people come to me and ask me if they too are “allowed” to tell a story, I answer them: “My goodness, what a great idea!” This is how, gradually, the learners’ words complement those of the teacher. To facilitate access to their words, I do not hesitate to insist on the value of repetition. A tale is told, re-told, transmitted and shared. We never hear and tell the same story twice.”
It only takes a yes or no
for us to part.
Who are we?
- To tell a story convincingly, children must be allowed to try as many times as necessary! When there is a problem with the tale, the child will realise their own mistake and improve over the course of multiple sessions.
- The teacher should limit his corrections on the interventions to errors concerning the structure of the story. What is most important here is the logical chain of the story. Other errors (vocabulary, conjugation, syntax, etc.) should as far as possible be ignored for now and worked on outside of the storytelling sessions. When a student gets stuck in the middle of his story, the teacher can encourage other students to intervene in a way that promotes mutual aid within the group.
- Gradually, students will therefore get into the habit of intervening only to help a hesitant storyteller, or one who has forgotten a sequence necessary for the sequencing of the narrative structure.
Those who are less comfortable speaking
For the most shy or uncomfortable children, the practice of speaking will first involve participatory forms of storytelling (nursery rhymes, tongue twisters/earwigs, finger games…) and listening to the stories of others. These children will ask to speak when they feel ready. Even if they don’t tell stories in class, they might share these stories to other children or adults in their family when they feel ready to do so. This storytelling moment does not stop at the end of the session, it can open up to the outside world, spread to other social circles… Children love to share!
From one classroom to another
Stories circulate outside the classroom, outside the school. When the students go to tell stories in other classrooms, they get a chance to showcase their work and feel proud of it. This phase can be a way to develop links between different classes.
Storytelling at all places, in all places…
To know how to tell stories is to be able to express one’s own thoughts in a coherent, organised way, through speech. A very ordinary activity, all things considered. Although we might have lost this habit recently, we Homo Sapiens have always told and listened to stories to communicate. To pick up this habit again, we must practise as much as possible on a daily basis, as storytelling is a way of facilitating speech in school circles as well as in domestic circles. There is no emphasis on performance here, or on any kind of show or theatrical display: what matters is having fun and sharing that fun.
This is why these storytelling sessions should be opened up, as much as possible, to parents and family members that wish to attend them in the form of occasional “storytelling evenings”. Such an opening could be extremely fruitful, especially in the case of foreign or non-native-speaking families. Families can also, if they wish, sing or tell in any language of their liking.
No one can see me,
nor hear me, nor touch me,
nor smell me, nor taste me,
but when I’m broken,
Who am I?
Specific learning disabilities
Approximately 10% to 12% of school age children suffer from learning disabilities (better known as ‘dys’ disorders). These children have cognitive difficulties in learning to read, write, spell, express themselves and concentrate. These range from mild to severe difficulties. The diagnosis, which is made by a professional, leads to treatment which consists of finding strategies to compensate for the difficulties.
In this project, the «dys» children are in the position to speak as much as to listen.
Here are some of the difficulties that «dys» children may face:
- Losing the thread of the story when telling the story
- Pronunciation problems
- Linking the events of the story, respecting the chronology of events
- Short-term memory
- Focusing and staying calm (a stress bal can be given to them)
How can storytelling help them?
- Thanks to repetition: tales allow the repetition of words, sentences, formulas, which is useful for those who have difficulties with pronunciation and memory, but also to enrich vocabulary and assimilate syntactic rules without having to read.
- The possibility for children to use their own words, using their creativity, imagination and body movements to express themselves. This free speech, freed from reading, promotes selfconfidence.
- Children with speech difficulties (apraxia, stuttering) can be excellent listeners. You should try to let the children sit directly facing the storyteller.
- Making the story as interactive as possible helps pupils to become involved and helps to keep up their attention. Some stories (hikes, rhymes, songs, riddles) require the children’s participation, through talking or singing. Props (puppets…) can be used.
- Thanks to visual aids (story cards to follow the story, kamishibaï…).
- With the finger and gesture stories, children can move their body, fingers or imitate a movement.
Enabling all children to gain self-confidence means involving them in an inclusive common project.