Practical Sheet

Sensory stories

SHEET #13

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? 

To tell a story is no easy feat and to be able to tell a story well, it is important to use all the tools at disposal to help the audience immerse into the story. For children with attention disorder in particular, or with an SLD that makes following a spoken speech difficult, it can be even more challenging to hold their attention and help them immerse themselves. However, there are some tools that can be used in a very efficient manner to help with that. The main one is to diversify the type of stimuli, hence: the different senses. Information is always better integrated when several senses are involved in the reception of it. In this educational sheet, we will see how to make sensory stories.  

Sensory stories were first invented for pupils who have Specific Learning Disorders or any kind of other disorder that impedes the proper processing of simple oral information.  

Sensory stories are not usually long. A good story does not depend on its length, even in general, but more on the way it is constructed, the message it aims to get across, and the way the storyteller builds the story with his audience.  

Sensory stories are thus generally short but each sentence is loaded with meaning and with sensory stimulation: visual, auditory, odorous, gustative, tactile.  

These techniques will help the pupil focus on the story and the different sensorial elements attached to it. They will act as an anchor to the story.  

HOW TO USE IT? 

  1. WORK INTELLIGENTLY 

Those sensory experiences do not need to be complex or costly, but they need to catch the attention, to be unusual.  

Let us take visual stimulation. More than just a small picture to illustrate the story, it can be interesting to stimulate the whole vision: by turning off the light and lighting a candle, or by making pupils look through colored glasses.  

  1. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT 

In the safety of your own house/office/etc., do not hesitate to practice while recording yourself and try to record yourself while practicing in order to review and take note of what seems most interesting.  

Exercise 1 

One of the first things to do is to try and think back on the sensorial experience you had as a child. What kind of memories do come up? Take not of them, and if it is linkable to one of the stories or if there is an idea on how to recreate it, note that down as well.  

Usually, those are experiences of a strong sensory stimulus linked with a strong emotion.  

For example, the sound and light of thunder in a thunderstorm, associated with fear, or maybe paradoxically, with the feeling of safety brought by a loved one’s presence.  

As we said, vision needs to be an all-encompassing experience in order to draw sufficient attention. Nowadays, images, small films etc are so common that they are no longer sufficient to draw attention away from other visual stimuli available in the environment. A change in lighting, a change in the way they perceive their whole environment are the most likely to work.  

Smell usually are either aromas associated with cooking, perfume or weather events. (smell of coffee in the morning, or fresh bread, perfume of their mother or father, the soap used for washing clothes at home, or the smell of the rain on the heated ground in summer for example) But those are generally a little difficult to reproduce with pupils. However, some surprising or icky scents are the most likely to draw attention. For example: the smell of garlic in a vampire story, the smell of a blown out candle if there is a fire in a story. 

The same goes with taste, which will be the most difficult sense to include in a sensory story. If taste is included, it would do well to choose taste experiences that are surprising as well, either by the unexpected sensation in the mouth (ice chips, something very crispy, etc) or a very pungent, unusual taste. Attention to allergies and food hygiene are essential for this one. 

Touch is also a tricky one, as people will usually think of fabric and soft fluffy things to touch first, such as in sensorial books for very young children. But depending on the age of the pupils, fabric can be an element that all children touch everyday all day, in their bed, their clothes, etc. It will not draw sufficient attention, except in maybe very young children. Sticky or prickly things on the contrary, will be more attention triggering as this is a sensory experience we tend to avoid and do not experience as often. Also, strange tactile experiences, such as plunging their hand in a bag of grain can be surprising and strangely satisfying, or they could touch something gooey or slimy. Or simply, touch something that looks one way, but reveals itself to be experienced another way.  

In summary, unexpected contrasts, surprising experiences and all-encompassing sensorial changes will make for the most efficient sensory elements in a sensory story. Take note of all of your ideas and find a “sample audience” (your devoted nephews, etc…) to experiment the efficiency of your sensory experiences. 

Exercise 2 

Now it is time to look for a story that can be a sensory story. It is not just the quality of the sensory stimuli that makes a good sensory story, but also the connection those stimuli have to the story itself.  

In order to build your sensory story, you can either go online and look for already made sensory stories if you do not feel confident into writing or adapting your own, or you can adapt a story that you know and include some sensorial elements, in which case, we would advise to take one you are very familiar with or you can also write a short story that is specifically meant to be a sensory story.  

Again, take note of all of your ideas and find a “sample audience” to experiment the efficiency of your sensory experiences. 

Try to find a sensorial element for each one of the five senses, but do not make a sensorial experience just for the sake of it. It needs to be connected to and integrated in the story itself in order for it to be relevant and efficient.  

Resources 

Sensory storytelling helps children with a learning disability to communicate:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pncFAAyEt8&list=PLYdG9v8Pu3orMYHFShAX6X4o_T8GYoK-I&index=5&ab_channel=Mencap 

Sensory Stories introduction:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USQjynWqYNA&list=PLYdG9v8Pu3orMYHFShAX6X4o_T8GYoK-I&index=14&ab_channel=ScottishSensoryCentre 

How to create a sensory story:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PeZ7r6aekA&ab_channel=BryonyRust  

Sensory Storytelling Guide Webinar for teachers and Parents:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ub13Z2IxVzY&ab_channel=EarlyChildhoodDeakin