Telling tales to master
the art of speech
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Storytelling at school to master speech
It all starts with listening
The instilling phase
Ask a class: “Does anyone know a story?” And many hands will rise. 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 the experience of the act of telling tales orally, without the support of a book. The instilling phase covers as many sessions as necessary until the first children dare to tell a story (usually 2 to 5 sessions).
Setting examples is the first tool of transmission, and, through imitation, constitutes the first means of learning. During the first sessions, the teacher (and/or an external speaker if necessary) will be the main speaker and will tell several tales, of varying complexity and duration.
This phase should drive children’s desire to tell stories. To do this, the adult must feel comfortable with their story, they must believe in what they are saying. Without conviction, how can they expect their audience to believe in their story? When they tell their stories, they help, in the minds of those who are listening, to build the images that make up the story, using their own words, their own gestures, while leaving the possibility, if necessary, to interact with the listeners.
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.
Teachers, you can do 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. It is not a matter of delivering an artistic performance, but of teaching children to speak in a structured way. 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.
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 story is an accumulation of mental images. Use your body, your voice, take the time required to install these images.
We offer you practical sheets with tips
to prepare yourself and allow you
to tell tales more confidently.
The choice of tales
B efore being in front of the children, the teacher will have to choose the tales and be prepared to tell them. They can search the tales database, or, if they are looking for a tale related to a specific theme, use the theme sheets. Choice criteria: theme, age, type of story, not to mention their personal preferences! It is possible and even advisable to alternate storytelling with other more participatory forms of storytelling such as “small forms” (see practical sheet F6 on small forms), nursery rhymes, riddles, tongue twisters, finger stories…
Children love to be told the same story
over and over again!
The teacher tells the same tales several times from one session to the next. During a session, tales already known will be mixed with new ones. Each session may be a combination of different forms of narratives, with or without children’s participation.
• Traditional folk tales from different cultures ( tales library). An occasion to discover local tales, but also tales from other countries, in order to open up to the European and global richness of this cultural heritage. It may also be interesting to present versions of the same story from several different countries to show the universal diffusion of stories.
• Riddles (starting from the first grade) will allow children to use their knowledge in a different and fun way
• Tongue twisters
• Finger stories
• Rhymes (up to the age of 6 years)
• Traditional songs of the world
Objectives of the instilling phase
T his phase is an occasion to offer children an immersion in speech and storytelling in order to awaken in them the desire to ask for the chance to tell the stories that they have heard themselves For children, this moment must be a time of freedom to listen. 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. Simply listening to the stories will allow everyone to build a first shared culture and also them to:
• Exercise the sense of active listening and memorization
• Expand their vocabulary, phrasing, ways of constructing speech.
• Understand the logical structure of the story.
• Create their own mental images.
• Form a common storytelling culture.
• Develop a representation of the act of storytelling.
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…
Hiking stories offer a repetitive structure that facilitates understanding and memorization. This structure allows them to take an part in the story through active listening as they identify and anticipate what will be said. Hiking stories allow us to work on the chronology of events but also on the logical relationships of cause and effect. In the tale The Big Turnip (Alexei Tolstoy’s version), there is a clear link between failing to pull the radish out of the ground and the introduction of each new character as well as a clear link between succeeding in pulling out the radish and the fall of the characters.
Tales where a weak hero succeeds through trickery, allow us to work on the interactions between the characters. In The white goat (Poitou, 1891, Léon Pineau), in order to not be eaten by the troll, each of the goats promises him in turn that the following brother will be a better meal. In The tale of the old lady hiding in something hollow to escape the wolf, the grandmother explains to the wolf that it will be more interesting to eat her when she comes back from her daughter’s wedding where she will have eaten well; when the time comes, she hides in a watermelon...
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.”
Time for the children
A ritualized activity
I t 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 dare to speak to the group without being criticized.
• to try to tell a story from beginning to end.
Practice makes perfect!
It is by speaking that you become a good speaker!
The Speech Circle
The children and adults are placed in a circle. From now on, everyone can ask to tell a story. The teacher will have to be patient and give the volunteers an opportunity to speak. Children become the main speakers. It is a collective moment where each child feels things in their own way. If a student does not wish to listen to the stories, they can move away from the circle and stay in the room without interrupting the others.
The adult must be attentive. The role of the teacher is then to facilitate the circulation of the speech, until the group manages to regulate itself. A good circle is one where everyone feels free to speak. During these sessions, the teacher continues to tell the children stories that have already been heard, but also new stories (one or more at each session). 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
T o allow children to try, to make mistakes, to realize that they are not ready and to try again untilthey succeed, the teacher should limit hiscorrections on the interventions to errors concerning the structure 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 ask them if they want help. If the child agrees to be helped, the teacher can encourage other students to intervene in a way that promotes mutual aid within the group. Those who are listening will be able to help the one who is telling if necessary. Gradually, students will therefore get into the habit of intervening only to correct a mistake, but especially to help a hesitant storyteller, or one who has forgotten a sequence necessary for the sequencing of the narrative structure.
They can, in this case:
• interrupt them to remind them of what has been forgotten;
• continue the tale themselves with the teacher’s permission if the other is unable to finish.
Those who are less comfortable speaking
F or the most shy or uncomfortable children, the practice of speaking will first involve participatory forms of storytelling (nursery rhymes, tongue/earwigs, finger stories…) 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 tell other children or adults in their family when they feel ready. 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… Stories circulate outside the classroom, outside the school. Children love to share!
From one classroom to another
W hen the students go to tell stories in other classrooms, they get a chance to showcase andfeel proud of their work – especially sharing with younger pupils! This phase can be a way to develop links between different classes. Children who tell stories thus have the opportunity to share them with others.
S chool environments often put a significant pressure on teachers to put on shows in front of parents andthe rest of the school. These speech practice sessions should ideally not be the subject of an end-of-year show. If absolutely necessary, the teacher may, if they wish, organise an evening gathering (cf. practical sheet) with the parents, or share stories in other classes within the school with pupils who so wish (practical sheet). Whenever possible, these sessions can be opened to families who wish to do so to enrich the link between the school and the families. 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 as long as their child can translate the story into a language that everyone can understand.
AN “IDEAL“ PROTOCOL, TO BE ADAPTED ACCORDING TO SCHOOLS
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.