Humans love stories. Even when we sleep, we create stories in our dreams.
Stories influence almost everything we do – what we buy, what we do, and even what we eat. There’s a story to the potato that left the field and ended up on your fork, and nowadays, the plastic packaging will tell you all about it. Stories are everywhere.
Children need to be well-versed in storytelling and oral tradition, for both now and in their future lives. The ability to interpret stories will help them make both important and mundane decisions, and even help them in their future careers – knowledge work is entirely story-based.
To that end, it’s National Storytelling Week! To commemorate the occasion, we’re sharing our top storytelling and story writing exercises and tips for students.
Exquisite Corpse (A.K.A Group Story)
The term “exquisite corpse” might sound a bit macabre to you, but it essentially just means a group story. Students can take it in turn to add to a story and work as a group to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It works great as an introduction to collaborative story writing for students of all ages.
This can form an effective lesson starter or plenary, and can also be used as a team-building exercise during form time. Just make sure the groups are small enough that everyone gets to take part, and set a word limit (two lines per person works well).
Change a Story
Ask students to take a popular story and change elements of it to make it unique. Don’t just ask them to change superficial elements, like names and appearances; maybe they could introduce a branching plot line, or an unexpected twist ending.
You could then ask them to present their “new” story to the class. How many of their classmates are able to guess the original story?
This will help to teach the concept that almost all stories follow universal rules, and encourages spontaneity and creativity. It’s also an important part of the oral tradition; over time, we all change elements of the stories that we tell each other.
Improvise a Story
Good storytelling isn’t so much about reciting and learning the words by heart as it is about understanding the themes and overall plot, and having good rhetoric. Provide students with a beginning and an ending, and let them loose to weave their own story. If you have a particularly confident class, you could have them improvise their story out loud.
- Before you jump into a story, it’s important to have a strong idea for your beginning and ending.
- Students shouldn’t be afraid to use storytelling cliches like “once upon a time” and “happily ever after”; they aren’t weakened by repetition.
- Colour your details, whether literally or figuratively. Adjectives are a storyteller’s friend. A story is not a report; it should be compelling.
- Conflict is crucial. Every good story has a spanner in the works that has to be worked around. Great stories may have several. Difficulties, and the struggle to deal with them, are the crux of storytelling. When in doubt, do something totally unexpected.
- Resolution. Every great story has an ending that resolves the conflict presented in the middle.
If some of your students want to take their storytelling journey even further, they should consider trying National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Don’t let the name intimidate you; you and your students can set their own writing targets. Read more about NaNoWriMo and the young writers’ programme here.