How to Introduce Storytelling to Students
(Grades 4-6)
It was a wonderful surprise when I received an email from Puerto Rico asking me to provide information about forming a drama club for students in grades 4-6. Theatre skills and storytelling often go hand-in-hand when working with kids. I can think of no better way to instill an interest in and a love for literature than by giving youngsters a chance to act out stories, scenes or situations under the guidance of a teacher/mentor.
In an effort to meet current educational standards and improve school test scores, it seems there is little time left to integrate art of any kind into the curriculum. But what about those kids whose learning styles need expression through a variety of experiences: verbal, auditory and kinesthetic? Good teachers are always looking for ways to engage students, and I believe good teachers understand the importance of including art as part of the educational experience. If different forms of art cannot be integrated into the curriculum, perhaps after-school clubs in music, dance, visual art, drama and storytelling can be added to fill the void. I have seen how art can make a difference for underachieving students through active engagement, ultimately providing them with new purpose to read, write and understand concepts that held little or no interest before. Art expression makes it easy to open the door to all kinds of learning, and art makes learning fun.
Feel free to use the following outline to quickly and successfully introduce storytelling and theatre skills to students. I have found this to be an effective way to determine if there is enough interest to start an after-school drama or storytelling club. Announcing an after-school art-based club may bring several students through the door on the first day, but an announcement alone might not capture enough attention or create a strong desire for students to really want to participate. So, how do you do this?
 Having Fun with Drama Games   
Using the grades mentioned in the request from Puerto Rico as an example, I suggest the teacher/mentor consider the following steps as a club introduction or showcase. Ideally, this introduction will be presented in each 4th, 5th and 6th grade class at the school during a typical 45-minute class period.
* (5 minutes) Entertain the class with a brief example story by the club leader or a student volunteer who has had time to properly rehearse. (See “Three-Minute Tales: Stories From Around the World to Tell or Read When Time is Short”by Margaret Read MacDonald.)
* (3 minutes) Get students engaged by asking them what they liked, or did not like about the story itself. (It is important to state that this is not a time for them to evaluate the performance or performer, but rather an opportunity to discuss the story.)
* (2 minutes) Let the class know that this showcase is an example of activities members of the after-school club will enjoy. (Be sure to state that the club will be a place for students to try different skills in a safe and supportive environment. For the purposes of the class presentation, ask everyone to agree to keep this classroom introduction safe: no one may discuss the contribution of any other class member outside this showcase without permission.)
* (10 minutes) Present a brief warm-up theatre game for the entire class to enjoy. (There are many wonderful theatre games on the Internet and in books about acting. The warm-up game can be as simple as “pass the face,” a mime game similar to “telephone,” where students stand in a circle. Students take turns drawing a slip of paper from a container and conveying, through facial expression, the emotion selected to the person on his/her right. The student on the right then “passes the face” to the next student, and so on. When the student on the left of the one starting the exercise receives the “face,” he/she tries to identify the emotion. For other examples of warm-up exercises, click here.)
* (4 minutes) Have several different students informally recall the sequence of the story told at the start of the session.
* (3 minutes) Invite the class to discuss different ways the story might be told or acted out (for example, with music, in mime, as a group performance, with props, in costume, with masks).
* (3 minutes) Divide the class into teams and have each team discuss amongst themselves how they might present the story as a group, if given a chance.
* (4 minutes) Have teams go to different areas in the room to rehearse or try out their idea.
* (5 minutes) Ask for one team to volunteer to share/act out their idea as a group in front of the class.
* (2 minutes) Introduce the process of Appreciations and Suggestions to be used during club workshops.(Appreciations and Suggestions is a positive way to give and receive feedback; it is not critical evaluation. I have provided an outline for this procedure for your consideration, just click here for the PDF.)
* (3 minutes) Answer questions about the goals and activities of the club.

* (1 minute) Hand out information about the after-school club with details about how to sign up.


Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss. Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom. Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc., Katonah, NY, 2005.
Keith Johnstone. Impro for Storytellers. Routledge Paperback, 1999.
Margaret Read MacDonald. Three-Minute Tales: Stories From Around the World to Tell or Read When Time is Short.August House Publishers, Inc., Little Rock, AR, 2004.
Lenka Peterson & Dan O’Connor. Kids Take the Stage: Helping Young People Discover the Creative Outlet of Theater. Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, NY, 1997.
Lynn Rubright. Beyond the Beanstalk: Interdisciplinary Learning Through Storytelling. Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH, 1996.
Viola Spolen. Theater Games for the Classroom.Northwestern University Press, Chicago, IL, 1986.
To My Subscribers: 

I did not publish a July/August newsletter this year so I could focus on plans for an ambitious 2012-2013 tour project with Squirrely Shirley.  It was also nice to enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation during the hottest time of the year in Arizona. I trust you will excuse this interruption of news from the storytelling desk at Story Works Group. 

Discovering Stories

What Does a Storyteller Do?

Looks of interest, amusement or skepticism are three responses I often get when I tell people I am a professional storyteller. Since my work does not seem to fall into a familiar job category, I am usually asked to explain what I do as a storyteller, what sort of stories I tell, who hires me and if it is actually possible to make a living telling stories.
Although I have been somewhat involved with performance of one kind or another for most of my life, I didn’t think of storytelling as a possible profession until 1996 after I had been downsized from a position in marketing for a non-profit organization. It was then when I took personal inventory, revisited old skills and discovered the joy that only comes from doing what I love to do. Whether I tell to audiences of children, tweens, teens, adults or seniors, if I do my job right I am able to make a connection through the art of story that might otherwise be impossible.
Every storyteller brings something unique to their work, making it possible to enrich the experience in a special way. Some people sing beautifully or play a musical instrument; others are poets, visual artists or dancers. Years ago I used puppetry and magic when I learned how to be a clown, so it is easy for me to call on these skills when I tell stories.
I provide assemblies, workshops, performances and residencies at libraries, schools, camps, museums, colleges, conferences, festivals and private events. Over the years I have been listed as a roster artist in several states, making it possible for me to be considered for work often subsidized through state funding for the arts.
When I work in schools, I make certain my workshops and classroom exercises address specific educational learning standards and complement state common core standards. It is essential for storytellers working in schools to be well informed about what is expected, and be ready to provide connections in performances and workshops to as many educational goals as possible.

What I like about storytelling is the fact that stories lend themselves to so many different subjects. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are certainly not exceptions to this fact. With STEM conferences for educators taking place across the country lately, some arts commissions and councils on the arts have added a new letter, “A” for art, to coin a new word: STEAM. To that end, I have created a PDF for STEAM with stories as the focus. (To view this white paper, simply click here.)

The popular thirty-second elevator speech that job seekers are told to perfect seldom covers all the questions I get about my work. This might be because many people inaccurately equate storytelling with pre-school story time where a book is read to a group of tiny tots. The fact is that storytelling is an age-old person-to-person form of communication allowing a storyteller to share stories with people of all ages and from every walk of life.  Stories are told by different storytellers in almost every setting imaginable, and some storytellers specialize in order to meet the story interests of a specific niche: business/corporate, healing/therapeutic, educational, religious, cultural, historic, nature, environment/ecology. This is why it is so difficult to make one single statement to answer the question, “what does a storyteller do?”

Students Love to Tell Stories