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Jackie Baldwin jackie@story-lovers.com
Kate Dudding kate@katedudding.com

Innovative Projects

Storytelling for the Classroom by Nick Smith

Pasadena Public Library and schools in the Los Angeles area - 2007 and ongoing

Keywords: elementary education, storytelling, personal and family stories, folklore


The teachers have commented about two aspects of this work: 1) That it gets the kids excited about the material, and 2) The students recognize the difference between someone "just" reading them a story, and the idea that I'm telling them the story. To them, telling the story is both a sign that I know more than just what I read on the printed page, and also a more personal, interactive way for them to listen.

Several times, this has inspired kids to try to tell me personal stories that they see as related to whatever story I have told them that day. In addition, I have started encouraging the kids to retell the story to other kids, as kind of a game. For instance, if two classes from the same school visit on the same day, I try to tell them different stories, and encourage them to talk to kids from the other class and share stories.

For the workshops I have done with other schools, the idea is very different. The schools were using a curriculum which included a 3rd grade unit on family stories. The teachers wanted me to give the kids examples of stories, to give them a better feel for the structure of a story. I told them a folktale, which gave them a sense of the familiar, and also two personal stories from my own childhood, but very different stories, to give them an idea that they don't all have to be the same KIND of story. I also taught a workshop for some of the teachers, to give them a better handle on storytelling, and how to share stories.

Some of the stories that the kids had were truly remarkable, and I quickly came to understand that they simply didn't know what to include, or how to tell the stories. One child had a grandmother who gave up a fairly serious career as a nightclub singer [she sang at places you will see in old movies...] because she really wanted to get married and raise a family. Another child had a mother who barely survived an infamous quack doctor. Many were trying to tell simple incidents from the lives of their families, as they understood them. Others only had garbled fragments of things they didn't really understand, but that a family member had told them. Because many of these children came from families where English was a second language, the difficulties they had in understanding and conveying the stories were even more exaggerated.

So, one of the challenges that the teachers faced was that of teaching how a story is structured, without keeping the children from telling things their own way. It was interesting to see the results, and I hope to do that again. One direct benefit of this lesson is that the children get more experience in structuring sentences and paragraphs without thinking of it as a formal lesson in grammar and writing. In addition, the structuring of the story gives vital practice in various aspects of critical thinking.

Contact Info:
Nick Smith
Pasadena Public Library
285 E. Walnut Street
Pasadena, CA 91101


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Copyright 2007 by Jackie Baldwin and Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.