Storytelling with Early Years – Guest Post by Julie Meighan
The following are some pointers you should use when story telling to young children. The first thing that a teacher/educator should do is identify the children’s interest. Examples of topics that children may be interested in are animals, stories where children their age are heroes, stories about things children like to do, getting dirty, playing with an adult around, trying something new for the first time, etc.
Another question that often comes to light especially with new teachers is “where do I find good and appropriate stories for young children?” The stories can be from your head that you have remembered from childhood or have made up. The stories can be from picture books particularly useful if trying to encouraging reading. Libraries have many collections of folktales often compiled in easy format books, or adaptable to your needs. Stories that deal with families are also often very effective.
There are some key elements that you must engage with to make story time successful. You must know and like your story, know and like your audience and make sure the story and audience match each other. Another important point is that you must be flexible.
The next important step is you must learn to tell a story. First you must learn the bare bones plot (3 pigs left home and each built a house: one of sticks, one of straw, one of bricks. A wolf came and blew down the straw and stick houses. He tried to get into the brick house but got boiled when he went down the chimney into a pot of water. The End; a fox made a crow drop some cheese by flattering her into opening her mouth to sing. The End. Etc.) Practice it and tell it to yourself while driving. You should tape it and listen to it and if you want look at yourself in the mirror while practicing so you can see your facial expression and body language.
You must make the stories exciting and fun. The following are the tools of the teller:
A good voice exercise is to write some sentences on a blackboard, and have each person say them in different situations. For instance, say “I want a cup of coffee” as though you were tired, happy, angry, disgusted, humiliated, etc. Then change this to an entirely different situation: you are in your boss’s office and he has just fired you. Let them choose the emotion and the voice.
Have two people hold up a sheet, and two more stand behind it, the sheet covering their torsos and upper legs. Whisper an emotion into their ears, and then say “go.” Have the students point out what made them know which emotions they were imitating. This is called cultural knowledge. We know when people are angry, sad, excited, etc. We don’t always know why we know, but we do know. So do children. In fact, they are sometimes quicker to pick this up because they need it for living by adult rules. So be careful with your face and body language; the children are reading it.
There are many old theatre games that work well here. One I like is the Magic Box – an imaginary box that goes around the circle, each person pulling out and using an object until everyone has guessed what it is. This involves the next tool: cooperation. Someone will choose something complex , and no one will be able to guess. Then we have to cooperate with the audience, help them, give them clues. It is our responsibility, not theirs, to provide the communication needed to make the link to our thoughts.
Remember: you’re not just telling stories; you’re teaching them to be an audience
• Intersperse with rhymes, finger plays, prop stories
• Keep stories short
Some examples of good storytelling activities are as follows:
Game: Pop-up Story Book
• Age: 3 years +
• Minimum number of participants: 2
• Resources needed: Clear space, a story book.
• Other Benefits: This is an excellent listening game that can be played with any number of children. It helps them to engage in the storytelling process.
• Instructions: The teacher chooses a story to read that the children are familiar with. Each child is given a word. For example if the teacher was reading ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, child A is given the word Goldilocks, child B, baby, child C, porridge, child D, bed and so on. When each child has been given a word the game can begin. All the children lie on the floor. When the child hears his/her word s/he must jump up. If they miss their turn they are out and can’t pop-up anymore.
Game: The Hungry Tree
• Age: 5+
• Minimum number of participants: 3
• Resources needed: Clear space.
• Other Benefits: This is an excellent introduction to improvisation as the children are free to explore their imaginations. It also helps with their co-ordination skills.
• Instructions: The teacher tells the children the following story and they have to improvise the movements in the story. The teacher gets the children to imagine they are an adventurer who wants to go on an adventure. They have to pack up their bags. The teacher asks what they need in the bags. Children’s answers are usually for example water, sandwiches, sun cream, and sunglasses and so on. The children mime putting all these essentials into their bag and then mime all the actions in the adventure below. The teacher says imagine you are walking quickly because you are so happy to be on your adventure. You see a mountain and decide you should climb it. The sun is getting hotter and hotter and you are getting tired. You get very, very tired. You wipe your brow to show how tired you are. You begin to climb slower and slower. You are very thirsty. You take out your water and take a drink. You put it back in your bag and climb the rest of the way up the mountain. Eventually you get to the top. You are exhausted, very hot and very hungry. You decide it is time for your picnic. You see a lovely tree and you go and sit under its shade. You eat your picnic and go for a nap. Then suddenly you wake up and see the tree moving towards you. The tree grabs you and you realize it is a very hungry tree and wants to eat you. You scream. You struggle. You fight the branches but you are getting weaker and weaker. Then suddenly the tree stops fighting for a moment. You get your chance to escape. You quickly grab your bag, and run back down the mountain. You get to the end and you don’t stop in case the hungry tree is running after you. You run all the way home, lock all the doors and hide under the table.
Some advice on how to keep the children focused while storytelling.
Magic Glue This is a basic scenario: “Okay, now everybody is standing up, right? Here we go. Pick your right leg up with your hands. Now stick it to the floor with the magic (or imaginary) glue. Push it down hard. Wiggle it around. Is it stuck? Oops, that one’s not stuck; better try again. Everybody stuck? Good, now the left leg. Okay, can you move your feet off the floor? Try.” All sorts of contortions as you show them your feet are stuck. “Okay, now let’s run with our feet stuck to the floor!” If you do it, they will do it.
If you wish to read more ideas about the different dram games that can be used with young children in early years settings and primary school, please go to Drama Start and enter the coupon JG87H and you will receive a copy of the book for a special price of €1-50. Alternatively you can buy the kindle version of the book form amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
Julie Meighan is a lecturer in Drama in Education at the Cork Institute of Technology. She has taught Drama to all age groups and levels. She is the author of “Drama Start”.