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The Storytelling Learning Log

I encourage teachers to use a process approach to teach storytelling, much as they might to teach writing. When I was a full-time teacher my students make individual learning logs to record their questions, to share their reactions to class storytelling activities, and to name their learnings throughout the storytelling unit.

Below is a list of questions and prompts I have used with students keeping a "learning log" as we progressed in our development as storytellers.

In designing questions or prompts for students to respond to in writing, I follow what they show me they need. I ask such things as:

  • What are you thinking about as you choose a story? Do you confidently know the sequence of events?
  • Are you aware of whether you are visualizing images (or are you memorizing words)?
  • Can you see, smell, hear, feel the details, the textures, of the story?
  • Do you feel "in" the story when you tell?
I ask them to write about the results of their choosing, rehearsal - about anything that seems to be encouraging or interfering with their confidence in the telling. I usually offer one question for them to think and write about for five minutes in class or for homework. I base my choice of a question on the activity of the moment. Giving students many prompts or questions at one time constitutes busy work and discourages them from thoughtful reflection. One or two questions encourage a young storyteller to stop momentarily to think (the point of keeping a log).

By writing in the log students have to think about their thinking - metacognition. Their responses help me see better where they are and how to help them. Occasionally we share sample log entries out loud and students will say, "Oh, I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking like that..." or "I have a solution to that problem. Here's how I ..." The log also alerts me to inner effort that otherwise might go unnoticed.

The thinking and writing prompts below are grouped according to stages in a storytelling unit. Some might be used for a brief discussion. Others serve as log prompts.

Finding Natural Storytelling Everywhere

What do you notice about people you catch in the act of storytelling? Describe one person you observed.

How do different people use their faces, make gestures, or alter their voices or speech rhythms as they naturally tell stories?

Who's the most active storyteller in your family? Among your friends? What does that individual do that makes him or her stand out as a natural storyteller?

What generalizations can you make about why we have a need to tell stories to each other?

Have you seen people on talk shows or in interviews "telling their story"?

What similarities can you find in the ways they share their life stories, what differences?

What moment in history might make a good tale for the telling? What person behind a well known event would you like to know the story of?

Choosing a Story To Make Your Own

How are you going about choosing a story to tell? Who or what is helping you choose your story?

What are some impressions after hearing this storyteller (audio or videotape, student visitor, staff member, local community teller)?

Where are you now in your choosing: decided? caught between two? in need of help? (If so, think about why you are rejecting tales. What are you looking for in a tale?)

What's in this story that makes you think it will be especially good for you to tell?

Will you use a prop? an instrument? a puppet? Will you stage the telling?

Is your story participatory or can you see ways to make it so?

Do you have to cut the written version, expand it? Would cutting or adding dialogue help?

Learning a Story

Which kind of rehearsal at home or in class helped you most:
  • before the mirror?
  • into the tape recorder?
  • to a friend or small group?
  • to a pet?
  • "telling" silently to the wall?

What other activity helped you internalize the tale?

How many rehearsals have you done? Which ones have been most effective?

Have you timed your story? Is it settling down or are different tellings still erratic in timing? See if you can figure out why. Which version feels like the strongest telling (longer or shorter)?

Is the story "settling down" or does it continue to evolve? If so, how is it changing?

We've talked about the difference between memorizing words and visualizing images. Are you telling by one method more than another? As you observe others telling can you tell who has memorized and who is simply walking the journey of the tale a little differently each time?

How did _____ activity help you see your story better, help you prepare? (We try a map or storyboard, a list of events, dialogue with a character, telling from another point of view, telling to the wall without talking, and other exploratory exercises. Different ones help different tellers.)

Is anything still giving you trouble? How can I help?

Polishing Your Gem of a Story

Does your story include dialogue? Could it? Is the narrator voice distinct?

Do you "place" characters as they talk to each other? Subtly?

Do you have to move as you tell to set scenes? How might your story change if you were standing still?

Where in the story does your face and posture reflect the feelings of the characters?

Is there voice variety in volume? pitch? rate? Should there be? (Let it come naturally! An angry speaker might talk fast and loud or very slow and in a whisper. What feels right?)

Do you anticipate laughter? Don't forget to pause to leave a space for it to erupt.

Do you anticipate poignant pauses? Ones during which your listeners stop to feel? (Be sure to keep contact with your audience. Their responses - if you give them time to respond - will help you tell the story.)

Are you conscious of eye contact? Where in the story is it especially important?

Is the story "set in stone"? Can you let yourself ad lib in places?

Do you feel natural with the movements and gestures? Are you using your face?

Whose rehearsal has impressed you? What is that individual doing that you want to emulate?

Picture yourself telling this story brilliantly. See yourself walking confidently to the front. See yourself making eye contact and breathing deeply as you relax and smile at the audience. This is a terrific story. See yourself tell in such a way that it gives you and the audience pleasure. Take your time. What did you see? Write about all of it. Don't worry if what you see seems silly. Write about it.

During and After "Final" Tellings

Whose story left the biggest impression on you today? Why? (Students notice what we miss).

What image sticks with you from the story(s) you just heard? How did the teller convey that image?

What seems similar in the stories you've heard?

Do the ones you like best have anything in common, or is it uniqueness you like?

Who added a technique that you especially admire?

Have you heard a story you'd like to try telling? How would you tell it in your own unique way?

What went well in your telling? What surprised you about your telling? Would you like to do anything differently the next time you tell?

Where's the next place you can tell this tale?

Do you have the belief you could "hold on" to this story all your life and tell it to your kids or grandkids?

Please remember, I ask one or maybe two questions so students will really think.

After an activity, I'll might say "Write for two minutes in your log about something you know now about your story that you didn't know before." or "What did you just discover from that particular rehearsal?" Such a practice helps children develop the habit of stopping to reflect upon their experiences.

I never asked all these questions in any one year. Some I asked in conversation with one teller only. Asking a long list of questions at one time makes thinking a chore and a time-killer. Students will be more likely to dash off just any answer in order to finish quickly.

Overdoing reflection kills their desire to use metacognition as a tool.

If you need any additional information, please feel free to contact Marni. Picture of Marni Gillard
Marni Gillard

833 Parkside Avenue
Schenectady, NY 12309 USA
(518) 381-9474
All Materials Copyright 2004-2018 by Marni Gillard.
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