This is a report on the third Master Class in the Teachers Telling Tales programme. It is intended as an aide to those who attended the class.

INTRODUCTION Professor Cremin introduced herself as an educator whose purpose in these classes was to enable teachers to tell stories in order to get the children telling stories. The wider frame for this is that academic qualifications are no longer enough for children. Increasingly employers are emphasising the need for qualities and capabilities not designed to be produced by academic qualifications. These include: Creativity Communication Empathy, Adaptability and Social Skills SELTZER & BENTLEY (1999)


Creativity is defined as: Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are original and of value. NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR CREATIVE AND CULTURAL EDUCATION (1999)


There is great pressure on us as teachers because of the amount of assessment. We find ourselves teaching to test . However, it is imperative on us to think outside the box and incorporate these qualities into the classroom. One way of doing this, the one we will be concentrating on today, is to encourage storytelling to and by the children.


THE PLAN FOR THE MASTER CLASS Professor Cremin outlined the structure of the day as follows: Session 1 – Personal Stories Session 2 – Traditional Tales Session 3 – Exploring a Tale in Depth Session 4 – Organisational Issues Review of the day and the way forward She remarked that she thought of a class like today’s as being similar to a cookery class where the participants can cook already and are just looking to refine their technique.

AIMS FOR THE CLASS    To develop teachers’ confidence and competence as storytellers in the literacy classroom. To enhance teachers’ awareness of the value of storytelling To share practical strategies for linking storytelling, writing, drama and literacy

FORMATIVE THINKING   What am I doing here? What do I want to learn?

The teachers are asked to think about these two questions and turn to their neighbours and chat about their answers. The focus of the class is teachers and children as storytellers in literacy contexts. This will encompass:    Sharing personal tales Retelling traditional tales Co-authoring

PERSONAL STORIES Professor Cremin tells a personal story about her own life and then sorts the teachers into pairs to tell each other a story about their own lives. Nature, not art, makes us all storytellers. Narrative is a primary act of mind. Barbara Hardy (1968)


We use narrative to frame our existence – ‘paralinguistic human engagement’. The question is, how can we give a higher profile to the biographies of the learners in the classroom?

TITLES Think of a title for the personal stories, as interesting and (in this case, although obviously not in the classroom) salacious as possible. Some of the titles the teachers came up with were:        Mustard Mail Holidays from Hell Swishing Through the Air Hand Held Tight Toilet Humour Death in the Nursery The Neighbour Rings Twice

The idea is to tempt the listener, to make them want to hear the story. A clever title is the difference between, say, ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ and ‘A Man Dresses Up as a Nanny to See More of His Children after Divorce’. In the classroom you should allow the children to make up their own title, encouraging them to make it as interesting as possible.

LIST OF TITLES You do not want always to drive the oral into the written - to reduce the creative activity and energy into a written exercise - but at Key Stage 2 you could compile a list of the titles invented. Then, when the class is ready to start writing, they can choose from these and the oral preparation is not lost.

STORY BUZZ Then you create a Story Buzz in the classroom. The children each have the title of their own story, and they move around the classroom looking at everyone else’s titles and deciding which stories they’d like to hear. When a child picks a title they like, the owner of that title gets a chance to tell their story. This exercise is repeated again and again, and you will find that although the children gravitate towards their own friends at first, they soon move on. By the third swap you should announce that if anyone hasn’t told their own story yet, they must tell it now. In this way the stories are told and retold, with more embellishments and refinements. If someone laughed at a detail in the first version, that detail will 4

be emphasised and perhaps expanded in the next. The story becomes richer, and is a better story.

KILLING THE BUZZ It is important not to kill the buzz by attempting to impose a structure onto it. As an example of this, Professor Cremin related a visit she made to a classroom where the Story Buzz was happening. After the third round of storytelling, the teacher put a list of headings on the board – ‘What were you doing?’; ‘Who with?’; ‘When was it?’ and so on. This is not what this exercise is about. We do not want to force remembering, or to box in the children’s stories. The point is to open the children up to the story. Stories invest our lives with meaning; they develop and express our creativity. They help us to laugh at ourselves.

TRIGGERS FOR PERSONAL TALE TELLING Personal story boxes: The children have a shoebox which they fill with objects that mean something to them: toys, photos, etc. When you have a Story Buzz, the children can wander around with their boxes and tell the story attached to whichever of the objects has caught someone’s interest. Object stories: Get the children to bring in objects which tell something about themselves. It may take a week or so for all the children to bring something in, so be patient. Display the objects and, again, they can be used to trigger off the stories. Timelines of life: The children draw a timeline of their lives and the significant events which have shaped it. Emotions graph: Here the children draw graphs of their memories. With these last two, it is important not to intrude into the children’s lives. They must be free to keep some things private, and so there should be some method of indicating which time/events/emotions are not for sharing.

RELATION TO LITERACY If we are to understand the relation of storytelling to literacy, we must take the time to see the value and nature of the story as a means of expressing ourselves. This means starting by taking the time to tell others the stories of our lives; time to visit, to re-imagine, to re-live.


MORE TRIGGERS FOR PERSONAL STORYTELLING       Photo stories Diaries – class and personal Drawing Literature Family stories Family trees – we know who we are by where we come from

DIARIES You can do a class diary to which everyone can contribute and which can be displayed on the wall. Class projects, trips and so on can be recorded, and the children can make drawings to illustrate the chart. For individual diaries, you do not need to be too ambitious. A weekend diary, for instance, could be one sheet of paper folded into eight. The children can draw pictures of what they did over the weekend – pictures of meals, family members, games, walks – or paste in objects such as cinema tickets.

USING OTHERS’ STORIES AS TRIGGERS For each of these triggers, and the original four, Professor Cremin told stories from her own experience to illustrate the idea, either personal stories or ones she has heard from children over the years. She made the point that, often, one person’s story can trigger off other stories on the same subject. Again, this is an excellent way into memories, for even if the first version is modelled on the previous story, as it is told and retold it will be revised and refined, more personal details added each time, so that in the end it may be unrecognisable as based on the original.

HOME Home is a place where our stories are told. This is a fundamental definition of home which is not in the dictionaries. A family lives by its stories. Without them it is without past and without future, without imagination, without vision and without aspiration. Wilkinson (1990)


THE IMPORTANCE OF STORY We must not underestimate the importance of story to our sense of self. We need to say to others, ‘This is me, my story, my life, my truth.’ We need to be heard.

JENNY ANGEL Professor Cremin introduced a book at this point, Jenny Angel by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas. The story is about a little boy, Davey, who is dying, and his big sister, Jenny, who has convinced him that she is an angel. It is a tale of sibling love and the journey from denial to acceptance. It is a sad book, so much so that Professor Cremin declined to read it aloud, but for that very reason it is a way to approach a topic which is very hard to broach but which, for some children, is very real and should be addressed. Professor Cremin told of a class she was delivering to teachers, at the end of which one of them said she needed this book for a boy in her class whose mother was dying. Later the teacher returned the book, having obtained a copy of her own, and showed Professor Cremin a retelling of the book by her pupil, Robbie. He had written his own version of the book, reflecting his own experiences of his mother’s illness and, happily, recovery.

PERSONAL STORIES:     Lean on life and value learners’ experiences Bridge gaps and gain cultural perspectives Foster oral creativity Involve children emotionally



There must be a balance in the teaching of writing between objective-led teaching on one side, and teaching for creativity on the other. So how can we achieve this balance? In recent years there has been an emphasis on literacy as a framework which can be tested and quantified, in order to improve standards in schools. But this has not led to an improvement in writing standards. Instead we find that children become bored with writing, and from the age of 10 or so they become disaffected. We must go back to the story; revisiting, rethinking and taking time.

ROOTS OF STORY The roots of story are internalised through the circle of reading, listening, telling and writing. David Almond (2002) Although we all focus on the reading and listening aspects in literacy teaching, there is never enough time devoted to the ‘telling’ part of this circle, and this translates to a lack of interest in the writing part. Increasing telling leads to an increase in interest in writing and to improved writing standards.

KEY FEATURES OF FICTION       Structure Setting Character Use of dialogue Plot Themes

TRADITIONAL TALES For an exercise, the teachers were divided into groups and asked to write down as many folktales as they could in five minutes (the resulting tales can be found in the Story List available on the Storytelling and Literacy page). The maximum number was 35 and no list had less than 20, the point being to show the number of storytelling resources we all have without even thinking about it.


CHARACTERS Most of these tales have a similar structure. The characterisation is generally not complex, being more polemic: The good / the bad The old / the young Wisdom / innocence

LANGUAGE Consider the language of the stories, the dialogue, all chosen to enhance the experience of telling and listening. The groups are asked to chose one story and pick out the repetitive dialogue contained in it : ‘Fee-Fie-Fo-Fum’, for example, or ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.’ Then at a signal they all chant their piece out loud, three times, at the same time. The resulting cacophony of noise fills the room and, Professor Cremin notes, is a great way to get the children motivated and to ensure that every child is involved (not just one or two answering and the rest of the class asleep).

LITERATURE Stories must be integrated into the classroom work and not seen as an extra. Literature is paramount, and oral literature – folktales – is accessible to everyone. In a quick class survey Professor Cremin established that all the teachers present had books of fairytales in their classrooms. Most homes have these, too, as they are a popular Christmas/birthday present. A good way to obtain extra resources is to ask children to bring in these books and lend them to the class for the term, not forgetting to put name plates into them.

STORYTELLING At this stage of the class, Professor Cremin told a story; that is, she did a proper storytelling session, setting the mood with a story bowl (which looks like a metal pestle and mortar and which produces an impressive ringing sound when the ‘pestle’ is drawn around the ‘mortar’) and using different voices. The story was ‘The Master Thief’. It was an impressive performance and illustrated the power of storytelling to hold and captivate an audience. Storytelling is the direct and shared communalism of something true about being alive.


WAYS OF CAPTURING A STORY Professor Cremin now discusses reducing the events of a story to simple shapes in silhouette (so no detail required) and shows some examples:    A crown and a pea (The Princess and the Pea) A dog jumping for a bunch of grapes (Sour Grapes) A mermaid on a rock (The Little Mermaid)

The idea here is similar to the objects used in the personal stories section, i.e. to provide a trigger for a story. In this case, the stories are familiar to the children and the shapes merely remind them of significant characters/events, while allowing the children to provide their own words. However, we cannot produce or decipher stories without some implicit competence in respect of narrative structure. This competence is acquired by extensive practice in reading and telling stories.

STORY PLATES Let the children make story plates, drawing on paper plates and using simple icons that will help them tell the story. Here are some examples from Professor Cremin’s own classes.





Professor Cremin pointed out that you should not get too caught up in just making the plates, enjoyable an exercise though that may be. The point of these plates, as with the story boxes and other triggers listed before, is to use them to tell the stories. So once they are made, you should have storytelling sessions where the children tell and retell their chosen stories, using the plates.

STORY SEEDS This is an exercise to allow children to grasp the shape of a story. Often, children will do a great job of setting a scene, describing the characters and so on, but they expend so much effort on this that there is no actual story. Using story seeds lets them see that the narrative structure of a story is concentrated in the middle, that the ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are not as important. So, story seeds are like this (although when drawing them yourselves, you might like to make them look more like seeds):

The children draw icons in each ‘seed’ to represent what happens in the story. Again, do not use words in the seeds, or the children will read and not tell the story. Once they have drawn the icons, do not forget to use them to tell and retell the stories. The children can then progress to drawing out the story in simple pictures without needing to use the shape of the seeds; they will have absorbed the structure of a story.


THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS The next step is to get the children to number the events in the story (i.e. the pictures/symbols) and draw them out in sequence, as:        Beginning Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3 Picture 4 Picture 5 Ending.

This format then facilitates the teaching of paragraphs and writing. If you tell the children to write a few lines for each of the steps above, then you will have shown them how to write a story in seven distinct paragraphs including a beginning and ending, and with the bulk of the narrative contained in the main body of the story. Professor Cremin talked about her own experiences of teaching writing in schools. It is a sad fact that as children get older their writing appears to get worse. That is, they improve technically but there is no substance to the writing; it is not about anything – there is no story. This is why it makes sense to concentrate on story with the children, and to be in no rush to convert the telling to writing.

INTERNALISING THE STORY When telling a story, there is a need for pauses to give the children a chance to think, to make connections, to get into the story. (Of course, there will always be some who will choose not to get into the story. You will never get 100% of the people in a full class; there are just too many people.) Traditional performers internalised the story grammars. By repeatedly hearing and performing stories they were able to extend their repertoires.

OPENING UP THE STORY To demonstrate how to open up a story, Professor Cremin tells a story and treats the teachers as she would a class of children, getting them to make gestures and noises, repeating the ‘catch phrase’ and making exaggerated facial expressions. All this is done in the manner of ‘…and then little turtle’s mouth dropped open – can you do that? Let’s all drop our mouths open…’


Then she stopped, came out of the story and asked, ‘What do you think is going to happen now? There are a number of possibilities; the hero is in a dire situation and needs help from somewhere, either from another character or by some divine intervention. The class make a few suggestions as to who might appear/reappear, or what new event might help, and then are asked to decide what they think is the most likely scenario.


The teachers discussed their ideas in pairs and then Professor Cremin did a ‘rainbow regroup’, where each person in a group is assigned a different colour, and the class is then rearranged along colour lines. The advantage of this method of regrouping is that each child in the new, colour-coded group is the only representative of the old group, and so each is obliged to contribute if only to tell what the original group had thought. Depending on the time available, you could have each group discuss each idea and decide on one, and then perhaps write out their version of what happens next. This is how you open the story up: you take time to explore the original story and the new stories that are being created.

THOUGHT BUBBLES Thought bubbles are another way of opening the story up. Gather the children in a circle and in the middle place an object to represent the character under discussion – in this case, you could use a toy turtle, for instance. Then you ask, ‘what do you think he’s feeling now?’, and the children can come into the circle, put their hand on the turtle and say what they think he might be feeling. This works better if they say their thoughts in character: ‘I’m feeling….’ rather than ‘he’s feeling…’ It can be a good idea to start this off yourself, and you should never force a child to speak; let them speak if and when they want to. Once everyone who wants has had a turn, you can write down the thoughts in thought bubbles: either on one large sheet, with everyone contributing, or on individual sheets.

IMPACT ON WRITING Literature which makes most impact on writing:  Traditional tales  Poeticised speech  Emotionally powerful texts Barrs & Cork (2001)


This information comes from research on children at KS2, 7 – 11 years old. Professor Cremin argues that traditional tales are both poetic and emotionally powerful, and so are ideal for literacy. In traditional tales the characters are not complex; they tend to be good vs bad and so on, rather than fully rounded people. So they are easier for children to emulate.

STORY MOUNTAIN This is another device for triggering storytelling. The three mountain peaks represent three significant events in the story;

the beginning and ending are shown to be less prominent, although still important.

WRITING A successful writing classroom should include: A rich oral experience of telling, retelling and refining texts as preparation for writing. NLS (2001) Use groups of three children, telling and retelling a story to each other, refining it in preparation for giving/telling it to the other children in the class.

STORY HANDS/ STORY SKELETON/ STORY MAP These are other ways to represent the story. For a story hand, the children draw around their own hands: the thumb is the beginning, there are three significant events and the little finger is the ending. Professor Cremin related how she used to draw a ring on the ring finger to represent the theme of the story until a little girl once pointed out that a


bracelet would be better as it encircles the hand as the theme encircles the story. A story skeleton is a diagram of a skeleton where the story is the backbone and it can be dressed whatever way you want: modern, old, rich, etc. The story map can be a geographical map, but it need not be; it can be a map of anything the child chooses. TEACHER’S ROLE Whatever device is used, it is always a good idea if the teacher starts the tale so that the children can get straight to the main part of the story and not get stuck in the opening part. We must be aware, as teachers, of the need to operate on trust with the children. We must give them time to themselves and not constantly be in their telling and learning space.

STORY REPERTOIRE It is important to build up a repertoire of stories to give children a choice of stories that they can tell. We do not want them to feel driven or compelled. Try to go wider to expand the repertoire: well known tales may not be listened to so keenly, especially when children tell to each other, or to younger children. New tales may also contain materials which will stretch the children’s knowledge and imaginations.



This involves small groups retelling parts of a story. The teacher may give a short description of the story, but then the children re-tell it themselves (thus emphasising the distinction between being told the story and being told about it). In the class, Professor Cremin put the teachers back into their original pairs, retelling whichever part of the story had struck them most forcibly. She asked them to picture an image from one of the stories, and tell that part. There was a lot laughing and gesticulating in the room, as will probably happen in the school classroom also. You could make a role-play area in the classroom so that the children could revisit the story in different characters.

ORAL TALES Children will imbibe and retell oral tales with ease; this is not possible with novels, given their depth and complexity. Imagine having to tell the story of Harry Potter, with all its characters and plot twists. When freed to concentrate on just one image or event, the children will explore it in great depth, enlarging on it and letting go with their imaginations. This is wonderful preparation for writing, although again, you should not rush into writing anything down. At this point Professor Cremin showed examples of writing by children after a term of storytelling. There were no complete stories, just beginnings and endings, and they were rich and detailed and complex beyond anything you would expect from such young children.

THE MISSING LINK Professor Cremin said that she sees this sort of work any time a class has put time into storytelling and particularly into the ‘telling down’. This is the bridge, the missing link, between the oral and the written.

EXPLORING A STORY IN DEPTH Professor Cremin tells another story, the Queen of Darkness. Again, she stops half way and asks the teachers to pair off and discuss what might happen next (the queen makes something and they are to speculate on what she might make and why). This time they are to generate ideas, as before, but also to appraise those ideas. They must read into the story; read what is between the lines.


The beauty of using an unfamiliar text – none of the teachers had ever heard this story - is that it frees you: there is no right or wrong answer, and so you are free to think and create for yourself. The teachers come up with lots of ideas as to what the queen might have made, with reasons for each, and each idea is discussed by the group as a whole. The exercise models for the teachers how a class would be organised for in-depth exploration of a story. With children, you might take much longer over this, getting them to work up their idea into a little piece they could tell and retell among themselves. As we did not have the time to do this, Professor Cremin told the end of the story, which comes from a book called Blue John.


TECHNIQUES FOR STORYTELLING IN CLASS The various techniques and groupings we have discussed for the promotion of storytelling in the classroom include:  Rainbow retell, where each member of a group is assigned a colour and the class is reorganised into colour groups. There is only one member of each original group in the new groups and so every child must contribute the results of their original discussions. Pairs A and B, so that the teacher can ensure that every child gets a chance to tell and retell Small group telling Whole class telling Storytelling conferences Storytelling festivals/afternoons

    

These last two provide a goal for the children to work towards; a purpose and a trajectory towards it. You must allow plenty of time for the children to prepare, and remember that the object is always the children telling stories. Having a professional storyteller come in for a day to tell to the children is a wonderful experience, but you must remember that it is not an end in itself, merely a means. The children themselves telling stories is always the end goal.

THE BENEFITS OF ORAL STORYTELLING The teachers read the handout from Professor Cremin (available for download on the Storytelling and Literacy page) and discussed their own experiences of these benefits after storytelling with their pupils, and their expectations.

TELLING TALES BADLY Professor Cremin details an exercise she often does with children: telling a story deliberately badly – forgetting details, mixing up events and characters, skipping bits and so on – and then asking the children to comment on what went wrong. This leads to the children drawing up a list of what not to do when telling a story, and so to a set of rules for storytelling written by the children. This can then be used when they are telling stories themselves.


THE WAY FORWARD Professor Cremin asks the teachers to consider the statement, ‘One thing I will do is…’ and come up with a resolution for themselves, in discussion with their partner. They should consider:    What have I learned? What connections can I make? What do I promise myself I will do?

CONCLUSION To end the class, Professor Cremin finishes the story she told earlier about the little turtle, which turns out to be ‘How Coyote got his Voice.’


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