Teaching Students Storytelling
Katelynn Carlson, Middle School English and Humanities

I was obsessed with stories growing up. I begged my parents to tell me stories from their childhoods, and I demanded to read aloud with them before I went to bed each night. They are the seeds that first planted my love of storytelling which led me to teach English and humanities. When I'm not in the classroom, I'm hunting for stories in novels, music, television shows and on my daily commute listening to NPR. 
This quarter, I have the joy of teaching a 7th and 8th-grade Storytelling elective. In our first few sessions together, we explored why we tell stories. Is it biological? Social Entertainment? Education? Tradition? We found, it's all of these. 

One session asked students to generate answers to our essential question, and here are snippets from their responses:

  • "Stories are ancient, universal, interactive…"
  • "We tell stories to understand why things happen…"
  • "..to express life and things that happen around them…"
  • "…to share ideas, share knowledge, keep ourselves amused..."
  • "…help us feel empathy for others..."
  • "…shape our culture and tradition..."
  • "…storytelling is an integral part of our society."

As we began to consume and analyze stories together, students created criteria to determine what makes a good story. They learned to examine plot structures and purposes as well as characters and tone. Most importantly, they learned to consider if a story is engaging--if it motivates them to keep reading.

We laughed together at a science-fiction satire called "They're Out Made of Meat" and felt a connection to "The Other Side" by Jacqueline Woodson. As we looked at various paintings, we analyzed each scene for key details to help us determine the story. "I notice he's holding a clarinet" "Why is the background so dark," "There's a shadow to the left." Their observations were thoughtful, insightful and inspired a host of stories about each one.
Soon, students will begin generating their own stories, trying out characters and themes, making their pieces engaging. They'll look to each other for feedback and produce a finished piece by the end of the semester. I can't wait for their stories to be shared!