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Storytelling Activities to Support
the New York State Standards for English Language Arts

New Learning Standards for English Language Arts have been developed in New York State that require students at all grade levels to demonstrate skills in speaking and listening as well as in reading and writing. The following activities developed by Heather Forest utilize the art of storytelling to explore speaking and listening skills.

Speaking and Listening:

  1. For Information
  2. For Literary Response and Expression
  3. For Critical Analysis and Evaluation
  4. For Social Interaction

1. Speaking and Listening For Information

Practicing Factual Recall
Facts are data. Once data is collected we can interpret, analyze, evaluate, or apply it. Factual recall is somewhat mechanical but it provides the basis for more creative uses of information.

Read or Tell a Folktale to the Class.

Ask students to listen carefully to the tale so that afterwards they can answer simple, factual, non-subjective questions such as inquiries related to who, what, where, or when.

Who:   Name the main characters.
What:   Describe one action that a character in the tale did.
Where:   Describe a detail mentioned in the story that refers to the setting of the tale.
When:   Make a linear timeline of the sequence of events of the plot.

Keep in mind that since listeners create, in their imagination, much of the subjective detail of a story that is heard, assessing factual recall must be based on information overtly contained in the story. (Thanks to Karen Morgan for this thought) Unlike watching TV, story listeners create the costumes, scenery, and character details in their own imaginations. Factual questions should not be about subjective detail.

Exploring Comprehension
Once a folktale plot is understood as a sequence of events, students can use this information to explore further comprehension and creative arts activities.

Interpretive Activities:  
Have students generally summarize the folktale.

Have students generously retell the folktale in dramatic style with character dialogue, Have students differentiate between the characters by creating distinctive voice qualities and gestures for each character in the tale.

Have students discuss their sense of the underlying meanings or messages in the story (moral)? Have students imagine themselves as a character in the tale. Would they have made the same choices? Why or why not?

Compare two versions of the story's plot as told by different authors or by two or more cultures. Notice similarities and differences.

* See Storytelling Skills Rubric

2. Speaking and Listening for Literary Response and Expression

Generating New Ideas:
Creativity allows us to take information and use it in innovative, unique, and interesting ways.

Read Or Retell A Folktale To The Class:

Ask students to write a sequel to the folktale predicting how another episode might evolve.

Ask students to create a scene that happens before the plot of the folktale actually begins.

Ask students to imagine the folktale set in modern times.

Invent a different way to retell the folktale in written form from the point of view of one of the characters as a:
Diary entry (communication to one's self)
Newspaper report (a public communication)
Letter to a friend (a communication to a trusted associate)

Revise a classic fable by rehumanizing the animal characters. Give the generic characters names and retell the story featuring humans instead of animals.

Have students plan a storytelling concert celebrating a cultural heritage. Have them investigate the culture by researching the ethnic group in the library or on the Internet. Have each student learn a folktale from the culture. Bring in foods of the ethnicity and have a feast.

Ask student to create the following narrative forms based on a folktale plot:

  • a picture book
  • a puppet show
  • a play
  • a ballad
  • a narrated pantomime show
  • a storytelling presentation

3. Speaking and Listening For Critical Analysis and Evaluation

Evaluating, Judging, Having an Opinion
Storytelling encourages empathy and a respect for different points of view.

Personal Taste:
Ask students to listen to several folktales read out loud or retold from an anthology of folktales found in the 398.2 section of the library. Have students choose, from those read, a story they would enjoy retelling themselves. Some "point of view" discussion topics: What about the folktale chosen attracted the student? With which character did he or she identify most? Would he or she behave differently or the same as the characters in the tale who find themselves in a predicament.

Understanding Public Opinion:
Ask students to develop a list of generally accepted standards of communal behavior such as co-operation, honesty, and sharing etc. that encourage people to live together in a peaceful, productive way. Have students find an ancient folktale that expresses a useful societal value that might still be relevant today.

Relativity Of Standards
Listen to or read folktales from other times and places. Have students evaluate a folktale from its historical context. Discuss for example: At the time that the tale was told or collected were customs different from today?

Listen to or read folktales from ancient times and places. Decipher and discuss a useful bit of wisdom that the plotline preserved for future generations.

If a folktale in a published anthology offers a printed moral, ask students if they agree with the summation. Could they suggest a different moral for the same story?

4. Listening and Speaking For Social Interaction

Speaking and listening skills are essential to participating in adult culture. The ability to articulate thoughts, feelings, and needs can contribute to academic, interpersonal, and professional success. For safety's sake, children need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings so that they can ask for help and get what they need from adults. Good listeners learn more efficiently.

Listening For Social Interaction
Ask students to develop a list of attributes of a good listener. Discuss the list. Listen to each other's comments on the art of listening!

Ask students to offer encouragement to a speaker by showing in non-verbal terms with their eyes, facial expression, and body stance that they are listening. This social courtesy creates an atmosphere where speakers will generously speak. Ask students to assess their own listening skills. Do they always pay complete mental attention to speakers or do they observe their mind straying to other irrelevant thoughts. Only the student can assess his or her own concentration patterns.

* Listening Skills Rubric

Speaking For Social Interaction
*Public Speaking Activities
*Practicing the Art of Conversation

Public Speaking Activities
Have students orally share stories: by retelling folktales or reading a folktale out loud with expression.

Have students give an oral book report.

Have students create and present a first person monologue pretending to be a famous figure out of history or herstory.

Have students design a radio show for the school intercom system that includes: a school news report, live interviews of teachers or students, the reading of poetry, essays, or reports, announcements of world headline news.

* Practice and Stage Fright
*Coaching Beginner Storytellers

Practicing the Art of Conversation
Have students work with a conversation buddy during class time to discuss, one-on-one, a particular issue raised in class. Have students become aware of their ability to take turns speaking and listening.

Have students gather in small discussion groups to develop a group project such as a short skit based on a folktale.

Have students speak to each other about experiences in their lives that resemble incidents in a folk or fairytale.

Have students become sensitized to whenever a speaker is interrupted by others before a communication has been completed. A long pause during a speaker's statement does not constitute an opportunity for another student to cut in and speak.

Have students interview elders in their family to explore collecting family stories.

Telephone Skills:
Practice using a mock telephone in front of the class:
Would the speaker of the following calls speak differently? How?

  • Call and ask to talk to a friend.
  • Call a business and ask for information.
  • Call an emergency number or police for medical help.

Discuss the social courtesies expected in answering a phone:

  • at home.
  • as if student worked as a receptionist at a business.

Have two students engage in a mock phone call. Without looking at each other, have students practice listening and speaking, attentively waiting for an appropriate pause to hold up their end of the conversation. Do we listen more attentively to tone of voice, if we cannot see the facial expressions of our conversation partner?

Taking Turns Talking:
To prevent anyone from interrupting a speaker, use any object, such as a stick, a ball, a stone etc. and place it in the middle of a small discussion group. Then, take turns reaching for the object. Only the one who is holding the item can speak. When that speaker is finished speaking, the item is placed in the middle of the circle again for another to hold. This forum gives a moment of silence between comments in the discussion.

Have a Salon: a conversation party
Arrange a time when an invited group of friends gathers socially to discuss an interesting topic. The first meeting of the salon could be to develop a good list of discussion topics.

For additional lessons and activities see:
*Storytelling Activities and Lesson Ideas
*Storytelling Across the Curriculum

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