The Beauty of a Story

I’ve been thinking about my past student’s a lot lately. Two houses down from me currently, there’s a four year old little boy with his two front teeth missing and he comes up on my porch any time I’m outside asking, “Can I show you something?” The other day while I was working he came up four times and I kept reminding him that I was working and would talk when I was all finished. This interaction took me back to when I was teaching- when students came up and pulled on my clothes, “Ms. Olivia, Josiah’s not being my friend.” or “Look Ms. Olivia, look look look.” as their drawing was inches from my nose.

These memories are bittersweet. I am relieved when I think about the piece and quiet of my day as I sit at my desk, but I am sad, missing the unconditional love and affection showed every single day. I miss hearing my name called throughout the classroom. I miss dancing during circle time to “Can’t Stop the Feeing” on repeat. I miss watching the excitement on their face as they managed to build structures with blocks bigger than themselves, when, for just 5 minutes, were able to work together to set up a stage and create a concert for the whole class to hear. What I really miss- their stories.

At least twice a week I would ask, “Do you want to tell me a story?” When we first implemented this activity, children were hesitant, wondering what I was even asking them. Once they realized that this was their moment to tell me anything that was on their mind, they lined up in masses.

A simple line… asking them to tell me a story provided a moment for them to share their excitement, worries, anxieties, fears or a moment to process something they had seen. Sometimes these stories were a rendition of an action movie they had seen the night before, such as the one below:

Rafael was fighting the bad guys. The Shredder comes to fight him. Then he comes to hear him and then he got fighting and then he got hurt. And then he got in a trap. Rafael wasn’t going to get out at all because his friends were going to help but he didn’t want help because he wanted to do it all by himself.

Students learned from each other in these moments, built on stories, and established the courage to share their own. As the story above was being told, another student over heard, one who was hesitant to speak up themselves. After hearing the story about Rafael, he said, “I want to tell a story”. He followed the story about Rafael with:

Batman fight the villains and then he got in a trap. And then he was trapped forever then he got out and he saved the world and then last time he saved the world everyday and then he went back home. He put his costume on.

There were times when the stories went on for pages and others where it was one word. There was one student in particular who was an English Language Learner. She did not speak a word until the middle of the school year, but sat observing. I asked her each time if she would like to share a story. It wasn’t until the middle of March that she finally shared, “Daddy, Mommy, Josh, Addison.” It may seem like nothing at first glance, but what an improvement from the beginning of the year. In these four names, she share what was important to her and what she thought about through the day. She was building trust and opening up.

Along with sharing their own stories and processing their thoughts, they were learning about literacy as I wrote down word for word what they shared. In these moments, they learned the meaning of words. I repeated each word back to them as I wrote it down, sometimes had to tell them to slow down because I could not write fast enough, and then once finished, I would read it back to them. It was such a powerful moment seeing their faces light up as they heard their own story read back to them and the words written on the page.

For the final part, acting it out. In this part of the activity, they were able to see their stories come to life. We taped a square on the rug, establishing it as our stage. Those in the square- the actors. Those around the square- the audience. Students were assigned roles from the characters in the story and as I read the story aloud, they acted it out, creating the dramatization. We giggled, we celebrated, we enjoyed each story. A student created a chant for the end of each story, incorporating the authors name and we rejoiced. The author had a moment in the circle, all alone, being thanked for sharing.

Gillian MCNAMEE | Erikson Institute, Chicago

Obviously, this story acting was not my own original idea. I had the opportunity to read the book “The High-Performing Preschool: Story Acting in Head Start Classrooms” by Gillian McNamee. Gillian was my professor in Graduate school and she shared her incredible experiences with this activity.

For teachers in the field, when school resumes, try this out and see what it does to the culture of your classroom. Keep a journal with each students stories and see how they grow and evolve over the school year.

For parents, ask your children to share a story. Write it down word for word, turn it into a book, keep a journal, or hang it on the fridge and have them illustrate the story to go along with their story. Create a stage with whatever you have in your home and watch their stories come to life. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. No need for props for the dramatization. See how they act it out without. Let their imagination run wild and enjoy!

Note: Names have been changed to preserve privacy of students

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