When Neelam first told me that she volunteers as a storyteller, I was all ears! I love the art of storytelling and even before she had explained I was imagining her sitting with little children and weaving tales. I was a little wrong there as what she does is a lot more organised.
Storytelling is an activity under Friends Society’s Program for Future Leaders – a collection of different activities where volunteers work with adolescent school children on different aspects of leadership.
With every child having access to computers, reading books has significantly reduced. For most, books are limited only to text books. Neelam says “we hope these story telling sessions will excite them about books beyond classrooms and that they will read at least a few pages every night”. Besides being a fun activity, storytelling sessions are also planned in a way to develop creativity, critical thinking, analytic reasoning and team work among children.
Preparation for each session
My immediate question was how do they select and tell the stories? This may seem very basic but it is the first step towards any storytelling session and the most important. The stories are selected depending on the age group of the children. The genre may vary between suspense, comedy, historical and mythological depending on what the children would like and understand. For example, for children of 9th grade, usually suspense stories are selected because many had expressed that they like Sherlock Holmes (who doesn’t! 🙂 ); for younger children we may choose mysteries like akbar-birbal.
All the volunteers suggest stories and after a reading session among them, one story is selected.
These kids are teenagers; if we simply read a story to them, they would be bored very quickly. Our focus while preparation is make the session fun & engaging.
The story is then broken down into an outline of events to be narrated. The volunteers first practice among themselves, reading it out loud. This helps in streamlining the story and ensuring that it doesn’t sound boring. Any part that may be dragging the story is removed. Different mediums such as images, audio-video etc are used to make the “telling” part exciting.
During the storytelling sessions
Just before taking the session, the volunteers first meet with the principal of the school and he/ she assigns one teacher to help the volunteers. The main reason we think is to keep up discipline during the session as the children are very naughty! 🙂
The children are divided into 3 or 4 team and each team has an assigned leader. As the story progresses, the volunteers ask questions about characters and how the story might be progressing. The volunteers stop the story just before the ending and that is when the real fun begins.
Every team gets 15 minutes to finish the story. The students work together analyzing different scenarios and possible endings. They also work on how they are going to present their ending. The leader has the added responsibility of resolving conflicts and bringing the team to a consensus. The volunteers interact with all the teams and help them with clues, if required.
Each team then presents their ending. It is interesting to see that rarely are the endings of any two groups same! :). In the end, one team is selected as a winner (though each is a winner!) based on their ending and the way they presented. The volunteers give gifts to the children and then after a thank you note, where they specifically mention how storytelling and reading is important for personality development, they ask for feedback.
As most volunteers are themselves college students, these sessions while helping the children also help them in a similar way. Presentation skills, handling crowds, engaging with children, addressing a huge gathering all goes towards their own development as future leaders!
–Neelam Sharma in conversation with Ashima Goyal Siraj
Check out more resources for storytelling in the classroom at Story Arts.