There are many benefits to having a professional storyteller visit your school. Storytelling helps students develop listening skills. Stories are the building blocks of imagination, stories teach character, and storytelling can foster the desire to read independently. Since children can listen on a higher language level than they can read, storytelling makes complex ideas more accessible and exposes children to vocabulary and language patterns that are not part of everyday speech. This, in turn, helps them understand the structure of books when they read independently.
So, understanding the benefits of great storytelling, how do you get the most out of a visit from a professional storyteller? Tellers need you to help create the mood, the environment where they can work their magic. Most schools have a plan for encouraging their students to be courteous and attentive during assemblies. Here are specific ideas that will help you prepare your students to listen attentively and stay focused:
ONE – Calming preparation activities are better than energizing preparation activities. Well-meaning teachers and administrators will sometimes make the mistake of trying to prepare students for an assembly by “getting the wiggles out” with a physical release activity like jumping jacks or even a quick run around the gym. This may work to calm adults, but it seems to have the opposite effect on children when it comes to preparing them to listen. They tend to get more wound up and agitated instead of calm and focused. A quiet activity for the students who are waiting for others to enter is more effective. I have seen teachers use silent games of “follow my lead”, and songs to great effect. Sometimes a storyteller will have their own method of entertaining the kids prior to the beginning of the assembly such as playing music or games. If so, let them work their magic and just relax.
TWO – Introductions are important – a brief introduction focusing on something you think your students might find interesting about the teller followed by an enthusiastic welcome by the students is usually enough to set the stage. Some schools assign a student to introduce a storyteller which can be a great learning experience as well.
THREE – Once a storyteller has been introduced let them take over capturing the attention of the students and dealing with interruptions. The storytellers are professionals and have dealt with many groups of students over the years. They most often can handle the disruptive behavior with patience and humor. On rare occasions when a student or students are being particularly disruptive the adult in charge of the assembly might be tempted to step in with some harsh discipline while an assembly is happening. This most often causes more problems than it solves, drawing more attention to the disruption and blanketing the event with negativity. If a student really gets out of hand it seems to be most effective when an adult simply removes them quietly.
FOUR – Most schools will have teachers and other adults sitting with the kids, which is a good idea. However, sometimes storytellers get treated as if they are a DVD or videotape and the teachers/parents/hosts will talk loudly in the background or will pull out their laptops and begin to work. Teachers are busy and it is tempting to use the time in an assembly to get caught up on work, but adult participants should understand that the respect they show the teller will influence their students.
FIVE – Of all the schools that I have visited with storytellers, the most attentive students are from schools that have their own storytelling competitions. These students seem to know and appreciate what it takes to tell a story, have longer attention spans and have the ability to follow a more complicated narrative. Also, their questions at the end of the storytelling session are insightful and relevant. Perhaps a visit from a storyteller might be just the motivation your students need to get involved in telling their own stories.
Schools are like big families. No two schools are alike, just as no two families are alike, but these general principles in establishing and maintaining attentiveness and respect during an assembly seem to apply across a wide variety of demographics. I hope you find them useful. If you have any additional ideas, please leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.