How to Create a Student Storytelling Club
Reviewed by Kevin D. Cordi
At a time when more emphasis is being placed on raising reading scores, teaching Common Core Standards, and building literacy programs, a professional storyteller and teaching artist shares a way to assist in these goals plus engage students by reminding and guiding us on how to make reading and telling stories fun.
Karen Chace’s new book Story by Story invites us to invigorate students by creating a storytelling club or “troupe” and hosting a festival at our own schools. She outlines a program to hear and appreciate folktales, personal narratives, and original student stories told out loud, and chronicles her successes and her mistakes along the way. We can all learn from this rich narrative.
More about the book
Her step-by-step narrative is quickly told. The impact of her ideas on student engagement is long lasting. A school asked her to create a storytelling club and festival. Over 13 years later, the program continues. Chace now serves as a mentor to help teachers and schools build youth connections with stories.
As Chace shares her story, we read how an idea became a program. We start with the initial request and learn how a storytelling troupe and festival were created. We watch the engagement and number of students grow.
I have met Chace and attended several of her workshops. She and I have spent a great deal of time working in separate programs introducing youth to the art of learning and telling stories. Due to distance and/or schedules, we have not had the pleasure of seeing each other’s work. This book provides me a personal perspective.
I know about youth storytelling troupes and festivals. I ran one for over 14 years. I wrote a book, with award-winning middle school librarian and storyteller Judy Sima, on the same subject, creating youth storytelling connections in the school. It is entitled Raising Voices: Creating youth storytelling groups and troupes (2003). I knew Chace then and was aware of her programs, but this book would be an excellent companion to my text. It also stands on its own. It presents a personal perspective on building a student storytelling troupe and presents a timeline to make it all happen.
All the specifics for starting a storytelling club
This idea of building a storytelling club and/or festival is not always on the minds of teachers. However, Chace makes the process comprehensive and accessible. More than this, she demonstrates from her own example the results of the work.
When I ran my storytelling troupe, I could have heavily benefited from the detailed plans in this book. She carefully outlines how to promote a troupe in your school, how to find support, including financial grants, and even includes already designed letters to the parents explaining the work, guide sheets when kids are telling their stories, tips on coaching students, and checklists for festival preparation.
Chace’s voice is both rich and personal within the text. One of the most inviting perspectives she shares is the response of the students.
• We hear of a father whose sons created a tandem tale (story told by two people) who was so taken with the experience he fashioned a personal shirt for each of his boys with an image of the story and the name of the folktale they told.
• We witness how Nick and Zachery, telling together the English folktale “Sody Sallyratus,” decide to place it in a rap, jazzing it for all the listeners.
Plentiful exercises to spark students’ imagination
Students did not find success overnight; instead, it was through careful planning. Chace details these strategies with inviting exercises, including some from accomplished Storyteller Sue Black and others that invite students to become story makers.
In one particular exercise, Chace converts “Hop Scotch” to align with story development. Borrowing from this old childhood game, when a student lands in the space they are building a story. One of my favorite exercises is called the “Fantasy Trunk.” Chase carries an imaginary trunk and places it in the center of the classroom. Each student shares what they found in the trunk. Students will produce a fountain of creative ideas from this invisible luggage.
These exercises are highly useful for story crafting. Whether someone is intending to create a storytelling troupe or festival, the sheer number of activities can assist any educator or student to discover new and innovative ways to work with narratives.
Invest some time and reap literacy rewards
After reading the book, I wanted more tales, more activities, more student stories and sage advice from Chace. (Her website is a rich resource for not only student storytelling but also folktales, tips and ideas about the art.)
I imagine right now you have a group of students who would enjoy practicing telling or shaping stories out loud. Even if you only give the effort an hour at a time, imagine the rich literacy skills and inviting stories that will be shared. When I coached my troupe, I received more reward from the students with each story. It helped us feel more connected to all the narratives we shared. Chace’s book is a step-by-step useful instructional guide to show you how.
Kevin D. Cordi, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Ohio Dominican University and Co-Director of the Columbus Area Writing Project. He is the author of Playing with stories: story crafting for writers, teachers, and other imaginative thinkers (2014, Parkhurst Brothers) and Raising voices: creating youth storytelling groups and troupes (2003, Libraries Unlimited). He is the founder of Y.E.S. (Youth, Storytellers and Educators Alliance) with the National Storytelling Network. Visit www.kevincordi.com to learn more and www.permission2play.com to explore his new work with play.