Learn to Tell your First Story

I was recently asked if I had any tips on how to learn to tell a story. Having worked with beginning, albeit child-, storytellers, here’s my advice for how to get started:
*  Come to swaps and storytelling events as often as you can. Listen to as many different storytellers as you can. In person is best, but recordings are good, too.
*  Start by learning short, narrative poems with a strong rhythm and rhyme. (A.A. Milne and Shel Silverstein are two good choices) Almost anyone can learn a short poem. Almost anyone can get up the nerve to tell a 1-minute poem to others.
*  Once you’ve learned to tell something, anything, tell it to anyone who will listen. We’ll always listen at a VITG swap. Check the Calendar of Events for the next one.
*  For your first story, try a short, short, short folktale such as an Aesop’s Fable.
*  Then try a longer folktale in which the use of language isn’t the most important feature. Learn the first paragraph and the last paragraph by heart. Get to know the basic plot elements well enough that you can tell them, but don’t worry about telling them exactly. Use your own words, words with which you are comfortable. If you are an auditory learner, try taping yourself telling the story, and listen to the tape. Then tell along with the tape. If you are more visual, try making a list of the key events in the story, and learn them, event by event. Some people like to make pictures of the events. I like to make a note card with a list of the events and keep it in my pocket as a “security blanket” in case I forget what comes next in a story. I’ve never needed to use it, but knowing it’s there helps.
*  Practice telling your story as often as you can, to anyone who will listen. The kids in my 4H Club tell stories to their stuffed animals. Some people tell to their mirrors.
*  By this point, you’ll know how to learn a simple story.
*  If I’m working on a literary story in which the words are important, I learn the end of the story first; then the beginning; then the middle. Then I put it all together.
*  The more you listen to other people tell stories and the more you tell them yourself, the better you’ll get.

eve burton

Teaching Storytelling to Children

Storytellers’ Club Transformed by Eve Burton

For the past 9 years Montgomery County Public Libraries has sponsored the Storytellers’ Club for school-aged children at Twinbrook Community Library. Due to budget cuts, the library will no longer be sponsoring this group. But the Dogwood Dogs 4H Community Club has agreed to take on a storytelling project. If you have (or are) a school-aged child, age 8-18, who enjoys storytelling, we invite you to join the Dogwood Dogs. We meet the first Sunday each month, Sept. –May, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. in my home in Gaithersburg, MD. Most meetings are planned to include an arts & crafts project, a snack, and an hour of storytelling. Our club also does a variety of community service activities. Three Sunday evenings are planned to be potluck suppers for the whole family, friends invited, with storytelling: Sept. 5, Jan. 2, and May 1. For more information about the Dogwood Dogs’ Storytellers’ Club, contact Eve Burton 240-543-0444 or ebnineteen@hotmail.com

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The Brain Story Connection

by Ralph Chatham

Last year, while conducting a workshop on Industrial Strength Storytelling, I got so taken with our newly-gained understanding of how people’s brains work that I ran out of time. Writing, however, has the advantage that when the words run on, I can cut them without your knowing how long-winded I was to begin with. So, here is the story of how our brains are wired to think in stories themselves. I warn you that I am going to get a little technical in what follows. I will try to ease the intellectual pain by lots of metaphor. I believe that the insight into why we should tell stories and why stories work is worth the journey.

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Comparing Versions of a Tale

by Penelope Fleming

When preparing a folktale for telling, it is extremely beneficial – and marvelously entertaining, moreover – to compare different versions in order to tailor the tale to your liking. St. Patrick’s Day provides the inspiration for a story to illustrate this notion: the humorous clash between two popular Irish heroes, Fin M’Coul and Cuchulain.

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The Early Childhood Storytime

by Barbara Effron

Preschoolers are my favorite audience, even though they may squirm, wiggle, and play with their Velcro shoes during storytime. They have a short attention span, and sometimes interrupt a story with questions or comments. But with appropriate expectations and thoughtful preparation, you can successfully connect with these energetic young listeners.


Selecting and Finding Stories to Tell.  Start by selecting short stories full of action and an easy-to-follow sequence. Avoid stories with subplots and more than three to four main characters. Cumulative stories such as “Henny Penny,” and circle stories like “The Stonecutter” work very well. Stories should be filled with repetitive words and phrases. For example, in “The Little Red Hen,” the story is driven by the repeated dialogue of the animals: “Not I,” said the dog. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the mouse. “Oh my,” said the hen. “I’ll have to do it myself.”


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