This is one of the quickest ways I know of teaching a tale and boosting students’ confidence in themselves as storytellers.

Preparation

Practise telling this short and simple rhythmical action tale until you know it confidently without looking at the text:

Once a poor man dug the ground
And what he found was nothing
Again the poor man dug the ground
And what he found was a box
Again the poor man dug the ground
And what he found was a key
With the key he opened the box
And what he found was a mouse’s tail
And if that tail was longer, this tale would be longer.

Procedure

  • Tell students that they’re going to learn the shortest tale using their bodies as well as their voices.
  • Ask them to stand up and get ready to repeat after each line, mimicking actions as well as language.
  • Tell the tale rhythmically line by line using definite and simple rhythmical actions to underpin each line. For example the first line can be accompanied by a rhythmic digging action and an ‘empty hands’ gesture. You don’t need any props.
  • As soon as you’ve finished the tale and they’ve understood the word-play tale/tail, tell them to tell the tale again together with you without repeating, again with the actions so that they will remember it.
  • As soon as you’ve finished this second whole-class telling, ask students to stand in circles of 4 or 5 and to tell the action tale a third time, this time without help from you.
  • Celebrate the students’ ability to learn a short tale in a matter of minutes and challenge them to remember the story and tell it/teach it to other people they meet and tell them to remember it for the next class.

Note: The Shortest Tale has been adapted by me from a traditional Polish tale. Any short action-based tale with repeated phrases can be taught in this way. You can watch me teaching it to a group of teachers on YouTube.

See article Rhythm, rhyme, repetition, reasoning and response in oral storytelling.

David Heathfield is a storyteller and English teacher. Find more ideas in his teacher resource book Spontaneous Speaking: Drama Activities for Confidence and Fluency (DELTA Publishing).

www.davidheathfield.co.uk

Author: 
David Heathfield
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Comments

Hi David,
Thank you again for your articles on storytelling. Very useful.
If I'm honest, on my own I would have never tried such a procedure with my students. Simply because I think my students cannot do such a thing.
However, I suppose I should challenge myself to challenge my students to embark in the conducting you suggest regarding storytelling.
Best wishes.
Fernando Díez Gallego
Granada, Spain
http://fernandoexperiences.blogspot.com
I did like the tale, because of the repetition, the rhythm, the sequence, the mimicking.
Sorry for any small possible format setting problem.

Hi Mr David,
I liked this way of teaching English, it's very interesting, I've never met it before, thank you for this article

 H! allThank you for sharing the idea here .. Good one, but normally it might not meet all students ..

Hi David
I found the article extremely valuable as I am currently doing research on Strorytelling as teaching tool to empower teachers in Grade R classes (South Africa). The idea is that they should use the story integrated with arts -such as visual and performing- to teach across the curriculum. Furthermore it should serve to create greater sensitivity and tolerance towards HIV and AIDS affected children. Thus far I have found that teachers seem to shy away from addressing HIV and AIDS. I hope to be able to keep in touch to share some of my findings and my ideas in this very important phase at school, which unfortunately is not such a priority yet. Many of our pre-schools are private and under-resourced.  I use a story and plan lessons around the story using role-play, movement and songs, and visual art in different media.

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