Deirdre Moore | April 2014

Tell Me a Story: A Guide to Interactive Storytelling

Recently I concluded a trimester of visual arts with a group of second graders.  We had focused on creating art related to China to prepare the students for an upcoming unit on Cinderella stories from around the world where they would be charged with writing a Cinderella story based on the Chinese culture.  The morning I was to present our visual art work to the parents I had some time to fill with these students before the assembly.  I wanted to share a Chinese tale with them about a boy who became a dragon to demonstrate how dragons are considered to be protectors rather than creatures to be slain for their treasures.  But how to keep the story interesting and keep the students interested during the telling, especially with the excitement of the upcoming assembly?  Interactive storytelling, of course!

A well-told, well-woven story is powerful in and of itself but sometimes giving the audience a job can increase their attention and investment.  It can also help the listeners better retain the story and the sequence of events.  For English Language Learners, movement and sound helps to reinforce some key vocabulary.  Here are some pointers and guidelines to creating a successful interactive storytelling experience.

  • Identify the key characters or objects in the story. Keep the number to a minimum (about 5) to keep it manageable for the audience (and you!) to remember.
  • For each character/object you identify create a sound and a movement that reflect the character/object.  You can do this yourself, create those sounds and movements with the students, or have the students create the sounds and movements themselves in small groups.
  • When teaching the sounds/movements to the audience be sure to clarify how long the sound and movements should last to keep the audience together and not have the sounds and movements distract from the story (one sharp sound/movement or movement repeated three times with sound lasting only as long as the movement).
  • You may choose to split the audience into groups with each group assigned only one sound and movement or you may want all the listeners to perform all the sounds and movements.  I have used both effectively.  With a group the size of a class I generally have all in the audience do all the movements and sounds.  With a large crowd I normally split the audience into groups so the sound doesn’t get overpowering.
  • Be sure to practice the various movements and sounds before telling the story so the audience is well prepared and they can just enjoy the story during the telling.
  • As you tell the story be sure to stop immediately after saying the keywords even if they occur mid-sentence to allow for the audience to respond.  If the audience is paying attention and know their parts well, the story will flow beautifully despite the interruption.
  • Feel free to join your audience in creating the sounds and movements or just enjoy their response as you weave the tale!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.