Section 5

The art of story telling


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • planned and managed classroom activities to develop an appreciation of stories and storytelling;
  • used local contacts and resources to develop your knowledge about the culture of storytelling;
  • devised and used strategies to help pupils write their own stories.

Stories have been part of human history for centuries. In the past, stories often delivered important messages. The listeners would laugh, cry and sometimes sing along with the storyteller. It is the ability to carry messages that makes stories so valuable for you, as a teacher. The activities, case studies and resources in this section are intended to help you use this rich heritage to develop your pupils’ skills in the art of writing, telling and reciting stories. This will develop their sense of belonging and give them insight into their cultural heritage.

Page 1

A story may be told, written, read or recited. It may be a true story or fiction. Often stories have messages in them about the values of the community, how to live our lives and how to care for others. You and your pupils will probably have told and listened to stories before. You may even have written some. This part will help you develop your pupils’ understanding of the art of storytelling and also that storytelling is embedded in the culture of your society. You may be fortunate and know someone in your community who is skilled at telling stories and could come and tell a story to your class. (See Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource.) Or, as in Case Study 1, you may be able to visit the storyteller and record them on a tape and use this in your class. Activity 1 suggests ways to organise pupils to share their own favourite stories.

Case Study 1: Using a local person to learn the cultural significance of stories

Mrs Biyela teaches at Furaha Primary School, Tanzania. She is preparing for her next teaching topic, which is ‘Story’. She consults books and website resources on storytelling, writing and reciting. She learns that storytelling has deep cultural significance, and wants to find some way of conveying this to her pupils. She has heard of an old lady, Bibi Koku, who lives nearby and is famous as a storyteller. One afternoon, she visits Ma’Koku and asks if she would be willing to tell a story to Mrs Biyela’s Standard 4 pupils. The old lady agrees, but, she says, ‘Only during the evening.’ She insists that people who tell stories during daytime invite famine into their community and she is not willing to do that. Immediately, this becomes an interesting issue for Mrs Biyela – she is sure it would grab her pupils’ attention and give them insights into a cultural aspect of storytelling. Therefore, she arranges to bring a tape-recorder and record Ma’Koku telling a story, as well as talking about the taboo on daytime storytelling. She is concerned to try to make sure that the old lady talks about this in a way her pupils can understand. As it turns out, Ma’Koku solves the problem for her by telling the story about what happens to people who tell stories during the day! On the day of the lesson, Mrs Biyela checks the tape-recorder to make sure everything is fine. She introduces the lesson, asking pupils if they have ever listened to any stories told by old people. The pupils are curious – they listen to Ma’Koku telling her story. Next, Mrs Biyela conducts an animated discussion about why Ma’Koku could not come to tell the story at school that morning. She is excited by the fact that so many of the pupils are aware of the custom of not telling stories during the day. By the end of the lesson, they have built up a rich understanding of the tradition and the taboos associated with it.

Activity 1: Choosing a favourite story

Prior to the lesson, ask each pupil to decide on a favourite short story to share in class.
  • Organise the class into small groups of between four and six pupils. Ask each pupil to tell their story to the members of their group. Before they start, emphasise that everyone is to have a turn and they must each listen to each other’s stories.
  • Next, ask each group to choose between them one story from their group. They will present these to the class. If you become aware that any group is finding it hard to agree, step in to help the group decide on a story.
  • Give the groups time to prepare. If possible, provide a range of props – clothing, tools, toys, musical instruments, etc. – or ask pupils to bring these in, to enhance their stories and help convey the meanings.
  • Each group in turn tells their story to the whole class and explains why they like it.
  • Finally, discuss with your class the important parts of a story; the beginning, the body, episodes, setting, characters and the ending.
Were you surprised at the stories your pupils chose? How well did your pupils work together in the small groups? Do you need to plan different groupings for the next activity?

Page 2

Many traditions and beliefs are passed on through story. In this part, we suggest how to develop pupils’ understanding of the importance of story in passing on such traditions and providing messages about how people should live. It is very exciting for pupils to hear expert storytellers telling their stories. In Case Study 2, a teacher organises a visit to a storyteller. In Activity 2, you use brainstorming to investigate your pupils’ knowledge of traditional tales and explore ways to gather these stories together (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas).

Case Study 2: Taking pupils to visit a local storyteller

Mr Mncube is an arts and culture teacher at a school in KwaZulu-Natal. Mr Mncube visited his village leader, Inkosi uShandu, and asked him if he could bring the Grade 6 pupils to his kraal. He also asked the village leader if he would tell a traditional tale to the pupils. This was agreed. A day before the appointment, Mr Mncube told the class that he would be taking them out on a visit to the village leader’s home to listen to the traditional tales of the amaZulu. In order to prepare his pupils, he conducted a brief discussion about their experiences of story and what they thought they might encounter the next day and made a mind map of their ideas on the chalkboard. The tale that the village leader narrated is set out in Resource 1: The snake chief. It had an important message and lessons to be learned. Mr Mncube, as he listened to the story, was already preparing questions that he would ask the class about the story in order to bring out these lessons. Because the village leader was an old, respected man, he was also able to impress on the children the rich sense of ancestry attached to the story in Nguni tradition – it had been handed down over time, with its meanings reinforced from generation to generation. Mr Mncube realised that he had made a wise choice in actually bringing his pupils to the storyteller’s home, rather than simply telling them the story himself.

Activity 2: Reconstructing traditional tales

Before the lesson, gather as many written or oral versions of local traditional stories as you can find. (See Resource 2: Stories and fables from across Africa for a useful website and read Key Resource: Using new technologies.) Ask pupils to brainstorm as many traditional tales as they can remember hearing. Next, divide the class into groups of four. Ask each group to identify a story that was identified in the brainstorm and to write up and illustrate a fuller version of the story. Provide guidelines, such as:
  • What is the name of the traditional tale?
  • To which society/community/clan does the tale belong?
  • What message(s) does the tale provide?
  • What lesson(s) can be learned from the tale?
  • Who normally tells the story?
  • Who is the intended audience and why is this audience targeted?
  • What time of the year is the tale normally told? Why?
  • What time of the day is the tale normally told? Why?
The stories that are produced can be bound together as readers for use in the school. It may even be possible to publish them in the community or beyond.

Page 3

Having a good understanding of local traditional tales is a good base for your pupils to devise their own stories. Listening to stories told with animation and which use words to gain effect will give them confidence to take risks in their writing and produce more creative tales. The purpose of this part is to use local resources to develop your pupils’ skills in writing their own stories and poems. You will also develop your skills in planning learning activities that allow pupils to participate fully. In Case Study 3, a teacher uses a radio programme to stimulate interest about writing stories and the Key Activity uses pictures as the stimulus. With younger pupils, you might want to encourage them to draw pictures for their story; it is important that all pupils feel able to tell a story, rather than struggle with spellings and handwriting.

Case Study 3: Learning from an expert storyteller

While listening to the radio, Miss Sala, a social studies teacher, heard that on the coming Friday there would be a programme in which a renowned local storyteller and writer would be interviewed. Fortunately, the programme was at a convenient time during the school day, so Miss Sala came to school with her radio. She also prepared to tape-record the radio programme. Before the programme started, she discussed with her pupils what they knew of the writer, and what they expected she would be talking about when she was interviewed. During the programme, the writer explained about the structure of a story, the theme/main idea, the characters and setting. She gave some advice on the process of writing. She also spoke about what inspired her and where she got her ideas from. When the programme was over, Miss Sala asked the following kinds of questions to promote discussion among her pupils:
  • What can you learn from this writer that could help you become a better writer yourself?
  • What inspires her? Are there things in your life or community that you want to write about?
  • What is the structure and content of a good piece of writing?
She asked the last question at the end because she wanted it to be inspired by the bigger issues. At the end of the lesson, she said that with their next piece of creative writing, she would like pupils to try some of the techniques suggested by the storyteller. She would then mark it by looking for evidence they had considered these issues and give careful feedback.

Key Activity: Writing and telling stories

  • Present pupils with a stimulus to draw out ideas about life, community or broader society. See Resource 3: Pictures for stories for three images that work well, but you might choose anything similar.
  • Using Resource 4: Using pictures as a stimulus for story writing to guide you, discuss the picture your class has chosen.
  • Ask each pupil to write their own version of the story. Encourage them to add in their own ideas and scenarios as they write. For example: What happened before that led to the picture and what happens next?
  • The next day, pupils read their stories to each other in small groups and each group chooses one to read to the whole class. Remind them of how important it is to use their voices and props if possible to help them.
  • You might want to put all the stories into a class book.

Print section