Walking into the public library the other Saturday I was hanging out in my favorite mystery section, somewhat in the back, darker side of the library when I heard a loud squeal…followed by the most insane laughter. Grasping the most recent Maisie Dobbs book in hand, I crept through the stacks in the most detective-like manner possible to discover the source of these giggles, claps, and other nefarious sounds. There, in the brightest most colorful corner of the library sat 75 or more children – all under the age of 5 – and their parents splayed around the strangest creature: a librarian with a long nose, feathered mask, and long dark hair who, with open book in hand, was reading a story…and not so much “reading” as she was sharing with words, print, voice, and body the story of 5 little ducklings: Cinco Patitos.
The children laughed when she flew out of her seat, arms fluttering. They danced with her when the ducklings found their mother. Did the kids understand the Spanish or the English? Many of the children spoke only one of those languages, some both. What they all understood was the joy of the story, the warmth of the storyteller and the connection with the moment.
Stories are what connect us to our past, providing us the scaffold upon which to rely as we make our way into the world. Stories connect us to our community of today and help us to imagine our own futures. We as librarians know this…and very often it is what drew us to this profession in the first place: the desire to share stories.
In the classroom there are many ways to help students connect with stories – and draw them into the past while helping them connect that past to the present. If we draw upon the serendipity that stories bring, we can almost surprise them into enjoying the history or science they claim to hate.
Here are some great ways to help students and their teachers connect with stories in the classroom:
1. Story Corps: Maybe, whilst driving, you have heard a Story Corp story broadcasted from your local NPR station. These are the stories of “regular” people who have been willing to record a piece of their lives so that they can be shared with others. Each of these stories makes one more contribution to the greater human story. Collecting these diverse stories of our neighbors and then keeping them for others to listen to truly brings history to life.
Archived in the American Folkways Center at the Library of Congress, these stories are available there, online, and through NPR stations throughout the country. With recording booths set up across the country (Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and more) anyone can make an appointment to record.
How can we use this in the classroom or library?
a. Choose stories that exemplify a topic of interest to your study: diversity, friendship, sexuality, fear, strength, family. Have students listen to the many stories you choose and ask them to look for connections between these stories and the topic you are studying in class. Locate witnesses to events and round out your study with these stories.
b. Have students choose a story to listen to. Then have them share that story with others – retelling in their own words teaches many skills including paraphrasing, locating theme, and creatively telling a new story.
c. Have students write and tell their own story.
2. Storybird: Make your own stories! Storybird lets student work with their own or others art to create new and interesting stories.
How can we use this in the classroom?
a. This is a great site for language students to write their own stories in their emerging language.
b. Poetry, stories, and any language arts assignments can be shared via Storybird.
3. There are many, many ways to share stories using digital storytelling. Students combine elements of text, video, and audio using a variety of tools to create a story. Educause describes digital storytelling as “the practice of combining narrative with digital content, including images, sound, and video, to create a short movie, typically with a strong emotional component.”
How can we use this in the classroom?
Digital storytelling can be adapted to any topic, any grade, and any project goal. Telling family stories, re-creating a historical event, showing the effects of polar ice melt are just a few examples of how digital storytelling can be used in place of traditional essay, poster, or PowerPoint. Sharing stories that can be enhanced by the addition of an interview with an elderly relative or the image of the devastation after an earthquake allows students to interact with history, science, language, and media in a whole new and engaging way.
4. Stories from the past do indeed bring it alive for us today. Just browse the Library of Congress’s Veterans Stories page and one can see the incredible variety of stories from vets in several wars, conflicts, or even in peacetime. Veteran stories give us insight into a perspective that history books cannot give.
How can we use this in the classroom?
a. “Unpack” a story together as a class using the Library Of Congress primary document analysis tool to begin a unit on the background of the story – e.g. World War II, Vietnam, Women in the service, etc.
b. Have students create a voicethread or animoto or other presentation using several stories. Collect images to go with it that tell the wider story of the conflict or time period.
c. Ask students to locate local community or family veterans and record their stories via the Veterans History Project. November is an excellent time to remember and record those stories. Veterans Day, November 11, gives us an opportunity to check in with those who served and ask them for their stories.
5. Check out these sites for information on how to collect stories, participate in storytelling events, and teach with stories:
Record your own: https://www.storyarts.org/classroom/roots/family.html
Citizen Historian activities: http://www.1947partitionarchive.org/collect_stories
World Storytelling Day: http://www.worldstorytellingday.org/
World Read Aloud Day: http://www.litworld.org/wrad/
The Strangers Project: http://strangersproject.com/
6. Help students understand and appreciate the richness that diversity brings to us all by visiting the Teaching Tolerance website.
Our job as the elders in our own villages is to pass our stories on and give our kids that all important scaffold to stand on. As Lynne Cheney, author of The Importance of Stories” asks:
“But what about the … story, the kind that opens our eyes, wakes us up to the fact that we are part of a continuity extending through time? What happens when these stories are neglected? Let me suggest there are grave consequences when we fail to awaken the time-binding capacity in the young. People who grow up without a sense of how yesterday has affected today are unlikely to have a strong sense of how today affects tomorrow.”
As we approach the chill of winter, an excellent indoor activity can wonderfully include sitting around a warm fire, curled up on a couch, or around the family dinner table sharing stories with your family or neighbors. It is in this kind of sharing that we build community and strong family bonds. Have fun!
Cheney, Lynne V. “The Importance of Stories.” Academic Questions 4.2 (1991): 7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!