Wednesday, December 09, 2009

“Mine Is Happy”

This year’s 3-5 class is crazy for storytelling.

The process is simple. I get out my clipboard, round up a couple storytellers and retreat to a quiet-ish corner of the room where I write whatever the children want me to write. We then read the stories aloud at Circle Time.

I’m just catching up on my transcribing, so this batch came from several weeks ago. This is a totally voluntary activity. In fact, since I’m usually holed up under the loft with my clipboard, they often have to seek me out. Sixteen of our 22 students took the time out of their free play to dictate their tales to me on this day. I’m pretty sure that every child has now told at least one story since we started doing it in October, which is a first.

The Disney Princess brand is powerful and like it or not they turn up in the kids’ stories. What I find interesting are the parts the children pick out for the re-telling:

A princess. Once upon a time there was a princess named Cinderella. And then her mouse friends got her dressed. And then she came for a surprise. It was a pink gown with some white in it. And then the stepsisters teared it all up and she went to the garden and cried. –Ella

And since we started with a stereotypical little girl story, we must have a stereotypical little boy story. Finn has two older brothers (both Woodland Park alums) who I suspect inspire his storytelling:

A army guy shot his tank. And then his jet blowed up. And then another army guy shot his jet up. And then the army tank shot his head off. He was crying about that. And then the army guy brought a bomb in his ear and it went bang. It hurt. Then a helicopter shot a guy’s head off. And then a Lego jet shot another guy’s head off. And then a truck ran over army guy. And then the wing of the jet cut the guy’s head off. And then the army tank shot another guy’s head off.  –Finn V.

This isn’t Finn’s first army guy story and as he tells them I try to wear a look of sadness and horror. He, however, intends them as hilarious and when I read them aloud at Circle Time, his classmates seem to find them hilarious as well. I should mention that Finn doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. I will point out two key lines: “He was crying about that,” and “It hurt.”

Alex combined princesses and violence:

About a princess. She fights with a bad guy. And then she banged him on the head. And then he fell into a house. And then she wanted to go back inside. And then she wanted to get her big brother. Then he fell down on her glasses. And then there was a hat on him. –Alex

Glasses turn up in a lot of the kids stories. I’m pretty sure it’s because I wear glasses and when they get stuck for ideas, that’s what’s right in their face:

There was a dog that got some glasses. And then it goed on a pig. And then it got to the forest and the dog scared away the bear. And then it got on someone’s hair. And then it got on someone’s ribs. And then it got on someone’s lifesaver person. And then it got on a cat. And then it goed on a door. And then it goed on a house. And then it goed on a pig again. And then it goed on someone’s hair again. And then it got on a pig again. –Sarah

I like doing our storytelling under the loft because it’s one of the few relatively quiet parts of our classroom, but also because that’s where we keep some of our books. Sarah wasn’t the only one who used a colorful cover illustration of pigs as her inspiration:

About piglets. They went on the wall with apples and leafs. And then it get owies. –Charlie B.

Dennis was inspired by a book with an elephant on the cover:

No elephants on your head. Then an elephant got on a apple. Then a elephant stepped on a pumpkin. It broke. The elephant broke. Then a leopard came. –Dennis

And Jack’s story was spurred by a picture of a lion:

Once upon a time there were one guy by his self. He found a lion instead. And then he found two friends. And then he grabbed them both up. And then bites, bites, bites, bites, bites, bites, bites, bites, bites, bites. And then he bites himself. –Jack

I like how he used “his self” at the beginning of the story then corrected it by using “himself” later.

Halloween inspired stories are still with us:

Once there was a scary ghost. And he scared the city and the pumpkin away. And he scared the silly grass away. And they went away for good. And they lived after ever after. –Marcus

Once upon a time I had a skeleton at my house. He comes to my house every night to play with me for four hours. Sign in T-Whitey. Every day he goes back to California. And then he went to earth. And then he – I looked out my window at night time and I could see an airplane with T-Whitey in it because . . . Then why, why, why, why, blah, blah, blah! –Max

It’s about a angry monster. The angry monster found a dog. And he took it home because he said it was his. So he took all the stuff in the city. –Katherine

Orlando’s story could be left over from Halloween, but I suspect it’s a non-fiction story. I love how he uses the It was a dark night convention to set the mood:

A dark night. And then came a cat. And then the cat wanted to go in the people’s house. Mommy gave him his food. And then the cat ate it. –Orlando

Sometimes the kids are inspired by one another. Lachlan likes to tell stories with an overriding emotional theme. He told me that this was a sad story:

A bat tried to get in the tent and the tent was zipped. And then him walked away to him house. –Lachlan

Ariya, who was listening, followed up with this one:
Mine is happy. –Ariya

Peter told this short tale:

Tractor story –Peter

And Charlie followed up with:

I want a tractor. –Charlie L.

And finally, Isak added to his retelling of his squirrel story. For those of you who haven’t been following along, here are his squirrel stories in order of appearance so far this year:

The squirrel eats flowers, plants and mushrooms.

Once there was a squirrel and it eats flowers, plants and mushrooms.

This is the new one:

The squirrel eats flowers, plants, mushrooms. The squirrel felt full. –Isak

If you haven’t had your fill of the kids stories, here are a few other posts about them:

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Launa Hall said...

Tom, do you read the stories aloud, or do the authors help you?

If you read them, do you read them verbatim, with estimated grammar and all?

Do the children act out the stories, a la Vivian Gussin Paley, or is it more of a quiet listening time?

Do you read them all in one go, or do you divide it into circle times on different days?

THANK YOU for any insight into your process. I love this and would like to do it, too.

MOM #1 said...

I love children's imaginations. Great stories.

Teacher Tom said...

Launa, I read the stories aloud without help from the author. The kids come up a stand beside me as I read. There are a few kids who are starting to read, but my short-hand would be far to difficult for them to follow -- I have to write very fast to keep up with most of them!

The more experienced storytellers have learned to pause after each sentence to allow me time to catch up and to think about what's next. Many of them are clearly thinking about their audience as they dictate their stories, usually hoping for laughs.

I try to honor the children's words verbatim. Sometimes they'll edit on the fly, however, when they recognize something is wrong during the reading. I also occasionally prompt them when they seem stuck by saying things like, "And then what happened?" or "How did s/he feel about that?"

We don't have time to act out these stories, although I wish we did.

We try to read the stories all in one go during circle time while they're fresh. I'm especially interested in giving my younger storytellers a fairly immediate reward for their efforts. And the audience is usually pretty focused -- there is a group who beg for this activity almost every day.

I'd love to learn about your experiences if you try it. I'm sure my method could be improved.

I'm realizing as I write this that there is much more I could say about the techniques I use. I'll write a more detailed post about it tomorrow.


ksjjpalmer said...

We just got the book "Once upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude" by Kevin O'Malley, Carol Heyer, and Scott Goto from the library. It is written from the perspective of a boy and a girl about a princess with ponies who has a giant take the ponies to make pony soup and then a cool motorcycle dude saves the last pony and there are volcanoes and a big sword, etc. etc. Your class might like it.

Reservoir Dad said...

I think that's awesome and the stories are hilarious. I have to side with Finn - I was laughing aloud at his story.

Laura Major said...

Wow Teacher Tom, You are one Awesome Fellow! I think you could compile all those stories from the year and make a book!You could sell them as a fundraiser or just gift them to your kiddo's at the end of school! I know as a Mom myself, I would have No problem purchasing such a lovely token of my child's year in the Famous Totally Awesome "Teacher Tom's" room! ;)

Scott Wiley said...

I love the stories. I enjoy seeing the "incorrect" grammar as kids figure out this crazy language of ours. I really enjoyed seeing the change from "his self" to "himself" in Jack's story.

Maya said...

Yup, that sounds like Alex alright. I loved it yesterday when you began one of the stories in class yesterday by stating first, "This story is told using 2nd person narration." And then you went on to describe what that meant. I wish I could be there to hear ALL the stories.

pamela Wallberg said...

Have you read Writing Superheroes? It was my inspiration for introducing our ongoing shadow theatre - and i found it worked, even though we are working with 3 & 4's, not 6's - 8's. The child writes the story, then chooses actors / actresses, and the teacher is the narrator to read the story. Then it is acted out for the remaining students. It's great. And a lot of princess roles.

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