Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 2

My current series of postings is about how to get children actively participating in stories. As the basis of today’s tip, I’m focussing on a well-known nursery rhyme. It’s come back to mind because of what’s been going on recently in the outside world. The pot-holes in my road have been overflowing with it. People at London bus-stops have been moaning about it. Friends have asked glumly if it’s ever going to stop. And of course the ‘it’ has been the rain. Here’s the nursery rhyme:

     Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
     In a shower of rain
     He fell in a puddle
     Right up to his middle
     And he never went there again.

Because of the incessant rain – and today’s clear skies in London serve as a reminder of how bad it’s been – this rhyme could be a good one to include in Story-time soon. It may even be an advantage if the rhyme is already familiar to the children. Handled in a different way from usual, it can help you build up your techniques for getting participation from them.

Asking the question

Last week, I talked about how to develop participation by getting your listeners to enlarge your description of a situation by adding additional words. This week, the plan is similar. This time, however, you’re going to invite more than individual words. You’re going to encourage the children – again with that expectant pause, then asking a direct question or two – to come up with their own imagined scenarios. So here we go:

                Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
                In a shower of rain
                He fell in a puddle
                Right up to his middle ….

Now, instead of completing the rhyme, what you can do is stop as if you’ve just had an interesting thought. Then you speak the thought out loud: ‘Oh poor Doctor Foster, it must have been a very big puddle. I wonder what happened to him. Do you think someone helped him get out?’

Knowing what children are like, I imagine all kinds of scenarios could now emerge. Did a crowd gather? What was said by whom to whom? Did the Doctor get pulled out of the puddle and how many people did it need? And then did someone take him home and give him some dry clothes to wear? And maybe a cup of tea?

Sharing the scenarios:

Children can be amazingly inventive. The only rule is to give them time -time to think, time to come out with what they imagine, time for one person’s ideas to prompt another’s. It’s also a very good rule to repeat to the whole group what any one child has said. This acknowledges the child who has spoken and gives status to what they’ve suggested. If the suggestion a child has made is irrelevant or off-beam, it’s still important to acknowledge it in some way. (‘Well, yes, if there was someone there with a gun and they shot Dr Foster, yes I suppose that could happen, but it would be very sad because then he might be dead.’). Outlandish scenarios are often the ones that prove most fertile.

Endlessly useful:

So that’s the basic technique: invite new scenarios. To the storyteller or the story-reader, this technique can prove endlessly useful. A character in a story comes to a closed door. The teller wonders what will be behind it. A little red monkey gets trapped at the bottom of a deep hole. The teller wonders how he’s going to get out. (And, by the way, my favourite answer to that last question, which I always ask when telling The Little Red Monkey, came from a little boy: ‘Well, they could fill the hole with water and put down a boat and then the monkey could get in the boat and come sailing out.’)

Listen, acknowledge and appreciate. But first spot the  opportunities for children to express their ideas. Oh, and make the time for them to do it. And most important,  treat them as equals with you in the fertile world of story.

P.S. My photos this week are of some of the Welsh puddles I’ve seen and admired.

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