Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 3

It’s obvious: most children like toys. They also like objects that aren’t obviously toys – things that make funny sounds, things that sparkle, things that look new or peculiar, things you can do something with.

So my thoughts for this week are about using objects. Over the last two weeks, I’ve focused on words – how to get children to speak them and how to use your own voice in a way that prompts them to speak. This week is about a technique that enables you to say almost nothing at all – at least not until you’re ready to start your story.

How to use objects:

Here’s how you might proceed: First make sure your audience is gathered together. Then lean forward to open the bag in which you’ve hidden your magic object. (A bag or box is always a good idea.) Now bring out the object (and I’m pre-supposing you’ve chosen it to suit the story you’re going to tell.)

If your selected object is sound-making, you can now proceed to make it create its particular sound. Head on one side maybe, you can show by your own attention that you’re listening to it yourself. If it’s some kind of doll or soft toy, you can look at it, smile at it, show it around and then perhaps put it on your knee. Already you might be hearing a response from the children: ‘What’s that?’ ‘What you got that for?’ ‘It’s a monkey!’ ‘Why’ve you got a monkey?’

Hurrah! Already you’ve achieved participation of two most important kinds. First, attentive interest (in itself a form of participation). Secondly, aroused expectation (another kind of participation because it leads on to prediction). Expectations demand satisfaction and the children are already demonstrating that they want to know what’s going on.

Personally I’ve found that almost any object – a shell, a whistle, a pebble, a potato – can inspire interest in an audience, and I don’t just mean Early Years children. Secondary-age children or adults can equally well become engaged. But you do need to bring your object out with a sense of purpose as if there’s a point to you bringing it out. And if there’s a point, then of course the audience will be looking out for what that is.

But it’s important to know, especially with Early Years children, that you don’t have to do anything else with the object itself except return to it at the end of your story. You don’t have to use it in the course of the story. You don’t have to become any kind of puppeteer. If it’s a little soft monkey, for instance, you can simply place it beside you while you’re telling your story, first answering the children’s clamour to hold it by saying you’ll pass it round at the end. Then at the end, you must remember to do that. Chances are the monkey will be handled with increased respect.

By the way, as you first show the object, you might say: ‘Here’s something I’ve brought. It goes with my story.’ By attracting interest, this way your object has already achieved your purpose in selecting it and bringing it along. It has facilitated participation. It’s made the children know you’ve got something to tell them. What’s more, it may also have made them realise they’re going to have to listen to you to find out what that is.

Now, to finish my theme for this week, I want to share a quote from a book I very much love. It’s a novel, The Liar by a Danish writer, Martin A Hansen (Quartet Books). It’s about a male teacher who goes to live and teach on a tiny island, it obviously draws on Hansen’s own experience: he was himself a teacher for many years. The following section about how the teacher in the story makes use of objects to tease his class into attention is one I often read out in my talks and workshops on storytelling.

 A Quote from The Liar by Martin A. Hansen

I like to hit on something new in the morning: something for the children – a surprise to hang up on the wall, a new picture; but it must be done in a way that awakens their curiosity. It can be done even with the dull pictures that are produced for use in schools. I hang up such a picture with a cloth in front of it, so that it is hidden. I let it hang like that throughout the day. What happens? One of the children peeps on the sly under the cover and during the interval, they all look at it carefully. Once they are looking at it, we can talk about it.

Another day, an ordinary wood saw hangs by a string from the roof. It hangs unmentioned, until we are ripe for the centuries of ingenuity and experience there are in a wood saw. Fish nets, traps, parts of a plowshare, tools, pots and pans festoon the walls, often hidden under a cloth at first, until wonder is awakened over the beauty of such ordinary things.

See you next week for a further tip on getting participation.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 3”

  1. Liz Richards Says:

    What a great idea to get children to listen and participate .All your ideas are amazing. After last weeks blog I went and read up on the origins of some of our famous nursery rhymes which are fascinating.
    The grandchildren loved them My RSS feed for some reason doesn’t work so if you reply use my email I emailed you last week. Looking forward to next weeks Liz xxxxx

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