Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 1

The evenings are getting darker and I’m starting a new series of postings. Wintering Out is the title and it starts with Dark, Dark Tale, a Story Chant that’s great with children and also with adults as a piece of fun in workshops. Next week and in the run-up to Christmas, I’ll bring other seasonal tales and chants into the mix.

Storytelling in Education: good news and bad news 

But first, to continue my recent theme of Storytelling in Education, let me give you my week’s good news and bad news. Both came in the same email from a Literacy Adviser in Pembrokeshire for whom I’ve done loads of work in the past, including a series of extended teacher courses. On one of those courses, now quite a few years ago, I told the Pembrokeshire legend of Skomar Oddy and I remember how much it appealed to one of the teachers. The children in her class  loved this particular story and she based lots of writing and art work on it.  Well, my Literacy Adviser’s email told me that when she recently went into that school, there was a whole new fresh display on the Skomar Oddy story. This was music to my ears. It shows that teachers who fall in  love with storytelling can make really good use of it year after year and that a good story never goes out of fashion.

The bad news was that, in these current times, there’s no longer any central funding in Pembrokeshire for the kind of storytelling in education work that I did so much of there. It’ll now be down to individual schools. That’s it – at least until people realize once more how important it is to fund this kind of work! Another worrying and retrograde step.

Dark, Dark Tale: a Story Chant for Winter

Once upon a time there was a dark dark wood.
In the dark dark wood, there was a dark dark path.
Along the dark dark path, there was a dark dark gate.
(Shall we go in through the gate?)

Behind the dark dark gate was a dark dark garden.
In the dark dark garden, there was a dark dark house.
In the dark dark house, there was a dark dark door.
(Shall we go in through the door?)

Behind the dark dark door, there was a dark dark hall.
Along the dark dark hall, there was a dark dark room.
In the dark dark room, there was a dark dark box.
(Shall we open it up?)

Oh my goodness! What was that?

The story:

In the picture-book on which I’ve based this chant, there’s a cat that makes the journey described. In the room at the end of the journey, there’s a box. Inside the box is a mouse. The box is the mouse’s bedroom and the unspoken and unanswered question at the end is whether the cat will eat the mouse.

Hints on telling: repetition

When I do Dark Dark Tale, I repeat it numerous times, each time leaving plenty of room for participants to imagine what could be found in the box. Sunshine? Money? Imagination? A ghost? I’ve had innumerable amazing suggestions and for each one, we go yet again through the chant, each time working out a gesture that we can use to accompany what’s found at the end.

Hints on telling: rhythm, voice, gesture

It’s best to do the chant with a strong rhythm, tapping your hands softly on your lap in time with the words. You can use your voice to suggest atmosphere, particularly experimenting with the ‘dark dark’ phrase. Also, work out gestures for opening the gate and the door and the box. You are going to invite your participants to join in with these, so make sure the gestures are clear and expressive.

Hints on telling: echoing

When you perform the chant for the very first time, you can present it as an echo chant: you say a line, then your audience repeats it. With young children, make sure they feel part of the action, complicit in all that is going on. If you don’t, the whole thing may prove too scary for some – and with young children that’s just not on! So openly suggest beforehand that this might be quite scary and get everyone into the right mood. Discuss some ideas of what the surprise at the end might be.

Hints on telling: remaking and making

1. Remaking the chant is a good idea. You can employ the same pattern of words to make a different journey, this time starting in the park perhaps, or maybe visiting a cave or a castle. Or, when everyone knows the journey-pattern, discard the rhythm completely and get everyone joining in on contributing to a differently mysterious, cumulative type of story.

2. Making boxes. The chant may get everyone interested in the idea of boxes and what could be in them. Might you make a treasure box? Or a house for a ghost? Or a magic spell-box? Since Christmas is on the way – and opening boxes is an integral part of Christmas-time – this could be a very suitable activity.

P.S. An email I got sent by a blogger this week gave me a link to an article on the web: 30 Tips for Storytelling Educators: How To Capture Your Student’s Attention. I don’t completely agree with all of the points but it’s well worth a look.

Next week: Wintering Out 2

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