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Telling Our Stories: Students Recount Personal Tales

| Stephen Hurley

The theme for this first year of our arts@newman program could best be expressed with the statement "We live storied lives." Throughout the year, we have been exploring how the arts can help us both understand our stories more deeply and express those stories to others.

During our months together, I have worked with my thirty-three seventh-grade students on the idea of story, what makes stories so powerful, and how they can connect us to one another. In a previous blog entry, I told you about our use of the hero's-journey structure, and this has been a great tool to frame much of our discussion about stories.

During May, I was eager to have students turn their learning back on themselves by writing and presenting a story from their own lives. I asked students to make a list of some of the memorable events from their own histories, be they happy, sad, frightening, humorous, or poignant. Students chose one or two of their examples and spent a couple of days recalling the details of the event. I also asked them to talk to friends, family members, and classmates who might be familiar with the event in order to get alternative perspectives on what happened.

Having collected the details, we then spent two weeks building their chosen events into stories. We looked for threads in the tales, and we talked about finding and building toward a main idea. We developed powerful beginnings and meaningful ends. We massaged the details so that the stories possessed some sense of flow. We worked on engaging our audience members so that we drew them into the story.

One evening, parents and other community members gathered in our classroom for our first Storytellers Festival. Instead of coming to hear traditional stories from far-off lands, the audience heard thirty-three individual stories that were personal, powerful, and poignant. Parents laughed, cried, and were helped to "re-remember" events from their children's lives -- likely from a new perspective. From Jennifer's experience of tossing two of her pets from her seventh-floor balcony (!) to Michael's reflections on things in his life that have been broken, this activity allowed us to more deeply see how stories can help us make sense of the disparate events in our lives.

These were the stories of their lives, and we were moved!

Have you undertaken a similar project in your classroom? Does this post inspire you to plan your own Storytellers Festival? Please share your thoughts.

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Comments (8)

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It is true. art helps to understand the depth of our life. We live and do notunderstande it meaning. But one day you happen to read a poem that touches you deep and you begin to understand much more about your life. As for me, I'm fond of reading. You know, there is a very nice book search engine http://pdf.rapid4me.com . I find the majority of books there. Now I'd like to learn to write well. I have a lot of ideas but I'm not sure that I'll express my mind in the best way. That is why I hope you web-site will help me in it.

mbotengx (not verified)

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Juancok ceritomu put....

Stephen (not verified)

Hi Helena, Sorry that I lost

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Hi Helena,

Sorry that I lost track of this thread, and didn't respond to your question. I would love to hear from you and discuss your questions further. I can be reached at stephen.hurley@sympatico.ca

Helena Hill (not verified)

Inspiration

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Stephen,

Thank you for blogging about your Storyteller's Festival. I wanted to start off my language arts classroom this next year with an autobiography. One of my goals next year is to make the content of my curriculum relevant to student's lives. I want more than anything is to get to know the students and help them develop their passions. Would it be too early in the year to start an autobiography? Should I start with something less personal and then work up to stories about their lives?

Anna (not verified)

I think this is an amazing

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I think this is an amazing idea. Sometimes children feel trapped, and can express themselves much better through writing. It is also good for the parents to get a sense of the emotions going through their children writings. This assignment is good for the teacher, the parent and the student and is a way of bringing everyone together. I would really enjoy using this idea in the future!

vcwallace (not verified)

I think this is a wonderful

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I think this is a wonderful project for children. From 1st grade on, children should be allowed to write down what they think about their life. It should be saed in their cum files and given to them when they graduate. I always say to people that I meet that we are alll walking best sellers. My favorite thing to do is to give composition journals to people I meet that I have deep conversations with about their lives. I think handwiting is becomint a lost art. Stories about our lives should be captured fo posterity. What I do now is write pages for my children abour my oung life. They will get to read it and question me as they get older. I am having so much fun doing this journal for them.

Amanda, NY (not verified)

Ideas that work

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I work with eigth grade special eduation students, who really detest writting. I think this writting activity is one that will really work for them. The all have things that have happened in thier lives. I believe that they will be more willing to write, when the story is about them.

Jodie, NJ (not verified)

Great Idea

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What a fabulous idea! I teach 5th graders and I think I am going to try this with my class this upcoming year. I consider myself to be a great storyteller and when I was younger, I participated and won a Storytelling Contest in school. I am always looking for new and exciting ways to teach my students how to tell and write stories, and this idea really got my attention. Getting parents and family members to come and hear the stories is a great way to get them actively involved. I can't wait for school to start!

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