Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Telling Our Stories: Students Recount Personal Tales

August 4, 2008

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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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • 9-12 High School

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