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Telling a great story - storytelling

Camping Magazine, July-August, 1998 by Sandy Cameron

Mention storytelling to campers and they may think of an overexaggeration or lie they told their friends. Storytelling, the art of bringing a story to life through the inflection in one's voice, rhythm, facial expressions, and hand movements, is becoming popular today. In a society where television and computers paint pictures for children, they rarely need to visualize a story in their mind. Storytelling makes children use their imagination to picture the story. It also teaches them about the nuances of the language and helps them improve their listening skills.

Storytelling dates from ancient times when the history, myths, and legends of a society were passed from one person to the next by word of mouth. The fables of Aesop and many folktales have been passed on through the oral tradition. Oral tradition also helps preserve the culture of a society. For example, in Africa the codes of conduct and explanations of clans and social groups have been passed from generation to generation through this tradition. The Native American culture also continues to have a strong oral tradition.

Campers will enjoy hearing a good story. They will also enjoy learning to tell a great story. The experience will help build their self-confidence and improve their oral communication skills.


Selecting a Story

Beginning storytellers should select a short story that is familiar to them. The story should be upbeat and action-packed with just a few characters. Picture books are good choices because of their length and because the illustrations help to set the mood and tone of the story. Myths, folktales, and stories with repetitive phrases are also good choices; poems generally are not. Most important, the story should be age/developmentally appropriate for the audience. Some appropriate stories for a younger age group might include:

* Little Red Riding Hood

* Stone Soup

* The Three Little Pigs

* The Rainbow Fish

* The Mitten

* The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Preparing the Story

Campers should read the story several times and learn the major points of the story line. They should not memorize the story. They should know it well enough to be able to tell it in their own words. The story can be altered from the original when told, but the basic plot should be recognizable. Changing names and places to add a personal touch is acceptable, as is lengthening or shortening the story as needed. Avoid long descriptions of people or things as this slows down the action.

Campers should also prepare a short introduction to their story. They should give the title of the book and the author and perhaps a few short sentences about the origins of the story. When a camper has finished telling his story, he should just stop and move away from the front of the group. Saying "the end" is not necessary, nor is encouraging discussion about the story.


Practice Makes Perfect

Once campers are comfortable with the basic story line of their selected story, they should experiment with ways of telling it. Have them practice different facial expressions, gestures, voice inflections, and body movements. Practice pacing, pausing for emphasis, and building the story to the climax. The key to good storytelling is enthusiasm, so encourage campers to really get in to the story. Suggest they make up voices and facial expressions for certain characters.

Also practice presentation. Campers should stand up straight, make eye contact with the audience, and smile. Encourage them to speak clearly and loudly enough for even the people in the back row to hear. You may want to practice in front of a mirror. Performing a story in front of a group can be frightening. Make sure campers are fully prepared. They should be comfortable with the story and the accompanying expressions and, gestures. Have them practice the story out loud, again in front of a mirror. Pair campers together and have them tell the story to their partner, who will offer constructive criticism. Have them tell their story to the program group before presenting it to other campers.


Telling the Story

Decide where and when campers will share their stories. An audience of no more than fifteen campers is best. The group should be seated in a quiet area with few distractions. Perhaps campers can share their stories with a younger cabin group, their own cabin group, or before the evening program or meal. When the camper is finished, lead the applause for their tremendous effort.


Group Storytelling

Traditional storytelling features only one storyteller relating the story. But in the camp setting, group storytelling would be appropriate and possibly preferable. A group of two to three campers should select a story and take turns telling it. Each camper could tell their favorite part. Plan to change storytellers at natural pauses in the story and avoid changing tellers so often that it becomes distracting. Perhaps they could tell the final line of the story together.

When storytelling as a group, make sure the story doesn't become a skit. Avoid using too many gestures or having the same person perform the voice of a character. Storytelling can help campers build confidence and enhance their communication skills. Speaking in front of a group can be intimidating, however, so be sensitive to campers' feelings. Help them feel comfortable with their stories and then encourage them to look the audience in the eye, smile, relax, and tell a great story.

Recommended Reading

* Children Tell Stories: A Teaching Guide by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (R.C. Owen Publisher, 1990)

* Stories in My Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (Fulcrum Publishing, 1996)

* The Art of the Storyteller by Marie Shedlock (Dover Publications, 1952)

* Stories for the Campfire edited by Bob Hanson and Bill Roemmich (American Camping Association, 1983)

* Tajar Tales by Jane Shaw Ward (American Camping Association, 1992)

* - more about storytelling, hear stories being told, and read the weekly newsletter


Sandy Cameron is editor-in-chief of Camping Magazine.

"Programming" is open to anyone who has ideas or activities to share. If you would like to contribute, please send your ideas to: "Programming," Camping Magazine, 5000 State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151-7902 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Published authors receive three issues of the magazine in which their article appears.

COPYRIGHT 1998 American Camping Association

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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