Storytelling and Language-learning Differences

A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you are going get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first. – Louis L’Amour

So often students with language-learning differences have difficulties with narratives, a.k.a. stories. One 7th grader I tested recently was asked to tell me an original story. This is what he said: 

There was a boy. He walked into town and couldn’t find his family. He went into someone’s house and they adopted him. The end.

His story took less than 20 seconds to tell. It included a character, a problem, and a solution, but there was so much more the listener would want to know. Where did the boy come from? Why was he walking? What did his family look like? How did he end up at a house and who did it belong to?

Difficulty with storytelling affects not only the ability to “tell” a story, but also the ability to write a story. Students cannot write creative stories unless they are first able to say them aloud. Several factors should be considered in storytelling for students.

1. The Recipe
Most students need the steps or need a “recipe” for how to tell a story.  They struggle to get started and organize their story without a road map. Here’s how I lay out the process for students:

a.  Begin with the USUAL events for the main character. What do they do everyday? 
b.  Now what UNUSUAL event occurs in the story?
c.  The PROBLEM is next – what conflict is the main character having?
d.  The SOLUTION – how does the main character resolve the issue?
e.   An ENDING – a good story has to have a good ending to tie up loose ends.

As students get better with their story telling abilities, they will feel more confident about adding multiple problems and solutions.

2.  It’s on the Tip of My Tongue
Difficulty recalling words needed in a story can affect a student’s ability to create an original story.  As we get older, we tend to have word finding issues – what was I looking for? What is her name? What is the  name of that “thing” I am looking for? In children this difficulty can be particularly debilitating. Inability to recall a specific word can frustrate students to the point that they “give up” and clam up. Create a word bank for all the words they might use in a story, to reduce frustration with word retrieval and to help the planning process go more smoothly.

3. How to Start
Coming up with characters and settings can be daunting, so take it one step at a time. Use Rory’s Story Cubes or Blue Oranges’ Tell Tale cards to help the student think of a character they can write about, choose a setting and come up with story ideas.

4. Practice on Fairy Tales
Before I work on original narratives with children, we practice on fairy tales. Find one both you and the student know, such as The Three Little Pigs, and break it down:

a. USUAL events – The pigs lived with their mother and were very happy.
b. UNUSUAL events – Mom wanted the pigs to learn how to live on their own, so they set out into the world.
c. PROBLEMS – a pesky wolf wanted to eat them, their houses were not built well, and the wolf was coming down the chimney
d. SOLUTIONS – run to a brother’s house, light a fire in the chimney, and build a better house in the future.
e. ENDING – the wolf’s rear end was on fire and decided to high-tail it out of there (pun intended) and the lesson learned – take your time and do it right.

5. Be Creative
If you love drama, act out the stories with your student. If you are artistic, draw the stories using various mediums (marker, crayon, paints, etc.). If you are a techno-nerd (like me), use the iPad to create a story adding fun characters, interesting backdrops.

In the next post on Storytelling, I’ll give you some ideas about tablet apps that can help you create fascinating stories that will engage them and add some fun to the writing process.