Methods for Church Story Telling

I am convinced that there is a need for teachers to use greater creativity in preparing and presenting the Bible lessons, using their own ideas and resources. Variety is important. In presenting a story many dramatic elements or methods of involving children in the story can be used, as well as a variety of visual aids.

Choosing a method:

In choosing a method, begin by anaylyzing the story and its intended purpose. Is the most important element of the story a sequence of events, a character, ....In General use:

Narration when the stories have simple plot lines with familiar elements, and to keep distractions to a minimum..

Participation or chants where there are frequently repeated elements and/or catchy phrases. Traditional storytelling styles use much repetition that with proper cues the children can join in on.

Visual aids when the story includes unfamiliar elements or the stories are complicated. These can include pictures, objects, flannelgraphs, etc. and can be used either before or during the story itself.

Character stories (Costumes or the use of a single puppet) where vicarious involvement or storyteller role-playing will help deliver the point or to express feelings, inner thoughts or the thinking process.

Dramatic when illustrating application or where multiple characters have significant roles.


Some possible ways of presenting a story beyond just telling it include : * Reading a story Children love to be read to. In preparation, read the story through several times, at least once out loud. When reading to the children be just as lively as when telling a story, and read it slowly with lots of eye contact. Reading out loud to children is excellent practice for beginning storytellers.

* "Let's pretend" Especially good for exploring different consequences.

* Sharing a life experience from your life, preferably not one that holds you up as a "good" example.

* Discussion and/or Question and Answer. Better with older children. Remember a Bible Story should not be a lecture.


INVOLVEMENT METHODS:

* The participation story. Where a child or children are involved in it just as a magician uses someone from the audience. (Children retain 60% of what they do, 30% of what they see and only 10% of what they hear)

* Stories with repetitive elements. Encourage the children to join in with first a pause and eye contact in anticipation and gestures and body language of encouragement. Continue to "cue" them accordingly, building and varying the intensity and rhythm appropriately. Works Best with short simple tales and simple plots.

* Choral, Chants and "Echo stories" The leader provides a line or two and the children echo back words, motions, or sounds. In a Chant the children repeat back the phrases in the same rhythms in which they were cued. Or have the children make sound effects during the story when cued. It is surprising how fast things are memorized this way.

* Pantomime There are a number of ways this can be used. It is especially effective with smaller and younger groups where they "participate in" the story by acting it out. (Story tellers ought to cultivate an awareness of body language. And take opportunities to observe Mimes. Even when telling a story your face and gestures are very important)

* "Acting It out": After telling the story briefly, let the children become the characters (or props: i.e. "tree", etc.) and "act it out". Usually the children will want to take turns being certain characters. Best with younger school age children.

* Role playing The children take the part of the characters and face various situations in which they must respond.


VISUAL AIDS METHODS:

* Stories-in-Sequence: As the story progresses, use a series of pictures to illustrate the story. Bible coloring books are good resources. Timing is important. Take care the pictures aren't shown too soon, hold interest, and do not distract attention from key points.

* Art-board stories. The key to these is the element of suspense and surprise. "What will be added next? What will that weird squiggle turn into? Will that word be what I think it is?"

Some possibilities: Mystery pictures. As the story progresses, a series of meaningless lines and shapes and artwork done with poster paints or chalk on newsprint "turn" into objects and words emphasizing points in the story.

Hidden lettering, such as "ladderletters" can also be effective, especially if there are several points to be made.

Acrostic "outlines" can be used with the lessons filling in the words as the story progresses.

Hints: Keep your brushwork to a minimum, pencil in lines ahead of time, have some water to clean and moisten your brush - and make sure your artwork is large enough to be seen clearly by those in the back. Talking and drawing at the same time is more strenuous that it appears. Know and practice your story well.

* Flannelgraph stories. Flannel-graph stories hold attention fairly well if carefully prepared and executed. They are particularly helpful when story sequence, movement and relationships are important in the story. Stand up visuals like stick puppets can be also be used. For more on Flannelboard see Inez Ramsey's Webpage.

* Visual aids are especially helpful when unfamiliar objects that children would find hard to imagine are part of the story. Sometimes it is best to show the visuals before telling the story to avoid distraction during the story.

* The object lesson. Where the teller uses objects to visually focus attention and illustrate the story. Careful preparation and practice are essential, make sure it works before you do it!

Other Visual aids include models, paper-folding, chalkboards, maps, etc.


DRAMATIC METHODS:

Dramatic skills can never be developed too much. Practice becoming different characters and putting on different personalities. Story tellers and puppeteers ought to cultivate an awareness of body language. When telling a story your face and gestures are just as important as the tone and sound of your voice. Take opportunities to observe Mimes. Learn to exaggerate emotions. Develop various voices. Use the story telling "V" - where "you" carry on conversations with "yourself".

* The Narration story. Where the storyteller assumes the role of an eyewitness observer, perhaps even wearing an appropriate costume. Help the children "be there" with you, see it through your "eyes".

* Skits with several players. The story or an "illustration" of it is acted out. This is the most difficult, and best with large groups, and older children.

* The interview story. Where the director "interviews" the "guest" character. Especially with "silly" storytellers, it's nice to have a "straightman".


PUPPETS

* Puppet shows. There are a number of types of puppets: Hand puppets with mouths; Hand puppets with arms, Hand (mouth) and rod (arms) puppets (muppets), marionettes, etc. Simple puppets can be made from a sock, a paper bag, or simply cut out figures on popcycle sticks. Every puppet ought to have a clear personality, thought out in advance, and should stay in that character whether proud, grumpy, shy, nervous, etc. Each should have their own voice and stay in that too!

Don't use a puppet to just narrate the story. Carry on a conversation with the puppet or have your puppets do things or they become boring. Since Puppets allow children to overhear a conversation they are especially helpful where situations need resolution or the process of working out a solution to a problem is part of the lesson. As children relate to puppets vicariously, it is good for a puppet character to be and act "childish".

In particular, watch out for puppet "sink" as your arms get tired, weak voice projection (especially when using a theater), Out-of-sync movements or talking, over elaborate dialog, props or plot, (Keep things simple). Be aware of poor eye contact between the puppet and either other puppets or the audience. Practice often.

My experience is that smaller children are often frightened by puppets and must be introduced gently to them. There are a number of good books on puppetry, and plenty of opportunities to watch puppeteers at work. I found helpful The Complete Book of Puppets and Puppeteering by Robert Hanford. If you have the knack, then by all means develop and use it, making your own puppets, learning ventriloquism.

Preparing for a puppet story as a skit or team-story is a bit more challenging. Many times much of the dialog in a skit can be "ad-lib". When doing this, set up the scenario beforehand so you know how the "story" will unfold. Decide on any necessary "cues". Be clear where your dialog and the story are to take you. Become the character in your mind. Create his/her personality. Think through possible turns in the dialog. Then during the story or skit speak and act "in character". Have fun and enjoy your mistakes! Usually when a team does this, one person "carries" the delivery of the point, and the other(s) "play" off of that person.

The Puppetry Home Page is a good Online resource.


Cautions:

* Beware of moralizing and humanism: The tendency in many Sunday School and VBS stories is to moralize. We are trying to communicate the love of God for sinners, not moral do's and don'ts. Don't confuse the gospel with the wisdom of the ages or parental advice.

* Be careful of possible misinterpretations of object lessons or allegorical stories. The Lord seldom used allegorical stories, though they are used elsewhere in Scripture. Too often they may "back-fire" on the storyteller because they were taken "literally" or may have carried other connotations detrimental to the message.

© 1996 Barry McWilliams
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