Monday, August 6, 2012

Collaborative Storytelling

People have been telling each other stories since we sat around a fire in the cave. The need to share stories is a strong one, and drives much of our entertainment - books, movies, facebook, talking on the phone, texting, and gossiping about the boss behind his back.

I believe in storytelling as a great tool for parents to share with kids. It can start from when they're babies, and continue whenever the opportunity arises. Folk tales and fairy tales you know by heart are good ones to start with. Kids love it too when you create a new story just for them, and include them as a main character. And I'll bet they beg you for true stories about when you were a kid. Don't forget to encourage your children to make up their own tales or innovate on ones you've read together.

Storytelling is also useful for teachers and librarians to share with classes. It gives kids a chance to explore different versions of a story, introduces them to stories from different cultures that you may not have in book form, and can be a vehicle for their own imaginative stories. Telling a story orally is a useful lead in to writing a story for some kids - it can help them organize the plot without the stress of trying to co-ordinate handwriting/typing, spelling and punctuation.

I use a couple of collaborative storytelling activities with my drama classes. One is Word-at-a-time Story. This works with small or large groups. One person starts telling a story, the next gives the next word, and so on around the circle. The story can be strange but it needs to make semantic sense. For example, you can have:


but you can't have


Another is Throw-in-a-word Story. One person begins telling a story and one by one, and by degrees, the rest of the group throws in a word that the storyteller must incorporate into his story.

Joe: One day I went to visit my grandma. She lived...
Penny: Hat
Joe: She lived under a pink hat in the woods with
Tom: Pickle
Joe: ...with her pickle named Albert.

An excellent collaborative storytelling activity is to have kids tell a story one sentence at a time. Or move to the next level, and have them write a story one sentence at a time (change to a paragraph at a time for older kids.) This is not like mad-libs where the fun is in writing something totally unrelated. Instead, kids should read what has gone before and co-operate in creating a story that has some sort of cohesion. One way to do this is to open a word document on the class computer, and have kids contribute either as they're inspired, or according to a schedule. In a computer lab situation, you can dedicate a whole computer to this task.

One way to charge any storytelling activity with excitement, and free up kids' imaginations, is to task them with creating the most outrageous stories, or the biggest "whoppers". Why not have a Pinocchio award for this?

Two apps that sounds interesting for collaborative storytelling are Story Dice and Rory's Story Cubes. I haven't reviewed either yet, but hope to.

If your kids need some prompts for oral storytelling, try them with a grab bag of interesting objects. Images work well too. Becoming a StoryDetective - Guest Post has more information. Or consider some of the online comic editors as a way to get kids started. Don't you think the Bayeux Tapestry story generator would be a fun way to move into an informal storytelling session? Grab some more ideas in Sharing Stories Using Online Editors.

If you're interested in storytelling, you might like my posts, 16 Sensational Storytelling Ideas and Create a Story Box. If you're looking for ways to take oral storytelling a step further, check out Book Chook Favourites - Storytelling and Making a Digital Story with Kids - Guest Post.

(Image credit: I have been experimenting with some iPad apps, and the image above was made initially in Comic Puppets Lite.)


  1. I really enjoyed reading this and was wondering, on a different scale, if you think this could work with early learners ages 3 1/2 to 5? I love it when these good listeners relate the stories I read to their real life experiences. In the beginning in the threes class, it was somewhat unrelated. However, as each new crop of threes come along, (the children that were exposed to the music literacy program from three months to threes seem to understand the process of engagement more than those kids who have not),the connectivity of real life to to stories is better.

  2. @PamI thing some of the activities mentioned above would work fine with pre-schoolers. Particularly Storybox (in my Create a Storybox post) and telling amazing whoppers! You know your own kids best, Pam, but I suspect word=at-a-time stories might throw little ones. There are more ideas in

  3. Thank you so much for the links. I'm joining the blogs and creating a file for these great ideas. Maybe I'll video tape this engagement and share it. I'm excited about this!! Thanks bunches!

  4. @Pam Great! If you do write about it on a website/blog or video it, send me the link and I'll publish it here.


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