Storytelling: Podium and Talking Texts

Last week we decided to extend the work we have been doing with our students on Talk for Writing by developing a series of sessions focussed on Oral Storytelling and Performance. The students have enjoyed using the storytelling and oral recount process during previous narrative units to rehearse and frame ideas before writing, and we wondered how they would react to developing one story in detail, where the "writing Outcome" would actually be an Audio recording of their performing it. The Story we chose to use was The Glass Cupboard By Terry Jones. As a tale with a moral it relates closely to work we had been engaged in on recycling and sustainability, but would also give us an introduction as we moved towards next terms exploration of stories with dilemas.

My Students have had a great deal of experience using Podium, the Educational Podcasting Tool developed by Softease (now Lightbox). Prior to this week the work they had done with the tool was largely based on Scripting, rehearsing and then reading their work. This time however I decided to take a different tack. During our unit of work on Persuasion and the making of the video I had noticed how some of the students had begun to read on during the performance of their script, including additional words and phrases that seemed to make sense to them as they performed and were arising naturally from the context. This however had affected their natural flow, rather than carrying on with their innovation, they had tended to go back and correct themselves, disrupting the flow and making their presentation less clear. What would happen if they didn't have a formal script I wondered?

The week began with my playing an audio performance of the story I had created, and the students listening to it. We discussed what the children thought of the presentation? before introducing the idea that this week they were going to try to improve on my performance. Did they recognise the performer? How had he tried to make the story interesting? How might they achieve this? After a couple more play throughs the children were asked to retell the tale as they had heard it to their partner. How did it vary from one child to another? As a class we shared the main points of the tale by "boxing up" the events and charting these as simple drawings. We then listened to the story again, picking up on points in the story we had missed, and adding these to the plot that was unfolding as a simple story map on the whiteboard. With these elements in place I modelled a retelling of the story, using actions we had previously borrowed from Pie Corbett's work to help, eg opening a book for once upon a time, Standing a gape for surprise, or all of a sudden. I also added actions of my own such as bending my arms to show strength, and placing a crown on my head as the king appeared in the story. In pairs the children were encouraged to work together to think about what actions they could use to help with their story telling, and to help me add these to the class storymap.

In the second session the children were encouraged to draw story maps of their own, as they listened to the audio file I had created, played several times on a loop. As the session developed the children who were growing increasingly familiar with the tale, were able to predict and record what would happen next in their own story maps. We worked as a class to tell the story aloud before the children were asked to retell their stories to each other using their maps and actions to help. Their partners were encouraged to review the performance by pointing out things they had missed, or sharing ideas about additions they could make. The children were also encouraged to draw on our learning wall, to consider choices of story opener and wow words they would like to include in their telling, words and phrases that would link sections of their tale or add interest to it. They were encouraged to jot these in the parts of the story map where they thought they would help their story along. One or two of the students wanted desperately to write sentences, but were encouraged not to, since this was not the purpose of the activity. As a plenary to this session the children were asked if anyone would like to have a go at telling their story to the class. We had three volunteers and it has to be said they were not three bad.

During session three the class was split into two halves, by now the students knew the story really well. While half of the class worked on another activity the others were encouraged to work in pairs to rehearse, refine and perform their own version of the story, using storymaps and actions to scaffold, before using Podium to record and save their performance.

Session 4 was set up as a carousel session, in order to allow the students to listen to and review each other's Podium Performances. Laptops were placed on table tops and the students worked in home teams to open up and play the stories created by the others, rotating from table to table when they had finished. The students were quick to notice how even though we had all told the same story each was incredibly different. The examples of what could be taken from the cupboard in the introduction to the story varied from recording to recording for example, but also the reasons for why the king went on his journey (I like the one where he went to his nans for tea), what happened when he got back and how the length of time was exaggerated while the greedy robbers raided the cupboard. What was really interesting for me was also how the means of presentation changed the way the students used language structures. All of the students engaged with the use of expression as an integral part of the performance process. Both I and the children thoroughly enjoyed the process, and the outcomes are really interesting too. They can be found as part of the May 2009 archive on our class Podcast Station as a series of files called The Glass Cupboard Retold. This is a process I will be using again, and sharing with colleagues. Great fun.

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