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Create shared stories through talk, with the help of Storyshapes – a hands-on literacy support tool
Storyshaping is an inclusive and interactive way to create shared oral stories. Children can explore and invent new places, times, characters, questions and ideas to build a collaborative story, as they express their own ideas and listen to others’ ideas. Using the Storyshapes also develops an awareness of story structure, helping children to sequence and remember their ideas, which will enable them to later put their ideas into writing.
Storyshaping uses five Storyshapes that represent the building blocks for a story: place, time, character, question and idea. These tactile shapes are passed around a small group and used as prompts to build a story through talk. If you do not have a set of Storyshapes available, you can still use these five concepts as prompts for creating a shared story with a group of children. You may find it helpful to display the ‘Story planner’ (available in PowerPoint, SMART Notebooks and Promethean Flipchart files) while you create your story.
Creating your story
Ask the children where their story takes place. Encourage them to respond, and accept all their ideas equally. Repeat their collective ideas back to them, adding descriptive story language where appropriate. You can also ask about the colours, sounds and smells of the place to encourage the use of adjectives for a more vivid description.
Ask the children when the story happens. You could talk about the time of day, the weather, what day of the week or month it is, or if it is a special day.
Ask the children who their story is about. You may like to ask about the character’s name, age and occupation, to build up a picture of the main character. Ask the children what the character is doing, encouraging them to use verbs and adverbs. Think about how the character is connected to the place of the story, and maybe even the time, too.
Ask what the character’s question is – maybe something they need to find out or a solution to a problem they are facing. Encourage the children to think about the character’s thoughts and feelings and to decide on their question together.
Ask the children how the character finds the answer to their question. Then, encourage the children to take their character on a journey to find an answer to the question. When the question has been answered, ask how the story ends.
Speaking and listening
Consider how themes from your story can prompt talk for writing.
- Talk about the character’s feelings at different points in the story. Use hot-seating and thought bubbles to understand their emotional journey in the story.
- Talk about the story’s setting and physical journey, thinking about how the time affects the place, adding mood and atmosphere to the story. Also discuss how the character relates to the place and time of the story.
- Encourage the children to retell their story to friends, family members or the rest of the school in an assembly. They could relate it using role play, pictures, dance or story maps.
- Record the story using a voice recorder, video camera or photos.
Role play and drama
Consider how your story can be turned into opportunities for role play and drama.
- Explore the world of the story through role play with props and costumes. Try role-playing different characters meeting each other, or combine characters from different stories shaped by the group.
- Hot-seat the characters and use a questionnaire to interview them.
- Encourage the children to record their story with different children playing the parts and using voices in character.
Capturing the story in writing
Show the children the ‘Story planner’ and talk about the images of the Storyshapes representing place, time, character, question and idea. As they created their story, the children have already planned the story structure without being aware of it, with each of the Storyshapes representing a paragraph. Try some of the following activities to start to capture the oral story onscreen or on paper.
- As a group, decide on a few words or a sentence to summarise each element of the story, and write or type them alongside each Storyshape. Divide the children into five groups and ask each group to create their part of the story, based on the summary. The groups can then tell their part of the story, in order, to the rest of the children. Discuss whether the story worked or how it could be improved.
- Jumble the Storyshape pictures and/or the written story summaries onscreen and use them to sequence the story.
- Use the Storyshape pictures on the ‘Story planner’ to help plan a sequence of drawings to tell the story.
- Talk about the elements of stories, such as main character, sequence of events and openings. Explore how other stories share a common structure with the children’s story.
- Ask the children what they want to do with their story in order to share it with other children and family members. They might like to make a book, paint a picture or take photos of themselves in role to use in an ebook.
Both the Storyshapes and Storyshaping book and CD-ROM are available from Yellow Door. For further information visit www.yellow-door.net or call 0845 603 5309. Child Ed PLUS readers can get a 10 per cent discount when ordering the Storyshapes and/or Storyshaping book and CD-ROM (just quote ‘Child Ed PLUS’).
Julia Damassa also offers training in storyshaping that builds on the basic storyshaping concept outlined in this article. The training delivers practical techniques in making and telling stories, exploring the use of tools, such as voice, eye contact and gesture, as well as the Storyshapes themselves. For more information visit www.storyshapes.co.uk
Case study: The Rainbow Sea
Year 1 children at Heathfield Primary and Nursery School, Nottingham, shaped a story called ‘The Rainbow Sea’ about two friends, a crab and a shark, who went on an amazing adventure to find their way home. Afterwards, the children transformed their classroom into the multisensory rainbow sea, marking on a gigantic story map the different places and characters that the crab and the shark encountered on their journey. They then did some hot-seating, interviewing the characters with questions written as a questionnaire, and wrote up the interviews in the style of a newspaper and letters.