The Art of Storytelling: Three Activities to Get to Know Your Students
“Who are you?” is a BIG question to ask, especially of young students. While it seems like a simple question to answer, at a deeper level “who are you?” is about acknowledging our multiple social identities and how they intersect with the world around us.
Why does this matter?
Building community and creating a sense of belonging requires integrating the diversity of our students into the classroom environment and the curriculum. Therefore, it is important that we get to know who our students are in order to teach them effectively, and develop respectful and trusting relationships.
Having a deep knowledge of our students demonstrates to them that their cultural identity is valued, they are seen for who they are, and what they have to say is important. It also encourages students to believe in themselves, embrace their uniqueness, and view their culture as beautiful. When students feel accepted, they tend to thrive in all aspects of schooling, including their academics, friendships, and self-worth.
How can we do this?
A powerful way for students to learn more about themselves and each other is through storytelling. The art of storytelling requires research and reflection that encourages students to investigate their lives with curiosity and delight. The following three activities focus on identity to help students tell stories about who they are.
One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone for the first time is, “What is your name?” Our name is a representation of who we are. Different aspects of our name hold great meaning and tell a story about our family history and culture.
Ask your students to talk to an adult in their life about their full name. Were they named after a family member, a place, a song, or a superhero? Was their name chosen based on its meaning and association (e.g., brave, loyal, beautiful). What are the historical or cultural roots of their name? Why is their name spelled the way it is? And so forth.
Once students have done their homework, gather them together in a circle to talk about their name. They can choose to share as much or as little as they like. Depending on the age of the students you may need to do the activity in more than one session. This activity can be extended from oral storytelling to a written assignment. Students can write a short story about any aspect of their name with the intention of telling the reader who they are.
Provide each student with a large piece of paper and a marker. Have them write their name in the centre of the paper with a box or circle around it. Next, invite the students to draw lines out from their name like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. At the end of each line they will write a word or phrase to indicate something that describes an aspect of their identity. This can include labels that are placed on them by society and ways they see themselves. You can brainstorm ideas with the class before starting. For example, students might want to write down their gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity, the language(s) they speak, where they live, where they were born, their hobbies and interests, their strengths of character, favourite school subjects, if they have siblings, and so forth.
Once the students have written as much as they wish to, divide them into small groups. Invite the students to compare the identity maps of their group members and look for similarities and differences. See if they can find one or two commonalities with everyone in the group (or with at least one other person in their group). See if they can discover one way they are completely unique from everyone in their group. Bring the students back together in a large circle to share their findings with the whole class. The students might notice similarities and differences amongst the groups during the sharing time.
Invite students to bring an object to school that represents something about who they are (after they have completed the first two activities). The object can speak to any aspect of their identity (they can refer to their identity map if they need ideas). Make sure the students are prepared to explain what the object is and why they chose it. It is recommended to do this object storytelling over a few sessions so that students are attentive to each other. Students will lose focus if they have to sit and listen for too long. Gauge approximately 3-5 minutes of sharing per student.
An extension of this activity is to create an Identity Museum. Students can be instructed to write a short story about their identity object that will be displayed for the class to read. Once the museum has been set-up, the students can spend time going around looking at the various objects and reading about them.
Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read HERE to learn more about her work in education.