Storytelling is an ancient and compelling art form, with significant business as well as entertainment applications. Good storytellers may have rewarding futures, not only as screenwriters or journalists, but as marketers, historians, entrepreneurs and even politicians.
The critical component of storytelling is the ability to engage the listener. Once you capture an audience’s attention and imagination, you potentially have them in the palm of your hand.
Teaching Students the Art of Storytelling
Before your students engage in a storytelling project, devote class time to discussing key story components. By the end of the discussion, your students should have a firm grasp of the difference between a compelling story, and a mere report.
- Ask your students to share the titles of their favorite story – one remembered from childhood, or a recent book or movie they’ve enjoyed.
- From their list, select 4-6 popular choices that represent a variety of genres; for example, a fairytale, action story, love story, historical fiction, etc.
- Next, facilitate a discussion about the elements that made these favorites. What was interesting about each? What made it memorable?
The Elements of a Story
During your discussion, your students will naturally uncover elements that are common to stories in general. List them on the board as they’re identified, and examine the ways in which the authors successfully developed these elements in the Favorite Stories.
Your discussion should cover:
Theme – Some stories have a theme – a central topic, concept or belief, and some have a moral – a lesson learned. Were these elements present in the Favorite Stories?
Character – Most stories are about individuals – usually humans. A good storyteller enables their readers/listeners to clearly visualize each character, by eloquently describing both physical and personal attributes. The actions characters take should “ring true” to the reader, based on the individual traits that character exhibits early in the story.
Most stories focus on one or two main characters. Generally the central character is sympathetic and relatable, so the reader feels empathy for that person and is thus drawn more deeply into the events unfolding. The “good guy” is known as the protagonist and the “bad guy” is the antagonist. The best characters feel “real” to the readers, because they have both positive and negative traits.
Usually the most memorable stories result in some kind of meaningful transformation in the life of the main character.
Setting – Every story is set in a location that’s integral to the narrative. Again, the reader should be able to visualize the setting from the author’s description. Unusual settings, such as those that are particularly beautiful, scary, exotic, or even alien may have a draw of their own, but familiar, everyday settings are also effective, enabling the reader to easily visualize and connect with the story.
Plot – “Plot” is almost synonymous with “story” – it’s the flow of the story’s events, influenced, and to some degree directed by the characters’ reactions and decisions. Plots usually have three main elements: conflict, climax and resolution. Throughout the majority of the story, the characters are attempting to manage the conflict, which builds to the climax – the point of highest tension in the story, when the scales tip in one direction or another.
Conflict – The plot element known as “conflict” is crucial to the success of the story. As Writers’ Digest author Brian Klems said, “You do not have a story until something goes wrong.” Good stories include crisis, tension, struggle and discovery. “Page turners” are stories that create more and more tension as the story unfolds, intensifying the reader’s desire to discover the resolution.
A story without a resolution would be unsatisfying, leading readers to demand, “So what happens??” The story’s action and tension must be resolved, for better or worse. The resolution should make sense, based on the events that took place, as well as what we have learned about the characters. However, interesting plots often include a “twist” – an unforeseen turn-of-events that the reader wasn’t expecting, therefore resulting in an unpredictable resolution. Overly simplistic plots may lead your readers to comment, “Heck, we all knew that was going to happen.”
Storytelling Activities for High School
For your convenience, this blog includes a free teacher’s download, which you can print and take to class. The download includes the story elements described above, and the details/instructions for the variety of storytelling activities summarized below.
Storytelling for English Class
Storytelling exercises are great ways for English students to hone their creative and verbal skills as they organize the concepts and events of a story,
and bring characters to life through vivid and artful description. Your options for story topics are wide open, and stories can be delivered verbally, or
in writing. Our download includes the details for three fun ideas:
A String of Pearls
– This exercise brings students together to collaborate on a story, encouraging teamwork and extra creativity. Working in groups of 5-10, the students
string the story together using contributions from each individual – like creating a strand of pearls.
Taking it to the Airwaves
– In this activity, your students create an ongoing “mini-series” story, which they will share with the entire school, over the school PA system.
The Living Journal or Blog
– This exercise is an on-going weekly or monthly project, in which students submit blogs or journal entries on a topic of your/their choice,
incorporating vivid, captivating storytelling elements.
Share Your Students’ Blogs!
For the Living Journal/Blog Activity: Inspiring topics will lead to inspiring blogs, and we’d like to see them! Please submit your students’ best entries
and you may see them featured on the Envision blog! We’re currently accepting guest bloggers.
Submit your students’ blogs or journal entries here.
Storytelling for Journalism or Social Studies Class
Our download describes ways in which to adapt the Taking it to the Airwaves or Living Blog activities described above in the
English class section, for Journalism or Social Studies students.
Storytelling for Marketing or Business Class
Many of the most effective commercials, ad campaigns or new-business pitches tell a story. In this activity, challenge your Marketing or Business students
to take on the role of either the Advertising Manager of new-business entrepreneur, and pitch a product or business idea incorporating the art of
Storytelling for Art or Music Class
In these exercises, art and music come alive as your students utilize their verbal creativity. For Art Class, your students will work in
groups to compose a story that they feel is illustrated in a famous painting.
In Music Class, your students will engage in a similar group exercise, elaborating upon the details of a story depicted in song.
Storytelling for History Class
When past events are described in terms of realistic characters, settings and conflicts, history comes alive. In this exercise your students work in
groups to create original historical fiction.
See our free download for details on all the activities listed above.