In a media driven age when children, youth and adults have become mostly passive participants in life, spending hours upon hours in front of screens and texting, we can miss the value of participating IN the experience of life itself.
Where we used to connect with others face to face, connecting via media has removed communication nuances such as facial expression and body language that are part of the communication experience. When we don’t “see” those we are connecting with, our communication can be misinterpreted, and can lead to false or misleading understanding. Let’s pause and delve into a process that can restore a portion of experiential learning and discovery—storytelling!
STORYTELLING IN THE CLASSROOM
All ages enjoy a well-told story. And the more you involve others in the telling, the more successful this teaching approach will be. When the group is involved in the storytelling process, the longer and greater impact each story will have on biblical learning. As you introduce and tell a story, use audience involvement strategies from the very start of the story. Demonstrate and have the audience repeat hand motions or sounds relative to the story. Here are some tips to get you started.
Use a multisensory approach whenever possible in presenting a story. Involve as many senses as possible.
Hearing: Use simple items to make related story sounds; a bell, metal cups on a board for hoof sounds, a bird call, or a leather belt folded in half to snap for the sound of thunder. Assign different audience members to make the sounds as you tell the story.
Sight: Let your audience “see” the story through the telling. Use descriptive words to help the audience visualize the story setting such as: “He stumbled down the dark path. Shadows lingered everywhere from the night moon, making his skin seem to craw with spiders. It was so dark he could hardly see 2 feet in front of him and it made his every step dangerous. He had no idea what was ahead.”
Smell: Once in telling the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden tree I sprayed the room ahead of time with applescented air freshener. Have fresh baked bread nearby for your students to smell when telling about the feeding of the 5,000.
Touch: Give the listeners something to hold in their hands. In telling the story of the Sower and the Seed, you can walk around the room and place a pumpkin or sunflower seed in each child’s hand.
Taste: There are many Bible stories that have food items as part of the story. The Israelites fleeing Egypt were unable to bake their bread so they had unleavened flat bread. Use tortillas or Matza crackers for the audience to taste as part of the story. Adam and Eve: cut up fruit slices. The Last Supper: small rolls.
Movement: Don’t stand in one spot. Move around! “Place” story characters by putting yourself in a character spot as you tell. In telling the Prodigal Son story you can face left as you have the son ask the father for his inheritance. Then take two steps and turn and face right as you tell the father’s response.
INVOLVE THE AUDIENCE
- Chants: Make up chants that go along with a story and have the audience repeat the chant.
The Good Samaritan
Help me! Help me! Help me please!
I’ve been beaten and robbed by thieves.
They took my money and they took my clothes.
They punched me in the eye and they broke my nose.
The Sower and The Seeds
Seeds in my pocket, seeds in the air.
Seeds on the ground. Seeds everywhere.
Give the seeds some water.
And give the seeds some sun.
Watch them grow, see what God has done
- Audience Action: Have the audience perform an action. Split the audience and have one side raise their arms and be the waves in the lake when Jesus was asleep in the boat with His disciples. Have the other half be the waves on the other side of the boat. They all raise their hands and wave them back and forth at the appropriate time as you tell the story.
- Puppet Story Presentation: Use puppets to tell the Bible story. Keep in mind puppetry does NOT have to include expensive puppets. Cut out heavy paper figures and tape them to craft sticks. Add felt pieces and yarn to create story figures. Or tape empty water bottles to craft sticks and then dress up these puppet figures. Have two people hold up a sheet of fabric for the curtain and the puppeteers can pantomime the story as you tell it.
- Audience Response: Find a phrase that is repeated and have the audience repeat the phrase with you. A good example is the Big Bad Wolf. “He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down!” Or, attach actions with repeated words in a story and have the audience say the phrase and/or do the action when that word is said.
Example: David and Goliath
Divide the audience into three sections. Give the following instructions:
Team 1: When you hear me say “David” Team 1 says, “He was young but brave” (and place hand over heart)
Team 2: When you hear me say “Goliath” Team 2 says, “He was a fearless warrior” (and make a fist in the air)
Team 3: When you hear me say “Philistine” Team 3 stands up and shouts, “We fear no one!”
Then read this script pausing just long enough for the team responses:
The Philistines drew up their troops for battle. A giant, named Goliath, nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open.
Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If kills me, we will all become your slaves. But if I kill him, you will all become our slaves and serve us.”
When King Saul and his troops heard the Philistine challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope. Each morning and evening for 40 days Goliath took his stand and made the same speech.
David came to the Israelite camp. When he arrived and heard the Goliath challenge, David stepped out and asked the Israelite army, “Why are you afraid of this Philistine?”
David said he would fight the giant Goliath. Soon the news got to King Saul and he had David brought to his tent. Saul said, “You cannot go and fight this Goliath. You are too young and inexperienced.”
David answered, “I’ve been a shepherd. When a bear or lion came, I would kill it with my bare hands. I’ll do the same with this Philistine!”
Saul figured he had no other options so he told David, “Go ahead, and God help you.” The Israelites did not believe David could do this.
Then David took his shepherd’s sling, selected five smooth stones from the brook, put them in his bag, and approached Goliath.
Goliath saw David come down the hill to the battleground and he called out, “Am I a dog that you come after me with a stick? Come on,” called Goliath, “I will kill you and feed you to the buzzards.”
David answered, “You come after me with a sword, but I come in the name of the living God.”
Goliath started forward. David ran toward Goliath. He reached into his shepherd’s bag, took out a stone, put it in his sling, and let it go. It hit Goliath in the middle of his forehead. Goliath crashed to the ground, dead.
And that is how David won the battle from the Philistines and Goliath with a sling and stone.
A major key for effective storytelling is involving the audience as the story is told. Be creative or gather some creative people to help you plan ways to tell stories with audience involvement. The more you work at creative storytelling the more creative you will become.
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