Elinor Benjamin, Storyteller

Work in schools
Stories I tell
Rune Words
Reiko's Story

"In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected."
— Charles Dickens


Storytelling in Schools - My tool box

Activities for classrooms and workshops




  • Tell a story with repeating motifs, varying complexity based on the age of the group.
  • Ask participants to pick a moment in the story when they were struck with a strong image.
  • Ask them to close their eyes and try to visualize that moment in as much detail as possible for one minute.
  • Ask for volunteers to describe their moment in as much detail as possible so others can “see” what they saw.
Mind Maps
  • Ask participants if they like to “doodle”.
  • Hand out 2 blank pieces of paper
  • Ask participants to "doodle" as many quick sketches or stick figures of the images that come to mind as they listen to the story on one of the pieces of paper, using back of page if necessary. Stress it is not an “art” exercise. Tell as long and complex a story as age group can handle.
  • When the story is finished, ask participants to put away the paper they have been drawing on, take the blank piece of paper and draw as many of the images as they can remember without looking at the first sheet of paper. Then ask them to compare the sheets. They may wish to respond about how many they got each time, etc.
Finish the Story
This can be done with many stories, but preferably one that is not too familiar.
Eg, I've been using The Myth of How the Norse Gods Got Their 6 Treasures. Padraic Colum's version
  • Tell it to the point where first three treasures are gained and the bet is made between Loki and Brokk
  • Stop the story
  • ask the participants to work in groups of three to come up with 3 new treasures that the Loki might get to win the bet, suggesting participants each come up with a treasure and that all in the group work together to decide what magic powers such a treasure might have. Pictures can be drawn if desired, and there is time.
  • Have the groups choose a spokesperson report back to the class on what treasures they created.
  • Finish by telling the “official version” of the story. Padraic Colum's version
  • This exercise can also be used as the basis for a written exercise by individual participants.
Storytelling from a “point of view” or perspective
- can work as oral exercise, or written exercise
  • Tell a fairly complex story, like the Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, orEast of the Sun and West of the Moon, one with lots of characters.
  • Ask participants to select a character or object (not the main character - because it takes too long) and retell the story from the point of view of that "character”. The challenges are:
    • to remain in first person, and
    • to remember that the character or object may know only a little about the story if he or she is a minor character.

- can work as oral exercise, or written exercise
  • Tell a fairly complex story.
  • Ask participants to select a character or object, and write either a biography or an autobiography
  • Suggest thinking about a back story for the character before he or she comes into the story
  • Suggest finding reasons for why the character does what he or she does in the story.


Warm ups/ice-breakers:

  • Ask participants to introduce themselves by name as if they were 1) extremely shy 2) a creepy, spooky person, 3) the most important person in the world, etc.
  • Colours - ask someone to pick a colour and another, an emotion. Call on participants randomly, as fast as possible to say the name of the colour in a voice
Tongue twisters

  • Prepare a handout with popular tongue twisters

    (front and back)
  • Have group read tongue twisters as choral speaking exercises, starting slowly and building speed, and listening to stay in rhythm. Don’t let anyone go faster than the others.
  • Challenge participants to try it on their own either solo or in teams of 2 or 3. This is fun! And - these are good for warming up the voice and relaxing before giving a presentation.
Nursery rhyme game
Prepare ahead :

- handout (front and back) with popular nursery rhymes (I no longer assume that children will be familiar with these and we talk about any archaic words - like "knave")

- 2 baskets - one with single nursery rhymes on cards and one with single characters (grumpy old man, mean witch, spoiled princess, famous movie star and so forth)

  • Read the popular nursery rhymes aloud together as a group, as with the tongue twisters, to warm up and to help those with poor reading skills.
  • Post a list of the characters (grumpy old man, mean witch, spoiled princess, famous movie star and so forth) on a flip chart or the board
  • Have participants select a nursery rhyme verse from one basket, and a character's voice from another.
  • Ask each participant to stand up read the nursery rhyme out loud in a voice that they think would fit the character they have chosen, adding any physical gestures they might want, and let others try to guess which character has been portrayed
  • Finish the session by telling a story that emphasizes voices.


The story circle game
Tell participants to listen to a story very carefully, advising, with humour :-) that “there might be test”. Select an age-appropriate story with repeating motifs and/or key phases. After the story is told, form 2 groups, with teacher in charge of one group and storyteller, the other. Ask participants to go around the circle and retell the story they just heard, one sentence at a time, using their own words or whatever they remember.
• One sentence per teller
• Group members may call “sentence” if someone makes a long run-on sentence or tries to “hog” the story. Each must listen carefully because you can’t always predict how far along the story will get in the sentences before you.
• Each person is allowed to “pass” once.
• Participants should not heckle if someone doesn’t get it right, but the next person in turn may improvise a sentence to get the story back on track if the thread has been lost.

Venn diagrams with storytelling motifs (requested by a Grade 6 teacher)

Tell three stories with similar themes from 3 different cultures, asking the group to listen carefully to try to notice the similarities and differences among the stories, eg

Micmac - Badger and the Star Wives (from Silas Rand)
Arapaho - The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky (Internet)
African - Black and White Cattle (from Laura Simms)

Draw blank 3 circle Venn diagram on the board. Engage participants in a discussion of motifs that are the same in all three stories, in two of the stories, and unique to each story, prompting them to say where on the diagram. We have also done this without the discussion, as an individual exercise, with each participant writing the motifs on his or her own printed Venn Diagram. 


The Story Skeleton - Fleshing out an outline 

Many teachers say they want students to write with more detail and description. This exercise works best if group have had previous story listening experience.

  • Prepare a brief, bare-bones summary of a folktale preferably one the participants haven’t heard before.
  • announce “Now I am going to tell you a story"
  • Ask “Was this a good story?” - response is always a resounding negatively
  • Ask why?

    This leads into a discussion of detail, description, dialogue
  • Ask group (or smaller groups) to make the story better by adding dialogue, description, details, and motivations to make it more interesting and alive.
  • Have someone (often the teacher) record the emerging story on a flip-chart, as the participants dictate, negotiating/taking votes as necessary.
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. Teacher can help with this.
  • Keep the participants focused by re-reading sentences from the skeleton story, whenever they try to change the plot, etc.
  • When they have finished their version of the story, retell the story in its original format or read versions created by other groups, so participants can see what different directions a story can take when all you have is the bare bones. Here are some samples of what classes did with a story I used
  • This exercise can also be done as an individual written exercise.
  • Type the created story/ies for the group to keep.

    Last updated Apr 2011