We were incredibly fortunate to have the one and only Anne Thomas come in and visit our classroom! Her visit is an annual tradition as part of the introduction to our storytelling unit and it is a day we look forward to all year.
My co-teacher Gabby and I first saw Anne perform at a Story District show in DC, and were immediately impressed. Later that week, we emailed her, casually mentioned we were her biggest fans, and asked her to come visit our class. And so the tradition was born!
Our storytelling unit is an integrated Reading and Writing unit that takes place every spring in our 5th grade class. Students read, write, listen to, and watch amazing stories. Before Anne’s visit, we had read some great stories with the kids (including Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown) and talked about what components are key to having a great story.
Students brainstorm in pairs and come up with a long list of important attributes of a good story. Then, we introduce our ‘A Good Story Must Have’ checklist. This is a key tool we use as readers and writers throughout the unit. We start finding these elements in our independent reading books. Next, we tell the students that we have a special guest coming in..
And the guest is Anne! She talks to them about storytelling as an art, how we are all storytellers (you’ve never told anyone the story of how your day went?) and then performs a story in the room with us! The story Anne performs is about going to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, but it is also about the danger of imposing limits on yourself.
After Anne performs, students have an opportunity to ask questions (which often has to be limited or they would go on forever) and then we go through our checklist to see if Anne’s story has all of the elements a good story must have. (It does!)
Next, Anne asks students to think of a time when they imposed a limit on themselves. It can be as small as telling yourself you don’t like a vegetable without trying it. Students brainstorm individually and then work in pairs or small groups to tell their stories. Anne works with students too, helping them pull a story out of their memories or experiences.
Finally, we ask for volunteers - does anyone want to get up and try to tell their story to the class? Amazingly, some students always do! This year, we had three students who stood up and told their stories (coached by Anne) with bravery and honesty. They talked about doubting themselves as athletes, writers, and more. They were vulnerable, honest, and brave. Their classmates were impressed and inspired and ready to find their own voices as storytellers.
We cannot wait to see what our students come up with next and we are so grateful that Anne came in and shared her craft with us. Stay tuned to check out some other pieces from our storytelling unit, leave a comment and ask us questions, or check out this piece on how it comes together and why we do it.