Storytelling is one of the best units I have ever taught. It seamlessly integrates our Reading and Writing instruction, encourages students to use their voices and consider other perspectives, develops communication, presentation, and persuasive skills, and both pushes and allows students to express themselves in a new way. One of the stories we have our students write and perform is inspired by Storycorps and based on an interview with someone close to them.
The Storycorps inspired story is the 2nd writing project of our storytelling unit. Timing wise, it usually coincides with Grandparents and Special Friends Day (a tradition at our school), where grandparents/special friends come to school with students for a shortened schedule. We use the Homeroom time to watch Q & A, an animated Storycorps interview by a child named Joshua of his mother. After we watch the interview, we have our students interview their grandparents and special friends. Every year, we regret that we run out of time to hear from more of the students after they discover fascinating and unexpected facts about their grandparents/special friends.
Once we are back to regular classes, we introduce the new assignment and project. We ask students:
Whose story would you like to tell? What does it mean to share someone else’s story? Why might we want to do this?
Then we watch a Storycorps interview. We find that the animated ones are better for our 5th graders in terms of maintaining attention. Two we love are Facundo the Great and Mario & his daughter. Next, we brainstorm some interview questions and do peer interviews to try them out! Finally, we explain the assignment and hand out a list of questions. We give students a few days to interview someone and record their interview. We’ve found it helps to give them over the weekend in case they want to try and interview someone who doesn’t live near them over the phone.
We created our own list of suggested questions using Storycorps Great Questions. We also ask students to record their interviews and email or share the recording with us. Many students used their parents’ phones or tablets to do so, but we also walked them through how to use Vocaroo which is a free site where you can record audio and easily the files. We also encourage students to take notes either during or after the interview. Students brainstorm who they would like to interview. For many students, it is one of their parents, but we have also had students interview nannies, grandparents, uncles, and siblings. Our only stipulation is that the interviewee is not too young (older siblings work better), as we need them to have enough material to write a story. Storycorps also has an app and resources to make the process easier (and they go on a mobile tour!).
After all the interviews are completed, we start the brainstorming process! We ask students:
What understanding did you gain about your relationship with someone after interviewing them/hearing their stories?
We let them talk this out either with a partner or sometimes use inside/outside circles to let them work with a couple different people.
Next, we have them reflect and get ideas down in their Writer’s Notebooks. We then transition into showing them a graphic organizer so they have an idea how to structure their stories. We created and filled out this graphic organizer based on Felicia Pride’s TEDx talk, We’re all characters in life’s great narrative. We watch this TEDx talk earlier in the unit when we talk about characters in stories and how a “real” character is multi-dimensional. It is a great resource to look back at when students feel stuck.
After filling out the graphic organizers, we let students draft, edit, revise and finally share! They have three minutes to perform their story for half of our class (13 students). We set the room up in a TEDx talk like setting, with a stool to sit on, a “backdrop” (we project an image on our whiteboard!) and the overhead lights off with a lamp “spotlight.”
The stories our students share are truly amazing. We have heard reflections on relationships with parents, including a touching story of a child’s father and his many siblings. She reflected how she always wanted a sibling, but realized she has someone to go on silly adventures with already.. her dad! Another student interviewed her nanny and told the story of getting through an earthquake together and how this made her rethink the concept of “family” to be more inclusive of everyone she loves. We heard stories of love, hope, resilience, immigration, adversity, and relationships. We love witnessing this wonderful exercise in taking someone else’s perspective and learning about yourself in the process.