Storytelling workshops at middle school

  • Duration: 4.5 hours (broken up over 2 days: 2.5 hrs and 2 hrs)
  • Participants: 20 students and 1 school teacher, 1 IDRC Facilitator, 1 student facilitator
  • Devices: School Chromebooks, a few iPads

Workshop structure and activities

Warm-up activity: Collaborative Surprise Drawing

Supplies: large flip chart sized paper or 11x17, pre-create one to show/model, template to prompt storytelling

  • used to demonstrate collaboration and the creative ideas that can come from working together — something that one individual would not likely come up with on their own
  • based on the method of "exquisite corpse"

How it works:

  • Create groups of 5 or 6 participants. Student facilitator chose to give numbers to participants (1-4) to “break-up” existing social groups.
  • 12 mins_(2 mins / person) to create a “creature”
  • paper is folded into an accordion and each student takes a turn drawing on one strip of the folded paper without looking at the previous drawings.
  • Each participant takes their drawing cue from lines intersecting the folds between two panels.
  • lines are carried over from one panel section to the next either by the participants or facilitators. While one member of the group is taking their turn adding to their part of the drawing, others can explore the storytelling tool together on one laptop.
  • 10 mins_When finished each group unfolds the paper to reveal their creature. Together they name their creature and make up a short story (2-3 lines) about the creatures experience of (pick one)
    • a field trip
    • the first week of school
    • taking a test
    • giving a presentation
    • learning something new
    • something of your choice
  • 10 mins_Each group presents their creature and story to the whole group.

Session notes:

  • Facilitated by a peer (12 year old youth with learning differences) and adult, supported by classroom teacher
  • Class was very receptive to peer facilitating (one grade above)
  • Facilitators modeled the activity with an example they had done together prior to the workshop

  • Activity seemed to be low risk for participants: fast and iterative, no time to question or edit out ideas. At times some youth wanted to direct what the next person should draw. For example, they would tell the person that they should draw the torso or the knees.
  • Youth ran around to each groups table to see the unveiling of each group's creatures with excitement
  • Stories about the creatures were full of lovely extremes and humour. One group wrote their story in first person. This was an opportunity to discuss the difference between a story told in the first person and a story told in the third person. Some comments:
    • First person is more authentic. If someone is telling someone else's story it can lose some of the information.
    • Assumptions can happen if someone tells someone else’s story
    • Your voice is your voice
    • There is more emotion in first person
    • It’s hard to tell a story in first person
  • Other comments:
    • When asked why someone drew two different arms on their panel they said “I don’t know, I just wanted to” which led to the conversation of the importance of not always having a reason for doing something when we are creating. That this open thinking can lead to unique and innovative ideas.
  • student facilitator required time to recharge after first activity. A quite comfortable chair allowed the student to remove themselves from sensory stimulation and stim (people with autism explain what stimming feels like), snacks and fluids. 
    • Learning: facilitators must be part of the workshop design and their needs should be built into the process. Co-facilitators can design their needs into the workshop by sharing their requirements with each other and finding ways to support each other before, during and after the event.

Telling your story using the storytelling tool

Telling our individual stories are important because they help us to learn about ourselves, others and the world around us.

[Connected to Social studies unit teacher was conducting with class: Communities, personal identities, included, not included]

  • Using your poster (from earlier class social studies project) create a story about all the words or some or just one!
  • You can create your story however you want
    • write, draw, video, voice
  • Once you’ve decided on the pieces of your story you can start building it in the Storytelling tool

Session notes:

  • Introduced the storytelling tool
  • Played “little girl” story for the class. Participants were deeply engaged in listening
  • Youth questions:
    • What is the difference from other social media platforms?
    • How do you keep it youth-friendly (child safety)?
    • How do you keep people from writing bad things?
    • How do you know if something is not appropriate if it is in another language other than English?
    • Have you ever had anyone write fiction?
  • One student suggested the tool could be good for global awareness of differences and social justice.
  • When it came time to start finding the story they wanted to tell, many found it difficult to tell a story about themselves. The teacher noted that most writing in school has been third person storytelling, creative writing.
  • We suggested they revisit posters they had created about themselves to help find a story they want to tell
  • Students wanted to know if they could start creating their story in the tool and then save for later
  • Teacher and facilitator shared a personal learning story as an example.
  • Facilitator uploaded their story on the storytelling website.

Teacher and facilitator reflections:

  • More parameters, scaffolds, and exercises could help first-person storytelling and transition from the Creature exercise to personal storytelling.
  • Teacher felt they learned something and want to integrate first-person storytelling into their curriculum. They would like to know more about inclusive education and UDL. We agreed to share back and forth.

Tool critique

Mock critique activity:

  • Students assemble back into the same groups from the collaborative surprise drawing activity
  • 2 students pretend to be the designers of the storytelling tool
  • Designers present the tool and ask for feedback
  • Those critiquing ask questions, identify strengths and things that could be made better

Some things to ask for feedback for during the critique are:

  • What in the design might get someone excited to tell their story?
  • How could the tool be more inclusive?
    • Think of your experience with the tool
    • Think of your poster and what makes you feel included and not included. Do you feel included by the tool or is there something that makes you feel uncomfortable, confused, unhappy? What would you change to make the tool just right for you?

Notes about how a critique could work

  • People critiquing...
    • ask questions
    • identify strengths of the design item
    • identify things that could make the item better
    • are respectful
  • Presenters/designers...
    • explain the goals of the design piece
    • tell the group what type of feedback they are looking for
    • listen to the feedback and repeat back what they hear
    • don’t need to defend their design; can take notes and consider the feedback
    • think of suggestions during a critique like “little gifts”

Participant feedback

There wasn’t enough time during the workshop to have a more structured critique session. Five participants offered feedback by filling out the critique form and facilitator was able to ask for clarification on some comments to better understand reactions.

  • Easy to use because
    • layout is really neat
    • Clear
    • Organized
    • Easy to insert different things
    • Unique functions
    • I think that it is cool that you can do an audio, or picture, or just typing. That way everyone can use it.
  • Looks professional
  • I think you should keep trying to do a translator.
  • Not professional, not eye-catching
  • Colours, needs something that makes you want to keep writing. Student referenced Reddit and Scratch Student was referring to the boxes where content is input on the Storytelling tool.
  • Would love emojis and symbols to express myself. Emojis and different language symbols
  • Stories should stay up for longer (referencing the sandbox statement)
  • Text runs off page when you copy and paste it
  • I think this tool has a really useful purpose that is really fun to use