“Ruthie” and “George” share stories of their lives from times past.
“You are your stories. You are the product of all the stories you have heard and lived, and of many that you have never heard. They have shaped how you see yourself, the world, and your place in it. Your first great storytellers were home, school, church, and even popular culture. Stories link past, present, and future in a way that tells us where we have been, even before we were born, where we are, and where we could be going. They teach us that there is a place for us, that we fit. They tell us that our lives have meaning. To be a person is to have a story to tell.” ~ Daniel Taylor
Storytelling is the oldest form of communication known to man and until the advent of the written word, it was the chosen way to pass along cultural histories to the next generation. In more recent years, storytelling has become both an art form and, believe it or not, a method of communication used within the corporate world. Good and relevant speeches and sermons usually contain at least one interesting story to bring home an important point and families are often bound together through the collection of stories that represent their commitments to one another.
The homeschooled students in my public speaking class just completed an amazing storytelling project with last week’s presentation of To Tell A Story. I am not sure I had anticipated the impact the evening might have on the audience but was so pleased to hear from several people who shared with me how valuable it was to be able to participate in the project. I thought you might enjoy hearing about it and maybe even consider planning such an event with your own family.
The first step is to record taped interviews with family members or friends, asking them to share stories that they would feel comfortable having presented in front of an audience. I gave each of my students a list of suggested questions* to ask and gave them plenty of time to conduct their interviews. Most of them used the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to talk with family members.
Once the interviews were completed, the students then transcribed, word for word, what they had been told. They then e-mailed their finished papers to me and I edited them for brevity and clarity while maintaining the integrity of what had been shared. For the most part, all of the finished stories were told in the exact words of the original storytellers!
At this point, I selected a variety of stories and assigned them to each student to memorize and interpret for an audience, using the basic principles of storytelling we had discussed in class. Each one could have presented an individual story but I chose to write a script around the ones I had been given and turned it into a play format. Using a minimal set and a few props to help determine the time frame of the story and age of the storyteller, the students presented an evening of storytelling that included tales from 4 generations, including personal stories from the Great Depression and World War 2.
Besides the intent to teach students basic storytelling technique, I had several other goals I felt we accomplished. First, the students had an increased awareness of and appreciation for the stories of other people’s lives through both their triumphs and tragedies. Many chose to interview grandparents and a closer relationship developed between them as the interviews progressed. What a great way to practice Relationship Homeschooling!!!
Secondly, as we read through the script together for the first time, the class was introduced to new vocabulary words and ideas that gave us a great opportunity for discussion. One of the storytellers, for example, shared his experience as a soldier in Europe who helped to treat displaced persons from the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. Many of the students had not yet studied Hitler’s regime and none of them had heard first hand stories from this time in history so it prompted some to go home and do further study. We also talked about how language has changed through the years as we read phrases that were popular with past generations and seem funny to us now!
Finally, the performance itself was so well received that you could have heard a pin drop in the room! One mom told me she wished there had been even more stories and several commented about how meaningful it was to actually see a family member’s life as a young person depicted on the stage. Another mom told me that they were now determined to interview grandparents when they got home and to preserve their own family stories for future generations!
Let me encourage you to consider planning such an evening! What a wonderful way of talking with your children about the sovereignty of God in our lives and how His plan for each of us is like one large tapestry where all our lives are interwoven for His glory, one story at a time!
“Young Ruthie” remembers her life as a young mom raising four boys.
“Uncle Steve” entertains the audience with his exploits as a teenager growing up in a small Illinois town.
What a privilege to work with such an awesome group of homeschooled kids!
“Young George” with the real veteran, Pete Taraboletti, whose service to our country was so aptly shared!
*These are the instructions I gave each students along with some suggested questions to get them started on the process!
This project begins with each student selecting and interviewing someone they think will have interesting and/or unusual stories that could be shared with an audience. Use the attached list of questions as a starting off point but make your interview personal and interesting. Be sure to let the interviewee know beforehand that this is for a school project and that their life stories will possibly be turned into part of a play. (Depending on the length and type of stories we get, we may or may not be able to use all of them. And it will be fun to invite these people to the play and let them see their lives on stage!) When you are finished recording, you need to make a transcript of the interview by writing it down, word for word. This will take some time and I don’t mind if siblings work on the project together, perhaps all interviewing the same person together. It is up to you. Be sure you get their words exactly as they spoke them. That will be what creates the character for the production.
Once you bring in all the transcript, I will begin going through them and selecting which ones will work best for turning into small scenes in a play. Then I will pick students from the class to play the different characters.
Everyone will portray someone but probably not the person you interview! This will work best if we have a variety of people interviewed…elderly people, middle-aged people, children, men, women, etc. It will also be best if you think of people who have interesting stories to tell…immigrants, war veterans, missionaries, couples who adopted children, moms with birth stories to tell, etc, and if some are serious and dramatic and others are humorous. Just about everyone can tell about their feelings on 9-11 and the days right afterwards, for example. Everyone has a story and they are all woven into the beautiful tapestry of life that God has ordained. It will be our goal to tell some of these stories and show our audience what an amazing and sovereign God we have who works out the details of our lives every single day! Aren’t you excited?
Here are some starting off questions you could ask or topics you could cover; (these are just some ideas) and please feel free to use your own…that will make it more interesting and personal! Ask your mom and dad for suggestions about questions they think would be good.
How did you meet your spouse? (Best if this is someone married 50 plus years!) Ask them to describe the day, what they were wearing, what they were doing. (This could be a cute “couple” interview.)
What is the best decade of your life?
When did you know you were called to be a pastor/missionary? Tell me a story when the Lord confirmed that to you.
What is the most difficult thing about being your age? (elderly and kids….hilarious answers expected!)
What is your favorite food? What do you like to do in your spare time? What is your hobby? Why?
How did you become a Christian?
What person has influenced you the most? Why?
Tell me a story about your grandmother/grandfather.
Describe growing up in your town/city.
If you could go back and do something different in life, what might you have done? What interests do you have that you wish you would have pursued?
Tell about a memory of a happy family vacation.
Recall a family story you have heard many times.
Tell about an occasion that brought your family together.