Many people would not go near a roomful of 7th grade students. How many times have I heard, "Those who teach middle school kids are a breed apart!" It's true--they are. A special breed that loves and understands this age group, appreciates the delicate balance of their lives between young adulthood and childhood, a fragile place at best, often difficult but always unexpected. Can you tell it's one of my favorite age groups?
For seven sessions last Thursday, I told ghost stories to 7th graders at a school near Morgantown, West Virginia. Although teachers tried to warn me about the groups that were more difficult than others, I found each class to be attentive, interested and absolutely a joy to be with. What we had was an old-style front porch kind of storytelling, just 30 or so students in a group, sitting in a circle in the library and listening to stories. We talked too, a little give-and-take that I think enhanced the experience for all of us. As in the past, I found once again that children with behavior issues will listen to stories--perhaps their behavior stems from overactive minds that find plenty to work with in stories; perhaps stories offer them an escape vehicle from the messiness of their family life or personal problems. Whatever the reason, they listen and take the stories to heart.
The next day, we were in Sutton, WV at an elementary school's Heritage Festival. Here the costumed children begin their parade into town before the storytelling, music, games and other activities of the festival.
I love using participation stories. Here we tell the Noisy House, a folktale that I tell based on a version created by storyteller Marilyn Kinsella that includes seasonal creatures--bat, cat, owl, ghost, etc. It was fun, noisy and a good way to channel some of the high energy of the day.
Here we are telling a Jack tale, one of my favorite story characters. The kids loved the story of how Jack defeated the Ol' Fire Dragaman. One thing about Jack--he entertains all ages. I saw several young fathers during the story sessions, and it was clear that storytelling was new to them--and that they liked it!
Yet another group telling of the Noisy House. The "little old lady" is almost swallowed up by her bonnet and apron, but she did an amazing job. For a little person, she had a big, expressive voice and got right into her part.
Working with kids in participation stories takes high energy, quick wits, and a willingness to go with the flow. Although the end of the story is supposed to be that the little old lady removes the creatures from her house one at a time, in one group the ghost decided it was his job to scare them out--so that's what we did! You never know where you might end up when the kids take an active role in the telling, and that is why I love to include them. What better way to make a story come alive.
Here are the bones of the Noisy House story:
A person is in their house. Something (a baby, a creaking chair, etc) is making an annoying, repetitive sound. Too much noise! The person goes to a wise one (can be a wizard or whatever you choose--I use a wise owl because I have a good owl puppet) and asks for help. The wise one advises to bring some other noisy thing in the house (farm animals, wild animals, whatever your imagination can bring to the story. The person follows the advice, the house gets noisier and the person gets upset with the wise one. So of course, the wise one advises taking the noisy things out of the house one at a time until all that is left is the original annoying sound--which, when compared to the noise of all the creatures, seems lovely and quiet!
For some other versions, visit Story-Lovers.com.