Improve your collective worship with these great storytelling ideas.
There is nothing quite as mind numbing in a school assembly as having a story read out of a book in a monotone voice. The book could be anything – a text book describing quadratic equations or a gripping tale like “Out of the Silent Planet” the first of CS Lewis’s space trilo-gy – but the result would be the same. Glazed expressions on the faces of the children, fidgeting and the low level hum of neighbour turning to neighbour for a distracting conversa-tion. It’s often not the teacher’s fault – you’re busy and bring as much fun to the assembly as possible with the little time you have to prepare.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Here are five top tips for telling a gripping story in collective worship:
Get to grips with the story in advance. Read it many times over, get yourself familiar with the characters, the setting, the plot, the moral lesson, the pace and the time it will take to tell it. Then, dispense with the book or script and practice telling it in your own words. Really know the story inside out. The better you know the story, the easier it will be to make eye contact with children, pause for dramatic effect without losing your place and – if you aren’t reading it – you begin to tell it.
Use your voice
Now you know the story – how will you interpret the characters with your voice? Is that an old man speaking, what does your “old man voice” sound like? Is that narration, what distinctive voice will you give to the narrator who is relaying the sto-ry? Are there dramatic moments – should you slow your pace? Pause to add tension?
Something might happen in a story that revolves around an item or there might be a theme to the story – e.g. a watch is lost (have a watch, maybe try and find a cool pocket watch on a silver chain, when ever the watch is mentioned – pop that out of your pocket as if the watch you are talking about in the story is the very one in your hand).
Use your audience
Maybe there are repeated phrases within the story – a recurring theme or motif? Maybe there are a few characters that do certain things – add a sound effect or word or phrase each time they are mentioned (e.g. If you are talking about a journey and it is taking a long time to get there – maybe ever time you mention the word “journey” all the children could shout out, “are we nearly there yet!”). These are great for keeping attention and having fun with a story – the children feel as if they are involved in telling it, so you have got participation – but you also have them paying attention so they don’t miss the bits they are joining in with.
Ad Hoc drama
You know the story so turn yourself into a director/narrator and get a little cast together who can perform the story. This works really well with parables and stories the children might already by familiar with and can be great for boosting confidence and encouraging children to develop their dramatic gifts. It can also add unexpected humour and the occasional great ad-lib moment.
A couple more ideas for your assembly storytelling
If you have a digitally creative member of staff, why not have a backing track playing with sound effects to accompany the story?
Instead of telling it “live” why not film the story in advance?
If filming it, why not explore using animation software and have a class create the story to be shown on the screen?
Stories are incredibly powerful and told well will be remembered and resonate with children for years to come.
Oral storytelling has been with us for millennia. It is how we know much of what we know as stories were passed down from generation to generation. John Westerhoff, a theologian and expert in faith formation says, “We are a story formed people.” The world-renowned Sci-Fi writer Ursula Le-Guin once said this, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
Don’t just read a story. Tell it.
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This blog was written by Ali Campbell from The Resource. Ali is an experienced educational practitioner and advisor on collective worship to the church of England and community schools. He is experienced in training head teachers and clergy in delivering fun and engaging assemblies. Ali is also one of Big Start Assemblies contributors, helping develop a large number of the walkthrough scripts. The Resource is full of ideas resources for those working with children and young people.