BOOMbox at Home: Storytelling Activities

How can you create and share your stories in ways that other people will want to experience? Storytelling is as old as humans. For more than 200,000 years, we’ve connected to other people and passed down information from generation to generation by drawing on cave walls, telling stories around a campfire, and, lately, recording videos to post on the internet.

Every culture uses stories to entertain, educate, preserve history, and teach life lessons. Stories can be personal, about you and your family, or cultural, about your world. They can be written, drawn, performed, or recorded. Some are factual, some are imaginative, some are a combination. Some rhyme with short phrases, like many poems, and some are narrative. If poetry is your preferred method of self-expression and storytelling, take a look at this poetry resource guide (PDF).

Traditional Storytelling

Native Americans have a long tradition of storytelling that keeps their history and traditions alive. PBS created Circle of Stories using documentary film, photography, art, and music to highlight Native American storytelling. Windows to the Universe features stories about the sun and stars from the Menominee Tribe, and Western Washington University has Archeoastronomy, which highlights stories about astronomy from tribal, aboriginal, or extinct cultures.

Folktales include myths, legends, fables, and fairy tales. Fairy tales teach life lessons using imaginary creatures, such as fairies, wizards, elves, trolls, gnomes, goblins, and dragons. For example, Hansel and Gretel was meant to scare children from wandering off alone in the woods.

One modern storytelling method comes from movie studio Pixar. Pixar and Khan Academy created an introduction to storytelling class called PIXAR in a Box. This series is a behind-the-scenes look at how Pixar artists use subjects you learn in school--math, computer skills, language arts, and science--to animate. Follow along and you'll be animating bouncing balls, building a swarm of robots, and making virtual fireworks explode. So stay awake in math class if you plan to become an animator.

TED Talks: The New Campfire

Another modern storytelling medium is TED Talks. Ever wonder who TED is? Well it’s not a person, but an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED began in the 1984 as a live conference that has blossomed into an amazing online collection of more than 3,600 videos. Not every talk is interesting or appropriate for children, but there’s a playlist of talks by brilliant kids and teenagers another that highlights talks to watch with kids.

TED talks cannot be longer than 18 minutes, so presenters need to write a script that’s interesting and gets to the point without a lot of fluff. If that reminds you of writing directions from a Language Arts teacher, perhaps it’s because there are common storytelling strategies that we follow regardless of what form the story takes.

Storyteller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk explores the idea that we need to know more than one story about each other. One story is a stereotype; many stories give an informed view. Adichie grew up in a successful, academic African family, with a childhood that was privileged by American standards. Not many of us have “house boys” as she describes in her story. But because many people think there’s only one African story, she’s been the subject of many misunderstandings. People hear her Nigerian accent and immediately think tribal life; living in huts, no electricity, no cars. Even more astonishing, she admits to being simultaneously annoyed by people who see her that way, and embarrassed to be a perpetrator of “single story” thinking when traveling to Mexico.

Most successful authors say the two secrets to being a good writer are reading and writing. Write, read, then write some more, and keep reading. Start a journal for writing ideas and drawings. When you fill it up, put it away, and start a new one. Read books, magazines, comic books, anything that interests you. Listen to stories read by famous actors. Young writers can learn about story elements every story needs.

Watching examples of awesome storytelling is helpful too, including Hair Love, an Academy Award-winning short story that tells a wonderful story without words.

Getting Started

For most writers, the hardest part is getting started. Stuck for ideas? Try a fun online story starter for elementary students, find a Journal Buddy, see a list of 50 story starters for teenagers. Try MyStorybook or Storybird, which has a free trial and paid options. Storybird provides beautiful professional artwork to write about, and also has a great gallery where you can find inspiration reading stories by other people.

Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theater, and films. He wrote 8 Rules of Writing, which applies to writers of all ages and offers great tips for getting started with your storytelling adventure.

Ingredient of the Week

Even though our focus is a little far from food this week, we wanted to share the story of eggs Benedict. Did you know that lemon is the key ingredient in this brunch favorite dish? It’s the lemon juice that acts as an emulsifier or binding ingredient to make the hollandaise sauce stable and delicious. Give it a try with this recipe and let us know how it goes.

Storytellers of the Week

World famous musician Ella Jenkins grew up in a music-filled environment on Chicago’s south side. For more than 50 years, her music has entertained and enlightened young children by incorporating languages and cultures from around the world.

Jenkins’ first recording was released in 1957 on a 10-inch vinyl record. It’s a collection of simple call-and-response chants from the United States and Africa that she adapted for young children. Her songs are designed for group singing to develop musical skills and memory. Jenkins earned the first ever Lifetime Achievement Grammy award for a children’s music artist in 2004.  Her recordings, like Greetings in Many Languages, teach how different cultures can learn from one another. Jenkins was interviewed by NBC Chicago in early 2020 during Women's History Month.

If Jenkins is a traditional storyteller and the “First Lady of Children’s Folk Song,” virtual band Gorillaz represents 21st century multimedia musical storytelling. Gorillaz is a pioneer in using various digital technologies to tell a single story across diverse platforms. Every part--audio, mobile app, graphic novel, film--is a complete story on it’s own. But when you combine all the pieces, the story has more depth, background, and detail.

The British virtual band was created in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. The artists created background stories and identities for the animated virtual band members: 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. Their fictional universe is presented in music videos, interviews, and short cartoons.

Written by Pam, Veena, and Eli.